Australia in the early ’70s was like one big happy pub surrounded by peeling waves. And it was so inexpensive at that time that even a surf bum like me, who was trying to eke out a living writing for the local surf rag, Tracks, could stay afloat.
Money was of little concern then as a buck could buy a meal and 10 of them would get you a roof over a one-bedroom flat overlooking Sydney’s northern beaches, specifically that cold chiseled ledge known as Dee Why Point.
The flat was located just north of Dee Why in the suburb of Curl Curl, and owned by my friend Sheri’s brother Jim and his wife, Cris (Or is it Chris, or Kris?) Sheri, who was living in Encinitas when I met her, had recently returned from Australia, and told me to look up her big brother once I arrived there.
The Machados owned a steakhouse in Manly Beach called the Branding Iron at the time, along with the aforementioned flat my friend Joey and I lived in. Cool people, cool landlords. We’ve been friends ever since. Jim and Cris’s son Justin was around 3 years old and Cris Machado had a tiny bump showing where her tennis-hardened belly had been.
Back at the flat I became friends with the girl next door, who was nothing like her proverbial namesake. I mean, girl-next-door types tend to be plain, if I remember the meaning of that archaic cliché correctly.
Janet was not plain by any measure. She was pretty, lively, energetic and adventurous in a time when girls were supposed to sit on the beach and watch their boyfriends ride waves.
Janet, who had several boyfriends (anyone she wanted actually) never sat on the beach, regardless of the conditions. She worked for Shane Surfboards as a sander, a job that required endurance previously ascribed only to men. She rolled her own cigarettes and never took guff from anyone. She could hang with even the roughest of the boys during the day while at night showed a softer side. Like everyone else I knew, I was in love with her.
It was Christmas of 1973 when she brought two orphaned aboriginal boys into her home for the week. The older one, Marvin, was 9 and the younger one, whose name I don’t recall, was 7. For Christmas she bought them each cassette players. I bought them a couple dance tapes each, and we spent every night from late December through New Year’s Eve dancing on the living room rug.
The boys returned to the horrors of the orphanage and I never saw them again. A year later I also lost touch with Janet after I moved to New Zealand on my way home to California. I often wonder what became of her. As for the little bump, that turned out to be a boy named Rob who was, for a time, called Mouse.
Nearly each day I surfed Swami’s in the mid-’80s, I saw Mouse carefully carry his tiny Sauritch Surfboard down the street from his house on Santa Fe Drive to Swami’s. There, he would paddle out and catch some tiny inside waves. We all liked him and looked after him, but nobody ever thought he would grow up to become one of the best surfers in the world and the pride of Encinitas.
1973. That was one of my favorite years, a year that gave birth to children and friendships that remain as fresh in my memory as a day surfing Curl Curl.