The first inkling that scuba diving was perhaps not going to be my new favourite thing came when I experienced an anxiety attack in the training pool. Spending the rest of the lesson sitting in the shallow end staring through a thin layer of chlorinated water above my head and trying to breath slowly and evenly, I could have reflected on the experience and cut my losses but instead I pondered the outlay of dollars on the full wet suit encasing my dolphinesque body, not forgetting the belt whose lead weights stopped me floating the six inches to the surface and breathing real air. In… Out… In… Out… Clearly Darth Vader’s breathing apparatus was adapted from an air tank regulator, though we’d never heard of the Dark Lord back in 1974.
I did complete the course: theory exam, pool test, sea test. Even went on one dive with the University Diving Club, somewhere near Rye surf beach. It was cold, the ocean was choppy and I used my full tank in less than half the expected time due to the huge anxious breaths I was taking. The dive leader pointed towards the surface twenty feet above. Even through his face-mask the disgust was clear.
And that was it. The wet suit, flippers, weight belt, face mask, snorkel, neoprene balaclava and booties all sat in the wardrobe, a black reminder of my lack of intrepidity. Soon my tertiary education would be in the same cupboard, but for the time being I was hanging in with Optometry largely because I’d attached myself to a group of science students who were nice, welcoming and confident in that way posh private schools seem to inject into their alumni. I was grateful, both for having somewhere to go at lunchtime and for the occasional invitation to a party in the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
It was during a party at Cindy’s parents home in Balwyn that Scott approached me. I was sitting on the carpet leafing through Cindy’s records and had pulled out the soundtrack of the Aussie surf film Morning Of The Earth. Scott squatted next to me, nodding at the record. “You surf?”
I admitted I did not, though I did claim a degree of oceanic knowledge based on having achieved my Sea Card in scuba diving, a somewhat desperate attempt to salvage credibility and/or self-esteem. Scott was a diver and student of Marine Biology so we chatted about diving and the coastal regions of the state. Well, he chatted and I danced around the topic steering it towards the surface of the ocean rather than the treacherous depths. That wasn’t difficult, as Scott surfed. “You should get a secondhand board,” he said. “Surfing is great.”
It made some kind of sense. Years of family holidays on the Mornington Peninsula had made me familiar with both the bay and ocean beaches; there was no doubt I was more confident on top of the waves than under them, whether sailing or body surfing. And I already had an almost new wet suit.
Having no idea what distinguished a good board from a bad one, I bought the first one that didn’t look like it had been dragged along a bitumen road, then waited for Scott to invite me to go surfing. In the meantime I searched out Morning Of The Earth at the shop where I worked part-time and recorded it onto cassette. I think I put part of Carly Simon’s No Secrets on the remaining blank tape. A perk of the job.
It is fair to say that I appreciate Morning Of The Earth even more now than I did then. A collection of twelve original songs by Australian artists friendly towards the surfing scene, it is full of fantastic musical moments and provides a refreshing counterpoint to the hyper-masculine balls-to-the-wall blues rock dominating Aussie music at the time.
G. Wayne Thomas produced the record and contributes three songs, including the opening title cut. This opener manages to combine melody and a fine chorus with a Gaia approved sentiment regarding appreciation of the environment. It seems even more relevant today. The vocal “Hallelujah”s don’t cloy; they seem to add a spiritual dimension to the song, connecting us to the natural world in ways both respectful and protective. Really makes you wonder why hippies got such bad press. What is so funny about peace love and understanding?
In “I’ll be alright” Terry Hannagan sings wistfully about the pull to get out of the city—another dream that seems far from irrational these days—before the legendary Tamam Shud offer “First things first”. Next up, Brian Cadd—Australia’s answer to Leon Russell—pitches in with the upbeat “Sure feels good”, full of bounce and optimism.
There was a single from the album when it first came out in 1972. It was “Open up your heart” by G. Wayne Thomas. It’s a truly lovely song that, I’ve just realised, could be a summary of the last thirty years of my life.
There’s no formula for happiness that’s guaranteed to work
It all depends on how you treat your friends
And how much you’ve been hurt
But it’s a start
When you open up your heart
Try not to hide what you feel inside
Just open up your heart
Side one finishes with “Simple Ben” by John J. Francis, a parable of nature versus human construction. Structured like a Bob Dylan story song, it unfolds as a dialogue between a younger man and elderly Ben, a wanderer. At over seven minutes it could perhaps have been relieved of a couple of verses and thus gained some focus, but the chorus is a beauty you’ll hum to yourself as you turn over the record.
A super Tamam Shud instrumental called “Bali Waters”—all drifting flute and laid back vibes, including a subtle quote from “Morning of the Earth”—opens side two. Then Caddy is back singing “Making it on your own”, another upbeat soft-rocker, before Thomas winds things back with the reflective “Day comes”. G. Wayne’s light voice adds a precious yin energy to the music, expanding its reach and emotion.
Probably my favourite track is next, Tamam Shud’s final contribution “Sea the swells”. There is a wonderful folk/psychedelic feel to this piece that captures the sea, the surf and the album as perfectly as a mid-summer sunset over the ocean.
Scott and I did one trip down the surf coast, taking to the water at Lorne, Apollo Bay and Torquay. I paddled out and sat on my board, full of wonder at the restless tranquility of the ocean. Not having received any instruction, I couldn’t surf for quids, yet it was wonderful. I bobbed gently on the undulating swell at Apollo Bay and looked back at the steep hills running from the blue distance of the Otway Ranges to the coast. A palette of greens to compliment the sea-sky blues. When I’d had enough I’d catch a wave, lying on the board, and slide over the water to the sand, emerging, teeth chattering a little, to a brisk towel down and the promise of a hot pie and sauce.
My surfing phase was short-lived, the equipment sold long ago. The guy that bought the board observed that it was a rubbish choice for a beginner. “The rails are too hard,” he said. “Much too fast to learn on.” Ah.
Still, I always choose an ocean holiday over a bush retreat. And hope at least once or twice a year to don a new wetsuit (Sperm Whale-sized) and bob about in the surf for a bit, catching a few waves on a boogie board. If the waves are of any size, I’m sure to get tumbled and tossed, but I know how to relax when you’re dumped by mother ocean; the suit’s positive buoyancy is a guarantee of finding “up”. Next day the body aches in new places and there’s sand in my ears, but I’m almost always smiling.
Morning Of The Earth — A Film by Albert Falzon — Original Soundtrack
1972 Warner Brothers
CD re-issue by east-west, year unknown but probably late 1980s
2014 Anthology Recordings, USA