Scum Val­ley’s Finest

Tracks - - Scum Valley’s Finest - Words: Jed Smith


“They called us drug-fucked-loserde­gen­er­ates. And you know what? We fucken beat ‘em. And you know what? We fucken were, ‘cos that’s what surf­ing was,” fumes Matt El­lks, the ec­cen­tric, world­weary god­fa­ther of in­ner-city Syd­ney surf­ing.

We’re in his Ba­li­nese lair on the is­land’s for­got­ten north coast as he tells the story. He’s on his feet, shirt­less in a pair of green cargo shots, with his trusty va­por­iser (full of a mys­te­ri­ous lo­cal serum) in one hand and the other ex­tended threat­en­ingly at his would-be an­tag­o­nist, for­mer Chan­nel Nine CEO and Bondi surfer, David Gyn­gell.

“He had all the names - fucken (Richard) Crammy, Bill Pow­ers, all the money and the spon­sors. And we were the mon­grels, the punks, the fucken roots of the sub­urb,” he con­tin­ues.

The story re­gards the ri­valry that tore our home­town, Bondi, in two. On one side was Gyn­gell, the son of Bruce - bet­ter known as the first man to ap­pear on tele­vi­sion in Aus­tralia - and god son of Aus­tralia’s orig­i­nal me­dia ty­coon, Kerry Packer. Gyn­gell’s Bondibased board­rid­ers club, ITN (In The Nude), in­cluded one of the great line­ups of 1980s Aus­tralian surf­ing tal­ent, among them World Tour surfers Richard Cram, Cheyne Ho­ran, Rod Kerr (Bronte) and Simon Law (New­cas­tle) along with formidable lo­cal pros Bill Pow­ers, Dave David­son, and the We­ber broth­ers (Will and Ben). They would go on to win the 1986 Na­tional Surf League Cham­pi­onships, held at Bondi, es­tab­lish­ing the sub­urb briefly as a gen­uine pow­er­house in com­pet­i­tive surf­ing. And that’s where the beef be­gins.

El­lksy con­tends he should have been in that team. He was in the form of his ca­reer at the time hav­ing bro­ken through for his first win on the highly com­pet­i­tive APSA cir­cuit (a feeder for the World Tour, which was the Top 16 at the time) at Port­sea where he de­feated a field that in­cluded Ross Clarke Jones, Bill Power, Tony Ray and Matt Bran­son. El­lksy says he was also win­ning ITN’s Opens di­vi­sion when the team was cho­sen. “I won it (the Open’s di­vi­sion) and I was left out and I wasn’t given an ex­pla­na­tion,” he says.

The son of a pro­fes­sional gam­bler, streethus­tler and wife-beater who “necked him­self” at 56, El­lksy ex­pe­ri­enced lim­ited suc­cess as a pro surfer dur­ing the eight­ies and nineties. His main claim to fame was be­ing the first and only Aus­tralian to ever ride for un­der­ground Hawai­ian surf com­pany, Da Hui. For a pe­riod he was also their li­censee in Aus­trala­sia, un­til the deal soured amidst a bliz­zard of co­caine and heroin. “I was never a junky. I’d use it oc­ca­sion­ally,” he says.

When El­lksy was over­looked for the ITN team he formed a break­away club, Bondi Board­rid­ers, which still ex­ists to­day. To the

many lost boys, houso rats, sons of sin­gle moth­ers, punks, skaters, surfers, street artists, rock­ers, ravers, rap­pers, deal­ers, break­dancers, groovers and as­pir­ing gang­sters, El­lksy was god. He was dad. He was a men­tor and an in­valu­able source of self be­lief.

“He gave the work­ing class crew a bit of be­lief in them­selves and that was proven when Bondi Board­rid­ers beat ITN,” says Will We­ber, a long­time friend of El­lksy’s who surfed for both he and Gyn­gell’s club.

“He gave them be­lief and goals to aim at, which there wasn’t be­fore. We (ITN) were def­i­nitely the elite surfers and they weren’t in­cluded in a sense, even though that’s how we got good - by surf­ing against those guys ev­ery­day,” he says.

As the son of a bat­tered and broke sin­gle mother - as I was - he was all of those things to me. We were liv­ing in Fran­cis Street, South Bondi, at the time, with our flat­mate, Sandy, and some­times her boyfriend, Ja­pumah from Cape York, in Arn­hem Land. I must have been about eight.

I re­mem­ber the day he came home from Hawaii with a chipped tooth from surf­ing Back­door and the rights to sell Da Hui. I re­mem­ber play­ing cricket in the street and watch­ing him chase a thief down the road, shirt­less in a pair of Blund­stones, after he knocked off a board from the rack out­side his store. I re­mem­ber watch­ing him leap onto the roof of the get­away car as it took off, Van Damme-style, forc­ing the crook to drop the board (it was be­ing held out the win­dow) be­fore com­mando rolling across the as­phalt, pick­ing up the board, and walk­ing back down the street past us.

His hum­ble, anti-es­tab­lish­ment, shoe-box of a surf store on the cor­ner of Fran­cis St and Camp­bell Pa­rade was my in­tro­duc­tion to surf­ing. The smell of Sex Wax, the neon stick­ers and skate wheels be­neath the glass cabi­net, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air para­chute pants and bomber jack­ets, the blood­shot­eye-bulging-speed-freak iconog­ra­phy on the walls, are as vivid in my mem­ory to­day as they ever were. It was a utopia of un­der­ground eight­ies and nineties surf cul­ture. A place where you could find your­self buy­ing a bar of wax off But­tons Kahuk­ilo­iani, Cheyne Ho­ran, Jake Brown (the skater) or Rob Tru­jillo (from Sui­ci­dal Ten­den­cies and later Me­tal­lica) while Elksy rolled a joint out the back.

For all that’s been writ­ten and said about Bondi in the last ten to 15 years, it’s re­mark­able how lit­tle of it has come from the peo­ple who for gen­er­a­tions worked, built, and ran the joint. Of all the folk lore paved over dur­ing the great gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, noth­ing says Scum Val­ley more than the beef be­tween El­lksy and Gynge.

With a smug glint in his eye, he re­calls the

time it turned phys­i­cal on the prom­e­nade. The ex­act de­tails re­main con­tested (Gyn­gell re­fused to com­ment) though ac­cord­ing to El­lksy he’d just re­turned from a stint in Thailand at a Muay Thai kick­box­ing camp when a heated ar­gu­ment with Gyn­gell cul­mi­nated in Gyn­gell “push­ing his fin­ger into my breast­bone.” El­lksy let rip a cou­ple of jabs in re­sponse.

“The se­cond one opened him up and spilt a bit of his blood on prom­e­nade down there with the thou­sands of other stains and shit. And I thought that was per­fect. It showed him what he was in Bondi - just an­other fucken stain on the pave­ment,” he laughs, rel­ish­ing in the poetry of it all.

Their feud would serve as the foun­da­tion for El­lksy’s de­but novel, Scum Val­ley, a barely fic­tion­alised ac­count of the skull­dug­gery and de­gen­er­acy that pre­ceded the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. His beef with Gyn­gell was com­pli­cated. Ev­ery­one had friends on both sides and many surfers com­peted for both clubs at dif­fer­ent times. Bondi pro and 1986 ITN team mem­ber, Dave David­son, says El­lksy’s non-se­lec­tion in the Surf League team was jus­ti­fied.

“There was no conspiracy against him. There was just ba­si­cally the bot­tom line that he wasn’t con­sis­tently good enough to get in that team…he might be good one day and was just hor­ri­ble the next,” says Davo.

As El­lksy’s re­la­tion­ship with Gyn­gell de­te­ri­o­rated, Gyn­gell came to rep­re­sent ev­ery­thing that was wrong about Bondi and the world.

“He was the cor­po­rate teflon kid, com­ing down from (nearby rich sub­urb) Vau­cluse look­ing for a bit of ‘street cred,’” says El­lksy.

Will Web­ber, along with sev­eral oth­ers from the sub­urb I spoke to, wa­tered down the beef be­tween the pair as well as the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of Gyn­gell as a shal­low, squeaky clean, rich kid (Gyn­gell re­fused to com­ment). “It was pretty silly,” says Web­ber. “El­lksy be­ing from the beach could find a di­vi­sion be­tween he and Gynge and made him his most pop­u­lar en­emy. I think El­lksy found an easy guy to have a gripe against in Gynge but he did as much as should have done with the club (ITN). There were no free hand­outs,” he says.

Oth­ers told me of a Gyn­gell that did as much for the sub­urb as any­one, in­clud­ing foot­ing re­hab bills for lo­cal surfers who fell into drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion; sourc­ing spon­sor­ship and put­ting his own money into both ITN and later the Bondi Board­rid­ers Club; and gen­er­ally be­ing there for mem­bers of the com­mu­nity any­time they needed it. As one of Gyn­gell’s friends told me, “If Gynge was the en­emy of the work­ing-class surfer at Bondi he did a pretty crap job of show­ing it. He’s still help­ing Bondi Board­rid­ers to­day. And where’s El­lksy?”

El­lksy was from money too, though a dif­fer­ent kind of money to Gyn­gell. His fa­ther was from blue-col­lar Mer­ry­lands, in Western Syd­ney, but ran away from a trou­bled and at times abu­sive home aged 14. He moved into a board­ing house around the cor­ner from Rand­wick Race­track where he served an ap­pren­tice­ship of sorts in the art of gam­bling and petty crim­i­nal­ity. By the time El­lksy was born his dad was one of the most recog­nised rac­ing and gam­bling iden­ti­ties in the state.

“They loved him down there. He was re­spect­ful, he was smart, he paid at­ten­tion, and he knew his horses,” he says, adding, “He wasn’t a crim­i­nal my fa­ther but we’d al­ways be get­ting rid of hot stuff from the house. The cops would be on the take. That was just Aus­tralia back then.”

El­lksy re­mem­bers his dad win­ning and los­ing for­tunes in a sin­gle day at the track sums of up to a hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars.

“And that was in the 1970s!” he says. “And he’d lose it! The stress of it was pretty full on,” he says.

Some years the fam­ily would be liv­ing in the “man­sion up on the hill” and oth­ers “the poor house.” The big wind­falls meant El­lksy was sent to the same pres­ti­gious pri­vate school as Gyn­gell - Cran­brook, in Rose Bay - where he was in­tro­duced to the great Aus­tralian surf­ing dy­nasty, the Web­ber fam­ily - Greg,

Dan, Monty, Will, Ben and John. When things got heated at home, as they of­ten did, El­lksy would hide out at the Web­bers, to the point their fa­ther would of­ten have to send him home.

“They’d call me the seventh Web­ber,” he laughs. “They are, as (fa­mous Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist) Ge­orge Ne­gus says, Aus­tralian surf­ing roy­alty.”

The one con­stant in El­lksy’s child­hood and ado­les­cence was stress, which of­ten man­i­fested it­self in anger and vi­cious beat­ings dished out in the home.

“My fa­ther strug­gled with his anger man­age­ment. He use to bash my mum and that. But he loved us and he’d try and make up for it in other ways,” he says.

Anger and atone­ment are traits El­lksy has in­her­ited. Whether it’s buy­ing the lo­cal vil­lage kids ice blocks after crack­ing the shits with them, help­ing bat­tlers in Bondi with anger and self-es­teem is­sues, or in­tro­duc­ing the cur­rent ed­i­tor of Tracks to Me­tal­lica to say sorry for al­most drown­ing him in the surf one day, he’s long seen him­self a de­fender of the vul­ner­a­ble and an an­tag­o­nist of the rich.

“These rich cunts carry on as if they fucken earned it, as if be­cause you’re poor or you’re fucked up you’re an id­iot, you’re dumb! They fucken be­lit­tle us and the turn us into their slaves. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it’s al­ways been,” he says.

As global cap­i­tal and in­vest­ment poured into Bondi through­out the nineties and naugh­ties, Scum Val­ley be­came some­thing else. The “stink pipe” on the beach (which spewed ef­flu­ent straight into the lineup, cre­at­ing a con­sis­tent left and right rip bowl that some­times re­sem­bled a river mouth) was re­moved. The wa­ter turned blue and the jewel in Syd­ney’s crown be­gan to shim­mer. In­vestors bought up the cheap hous­ing, raised the rents, and pushed the low-in­come folk out.

“When they fixed up the pave­ment in Bondi, it raised the rents and the Maoris were the first to dis­ap­pear,” re­calls Will, adding of Bondi, “Sadly, it’s gone the Gynge way rather than the El­lks way.”

A com­bi­na­tion of so­cial and eco­nomic forces meant Will, like many other Bondi orig­i­nals, be­came part of a mass ex­o­dus from the area. Mean­while Ma and I didn’t go far, just over the hill to Bronte, where we moved into a mouldy one-bed­der with a sun­room, un­til we could find an­other beaten-up shit hole in Bondi to move back into. It was the year 2000 by the then and El­lksy was long gone.

“There was no op­tion to stay and live my days out in my home sub­urb, oth­er­wise we all would of stayed,” he says, to­day, adding, “How fucked up has this coun­try be­come when it puts the real es­tate in­dus­try above the well be­ing of a com­mu­nity?”

Now, aged 30, I was des­per­ate to track him down. I had a few ques­tions that needed an­swer­ing and some char­ac­ter flaws that ei­ther needed val­i­dat­ing or re­cal­i­brat­ing. I’d re­ceived word he was holed up on Bali’s for­got­ten north coast where he was at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a utopia. So I went up river to find him.

Head­ing north from Kuta, Bali goes back ten years in time for ev­ery ten kilo­me­tres trav­elled. Soon enough you’re in suf­fo­cat­ing poverty - homes and warungs fash­ioned from bam­boo, women squat­ting by the road­side slap­ping freshly caught fish, and not even a whiff of the tourist dol­lar. Lime green, jagged vol­canic moun­tains rise out of the earth. A vil­lage girl rem­i­nis­cent of Tyra Banks walks the edge of the road. The ferry at Padang Bai re­leases a cav­al­cade of trucks, forc­ing you to the fur­thest ex­trem­ity of your lane as they over­take each other.

Bak­ing, preg­nant heat gives way to a mon­soon and flash flood­ing forces you into a road­side shel­ter where the Ba­li­nese car­pen­ter build­ing it of­fers you the rest of his tahu goreng (fried tofu). He warns of dan­gers up ahead. The Mount Agung vol­cano has erupted send­ing cold lava across the road and the road might be closed. I press on, wind­ing slowly around the moun­tains, where I look out over a vast patch­work of rice pad­dies run­ning from the base of the cliff to the coast. A young woman sits in a thatched hut guard­ing rice crops from crows and scrolling a knock­off iPhone.

It’s dusk when I ar­rive at El­lksy’s and the lo­cal Mangku (vil­lage priest) who runs his homes­tay takes me to see him. I find him sit­ting on top of an art­fully man­i­cured con­crete look­out (he’s a tiler by trade) shirt­less, in a sarong, star­ing pen­sively

out to sea. “El­lksy brah!” I yell. “Smivvy! Still choofin’?’” he asks, hand­ing me his trusty va­por­iser. “The good oil,” he con­firms. “Fuck yeah,” I re­ply. We sit there as a stormy dusk rolls in. Smoke rises into the sky from fires along the shore. Outrig­ger fish­ing boats bob in the dis­tance. Still­ness de­scends. Clar­ity reigns. All this time in iso­la­tion has given El­lksy a rare kind of lu­cid­ity. In a cou­ple of sen­tences he can take you from the grass roots to the top of the bio­sphere, which I learn ends ten kilo­me­tres above us.

“Glob­al­i­sa­tion is about the cor­rupt­ing and rob­bing of in­dige­nous cul­tures and re­plac­ing them with a new one for the sole pur­pose of sell­ing them prod­ucts,” he be­gins, in what is the first of two days worth of epic ser­mons on the man­i­fest and mul­ti­tude fail­ures of lat­estage cap­i­tal­ism.

He can’t stand Aus­tralia any­more. Can’t fathom how, in a land as abun­dant and re­source-rich as ours, the liv­ing can be so difficult and leave us so lit­tle time to do the things we love.

“For a place where the liv­ing was so easy and so good, I just don’t know how it man­aged to tie it­self up in such a knot. It’s a fucken mess. GREEEEED,” he says.

El­lksy is con­vinced the sys­tem is about to crash and when it does he knows where he wants to be

“Where would you rather be when the lights start go­ing out on ma­jor cities? You don’t wanna be in one. Peo­ple will start killing each other within a month,” he says.

“I’ll be out here with plenty of fresh fish, my own veg­eta­bles, plenty of rice, and a few waves out the front,” he laughs, look­ing out over a patch of reef and sand which en­ter­tains fairly con­sis­tent short pe­riod wind swells up to four feet.

His re­sent­ment of cap­i­tal­ism and its cruel in­ef­fi­ciency has man­i­fested in a se­ries of schemes and scams over the years. The ecov­il­lage utopia he’s in the process of cre­at­ing is the lat­est one but pro­fes­sional surf­ing was ar­guably the first. It was the leg­endary shaper, Rod­ney Dahlberg, who first con­vinced him to have a tilt at the tour. El­lksy was do­ing a stint in An­gourie at the time and Dahlberg, who was hook­ing him up with cheap boards, sug­gested he take his game on the road to New Zealand. He did well in a cou­ple of con­tests, earn­ing the at­ten­tion of Hot But­tered hon­cho and surf­ing im­mor­tal Terry Fitzger­ald, who would be­come a defin­ing in­flu­ence on his surf­ing life.

“I owe a lot to Fitzy. He was so good to me,” he says.

An­other of El­lksy’s big surf­ing in­flu­ences was Derek Hynd, who he met on that same trip to New Zealand.

“Derek with his eye and all that, I thought he was a pretty amaz­ing guy with all his set backs and how pos­i­tive he was. Ba­si­cally, he in­stilled in me just to be­lieve in my­self and he told me you’re a great surfer El­lks - just go hard, you can beat any­one,” he says.

El­lksy spent months in Hawaii each win­ter team­ing up with Scum Val­ley le­gend, Cheyne Ho­ran and Pipe Mas­ter Rob­bie Page, who’d both won hard earned re­spect and earned count­less im­por­tant re­la­tion­ships along the seven mile mir­a­cle. Among El­lksy’s many friends was Jonny Boy Gomes, who he shared a shap­ing spon­sor with.

“He’d be like, brah, I need to bor­row your car and he’d pretty much just grab the keys. I couldn’t say no. We were that good friends,” smirks El­lksy.

He would drift be­tween sev­eral houses in Hawaii each win­ter, in­clud­ing one at Velzy­land, full of Scum Val­ley pro­teges. They’d com­pete in a test match-style surf se­ries against the lo­cal V-Land crew, so be­gin­ning a long friend­ship be­tween the two beaches. El­lksy got on well with the Hawai­ians, es­pe­cially groovers like the great But­tons Kaluhiokalani, who would be­come a life­long friend. With his surf store up and run­ning back home, El­lksy had the idea of sell­ing Da Hui prod­ucts in Aus­tralia and asked a Hawai­ian mate if he could tee up a meet­ing with an in­fa­mous lo­cal char­ac­ter by the name of ‘Fast’ Ed­die Roth­man.

“Ed­die, even in those days, was a pretty fear­some fig­ure with a lot of ru­mours and that kind of stuff around him,” he re­calls.

“I asked my mate if he could tee us up and he goes, ‘El­lksy brah, you know where Ed­die lives, he lives over there at Back­yards. You go round there and ask him your­self.’ And I went, ‘Yeah, of course! And I went round and asked him,’” he re­calls.

After en­ter­ing the yard and squeez­ing be­tween two gi­ant at­tack dogs on chains, he knocked on the door. Ed­die an­swered, shirt­less. “He’s like, what do you want?” “I said, ‘Hi Ed­die, my name’s Matt El­lks, I’m from Bondi. I’ve been surf­ing here for years and I’m pretty tight with a few lo­cal crew around here. I wanna buy some of your stuff to sell in my store back in Bondi.’ And he said, come in,” re­calls El­lksy.

Soon El­lksy was part of the in­ner-sanc­tum. He was taken to Da Hui’s head­quar­ters in Honolulu and in­tro­duced to the rest of the fam­ily, in­clud­ing Clyde Aikau and Bryan Amona. There the idea was floated that El­lksy would take over the com­pany’s reigns in Aus­trala­sia. The gig had ini­tially been slated for Bruce Ray­mond, an­other Scum Val­ley boy, who’d helped start Quik­sil­ver. When Ed­die told the fam­ily of the change of plans, Clyde piped up.

“He goes, ‘Ed­die, weren’t we gonna give it to Bruce?’ And Ed­die goes, ‘Look around. I don’t see Bruce Ray­mond here. El­lksy is here. Let’s give it to him.’ And that was that,” he re­calls.

Back in Aus­tralia El­lksy had be­gun dab­bling in heroin, a time-hon­oured thorn in Bondi’s side. Such is the sub­urb’s prox­im­ity to Kings Cross - the har­bour-side red light dis­trict where heroin first washed up on our shores the surf com­mu­nity never stood a chance.

“I was never a junkie. I’d use it oc­ca­sion­ally and get high for a few days then I’d surf for a cou­ple of weeks and it’d be fine,” he says.

“But you’d be out at the pub or what­ever and you’d have your mates who’d be into that kind of stuff and you’d bump into em they’d be like, ‘Ay,’” he says, wink­ing at me, “How about it? We go back to mine and have a lit­tle hit.”

El­lksy’s face breaks into a sneaky boy­hood grin, “And we’d go and I’d be high for a cou­ple of days.”

He man­aged to keep a han­dle on his habit for a pe­riod but ad­mits “it was kind of tor­ture.”

“Be­cause I’d be off it and I’d be fine and then I’d see these guys, have a hit, and then I’d have to go cold turkey again. It ru­ined a lot of lives, it killed a cou­ple of mates,” he says.

The tim­ing couldn’t have been worse with his new­found Da Hui re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. So he en­listed the help of cou­ple more Bondi guys. They were pretty deep in the drug run­ning game at the time, as many surfers of the pe­riod were, mean­ing they had money to burn. By his own ad­mis­sion El­lksy had started dat­ing a girl who was a heroin ad­dict and ‘lady of the night’, which in turn lead one of his part­ners to go to Roth­man be­hind his back and seed the story that he was fucked up and not fit to run his busi­ness in Aus­tralia.

“I was good mates with Ed­die but he didn’t grow up with me. Ed­die calls me and he goes, ‘Look, why don’t you give these guys con­trol for a year and see how they go? After that you can have it back. You’ll still be in­volved.’ And I go, yep, sweet, and that was that,” he says.

Ex­cept the other two were hard into drugs as well. The op­er­a­tion moved to Maclean, near Yamba, where El­lksy, the two part­ners and a fe­male ac­coun­tant lived to­gether as they tried to find a way out of the mess. But the house be­came a full-blown drug den and after El­lksy con­vinced him­self the three of them were go­ing to off him and steal the busi­ness, he got out, moved to By­ron, got on the dole, and teamed up with his old mate and for­mer 1991 ASP rookie of the year Jeremy Byles for a bit of tube ther­apy. “We spent the year get­ting bar­relled back when, you know, it was still ‘By­ron.’ It was groovy an that,” he says, pulling a face, “but it was still a farm­ing town, it was still chill com­pared to what it is now.”

When But­tons flew over El­lksy picked up him up at the air­port and they spent weeks zip­ping up and down the east coast. Even­tu­ally, he caught wind that the Da Hui li­cense was in even worse shape than when he’d left it. The two char­ac­ters had scam­pered leav­ing only the ac­coun­tant and her mother, who loaned the busi­ness 50k.

He doesn’t want to elab­o­rate on what hap­pened next, chang­ing topic to a story about Rob Tru­jillo, the bassist from Me­tal­lica, who he’s known for 20 plus years and toured Aus­tralia with. It’s a wild story with cameos from a young Mick Fan­ning and Joel Parkin­son side of stage at the Big Day Out in 2003. He sums up the whole chap­ter with a lyric from one of his favourite bands, Sub­lime.

“It’s just the way we live and that’s the way we get by,” he says, adding, with a fin­ger pointed at me to make his point, “As long as you don’t hurt any­one. You can hurt your­self.”

After the ini­tial in­ter­view Matt makes a point of get­ting in con­tact to fur­ther ex­plain his mem­ory of the Da Hui ex­pe­ri­ence and the guilt he still har­bours about the way it ended.

“I was al­ways loyal to Ed­die and the com­pany and had been dili­gent in try­ing to es­tab­lish it in Oz. I had it in over 70 shops in Vic, NSW and QLD. Ed­die knew I had no money be­hind me and not much busi­ness acu­men but he still sup­ported me 100%. I’ve al­ways been grate­ful to Ed­die for giv­ing me

such a great op­por­tu­nity, I think he liked the hard­core battler in me. I had credit run­ning ev­ery­where and owed for run­ning and man­u­fac­tur­ing and I was slowly feel­ing com­pletely snowed un­der. I was do­ing it all on my own, as well as the shop and it all just got too much. Ed­die backed me and I let him down. I was dev­as­tated when things didn’t work out but I have no one else to blame but my­self.”

To­day, aged 56, El­lksy is the same age as his fa­ther when he drove a car off a cliff and killed him­self. After giv­ing up pro­fes­sional gam­bling his fa­ther tran­si­tioned to run­ning a car yard but it went bank­rupt after his part­ner em­bez­zled all the prof­its. He didn’t even have enough money to hit the track and that was too much.

“Don’t get me wrong, what my fa­ther did wasn’t good and I’d never do that - I’d never beat my wife. But he had a tough time as a kid and he suf­fered ter­ri­ble bouts of de­pres­sion and it came back to smack him in the head in the end. He necked him­self be­cause when the chips were down he wanted love but he couldn’t rec­on­cile with what he’d done and he just said, ‘you know what, fuck it,’” he says, adding, “It’s very hard to give love if you have never re­ceived it.”

El­lksy chooses his time care­fully to tell me he’s got can­cer. It’s near­ing the end of my time at his lair and we’re sit­ting on the con­crete look­out, pass­ing the vape, as an­other misty dusk rolls in. It isn’t ter­mi­nal and he’s get­ting treat­ment for it, but it’s caused a ma­jor re-eval­u­a­tion.

“That was a sur­prise. It re­ally strips away all the bull­shit and you’re left with what’s im­por­tant. And that’s what I’ve got go­ing on

with the Bali Sus­tain­abil­ity HUB,” he says.

His part­ing gift, if he can’t beat the ill­ness, will be to cre­ate the in­er­tia within this ob­scure slice of par­adise for a bet­ter, more log­i­cal fu­ture. He aims to turn the area into an ecov­il­lage, which ba­si­cally means hark­ing back to tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese ways, with a few western con­ve­niences, and one very sig­nif­i­cant one re­moved.

“They pro­duce 3.4 mil­lion tonnes of plas­tic a year in this coun­try. Petro­chem­i­cal cor­po­ra­tions make bil­lions and they dump it in Asia where they know they’re not ed­u­cated enough to deal with it prop­erly. It’s fucked,” he says, segue­ing into a story about an oil tanker that re­cently emp­tied its bal­last a few clicks out to sea caus­ing an oil slick along his beach for more than a week.

“These fucken petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­tries are a law unto ‘em­selves! They fucken run gov­ern­ments, they own the politi­cians!” he be­gins.

“Whose re­spon­si­ble for the shit they cre­ate? Shouldn’t they be? You don’t just get to go around mak­ing stuff and then wash­ing your hands of it and go­ing, ‘Here you go world! Fucken deal with it,” he fumes, be­fore crack­ing him­self up at the ab­sur­dity of it all.

The next morn­ing he takes me on a tour of the lo­cal vil­lage. We chase nar­row paths be­neath a dense canopy of trees be­fore emerg­ing at an in­ter­sec­tion over­seen by the lo­cal cop­per. El­lksy says g’day be­fore tak­ing us down the road to a bridge look­ing up at a moun­tain range. El­lksy plans to set up an ed­u­ca­tional trekking path through the moun­tains along with an­other homes­tay.

“On the other side of that range is a vil­lage where no one’s lived for a thou­sand years!” he says.

“It will all be part of this eco-vil­lage. They blew it at the south­ern end (Kuta etc). It’s all Jakarta peo­ple run­ning it and what would they know about the en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­able tourism? They’re from Jakarta!” he says.

El­lksy has his fin­gers in half a dozen en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives in the lo­cal re­gency and greater Bali - ev­ery­thing from run­ning work­shops at lo­cal schools ed­u­cat­ing kids on han­dling wildlife, to waste man­age­ment, wa­ter man­age­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able tourism. He col­lects in­jured birds and nurses them back to health in his aviary. He still hasn’t kicked the drug habit com­pletely, re­ly­ing on xanex oc­ca­sion­ally to get him to sleep, but he’s highly func­tion­ing.

“I need a new head. If you know any­one, lemme know. They have to be younger

though,” he laughs.

“Nooo, but you’ll lose ev­ery­thing that’s in there,” his wife, Putu, re­torts.

She’s from the lo­cal vil­lage and they’ve been to­gether 12 years now, pro­duc­ing two chil­dren, Ray­mond, 6, and Selina, 11, who El­lksy’s homes­tay is named after. Over a break­fast of ba­con and eggs she fills me in on their re­la­tion­ship.

“It hasn’t been easy. It’s a chal­lenge but we make it re­ally im­por­tant to be best friends. That is our fo­cus,” she says, adding, “I’ve learned so much from Matt.”

I’m des­per­ate to know more about the can­cer di­ag­no­sis but I’ve been afraid to ask. El­lksy picks his time to tell me. We’re sit­ting on his con­crete look-out once again, scan­ning the bay, hav­ing just fin­ished a meal of freshly caught mahi mahi, tempe, rice, veg­eta­bles and corn frit­tatas, all washed down with ice cold beer. Putu is with us and she eyes an ant car­ry­ing a green leaf along the break­wall. El­lksy and I pass the serum vape.

“My feet start to swell up if I sit here too long. It’s in my blood. I’ve got can­cer in my blood,” he be­gins.

“I can’t get de­pressed about the world. It’s good to talk about, but when you’re in my sit­u­a­tion you cher­ish ev­ery day you’ve got. All the bull­shit fades away. You just en­joy what’s im­por­tant, en­joy the lit­tle things,” he says.

A cou­ple of plas­tic bot­tles bob in the dis­tance. A tra­di­tional outrig­ger with an out­board mo­tor pow­ers to­ward shore. A cou­ple of kids swim out to sea with a spear and gog­gles.

“When you’re a young guy, you have a fit and healthy life­style and you think you’re im­mor­tal. You think you can live for­ever. But you get to 56 and you get told you’ve got can­cer and that and what do you think that does to ya?” “Yeah, it’s fuck­ing mind­blow­ing,” he says. “And then it hits you. I’m 56! And you re­alise, I might not be here in 20 years. I might not be here in 10. Or five! And you start think­ing about sce­nar­ios. I have can­cer, I have to get treat­ment, I live in a coun­try where there is none re­ally, am I go­ing to be a few thou­sand kilo­me­ters from my kids, get­ting help?”

“So yeah, you just en­joy the sim­ple things, what’s im­por­tant. We’re all gonna die. Just en­joy be­ing here,” he says.


in 1991. Photo : Nolan Phal­lic word and im­age play with a safe sex mes­sage, on the Bondi Graf­fiti Wall back in 1991. Photo : Tony Nolan

Bondi Graf­fiti Wall back

Photo: Glen Duf­fus

Top: Team ITN at the Corona Teams Chal­lenge in 1990. Clearly Vis­i­ble Left to Right: Richard Cram, Bradley Stubbs (aka ‘the coach whis­perer’, not a team mem­ber) Will Web­ber, Ben Web­ber, Dave David­son and David Gyn­gell. Bill Power in the back­ground ob­scured from view. Photo: Tony Nolan In­set: Matt El­lks melt­ing through a carve like a lick of a yel­low-blue but­ter.

Main: Matt El­lks aka ‘El­lksy’ climb­ing the foam with trade­mark hand-jive. Photo: Brett AllattIn­set Left: ITN team mem­ber Dave David­son load­ing up on a frontside carve. Photo: Glen Duf­fusIn­set Right: Rob Tru­jillo, when he was play­ing with Sui­ci­dal Ten­den­cies, bend­ing the bi­ceps Elksy’s surf shop in the 90s.

Main: Matt rock­ing the Da Hui logo (which he held the Aus­tralasian li­cense for) as he swings off the bot­tom with limp-wristed non­cha­lance at Rocky Point. Photo: Gordinho In­set: Matt and Me­tal­lica bass player, Rob Tru­jillo, en­joy­ing a mo­ment to­gether when Me­tal­lica played in Jakarta back in 2013.

Main: Matt with his wife, Putu, and two chil­dren, Selina and Ray­mond. In­set: Matt in ed­u­ca­tor mode with son, Putu.

Photo: Bill Mor­ris

Above: Matt catch­ing up with old friends on a re­cent trip to Bondi. Phil Leadley left of shot and Monty Web­ber on the right.

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