By Phil Jarratt
Two of my favourite “old blokes” share a birthday in April, both of them huge influences in my life back in the 1970s and ’80s.
Arthur Karvan, dad of actress Claudia, had the eponymously-named Arthur’s bar and nightclub in Kings Cross back then, and with his ruffled elegance and permanently black-ringed eye, and his gang, which featured just about every big noise in art, fashion and music, including Brett Whiteley, he was pretty close to the coolest dude in Sydney.
Shane Stedman, on the other hand, was about the coolest dude in Sydney’s surf culture – a former rock musician who turned a backyard surfboard factory into the biggest operation in Brookvale, and was also my opposition as morning surf reporter for Radio 2SM while I was at 2JJ. Shane had Terry Fitzgerald and Simon Anderson in his shaping bays, and just about every hot surfer on the Northern Beaches was a member of the Shane Gang.
Unfortunately the two old stagers celebrated their seventysomethings in separate countries last week. Arthur has lived in Bali for many years, where we catch up for a lunch or dinner at least a couple of times a year – he came to our film screening and Band of Frequencies concert just a couple of months back. Birthday greetings were restricted to social media, but we were in Sydney for Shane’s birthday bash at the newly-trendy Newport Arms Hotel (now just The Newport) last weekend.
Shane’s bi-coastal son, former pro tour star Luke, has all the connections his dad had at a similar age, which is why we found ourselves looking out over the Pittwater from a central table quaffing good bubbles on a glorious Easter Saturday, surrounded by beautiful people. Shane was in his element – toasting old mates and sharing yarns from his storied career.
In a week where I spent quite a bit of time with old blokes – I had a very enjoyable midweek lunch with some of the men of wood and foam, including 92-year-old Gordon Woods, who came around the corner on two wheels of his mobility buggy and screeched to a halt at our outdoor table – I expected to feel quite youthful by comparison, but the reverse was true. I left Shane feeling quite exhausted after struggling to keep up for a couple of hours.
For years Shane’s mates have been listening to his stories and telling him, “You ought to write a book.” Well, now he has. It’s called “Myself, Guitars and Surf Stars”. I’ve just finished a first read of the “Myself” part, and it’s great, covering his early years growing up with his mum and younger brother on his grandparents’ dairy farm near Crescent Head after his dad deserted them. Life was tough, no doubt about it, but rather than dwell on the hardships, Shane revels in the adventure of country life with its episodes involving chook houses, drop dunnies, snakes and goannas.
Part of its appeal is his incredible memory for detail in stuff that happened nearly three quarters of a century ago. Take this, for example: “I loved the nights as well as the days. The kerosene-fuelled wick lights would continually flicker and throw spooky shadows on the rough-sawn hardwood timber walls.” Or this, on going to school in Crescent: “As we wandered up the well-worn path, the schoolhouse, a sparsely-painted one-room structure, seemed to squint down on us with a scrutinizing stare.”
Having just written my own memoir, in which I sometimes struggled with patchy memory about childhood, I take my hat off to my old mate, and look forward to the next couple of instalments.
The end of an era
It’s been said many times before, but watching Mick Fanning scrap with Kelly Slater in their round three clash at the Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro on Easter Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel that both of them were past their use-by dates. It was a bit like watching a couple of old punch-drunk pugs go 10 rounds long after they should have chucked in the towel.
Both Mick and Kelly are still capable of brilliance, and at the time of writing (Sunday night) Mick could still go on and ring the bell yet again, but it seemed as if, realising that one would have to depart early and ignominiously, they both played the man rather than the wave, and in the age of John John, that’s simply not good enough.
Fanning has already had a gap year, and indicated that he wouldn’t be on tour this year if Parko hadn’t talked him into it. I don’t think we’ll see him back in 2018, and I’m sure we won’t see Kelly.
And surfing will be the poorer. But that’s the way it goes. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing both, Kelly better than Mick, and they are among the best of our breed. As a surf fan I am already missing them, but in the immortal words of Dan Hicks, how can I miss you when you won’t go away?