By Phil Jarratt
You can’t be a news photographer in a small town for multiple decades without everyone having a story to tell about you, and such is certainly the case with Geoff Potter, always known as “Pottsy”, who died last weekend after battling Parkinson’s Disease.
But typically, while the stories are endless, the pictures are few and far between. While Pottsy made half of Noosa famous for at least a week with his miraculous combination of a click-and-nick pace and a genuine feel for photographing people, he was always behind the lens, rarely in front of it. He was a true professional: the story was never about him.
When I asked former Noosa mayor Tony Wellington (a great photographer himself) to rifle through his files for a Pottsy or two, he came back to me: “Plenty of Pottsy, but all you can see is the lens in front of his face!”
Wellington wasn’t the only mayor to offer a salute to Geoff Potter. Bob Abbot posted: “Oh, no, not Pottsy! So sad to hear. Such a legend to work with and such a wonderful person to know.”
Within hours of the news of his passing on Saturday morning, there were many such tributes on social media, most of them noting the two aspects that defined the man – his helpful, friendly persona and his meticulous professionalism.
Fisherman, chef and muso mate Andy Phipps noted: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of a top bloke. He bought me my first beer at Sunshine Surf Club when the club was a shed. He also shot most of the photos in my first two cook books. A seriously good man who will be missed by all who knew him”.
Pottsy arrived in Noosa from Melbourne more than 40 years ago, fresh from a distinguished career in advertising, and eager to advance the photography skills that had served him well in the ad world, while enjoying the sun, surf and the odd round of golf. Being an AFL tragic, he soon found himself an integral part of the Noosa Tigers, but it was his association with the Sunshine Beach Surf Club that took up most of his time, and saw him serve as president for several terms.
In the 1980s he began working as staff photographer for the Noosa News, while sharing a dubious bachelor pad at the La Mer flats in Hastings Street with a gang of local likely lads, including “Hey Bill” Watson, who choked back the tears when recalling his old mate this week.
“We lived in a bachelor’s paradise, because Geoff had to take social snaps in the Hastings Street restaurants most nights, and we’d just trail along behind him and meet the good sorts. We had such good times together, but you know what? Pottsy was always a gentleman, in business and in pleasure. He shot me with my beach cart so many times, he made me world famous! You couldn’t have wished for a better mate.”
Gail Forrer, who was Pottsy’s editor for many years, sang his praises in a moving tribute this week, but, she noted, “We all acknowledged that he could be cantankerous.” That’s putting it mildly.
Always in a hurry, he had no time for small talk, because the next job always beckoned. Years ago, when I was running the Noosa Festival of Surfing, Pottsy was always there to capture the excitement and crowds of opening day, and there was no bigger part of opening day than the surfing dogs exhibition. We were running a bit late, and Pottsy came weaving his way through the huge crowd with his monstrous camera bag dwarfing him. Holding his watch up so that I could see the advanced hour, he said: “When are you going to get this show on the road? I’ve got another job on.”
“As soon as I can, mate, but they’re dogs and they don’t always listen.”
“Well, tell the dogs they’ve got five minutes if they want the front page.”
We’ll all miss Pottsy, but perhaps the last word should go to Hey Bill: “He was truly one of Noosa’s greatest sons. When I saw him a couple of months ago for the last time, he said, ‘I’ll save you a seat at the celestial bar’, and I’m going to hold him to that.”