Coast of the kangaroo dawn

MT deep at Pipeline, 1978. Supplied.

By Phil Jarratt

About half a lifetime ago the happily loony photographer Stuey Spence and I were on a luxury motor yacht winding through the Barrier Reef islands when the unthinkable happened. We ran out of beer.

I told the skipper he’d better do something fast or Stuey would start up with his gorilla impersonations. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, “if you look up along the port bow you’ll see a narrow passage between island and mainland. That’s Gloucester Passage and halfway along it is a place called Monte’s Reef Resort where they’ve always got shedloads of grog. We can buy there.”

That was my introduction to Monte’s, just a strip of dongers and a shade pavilion fronting a glorious white sand beach and the deep, clear waters of the passage, perfectly protected from the prevailing sou’easters. I fell in love with the place and went back several times with family and friends through the ‘80s, even named a good blue dog after her. And then the resort changed hands, grew in size and cost and fell off my radar.

I was reminded of Monte’s last week when we came rumbling out of the hills in Crystal Dreams the campervan and hit the coast at Ayr. And driving through what used to be the pleasant fishing town of Bowen and catching a glimpse of windswept Edgecumbe Bay, I was reminded of the first time I took a group of friends to Monte’s and half way across the howling water they were sick as dogs and wanted to go home. And then, as we approached the wind disappeared and we were in paradise.

So we drove the long way round and pulled up at Monte’s to find it closed for Covid, possibly not to reopen. It was much changed and far too big for my liking, but the beach and the view were just as beautiful as they had been all those years ago. We found a campsite nearby and settled into a few days of beachcombing bliss.

Somewhere along the way, someone had mentioned Cape Hillsborough National Park with its gorgeous rocky coves and kangaroo dawns. A place I’d never been, that had to be next stop.

About an hour north of Mackay, the Cape’s Nature Tourist Park should have been crowded, but it wasn’t, and we found a beachfront site tucked away from company and settled in for more of the same – beach walks, fishing, Scrabble, sundowners, campfire dinners. But the point of difference here is the kangaroo dawn, something I’ve only ever experienced at one beach on the NSW south coast.

It says on the campground info sheet: “Kangaroos on beach 5.10am”, and they know the rules. At 5.09 we scrambled out of the camper and down the walkway to the sand. There they were, about 20 of them, watching the predawn grey turn to yellow.

Farewell to a Pipeline charger

I was driving the last stretch home when we got the news that my old mate Michael Tomson had passed away. It was cancer in the end and not unexpected, but the sad truth was that this was merely the final stage of MT’s long and painful self-destruction.

But my god, what a ride he had. Born and well educated in Durban, South Africa, Michael and his cousin Shaun were already “busting down the doors” at the Banzai Pipeline when I met him in Hawaii in 1976. Having just finished university and evaded the draft, MT was juggling careers as a professional surfer and a magazine publisher, and he was damn good at both. The other ball in the air was a fast-escalating substance abuse, which I would find out about that winter big wave season on the North Shore, as we fell in like thieves.

Fearless, reckless, arrogant and charming at the same time, and two years younger than me, MT was my new hero. We would sit up most of the night in my room at the Kuilima Estates, drinking wine and dreaming up crazed gonzo publishing schemes, some of which came off.

I hadn’t seen Michael for a couple of years when he showed up one night at an Italian restaurant in Laguna Beach, California, where I was sitting at an outside table with another North Shore accomplice. “What is this – the ‘70s!” MT boomed, pulling up a chair and ordering the best red on the list. Again, we talked all night, or until the owner threw us out, and then we adjourned to the MT lair on the hill, and resumed.

By this time Michael had launched the surf brand Gotcha, which would become a global sensation and make him a multi-millionaire, before becoming a parody of itself – the Gotcha Glacier theme park comes to mind – and ending up on the supermarket shelves and ultimately selling for a fraction of its worth to the Perry Ellis fashion corporation. “My baby’s turned into a whore,” Michael moaned to me one night in California in 2005.

Michael surfed in two Masters’ Pro events I ran in France at the turn of the century, and still managed to ride big waves in front of his Hawaiian home at Sunset Beach. But after decades of unapologetic cocaine abuse, his health was shot. MT spent his final years in a quiet part of San Clemente, where his many friends held a vigil last week as he moved on to a higher vibration.

He was a tragic genius, and a true friend. Swan launches Rabbit

The former treasurer and unofficial minister for surfing, Wayne Swan, launched Rabbit Bartholomew’s campaign for the state seat of Burleigh on the Gold Coast last weekend. Apparently the former world champ and patron of the Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve has been campaigning well, and is in with a shot to win the seat for Labor.

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