A Place to Call Home?…









Once upon a time in a city called Perth (and not so long ago) when a group of people began a church they did so firstly in a home, then maybe a community centre, or a public building of some sort until they decided that they really needed their own building… a proper church building with a foyer, a ‘sanctuary’ and a baptismal pool (if you are so inclined…)

So the people got together, gave gifts, sold assets, mortgaged houses, and by hook or by crook (or by faith… maybe a bit of both…) raised the funds needed to buy land and erect some kind of building – often a small ‘hall’, which served as ‘stage 1’ of any future work. Sometimes stage 1 was all there ever was and that was fine. But stage 1 created equity so that stage 2 could then happen. In those days land was cheaper and developers would often allocate churches space in new suburbs at minimal cost.

That was ‘then’. Those days are gone.

Today we are in a very different cultural and economic space, so the task of church planting and becoming established and rooted in a community becomes a very different consideration. The last 20-30 years has seen the ‘community centre’ church building, the sports centre church building, the commercial venture and the Christian school arise as significant means of establishing churches in the newer suburbs.

What seems to have has largely disappeared (in new church development) is the idea of a community of people pooling their resources, giving generously and/or taking a loan to build a dedicated space.

As I look around the far outer suburbs in Perth I see churches meeting in schools, churches meeting in community centres, but very few meeting in premises they own. It seems only the wealthier, centrally funded denominations (Anglicans/Catholics) have the resources to pull off that kind of thing, or the ‘franchises’ that can use equity in an established building elsewhere as security against a loan in a new development.

My musing comes as I’ve been wandering Yanchep looking for space to gather a bunch of people and its not an easy task. I have had very curt refusals from two schools, making me wonder ‘what happened there?…’ Maybe this is how it is now… There is precious little community space and strict rules around who can use it and when, and there is no larger facility in the suburb itself. Finding a space to gather people is one of the things we need to get sorted, but its proving problematic…

One of the limitations of being a church that currently meets in a school is that we have no asset base of our own if we ever did wish to build something else. (The upside is a fantastic free facility…)

Lately as we have scoured the suburb looking for space I have found myself wondering just what shape church planting will take in these next 20-30 years.

Will we have to wait for a denominational school to set up shop and give us space?

Will we be shunted from public building to public building?

We could decentralise and meet in homes, but my experience of this has been a degree of unavoidable fragmentation.

Maybe we need a new privately owned commercial venture that can double as a meeting space?

Perhaps its time to come full circle and rally the troops to raise funds? But no matter how strong your ‘faith’ the thought of a $2-3 million dollar building project being undertaken by a fledgling group of battling families in the mortgage belt just doesn’t seem like a wise move either. I’m sure this is why no one is doing it. I’m really reluctant to lead any bunch of people on a building project in this day and age, partly because it is such an all consuming thing, but it also moves me from ‘pastor’ to ‘fund raiser’ – a man with mixed motives… Its unavoidable when large sums of money come into play. And costs do tend blow out… just a bit…

So I’m pondering… and praying… wondering what’s next? What shape will our missionary endeavours take in the barren outer suburbs? Those planting in established areas with plenty of community buildings may yet experience the struggle to find space too, but when there’s no space available anywhere the question becomes ‘what now?’

I’m up for creative thinking and exploring new options – maybe there are possibilities we just haven’t seen.

Oddly enough in a recent conversation with a mate we were discussing the value of being a physical presence in the community – being seen – being there – being present. He suggested that a church that meets in a local facility often ‘doesn’t exist’ in the minds of the community, and perhaps even in the minds of the church people themselves.

So there’s that consideration too.

If you live at the fringes of the city where infrastructure is minimal and population is booming then church planting takes on some different questions to days gone by.

‘That Bloke’ and ‘Those People’











Last Friday was one of those perfect, warm, Yanchep evenings and I was strolling past our new surf club with Lucy in tow. As I walked up the hill towards the beach I saw an older couple with two dogs and what I am guessing was a granddaughter. They had stopped to do a poo pick up when one of their dogs managed to get free and bolted towards Lucy, jumping on her, snarling and appearing to attack her.

In the heat of the moment I instinctually responded by kicking the dog and breaking them apart. The dog returned to the owner and he apologised for the incident, but then added quite strongly, ‘but you don’t need to kick my dog mate!’

It was only a couple of months previously that a large aggressive dog had got off the lead and attacked Lucy so I had responded similarly then. The dog got the message and backed off so my response was somewhat reflexive – I’m not a random dog kicker…

Hearing the reprimand in his tone, I responded with ‘If you kept control of your dog it would never have happened!’

‘She’s a pup – she just got away!’ he responded loudly.

I started to explain how Lucy had been attacked before, how his dog was a big ‘pup’, but the words came out like bullets and they were received as such. ‘She jumped on my dog and was being aggressive!’ I said, but the tone had begun to escalate and voices had been raised.

Suddenly both of us were ‘right’, both of us were ‘wronged’ and my neighbour had become my enemy…

A short argument ensued and finished with me telling him that if his dog ever came near mine again in that way I’d ‘kick the shit out of it’ (yeah – proud moment) before we went our separate ways. I wandered up to the old surf club to sit and chill for a moment like I usually do and they went the other way.

What was normally a place where I enjoy some quiet reflection became a place where I found myself asking what just happened there?!’ ‘Where did that come from?!’

I’m not ‘that‘ bloke…… I thought, and they probably aren’t ‘those‘ people…

But both of us were ‘that bloke and those people’ at least for a short time. Both of us had something primal and dark inside that rose to the surface when threatened. I began to walk back feeling a bit rueful at my fairly poor showing in that moment. I can’t remember the last time I have flared up aggressively like that at a random stranger.

As I walked towards the food vans that were doing their thing, I saw the other people and their dogs a hundred metres or so in front of me. As I got near they crossed the road to get some food and suddenly there was a choice – to follow and apologise for being a dick – or to walk on and let the ugliness remain.

The problem with doing nothing is that the ugliness never goes away. Its like a stain that never gets washed out and every unresolved neighbourhood conflict becomes another dark mark on the community. When you get enough unresolved stuff the place can feel nasty and dark.

I hope to live in a community where people rise above pettiness and stupidity (including my own) so I ended up walking across the road and catching up with them, apologising for the harsh words and discovering that they weren’t ‘those people’ either. They were as embarrassed by their own response and the conversation that followed was one of healing and reconciliation – one that meant that next time we see one another on the street we can say ‘hi’ rather than avoiding or seeing one another as the enemy.

Let’s be honest… the truth is we are all ‘that bloke’ and ‘those people’, because there is a darkness that lurks in all of us, but we also have the ability to be more.

Its just down to the choices we make.

Church Planting 15 Years On









Early last year we began thinking and praying about planting a church in Yanchep, the community where we have lived now for 7 years. It began with the hope that we might get access to the old surf club and use that as a venue for a very relaxed Sunday afternoon gathering and then grow and serve the community from that space during the week.

The old building piqued our interest and grabbed our attention, but the bigger question was obviously ‘what if we don’t get access to that space? Do we still go ahead?‘ A few years back a small group of us met to pray about a new church community in Yanchep and after a few gatherings it fizzled. No one really had the passion or vision for it – the timing felt wrong – so nothing happened. No harm done, but no forward movement either.

In that time however, the Yanchep community has boomed in size and we have put our roots down even more firmly. I have never felt ‘at home’ in a community like I have here so barring some major upheaval we sense we will be here for the duration. The census stats show Yanchep has grown from 4500 to now 9000 people in just a few years and what is interesting is that the church presence is minimal. On any given Sunday there is a house church, a fortnightly Catholic gig and a crew of JWs meeting in the suburb. There is a Foursquare mob who have been going for a long time but they meet in Two Rocks.

And over the course of 2017 as we talked and prayed we have sensed that now is the time to begin something new in this area.

How does that happen?…

The last time I did something like this was in 2003 when we left Lesmurdie Baptist Church to plant Upstream in the developing suburb of Butler. My head was in a different space – my life was in a different space – and we did the best we could with what we knew, learning a lot along the way. That time felt like a fairly momentous move (and it was) as 5 families sold homes and moved 60kms away from what they knew to a new community, to build houses and start over as suburban missionaries. It was a wild adventure.

Part of what made the journey difficult was the challenge of leaving our home church in a healthy way. While we all did our best to make it work, in the end it often felt like a strained leaving rather than a joyful sending. Its part of what I want to do better this time around. How do we lead QBC to a place of planting a church when there is some pain inevitable?

Perhaps ‘giving birth’ is a better metaphor as it one of conception, gestation and then a moment that is both joyful, messy and painful all at once. I feel like we (QBC) are pregnant and that we are now in a period where we need to discern how the birthing takes place.

My role is to lead the church well in that process and try to maximise joy and limit pain. When we did this 15 years ago it was with an element of frustration – that our church was not being missionally effective – we were going to break free and ‘do better’. And I am sure that was part of the relational struggle. We were making a statement by our going. And while I loved the people there, I was driven by a missionary vision and was somewhat indifferent to their pain at the upheaval. This stuff causes pain… deal with with it…

Fifteen years changes a lot and I would sense that I have grown a lot softer and more empathetic in that time. I’m very aware that we have a ‘really good thing’ happening at QBC both relationally and missionally and that this will bring some pain to it. In short some people will leave the church and make their spiritual home in a new community in Yanchep – and we will miss them. Some folks will feel that pain more than others, but it will be there and it is unavoidable.

At this stage we don’t even know who of our staff will commit to leading this new community. Two of us live up here, and we are both open to going or staying. It could be that I give it some grunt for a year or so and then leave Ryan to lead, while continuing with QBC, or it could be that I kick it off and keep going… There is no script and we are all intentionally holding things loosely as beyond the sense of ‘something needs to happen’, we can’t get a clear read on who, how, where and when?

Perhaps my greatest hope is that in leading this process the crew at QBC will embrace both the joy and the pain and see the missional calling as far greater than the desire for comfort and familiarity, so that the end result looks something like Acts 20 where Paul parts with the Ephesian elders. There is much sadness as they part ways but also great love and joy – a response that is mature and one I hope we can emulate.

So we pray… and pray… and listen and wait. I’m not sure all of what is around the corner, but I’m happy to move at the pace we sense God moving, but knowing that the wheels are in motion.

Watch this space…


Driving with the Handbrake On

Last week I read an interview with Bono that enquired about his recent ‘health scare’. (I’m not sure how recent) In the interview he declined to discuss the issue because he felt it a bit rich for a wealthy white westerner to be complaining about ‘health problems’ when around the world millions are dying from preventable causes and do not have access to health care. Fair call.

I have felt similar over the last 12 months as I’ve battled a disturbing and chronic health problem that I can’t seem to resolve. Honestly – my life is pretty damn good. I don’t want for anything, and I’m very content with all parts of where we are at, so to complain about a small problem has felt a bit indulgent. That’s why I haven’t said anything.

But if you’ve wondered why this blog has been so neglected then this might help to explain. Back in January 2017 I developed a problem in my butt. I thought it was a haemorrhoid and I ignored the pain for a bit but when it didn’t go away I went to see the Doc. By this point it felt like strong pressure from inside my butt pressing out – like I needed to go to the toilet – but I actually didn’t…

So it was off to have a colonoscopy to make sure it wasn’t cancer (nope) and then from there it was ‘diagnosis by elimination’. It seems I have developed chronic pelvic pain – a constant spasm of the inner pelvic muscles that results in a really sore butt – a literal pain in the arse…

People describe it as like having a golf ball stuck up your bum… It’s an accurate description – (although I have never actually put a golf ball up my butt before)  It means sitting is uncomfortable and sore. Walking isn’t so bad. But I just can’t sit still for any length of time without squirming in pain.

When I say ‘pain’ maybe 2-3 on the pain scale so hardly the end of the world, but enough to distract me from anything I am doing.

It has taken its toll on all of my activities that involve sitting still for extend periods of time – writing being one of them. It has improved a little bit over the year and I have tried various means to deal with it – physio, stretching, meditation, none of them particularly effective. Google suggests some people acquire this problem and are never able to resolve it – yeeha… So going out to dinner with friends has been hard, driving has been hard, being at church has been hard… just relaxing has been really difficult. And being unable to resolve it has been hardest.

I have never had mental health issues, but this year I’ve had to make a conscious effort to stay positive and not to be overtaken by despair. Part of that is knowing that some people I know have far worse issues than I do and get thru. Part of it is that life just requires me to press on and keep getting things done. It’s given me a level of empathy for those who struggle with ongoing pain that I previously wouldn’t have had. I think that is a good thing, but I’m pretty weary from it now…

So this year has been like driving with the handbrake on – looking at a sunny day thru scratched lenses – whatever metaphor works for you. I can still do everything but it’s been restricted and as a result I feel like I haven’t achieved as much or been effective in what I have done. It has been hard to sit and think and write and reflect like I used to without giving up and going to lie on my bed. Most evenings I leave the lounge room around 8 and lie on our bed because it eases the discomfort, but it also takes a toll on family dynamics.

I’m not sure if 2018 will see this issue resolved or whether I will just keep ‘learning new things…’

I hear botox can help so that is possibly my next port of call, but in the meantime I just carry on.

The hardest part has actually been my struggle to think ahead and to see the future because I have become consumed with the immediate – relief of discomfort. As someone who likes to think ahead and plan the future that has been frustrating and dis-orienting.

So – this isn’t a ‘poor me post’. Really its not. I have hesitated to even write this – not because its ‘personal’, but because I’m really not suffering like some folks suffer and I’m writing this from the comfort of a big chair on my balcony on a balmy summer night in Yanchep. Life is good. But a part of it sucks right now. As I’ve talked to friends over the year about what they have been struggling with I’ve wondered if I’d swap my ‘problem’ for theirs and often the answer is ‘for sure’, but the reality is that a problem free / pain free life isn’t gonna happen for anyone so sometimes we need to learn how to live with pain.

I was chatting with my mate Scott today about hiking (his thing) and how sometimes it happens in cold and rain and ugly weather and that sometimes it really sucks – but sometimes you just have to ’embrace the suck’.

Right now I’m trying to ’embrace the suck’, learn from it, grow in it, but I’m also hopeful that things will change this year and I’ll be back to normal – or at least something else will suck 🙂

So if you’re wondered ‘what happened to Hamo blog?’ then this might help explain… (And the image above – the evening sunset in Yanchep – is completely unrelated except as a reminder that we live in a beautiful place and life is very very good.

Life Threads – Surfing & The Ocean Final

I took this photo the day after we moved into our house in June 2011 and it captures so much of what Yanchep has been for us. The kids looking out to a rainbow over the ocean – a little bit of wonderment and awe and some symbolism of a fresh start. Its been all that and more.

That said, if you told me 10 years ago that we would be one day living in Yanchep I think I would have laughed. Yanchep?… Does anyone actually live there?!

It just felt so far away – from everything – but then we did it. We bought a house and moved. We didn’t know much about the local community, but we did know that we loved the beach and from the upper level of our home we could see the ocean – not panoramic ocean views but enough to say ‘hmmm nice…’ I had never lived in a home with actual ocean views before and with such proximity to the water, so this was a whole new experience.

Now each morning I could look out and see the ocean – see waves – chop – flat blue water, white water on the reefs – but what I discovered is that being able to actually see it makes all the difference. You see we lived in Butler for 9 years, just a couple of kms from water, but we didn’t go there a heap. It was out of sight out of mind a lot of the time.

The Lagoon – a daily drive by

One of the things I committed to from the day we moved in was doing ‘ocean drive bys’ on our way into Yanchep and on the way out. You can go a slightly shorter route to & from our home thru the back streets, but even when I’m running late I still do the ‘lagoon drive by’ either in or out.  It is enriching to the soul every time – just to see the ocean in all her various moods – calm and placid, raging and wild, it doesn’t matter.














That’s me on ‘big Mal’ with Brett, Mark & Cal on one of the best days of 2017 (Photo Corey Kirwen)

Coming to Yanchep was a chance to really get surfing again. I knew there were waves up here, but didn’t realise just how many good spots there were. There are the two well known breaks, (yeah… those ones…)  but also a couple of lesser known but equally fun waves on their day. My favourite is just a short walk from home and when its good – its very good. And when you drive past every single day you are generally in a position to not miss out. Even though I’m well past 50 now, I’ve probably been surfing more than ever – proximity to water – friends in the area – and a pretty quiet winter with work meant I got wet more often that ever before.

As well as great waves, there are a great local crew. I’ve enjoyed living somewhere you can actually get to know the guys in the water. Some days when the surf has been average I have paddled out anyway because I have seen the cars in the carpark and realised who is out there. Sam gets to surf around older blokes who encourage him and push him – and sometimes give him lifts home.  Its a great vibe.

Sambo learning to surf at Club Cap

In our first years in Yanchep we were still homeschooling, so we would take the kids down to the old Club Capricorn to teach them surfing. I never pushed Sam into surfing, but fortunately he’s taken to it, so we get to do something we both love together. That’s a cool thing! Now he spends many afternoons down at the beach getting home just after dark and usually forgetting that its dinner time… but that’s fine with me.

At the start of 2017 – Jan 1 to be precise – I launched into a new experiment. I began taking daily photos of the beach and set up an Instagram / Facebook page called ‘yanchepbeaches365‘. This meant I now took the time every single day to observe the ocean more carefully each day – to be there – to notice and to share it with others. The simple act of being present at the beach every single day has been a really valuable practice both for enjoying it, but also meeting more people in the area. What began purely as a personal experiment has enabled me to enjoy the ocean in a new way and also make friends – ironically social media has connected me with the people in my community rather than keeping us isolated…

Occasionally we ponder the whole ‘moving house’ thing, but then we ask ‘to where?’ It feels like we have found paradise. Last year we considered moving back to Quinns Rocks to allow the kids to be closer to school and to minimise the drive time, but the overwhelming decision after weighing things up was ‘we’d all rather do the drive and live in Yanchep than come back to suburbia.’


This was also the year of my first overseas surf adventure since the Philippines back in 1989. Danelle took a team to the Bali Orphanages we are involved with while I headed off to Medewi for some time alone and hopefully some good waves. I was a bit nervous going on my own to a new break and just launching in, but Medewi is a very easy, friendly wave so it turned out to be a lot of fun and very easy to manage. Danelle and the kids joined me after 4 or 5 days and hung out for another 4 days and we all had a great time.

So this our life now. I remember travelling thru the Philippines a long time ago and up into Bagiouo where we met the ‘mountain people’ – people whose lives were based around their physical location. Living by the beach and having it as an integral part of our everyday experience. I never thought I’d be here as a 10 year old Irish kid obsessed with soccer, but 40 years of getting wet and enjoying the natural environment of the ocean has made us ‘ocean people’. Its just who we are now and I doubt that will ever change.

Life Threads – Surfing & The Ocean IV

From the hills we moved to Butler in 2003 and suddenly we were within 3kms of the coast yet again. Surfing began to happen with greater frequency and knowing the ‘Alkimos’ was directly offshore I felt it was time to buy a boat (as you do…) in order to get to some of those less crowded waves…

I began with the ‘Queen Mary’ – a tiny 12 ft fibreglass dinghy that lasted 6 months, moved to a 15ft half cab with a dodgy hull that almost sank but was sold on eBay as scrap, and ended up with a sensational 17ft runabout (see pic)  that gave us lots of good times. The Alkimos (name of an old shipwreck with a reef nearby) was- 2kms off the beach – and we did have some great waves in those years (along with many ‘near miss’ boat stories…)

In that time I also had a go at fishing, snorkelling and scuba, but none of them grabbed my heart like surfing did. By this point in life though I was becoming aware it wasn’t just surfing that I was into – it was the ocean. There was something magnetic about the sea that I just couldn’t escape.

I dunno where you meet God, but I have realised that he seems to show up pretty regularly at the beach. I think he likes it too.  In my early years the beach was a place I went to surf – and if there were no waves I would come home. In my 30’s and 40’s the beach was taking on a new significance and I would often just go there and sit… and hang out… a spiritual place.

We lived near Quinns Beach where there were no waves of any significance but I still found myself often at the beach enjoying something I couldn’t articulate. I knew that when I got stressed or tetchy I just needed to go and ‘get wet’ and the world would look different.

It was generally the Alkimos or the odd trip to the Spot where we got waves during this period. I loved the trips to Alkimos, but it was a fickle wave and too much wind could really screw the whole thing up. That and it being a half day event to launch a boat, surf and then clean up took the shine off it a bit. The Spot was busy and it was difficult to find an uncrowded wave so I never really took to it. In the end as life got busier, the boat got used less and less and inevitably cost more and more, so it was sold and replaced with a camper trailer that would be our home for 6 months as we travelled Oz.

Heading North

I reckon its every surfer’s dream – to hitch up a caravan and go surfing around the country for an extended time. We had just paid off the mortgage and were debt free with some money in the bank, so this was the opportune time to do a trip of this nature. In April 2009 we hit the road with a Jayco camper-trailer in tow and a 7ft mini mal strapped to the roof. While it wasn’t a surf holiday, I will confess that the old GQ Patrol did seem to have an inner urge to travel down any dirt track that looked like it could spawn good waves. We took off North and scored a few waves in Exmouth, even a few in Broome, before a long drive thru the NT and far north Queensland saw us not surfing until we arrived in the Gold Coast.

Lennox Head

Pambula – and no one else in sight

From there on we found waves all down the NSW coast, often empty or uncrowded and generally pretty good. My faves were Lennox Head and Pambula beach, but the whole NSW coastline is beautiful and we could have spent 6 months just in this section of Australia. By the time we got to Victoria we only had 4 weeks left so there wasn’t time to hang around and wait for the Torquay area to fire up. We had to keep moving.

The Toilets at Cactus

Cactus Waves

Fortunately we had the good sense to stop at Cactus, an iconic Aussie desert wave and we spent a couple of nights there. I’m glad to say I got to surf it, as it really is a million miles from anywhere and a pretty special wave. We spent one whole day in the rest of South Australia… and then sprinted for home, slowed only by spending our final week in the Busso area and getting home in October and back to reality. It was a different reality to the one we left as during that time away we had suffered a $250K loss and were now well in debt, but that’s another story.

For the next two years I basically worked my arse off to try and get rid of debt. Danelle took up homeschooling and our life hit a new rhythm. We lasted another couple of years in Butler before seeing a house in Yanchep we loved the look of. It was just 300m from the beach and kinda ‘Cloudstreety’, a ramshackle, quirky beach house made of timber and stone and we had fallen in love with it. In June 2011 we made the best move of our lives.

Life Threads – Surfing & The Ocean III

Getting a job really messed with my surfing!

The time I had during the day for surfing while studying Phys Ed at UWA now no longer existed. It was ‘after work’ and weekends now and that meant I surfed less. Work really is a problem for those who love to surf… What to do?…

My first year of teaching in Wagin saw me surf maybe half a dozen times in total, but returning to Perth the following year allowed me a chance to get back into it. By 23 years old I had acquired the knack of being able to know pretty intuitively just what the waves would be like at Trigg and Scarborough often without a drive down. There was no ‘seabreeze.com’ or surfline to keep us informed. Just the old ‘phone in’ surf report which was out of date as often as it was updated.


Filipino Friends from a Trip to Catanduanes

Also at 23 I convinced two friends to come with me on a surf trip to the Philippines – a little island by the name of Catanduanes. We read about it in a Tracks mag and it looked like absolute paradise. Remote waves in warm water and no crowds… Well two out of three aint bad. We flew to Manila, got a plane to the island and then a 2 1/2 hr jeepney ride up to the town, followed by a trek thru the jungle, before we got to the lookout and saw 20 blokes in the water trying to catch tiny 1ft waves… We were just a bit devastated! We spent the week at Puraran and while the waves did show up for a couple of days, the best surf was probably at Maroubra in NSW, when our flight home got re-routed and we had to stop over in Sydney for half a day. We grabbed our boards and a cab and surfed winter waves in boardies for an hour before getting back on the plane. The lesson was that if you go on an overseas surf trip you need to make sure there are other things than just surfing.

As an interesting note I recently connected on Facebook (30 years later) with one of the small boys in the pic – ‘Genesis’ was 5 then. Now he is 35, surfs, leads a church and runs his own business – a cafe – in Virac Catanduanes. Maybe one day Sam and I will get back there.

The Fun-bus

I have been privileged to work jobs where I can get paid to surf. Its probably as close to ‘going pro’ as I have ever come! But as a youth worker and a Phys ed teacher I regularly ran camps for my kids where we would take off to Lancelin or down south in search of waves.  I owned a 9 seater Nissan Urvan that we packed to the gills and used for down south missions. Those were good days and the waves always seemed to turn it on for us. My favourite class while teaching at Scarborough High was Thursday morning surfing, where the students met me at the beach at 8.30 and we surfed thru to recess time – I still remember thinking ‘And I get paid for this!’

In my early 30’sI took up a job as the youth pastor in a church in Lesmurdie – the hills of Perth. When the they first called and asked me to consider the role I laughed and said ‘God will only ever call me to work in churches within 3km of coastline’. I half meant it. Oddly enough Lesmurdie ‘felt right’, so we moved from the house we had just built in Karrinyup 3 minutes from the beach and perfectly positioned for a lifetime of city surfing… and headed for the hills – 45 minutes from water. That really did feel odd. The Lesmurdie years were a fantastic time, but I could feel like I wasn’t ‘home’.  I would take Thursdays off and inevitably find the car being pulled back to the coastline in search of waves. I still surfed on holidays, but not so much during this 8 years.

As a result I started to become a bit more cautious and careful. Because it was a long time between surfs it took a while for the confidence to return and the courage to come back. I remember well being on holidays in Busselton and going surfing at Indijup carpark. I was 38 years old, it was a sizable day and I got held down by a couple of heavy waves in a row and came up gasping for air. It was a scary experience and while I had been through plenty of ‘hold downs’ in my younger days I was now conscious of my lung capacity declining so I paddled in and began to climb the steps to get out of there.  Half way up the steps I stopped, turned around and paddled back out. I had that realisation that I was letting fear shape me and it wasn’t a pattern I wanted for the rest of my life. I knew some stuff was well beyond my capabilities but I wasn’t going to wimp out of the stuff that I was still capable of. It was a significant decision and one I have made again several times since.

So began the challenge to find my identity as a slightly older surfer – a bit less capable – less fit and less adventurous… but still desperately passionate for the experience of the ocean that comes with surfing.

Life Threads – Surfing & The Ocean II

In year 12 I bought my first brand new board – a 5’ 9” ‘thruster’ by a backyard shaper called Wayne Winchester. In 1981 Simon Anderson changed the landscape of surfing with his 3 fin boards so I wanted to get off the twin fin and into the new thing. The ‘Winnie’ (above with my brother and the twin fin) was my pride and joy and it rode some great waves over its 3 year lifespan. I was starting to head down south by this stage, so the odd 6-8 ft wave got ridden on the chunky little 5’9”. It also got front seat of the car one day ahead of my girlfriend. Not such a savvy move as it would turn out…

Turning 17 and getting a license changed everything. Suddenly Lancelin was ‘just up the road’ and down south became a real option. In year twelve we discovered Edward Island at Lancelin and the left behind the Island. My Mark 1 Cortina did many a trip to Lano punctuated with 3 or 4 stops to refill the radiator. Not surprisingly that car’s engine had a short life and it was sold to a wrecker around 6 months later. From there I moved on to the red Galant that did its fair share of surf trips with a few less issues!

The Galant

We made our first trip south in Easter 1982 and I realised I had entered a new realm of surfing. In that time you could still camp at Indijup Carpark and there were still a number of waves that didn’t get surfed that often. Better days indeed…

I learnt a valuable life lesson on the first trip – and that was to never judge the size of the wave from above. As kids we had heard about the big waves ‘down south’ but had no idea what we were in for. As it turned out there was a sizable swell that weekend and for some bizarre reason we picked North Point as our first port of call. As we watched the waves from the top carpark we got super excited for our first ever surf in this place. It looked amazing and we guessed it to be a fun and manageable 3-4ft, but when we got in the water it turned out to be more like an angry, vicious 6-8ft and well beyond our capabilities. We came in with tail between legs and realised that we were a long way from Trigg… and while we might have been ok surfers in chest high beach breaks, this was a vastly different scenario.

North Point…

My teen years were the ‘push the boundaries’ years as we sought out ‘big waves’ and paddled into stuff I wouldn’t even consider today. That said I was never into the really heavy stuff. It just scared me. I wish it didn’t, but once it hit 6-8ft I was at my limit. The biggest waves I ever rode were at Southsides at Margaret River – around 8ft – or maybe that’s just what I remember… ha… While big waves weren’t my thing, a 3-4ft day at Indijup Carpark with a couple of mates was as close to heaven as I could imagine.

Indijup Carpark

In those teen years there were many, many surf trips with friends, sleeping rough, eating rough and trying to live up the image we had of ourselves (albeit poorly) as ‘surfers’. I remember well sleeping a Friday night in a half built house in Lancelin and being woken by the tilers in the morning because they wanted to start work… I guess you do those things when you’re a teenager…

My best surfing memory of that era was a solo surf at Hole in the Wall up at Lancelin – a 45 minute paddle from shore – but a magic wave on the right day.  On a 38 degree day I drove up from home and paddled out on my own. (Nope – I didn’t and still don’t worry about sharks) There were perfect 3-4 ft waves and I had to myself for 4 hours, before the muesli bars I had stashed up my wetsuit sleeves ran out, the seabreeze arrived and I had to come in for food.

In those days I was a surfer and a basketballer. I was a much better basketballer than surfer, but somehow surfing grabbed my heart more than basketball which is probably why I have never stopped surfing, whereas basketball ended just before I turned 40. As any surfer will tell you, there is a spiritual element to being in the water and something mesmerising about riding waves that is very different to a competitive team sport. In Breath, Tim Winton describes how Pikelet felt watching surfing for the first time : ‘“How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared.”

Of course we all cared that someone ‘saw us’, because we all wanted to be good surfers – to be noticed. In those early years surfing was largely about the thrill of pushing yourself into new spaces, of growing in courage and conquering fear. It was also about being part of a subculture and seeking to live up to the image we had of ourselves. That bit is not so inspiring but it was a reality – and still is for many – fitting the image… As the years have gone on the ‘courage’ aspect has faded, as has the need to be a ‘surfer’ while the ‘one with nature’ aspect now plays far more strongly.

In that time of life I only went to the beach when there were ridable waves. I wasn’t into the ocean for its own beauty, and I never went ‘swimming’ or just hung out at the beach. If I wasn’t catching a wave I was doing something else. The ocean was a wave machine and not much else.

That I had come to love surfing was something of a miracle anyway. Having immigrated from Ireland, I grew up with a dad who didn’t surf and had little interest in surfing. I also grew up not learning to swim until late primary school and I only discovered the beach when we came to Australia in 1974.  Irish beaches were hardly inspiring and it was rarely warm enough to get wet anyway. Unlike my son Sam who has been to Exmouth, down south, Bali and done a whole lap of Australia I thought myself fortunate if I scored the occasional morning at Ocean Beach Denmark while on holidays. Other than that my surfing was kept to the local beachies in rain, hail or shine. Until I got a car my breadth of experience was very limited.

That said I do remember at 12 years old convincing mum and dad that Margaret River was the place to surf and that they should let me surf there. I had read about this place in surfing magazines and wanted to go.  I had little idea of what I was in for. With my first ‘real board’ I paddled out into a solid 6ft MR Rivermouth beach break with a piece of rope tied to my leg as a leggie. There was no one else surfing – in fact no one else anywhere on the beach, as it was a massive, chaotic day. Fortunately I got pummelled and pushed back in by the whitewater before I could make any headway,  because had I got beyond the break I doubt I would have known how to catch a wave, let alone how to get back in. Neither they nor I had any clue just how dangerous the ocean was at that point.

But that is one thing I have learnt – respect the ocean… or be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Life Threads – Surfing & The Ocean

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the various threads that weave together to form a life and I have realised that surfing and ‘the ocean’ have been a massive thread in my own 53 years on this planet, so I thought I’d write a collection of thoughts around that theme and see where it goes. I’m not sure what will come out of it, but I’m curious about the significance these things have in my life, so if you love either then read on…


​I never really got into stamp collecting. I tried…

It was one of the things I did as a kid trying to find some ‘hobbies’. Apparently it was important to have ‘hobbies’. But stamps?… Nah… they just lacked the kinda energy I was seeking. The thrill factor was rather low even for a 10 year old… They were on a par with ‘pen-friends’.

But then suddenly surfing ‘happened’ when I was 11.

Well… when I say ‘surfing’, it began with a cheapo body board that I rode to shore on the Trigg beach white water. Instantly I knew that I loved the sensaton that came with riding something in the ocean. The body board thing lasted a few weeks before I graduated to a ‘GT foamie’ – a ‘coolite’ style board that I could actually stand on. It was an almost rectangular lump of foam with no hydrodynamic qualities at all aside from floatation. Apart from excruciating nipple rash the GT was a great starter and like many kids in the 70’s I rode that thing until my chest bled and my stomach was raw.

That Christmas I was given a new foamie – a ‘Little Ripper’, and it actually looked more like a real surfboard than the GT whose only real attribute was stability.

I took the Little Ripper to the beach on Christmas Day and snapped it on the first wave. That moulded polystyrene fin was a design flaw for a kid who was riding everything to the sand. As an 11 year old I was utterly devastated. So, I went back to the old GT until such time as I could score myself a real fibreglass board. That didn’t look like happening any time soon as mum and dad weren’t keen on me graduating to a new level of surfing. Fair enough seeing as how I had barely mastered the whitewash.

At 11 I wasn’t allowed to go the beach alone, but no one said I wasn’t allowed to go to surf shops buy a ‘real’ fibreglass board…  Back then surf shops actually sold surfboards…. No kidding…

The old Blaxell’s surf factory/shop was just down the road in Osborne Park and I would often cycle there with my mates and fondle the second hand boards, hoping… wishing… that firstly I could afford one and then secondly be allowed to use it.

Then unexpectedly my moment arrived.

Mum took off on a trip back to Ireland and dad was left ‘in charge’. I had seen a ‘bargain’ at Blaxell’s… Someone had snapped a massive mal and Tom had somehow morphed it into what where actually two kneeboards, (although I wanted to believe they were surfboards). For $15 each my mate and I bought a half each and we thought we had won the lottery!

It was about the same size as the GT, but made of fibreglass – a real board – and I could afford it. Those were its only endearing qualities. It was a total pig.

There was no consultation with dad – I just bought it and brought it home – this mutant lump of fibreglass, foam and resin that I was soon to realise was completely useless. I tried riding it once down at Trigg, but the only wax we had were a few old candles and I discovered quickly that they weren’t going to be adequate. The board had no shape and precious little flotation or maybe I was just a newbie with no clue. Probably a bit of both…

That board got locked in the shed for a few more weeks until I traded it for another equally mutant lump of fibreglass that was 6’ 4’’ and looked a tiny bit more like an actual surfboard. It had only been snapped once and despite its many dings it still floated. $25 well spent… I felt kinda proud of that first real board and by 12 years old I was harassing dad for rides to the beach at every opportunity. These were given in exchange for weeding or picking up leaves in the front yard – no wonder I developed a passionate dislike for gardening… while I was weeding the offshore was turning to onshore…









(Scarborough Beach Front 1975 – not sure whose photo this is)

That board lasted 6 months before it snapped and I dumped in the bin on the beach and rode home. Then Christmas came and it was time to get a better board… I was a real surfer now. I was reading surfing mags, wearing Golden Breed t shirts and talking surf lingo with the blokes at school. I cycled thru a few old single fins in this phase, before splurging on a 5’ 10’’ twin fin that saw me thru most of high school.

By year 9 I had made a surfboard trolley in metalwork which meant I was now mobile and able to make my own way to the beach. 5.00am starts on a Saturday morning were normal with 3 surfs the regime before heading back up the Scarborough Beach Rd hill on the treadly with the assistance of the sea breeze. Sometimes I’d go with mates, but often I was on my own. The bug had bitten and I was hooked.

Trigg Point in 1975 – Oceans Surf Contest (from www.surfingdownsouth.com.au)

Those were the days when we rode Trigg Point regularly and even got waves… The crowds were still there, but nothing like today. I remember some amazing days at The Point, but equally the whole stretch of coast from Scarborough to Trigg was our playground and occasionally you could find great waves when the sandbanks played nice. Attending a school where the bottom sports oval overlooked the ocean meant that we always knew when there was swell and offshores, so I may have spent more than the occasional school day down at the beach… In fact my dad’s decision to push me into Mrs Partridge’s Year 11 Business Studies class which was held during the last two periods of a Friday was probably the reason I improved quickly at surfing. (I even passed business studies…)

To be continued…

The Absence of Grace

Recently I was running out of stuff to watch on Netflix (serious first world problem…) so I decided to give Sons of Anarchy a go. I’d tried before but never got past the first episode. This time I did.

It began with curiosity and after a few episodes it started to lure me in as I got to know the characters and their relationships. After a couple of seasons I was intrigued to see where it would go, but not long after I found myself in ‘car wreck mode’. I knew I shouldn’t look any more but I couldn’t help myself. I had one season to go and I watched it to the bitter end – one of the longest, most drawn out and dissatisfying seasons of any show I have watched… and the final episode left me shaking my head in despair.

Only read on if you never plan to watch it – because I will spoil it for you.

Sons of Anarchy is at surface level about a fictional biker gang in a small town in the USA and how they live, interact with other gangs and do their thing – mostly gun running, prostitution and porn studios. Its a brutal world and the body count mounts with every episode.

But its also an intriguing depiction of the complexity and contradictions in the outlaw scene – a commitment to family and brotherhood, but an adherence to a ‘biker law’ that sees them even kill ‘family’ members who do the wrong thing. We see men frequently tell one another that they love each other, they kiss one another as acts of affection, but in a heartbeat they can turn and shoot that same person in the head.

One thing ‘Sons’ lacks is any portrayal of grace – forgiveness or redemption. Its a hard culture where ‘law’ rules, but eventually crushes those who seek to live by it. Sound familiar?

Thru all this the lead character Jax Teller is portrayed at times as some kind of Christ figure / saviour – leading the club out of gun running and crime and into legit business (porn… and prostitution).

The final episode sees Jax ‘give his life’ for the club as he drives in front of a truck after killing the last of his enemies and being tailed by 20 police cars. Before setting off on his ‘passion’ Jax is met by a curious homeless woman who pops up at various moments in the show. We don’t know exactly who she is, but she seems to be some sort of spiritual guide to him. When he leaves her the camera spends a long time paused on an image of what she was eating, stale bread and cheap red wine, arranged to look as much like a communion meal as possible – a last supper?

When Jax rides headlong into a truck the final image of the show is one of bread stained with wine on the road, as if to suggest he was the sacrifice and the saviour. Unfortunately it was a completely unbelievable scenario as the Jax of the previous 6 seasons was a brutal, vengeful tyrant – even if he did occasionally seem to wrestle with his demons. If he was intended to be a Christ figure then it was by someone who had little grasp of the real Jesus.

I don’t get affected much by brutality in TV, but you need a strong stomach for this show. I was more affected by the absence of hope and grace in a community that so desperately was trying to make things work. If nothing else Sons of Anarchy is a graphic depiction of where revenge takes you and its a very dark place…