WE’VE LOST OUR DUKE

Surfing World - - Contents - Sally Mac­in­tosh, Coastal­watch Edi­tor

Midget Far­relly lived his whole life in one of the most idyl­lic coastal lo­cal­i­ties in the world. He called Palm Beach home and surfed lo­cally al­most ev­ery day. It was hard to miss him on the week­ends when his big white van, af­fec­tion­ately named Midget’s Fun-mo­bile, would pull up in the carpark, stacked full of gear. It was fit­ted out like a small surf shop.

He’d sit in the driver’s seat in his Ugg boots as the sun rose be­tween the head­lands, re­flect­ing warm rays off his sun­nies into the lineup, his chin nes­tled in his hands on the steer­ing wheel.

“Have you de­cided which board I can have yet?” I’d pester him, month af­ter month, eager to get my hands on a dreamy vi­o­let Far­relly log or his six foot red quad. “Nope.” he’d re­ply each time, “But you can have a go of this one to­day,” point­ing into the depths of the van.

A ski and SUP were of­ten both strapped on the roof and some­times his lilac surf­boat, ‘The Bar­ren­joey’ was in­tow, but ev­ery­thing got real inside the van. The dark­ness lit up in an in­stant like a flu­o­res­cent shop dis­play as he rolled open the slid­ing van door.

Three wet­suits were hang­ing neatly on hang­ers across the far side panel, plus two skate­boards, board­shorts, leg­gies, wax, folded tow­els (not to be used un­til af­ter show­ered), a bike and a hand­ful of his lat­est hand­shaped Far­relly Surf­board mod­els.

This one par­tic­u­lar Sun­day morn­ing, my favourite to rem­i­nisce about now, Midget had just re­turned from surf­ing Pasta Point in the Mal­dives. He wasn’t all happy with a cou­ple of specs in the quiver he’d taken over and was still try­ing to pin­point the ex­act is­sues to cor­rect in the next de­sign. He slid out two boards and we made our way out at South Wha­ley.

Just 10 strokes and he was out, with only two oth­ers sit­ting pa­tiently in the spring sun. We sat and dis­cussed the tur­moil and tri­umphs of the surf in­dus­try at that time, be­fore he’d drift off mid-sen­tence with a sniff of some­thing loom­ing on the horizon.

I turned around still yap­ping and he was 50 me­tres away, trav­el­ling with the mo­men­tum of a run­ner that mor­phed quickly into a three­foot peeler off the pool. At 69 years of age, he danced up and down that board, light as a feather. He was a golden sil­hou­ette through the glis­ten­ing turquoise morn­ing waves with a sat­is­fac­tory smile on the kick­out.

Just three per­fect waves were all he needed to slake his need that ses­sion, and it was mes­meris­ing to watch.

As the father of three daugh­ters, Midget had a nat­u­rally affin­ity to en­cour­age and sup­port women tak­ing on lead­er­ship po­si­tions in all ar­eas of the surf and Surf Life Sav­ing com­mu­nity. De­spite pro­vid­ing solid and un­matched guid­ance, he would never lay down a smooth path, in­stead as­sist­ing with the prepa­ra­tion of chal­lenges, arm­ing you with a men­tal tool-kit of strate­gic, fast think­ing, thought pro­vok­ing know-how and wit. In­valu­able skills from a suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional busi­ness­man, a pi­o­neer and in­no­va­tor till the end. When he thought you could do some­thing, get a job done, he had your back and wanted to see you suc­ceed just like the pro­gres­sion of his young boat crews.

Through­out his life on the north­ern beaches he was a mem­ber of a num­ber of Surf Life Sav­ing clubs in­clud­ing Manly, Fresh­wa­ter, Whale Beach and Palm Beach where he pa­trolled as a vol­un­teer each month, as well as de­vel­op­ing and men­tor­ing hun­dreds of teenagers into cham­pion surf­boat crews.

His train­ing was solid and not for the weak but he had an abil­ity to build a crew and con­nect with the kids like no other sweep. When you were in a surf­boat with Midget at the helm, de­spite the dan­gers, you knew he was in com­plete con­trol and it was un­likely that any waves or con­di­tions could sur­prise him.

There was this same unspoken trust – a trust in him, his in­tel­li­gence, in­tu­ition and cre­ative flair – that saw him qui­etly and mod­estly fol­lowed by tens of thou­sands of ev­ery­day Aussies and surfers world­wide.

When my baby-boomer dad was 12 he sat in front of his Pye 21” black and white tele­vi­sion in the Syd­ney sub­urb of Deni­s­tone and watched as this bloke called Midget Far­relly won the first world surf­ing cham­pi­onships in Manly. My dad didn’t surf but he spoke about Midget as one of the coun­try’s great­est sport­ing icons.

Midget didn’t like to think about the fact that he was so deeply loved and es­teemed by so many – so many strangers, kids of my dad’s gen­er­a­tion, peo­ple he’d sold boards to, sat next to silently in the lineup, and as­pir­ing surfers who sought a lead back in the sport’s ear­li­est days.

He didn’t like to talk about it, but I hope he thought about it a lit­tle, and I hope that wher­ever he is now he can maybe be­gin to un­der­stand how much of an in­flu­ence and a hero he was to so many.

For some rea­son, and de­spite his hard re­sis­tance to il­lus­tri­ous­ness, Midget’s name will al­ways be syn­ony­mous with the leg­ends of Aus­tralian sport­ing his­tory. It will ex­ist in the same realm as Don Brad­man, Rod Laver, Dawn Fraser, Herb El­liott and Phar Lap. As film maker Dick Hoole put it last week, ‘Los­ing Midget is like los­ing Aus­tralia’s own Duke.”

Phil Meatcham’s in­cred­i­ble 2010 por­trait cap­tured the mod­ern day Midget at his best. Happy, re­laxed and soaked in post surf stoke.

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