ROMANCING THE SURF
70s SPIRIT IN MORNING OF THE EARTH SEQUEL
ANDREW Kidman laughed when he was asked to produce a sequel to the seminal 1970s Australian counterculture-surf film Morning of the Earth. ‘‘ I said to a few people, I don’t know if that is even possible,’’ he says from his home in Uki, a sleepy hamlet in the rainforest belt of the NSW north coast. ‘‘ How do you? I mean, you can’t replicate it.’’
The idea of re-creating Morning of the Earth is sacrilege to many. Directed by Albe Falzon and released in 1972 against the backdrop of Vietnam War conscription and the cultural revolution of the 60s, it provided inspiration for would-be dropouts, creatives, surfers and anyone else looking for a path that skirted the mainstream. Filmed along the NSW north coast, southern Queensland, Indonesia and Hawaii, it not only showed the world’s best surfers, such as 1966 world champion Nat Young and underground hero Michael Peterson performing their hitherto unseen dance atop the waves, but offered a snapshot of a way of life that would become one of this nation’s most defining.
The era was heavily influenced by the new type of boards being produced. Shorter than the cumbersome Malibus that had dominated until then, the new designs allowed surfers to establish a sublime rhythm on a wave, transforming surfing into a form of expression, if not quite an art. The new style provided a rush like no other and, as Morning of the Earth revealed, the most dedicated surfers extended their newfound aquatic freedom to their lifestyle on land, living in tree houses in Yamba, NSW, growing their own food and experimenting with drugs — mari- juana and LSD, mostly. Inevitably there were casualties. Peterson, arguably the greatest surfer of the Morning of the Earth generation and an avid substance user, would later serve time in Brisbane’s notorious Boggo Road jail before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He died in 2012, aged 59, having spent more than two decades as a recluse on medication.
Morning of the Earth helped create the environment that produced one of Australia’s greatest cultural exports: the surf industry. Brands such Quiksilver, Rip Curl and Billabong went on to become multinational corporate behemoths. Surf culture was linked to national identity. But the self-expression, colour and creativity that had been so tastefully revealed in Morning of the Earth was quickly lost in the corporate rush to turn the culture into a fashion statement and surfing into a sport. Heroes were no longer hippies in search of spirituality but logo-clad competitors with an appetite for publicity, power and contest money. The drugs changed too — mind expansion was out, replaced by the supercharged highs of cocaine and methamphetamine. And the places that once provided the sacred rites of passage for any surfer, such as Hawaii and Bali, were overrun by disrespectful wave hogs. There was a backlash in the form of intimidating surf gangs and plenty of violence to go with it.
Falzon was among the first to see the good days were numbered. ‘‘ I could see it was going to be this tsunami coming and I wanted to get out of the road,’’ he says. He split to Tibet, then Jamaica before settling on a farm on the NSW mid-north coast where he meditates daily and lives a life much like that of his former film subjects.