Some days ago a young comedian in Melbourne was raped and murdered on her way home from a gig. The performing arts community have voiced their outrage and sadness, particularly on social media. Some commentators have suggested that too many male comedians have remained silent on this event, and that silence is culpability. Well, here's my way of saying something. (It was the final story in a show I did in 2000 called Love 40)
I can’t help feeling that a young man needs a hero or some bloke to look up to. And even if you believe that’s load of new age cobblers, you can’t deny the fact that so many young men have heroes anyway, so they might as well have one who’s at least a decent sort of bloke, whatever that is. The heroes I had in the mid-seventies were the Surf champions. Unlike my friends' heroes, who were cricket and footy players like Doug Walters and Hayden Bunton, the Surf champions were really distant. Almost ethereal. They had names like Wombat and Shooter and they lived on the other side of Australia. All we ever saw of them was photos in a surf magazines, and occasionally we’d see a close up of them as they collected their trophy before rushing off to South Africa or Hawaii. That was it.
But one year the surf magazines told us the Australian titles were coming to W. A. This was finally our big chance to see Wombat and Shooter in the flesh! Of course, none of us expected to meet the surf champions, least of all me.
It was the early seventies, while all those amazing things were happening with music and TV and politics. David Bowie and Velvet underground and the whole Whitlam era and Apartheid. But I was a surfy and surfies considered themselves outside of all that. We listened to Blues, that was the hip thing. And politics just didn’t touch us. We saw ourselves in the same unrealistic and romantic way we saw the surf champions - Careless Warriors. Norse Gods with reef sores.
My two mates were Steve and Robbie. We were called Gremmos or Grommets - the nick name for young surfies. Steve constantly bragged about his sexual conquests and Robbie, who drove his mum’s station wagon, bought a little blue heeler puppy because Steve assured him it’d be a ‘chick magnet’. And he was right; when the pup was around we were surrounded by girls going, “Oh isn’t he cute.” And occasionally Steve went off with the girls and later told us stories about what he did with them. And while Robbie and I knew Steve was bullshitting us, I wanted to believe him because I was a virgin and just wanted to hear something about sex.
The whole surfie culture was about proving your virility. At the time the latest in surf board design was a board called a ‘thruster’. There was even a game that surfies were supposed to play called ‘soggy biscuit’. This is a game where a group of guys all stand around a Jatz biscuit and masturbate onto it. The rule is that the last guy to come has to eat it. I never met anyone who’d admit to playing it, but it was considered to part of surfie culture. And it’s interesting that here we have a game supposedly played by tough macho guys that promotes early ejaculation! Unless of course you see the biscuit as a prize rather than a punishment.
We slept under a place called ‘Surfside’, one of those fifties asbestos buildings on stilts with a milk bar and adjoining holiday shacks. It was our weekend hideout, and normally life at surfside was quiet, but with the Australian titles came a carnival of surf mania. Trains of panel vans or ‘shaggin wagons’ purred their way down to Yallingup from the city carrying young men, dogs, beer, surf boards and for the lucky guys, the occasional girl, or ‘chick’. And every night I’d watch and listen to the chat about waves and women, and being an almost pre-pubescent midget I’d make the occasional smart comment that always got a laugh. I was like a mascot for their macho games. In fact I’d built up a bit of a reputation at the surf carnival as ‘the funny little guy’ who looks like Alfred E Neuman.
And I’d met several of the surf heroes down the pub, without actually realising it. But on the last night of the carnival, after a day of very really small surf - and that’s really frustrating for the last day of a surf contest - I just didn’t feel like going to the pub, don’t know why, I think I was just sick of being the funny little guy. So I went back to Surfside and sat under the verandah. Outside it was raining hard. A huge storm had hit the coast after the carnival finished. Everyone else was down the pub.
So I just sat there in the dark and looked at my sleeping bag which was wet because I’d left it hanging over a tree. Then I heard some noises of above me. Someone was inside Surfside. I decided to get up and see who it was - maybe I could bum a cigarette off them. For a while I sat on the front steps of the building until finally I could see who it was inside. It was a young woman called Jenny who worked in Surfside. She had a younger sister called Pat. They were known as the local ‘bikes’ because half the surfing competitors had slept with them. In fact at one stage I was walking through a near deserted car park when I saw a panel van with several young surfies standing behind it. They were all laughing and smiling as I went by. I wasn’t sure what was happening at the time but when I told Steve he explained that it was a ‘gang bang’ and that it was probably Pat or Jenny inside.
After a while I noticed that Jenny had seen me. She came over to the side doors and stared at me, so I crouched down, slightly embarrassed about hanging around. Then she opened the door and came out onto the verandah. I’d never spoken to her before, apart from buying stuff in the shop. She was shorter than Pat and wore hennaed hair and tight black jeans. She walked straight over to me and asked me where I was sleeping. I told her ‘Nowhere really’, and she said “Why don’t you come inside? There’s a spare bed in my room.”
Without hesitating I said “Yes”, so she led me around the back to the annexe, an old weather board section of Surfside - probably the original building. Her room was messy but warm. Both beds were army beds made of iron and cyclone wire with kapok mattresses that curved into the middle like hammocks. She was tired but we talked about the surf, her job in the shop and the weather. Then she turned the light off and got into bed.
I sat on the other bed in the darkness, wet but happy to have a bed and a blanket. Then it suddenly occurred to me where I was and who I was with! I was a virgin and by all accounts she was very experienced. This was what Steve would have called the ‘big moment’. But the idea of making an advance in the dark seemed absurd, and wasn’t about to ask. I didn’t know how.
I sat for a while, then took off my thongs and wet clothes. She stirred, then sat up and asked me if I was cold. I said “yes” and she said, “sorry” and suggested we sleep together. I didn’t say anything. Then she said it was Okay, she wouldn’t bite. (which of course sent my imagination into hyperspace). Eventually I stood up and mumbled an “Okay” and started to walk towards her bed. My mind was a jumble of bizarre sexual imagery: kisses on the neck, fingers running through hair, tongues slithering across shoulders. These were some of the strategic choices in what was inevitably heading for blind chaos but seemed vaguely plausible at the time.
When I got to her bed she rolled over to make room. I stood beside her bed, shivering - more from fear than cold - and I was just about to climb in with her when there was a sharp rapping at the door. Then a slightly familiar male voice called out, “Jenny, Jenny, it’s me ... Wombat”. Jenny called out “Hang On” and jumped out of bed, turned the light on, put on some clothes and opened the door. And without realising it, I was left standing in the middle of the room - a naked, hairless midget exposed to the gaze of Wombat Carmichael, Australia’s leading surf champion! He was flanked by ‘shooter’ Stevens and Harry Hucker, the 1967 Hawiian champion.
Jenny gave a perfunctory introduction, like she was referring to a family pet, and than asked them to sit down. Then Wombat, who’d just won the Australian titles and obviously had a skinful, came straight over to me and sat down, real casual. I finally grabbed my trousers and shirt and dressed while Wombat asked me questions about my surfboard and what it was like down south. The Australian Champion was asking me questions about surfing!!! I fumbled with buttons and zippers, stuttered a few replies and eventually sat down.
Then there was silence.
Across the room, on the other bed, in the full view of Wombat and myself, jenny was being clawed, slobbered on and undressed by the other two. I couldn’t believe it! Then I noticed that Wombat was staring at me with a warm, avuncular grin, as if to say, “Haven’t you seen this before kid.” I looked at Wombat. He smiled, and when I looked at the others they all turned to me and smiled. By now Jenny was completely naked and casually unbuttoning Harry’s shirt while Shooter was groping around between her legs. Again everyone stared at me. Then it dawned on me that they wanted me to leave. So I got up and went over to the door. Wombat told me to switch off the light. I did as I was told. Then I went out the door and shut it behind me.
Suddenly I found myself in a crowd.
On the rickety old verandah outside Jenny’s room were about fifteen young men. Some of them I recognised from the surf heats and others from the pub. They all laughed and someone made a joke about not wanting to go in there if that’s what happens when you come out!
Near the door of her bedroom a queue was forming, a line of men waiting like they do at the half time break in the footy. Some of them were swaggering, others just standing there smiling, while another, who was closest to the door, was playing with his genitals as though he was having trouble pissing. He then turned to someone near him and mumbled something about ‘working up a fat’. Then a young bloke I’d met at the shops, a tall lanky guy with dark hair, came over to me and said hello. He was grinning like a school boy and carrying a half empty bottle of beer.
“What’s she like?”
I had no idea what he was referring to.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, Jenny. What’s she like?”
I told him I was just in there because she’d invited me to come in out of the cold. This produced a series of guffaws and “Oh yehs” from the others and some muffled comment about starting young. I felt an enormous pressure to be jovial with them so I smiled. They kept laughing and joking. Then something happened in my stomach; I felt a sick feeling like I’d swallowed something rotten. And then I felt like saying something about not really being part of it - I just happened to be there. But all I could do was sit down, accept a beer that was offered, and stare out at the rain fully realising that I was part of it. I was there. I was young but so were they, and what’s that got to do with it anyway.
After a while Wombat and shooter came out, amidst a cheer similar to the one Wombat got after the final heat that day. Both were grinning and doing up their jeans. Then the two men nearest the door went inside.
After about thirty seconds I could hear Jenny’s voice, tense and desperate. She was speaking in high tones, saying “NO NO NO NO”. Then she started screaming, “Fuck off ya cunts. Fuck off, fuck off.” over and over. Then a male voice yelled, “Don’t you swear at me ya filthy bitch.” people outside giggled and the line broke up. Suddenly people were going everywhere. Then a loud smash came from jenny’s bedroom and the male voices stopped. Jenny’s voice continued, “Ya fuckin cunt. Ya fuckin cuuunt” almost like a wail.
The door opened and Harry Hucker came out, angry and quivering, his whole body tense. And out of the crowd came Wombat to quieten things down. After a quick meeting Wombat was sent inside to negotiate.
Five minutes went by while a group of men went up to her window. A half empty can was tossed against the window. It didn’t break. Then Wombat came out and said, “Forget it boys.” Then there was this weird wave of anger in the air. About a dozen young men, who were all standing around the building, began to shake the building on it’s stilts. I really thought they were going to push the it over.
Then they just wandered off into the night, jumping and pretend boxing, and I just sat on the verandah. I didn’t feel the cold straight away. I was wrestling with my guts, not my stomach, but my guts, my pit! It was a kind of pain that makes you grimace but you don’t cry.
But soon I was cold. Too cold to worry about what I might have seen if I went inside. So I did. I went inside and lay on the spare bed. I tried to sleep amongst the drafts and Jenny’s sobbing. And no matter how badly I wanted to comfort her, to hold her, or just to say that it was Okay, I couldn’t. The words came to the front of my mouth and disintegrated. And I knew how absurd they would have sounded. Sometimes it’s just too hard to forget what you’ve thought and who you’ve laughed along with.