You were one of the creators of Tracks Surfing Magazine. What was the inspiration behind starting this publication?
At that time (early ‘70s) we were very proactive with environmental, political and social issues. The newspaper became a forum for that as well as covering global surfing and travel adventures. There was also a big shift towards self-sufficiency and a more holistic lifestyle. We were very interested in that as an alternative form of living, and Tracks became the “surfers’ bible” for laying the foundations for that movement. With the inexpensive farms on the North Coast available for buying and renting, many surfers moved towards the Mid North Coast and Byron Bay areas and started organic farms and living a country lifestyle. As well as that, there was great points breaks for surfing with little or no development – it was a surfer’s dream. Cheap healthy living, organic food and great point breaks. As a surfer at the time, who wouldn’t want that!
Tracks was printed on newspaper stock and had a unique look and feel to it. Why did you choose this format?
The newspaper had a more organic feel to it than the slick glossies printed in Hong Kong. Our philosophy was to promote a sustainable lifestyle as opposed to spending unnecessary money of commodities that were not needed – using newspaper stock was an aspect of that philosophy. The glossies represented success and ambition. Tracks – on the other hand – was more interested in sustainability and healthy lifestyle and focused on important issues at the time.
What topics were covered in the magazine when it was first published?
One of the features at the start of the newspaper was a section called “News & Opinion” – this opened the way for an enormous amount of comment and interaction with our readers. We were also heavily involved with environmental issues both in the water and on land, with campaigns for the saving of the whales and banning uranium mining as well as protesting against the rutile mining along the East Coast. We were very politically active, supporting politicians who were aligned with our thinking and ridiculing those who weren’t.
We also featured a cooking page with recipes from “Aunty Gweyndolan” each month promoting vegetarian meals. We reviewed music, films and books and did feature stories on musicians, authors and artists. We invited our readers to participate on all levels – which they did – this contributed to the success of the newspaper. To my disappointment, Tracks today has gone the way of the glossies.
The magazine began as irreverent and challenged the status quo of mainstream culture; do you feel that this attitude is missing in the surf community of today?
Certainly … Most of the magazines are driven by advertising and corporate involvement, or were; however with the internet and the social media and Facebook and zines, I think we are seeing the demise of the magazine as a forum for change – certainly it’s importance is almost irrelevant in today’s world with the magnitude of digital and immediate availability of information through the net. Personally, I think there is room for both – I love the feel of magazine and books. My house is a library, and I still purchase magazines – there’s something about the feel and smell of a new book or magazine as opposed to electronic publishing. It just doesn’t do it for me. I love the organic feel of paper and turning the page.
In the early ‘70s you were also working on the seminal surf film, Morning of the Earth. Were the projects linked?
As a young boy, I was interested in photography as a way of capturing and sharing the beauty of the world that unfolded for me. I wanted to share the beauty of the ocean and surfing through using the camera. They kind of went hand in hand – I started surfing at about the same time as I bought my first camera. Soon after I was filming, and Morning of the Earth was the result of that. Had I been born two hundred years ago, I probably would have been an artist painting images of the ocean and country on canvas. The camera became my paintbrush and surfing my palette. I suppose in a way the newspaper and film were linked – there was a parallel with both. They were both extensions of being inspired by the love of surfing and photography. I was fortunate to have great mentors along the way and to realise early in life my purpose.
How did the production of Morning of the Earth begin?
My mother said to me when I was young and getting ready to head out into the world, “Just do what you love and follow your heart” … and I did. Morning of the Earth was my first film, and everything that I’ve done since then has been a result of that. That simple piece of advice in a way has been a mantra for my life, and it’s afforded me great opportunities to travel and explore the most amazing places on this planet and make films about those travels. I left school when I was 15 and have been around the world 20 times visiting incredible places from Tibet to Timbuktu and beyond.
How long did Morning of the Earth take to produce?
It was about a two year turnaround. We spent over a year filming the Mid North Coast areas and then travelled to Bali and Hawaii to do some sequences there. We had no script or plans, just a broad idea on what it was we wanted to film. We had very little money and just enough equipment to film the sequences. It was a great big bag of fun and adventure – we just made it up as we went along. We really just filmed the way we lived and what we loved. It was that simple.
Who were some of the naturally talented surfers of that era?
I spent a lot of time with Stephen Cooney – he was a young grommet at the time with an abundance of surfing talent and a beautiful spirit. Along with David Treloar, we made many trips up to the North Coast … never stopped laughing all the way. David ended up staying at one of the places we filmed – Angourie. He has lived there ever since. I filmed Terry Fitzgerald in Hawaii, who was a dynamic surfer at the time. We filmed Chris Brock living in a treehouse on one of the North Coast beaches and captured Michael Peterson, a radical surfer, surfing his home break at Kirra on the Gold Coast on a very beautiful small swell. None of it really was planned; they were all surfers who were great individuals and very creative with their lives.
Do you still feel like you’re enjoying a similar lifestyle to what the movie portrayed?
This area offers everything that we need to sustain a healthy and happy lifestyle – at least, it does for me. I drink crystal clear spring water from the Dorrigo Mountains, eat organic food from my garden and visit the nearby Bellingen growers’ market every other week to buy locally grown organic food. There is no industry in this area, so the air is not polluted. Add to that the amazing countryside with its beautiful river systems, empty beaches and incredible National Parks – I mean, really … how much do you need to be rich? I have travelled extensively to many parts of this planet, and this Mid North Coast area is certainly high on the scale for a wonderful life.
How often do you surf these days?
I surf most days. When I wake up in the morning and can feel a slight breeze coming off the mountains, I’m out the door. I think it’s really important that we do what we love regardless. Life is precious, and certainly I don’t let a day go by without being grateful for living and surfing in such a beautiful place. It doesn’t matter what’s on your mind before you enter the ocean for a surf – guaranteed it’ll be washed away in a few minutes. It’s the perfect zen experience. Without being conscious of what’s happening, it just happens that way. Whatever you are doing in your life, whatever your career path is, if you can stay true to your love, which for me is surfing, it makes you a better person without even realising it.
I live each day as if it’s the only day I have on this planet and each evening before I drop off to sleep I say thank you, thank you, thank you. I mean, really, if this was the last day of your life on this planet, how would you like to spend it? When you can realise the answer to that and live it, that’s as good as your life’s going to get. I go surf, and then everything just falls into place.