RO­MANC­ING THE SURF

70s SPIRIT IN MORN­ING OF THE EARTH SE­QUEL

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

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.

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