Skip to content

Backstories 2022


Michael shares his coming-of-age journey growing up in the surf culture of the southwest of WA and how an altercation with his father led him to forge his own identity and values.

This story was collected at our Margaret River backyard and is told by Michael. Michael shares his coming-of-age journey growing up in the surf culture of the southwest of WA and how an altercation with his father led him to forge his own identity and values.

Backstories 2022 is a multi-sited storytelling festival located in suburbs of across Perth and regional Western Australia. In 2022, Backstories occurred in locations such as Geraldton, Kununurra, Bunbury, Margaret River and Lesmurdie.

Backstories 2022 Margaret River was made possible with funding from LotterywestDepartment of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, and Centre for Stories Founders Circle.

Interested in creating your own Backstories event? Get in touch at

Copyright © 2023 Michael.

Photo by Ovis Creative Photography.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

This story was published on 9 August 2023.

View Story Transcript

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s really nice to be here. This is my story. ‘You’re not going anywhere, son’. As you can gather, that’s the commanding voice of my father. I’m [inaudible words], independent teenager. And I’ve fallen in love with surfing and rock music. It’s 1972, a period of time, when I’ve just gone off to art school. Left school. Gone off to art school, met my future wife.

There were Vietnam veterans coming back from the Vietnam War to a hostile Australian public. And, you know, and there were,  they just didn’t have that, it just wasn’t nice to these people. And a lot of those people, some of them came into my art course. So I was mixing with a gun. You know, mid-teens mixing with war veterans.

So it’s a bit of a culture shift for me. And also Gough Whitlam got voted in. So I’ve sort of given you an understanding of the period of time, Australia was a very different place then and I lived in the northern suburbs. Now I didn’t live in the northern suburbs and still the suburbs finished at [inaudible words] back in 1972. And I lived in a coastal hamlet at Queens Rocks, and that was made up of holiday, asbestos holiday shacks.

And I lived in a new home on a sand, built on a sand hill with [inaudible words]. Every morning I’d get up and I’d look out the front window and I’d dream about my future. What was I going to do next? But then, I had a friend ring me up and say, would you like to go on a surfing trip down south?

And I became so excited because all I did was hear about these wonderful stories of surfing that these mythical places like Three Bears and Rocky Point and maybe get into the surf, the big waves at Yallingup and so I just, I was just over the moon, over that. The day I was leaving, I went, spoke to my mother and asked for my sleeping bag.

And I’d forgotten to mention it to my parents. So my mother wasn’t too happy that I just decided to go and not inform them. And later that afternoon, I heard a car drive pulled into the driveway, thinking it was my mates to pick me up. But unkwown to me, as I came out of my bedroom, my father walked through the front door.

It’s too dangerous. You’re not ready to go surfing down, surfing the big was down south. I stood there feeling quite a building sense of desperation. So I said to him, I start yelling at him, and I said, look, dad, you know, I’m old enough. It’s all organized with my mates. And I’m going, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

He just stared at me there. And before I knew it, it came at me. We were in this narrow hallway, head to toe, just jostling, and then unexpectedly clenched his fists. And he hit me in the head. The blow hit me, it knocked me backwards, and my head was throbbing, and I thought he was just going to hit me again.

But as I looked at him, he had this disappointed look on his face. And I realized it wasn’t just in me. It was in his lack of self-control and failure within himself that he struck me. So I sensed that vulnerability in him. And I just shoved him aside, and I just stormed out the front door and grabbed my surfing gear.

And I walked down to the end of the driveway and I kept looking around thinking he was going to run after me and drag me back inside. But he didn’t. And it wasn’t long after my friends turned up in their white Ford Falcon and I couldn’t have been happier. I put my board on the car, put it in the boot, And when I jumped in, I was so excited inside that I completely forgot about my dad and what had just happened on the drive down south.

We drove through Perth and through Mandurah because there’s no freeways then. And, you know, as we drive along the old coast road and by that time it was quite dark, and we ended up coming through the [inaudible word] forest and the moon and, and the moon was shining, and the two trees looked quite majestic in the moonlight. Later that evening we, we ended up at Miller Beach, and there was a really powerful wind blowing, lashing the trees above.

And I drew the [inaudible words]. You know, I came totally unprepared. All I had was a sleeping bag, and it started raining. So the three other guys, one was in the boot, and one was on the back seat and the front bench seat. And, I was the odd man out. So I tried to find a spot in the Miller toilets, which was cold and on the bench seat, it was awful.

So I heard the rain hitting the roof and luckily I went outside and there was a dry patch underneath the car. So I slid under the car and had one of the worst sleeps in my life. But the moment the first light came, there was the sound of roaring surf in the background and this no where storm had produced quite a substantial swell that swept in to the, into the geographe bay.

And we considered surfing the Miller, but we found another place you know, a little bay further, for just a little couple of k’s away and we decided to surf there, a quite a nice left-hand breaking wave breaking off granite rocks. I suited up, and I was standing on the rocks and I felt really nervous because I’d never surfed in front of rock boulders.

And if you made a mistake, there was a chance you’re going to be swept into the rocks. By the time I hit a surf, the first wave, by the time I went the second wave, I didn’t make the drop and wiped out. And I had never surfed waves that were this powerful before in Perth and so forth. And I got ragdoll around and the White Water to swept me into the rock boulders and I got smashed into them and I ended up being getting knocked around, but something, the storm that produced this super high tide and it was the white water in the waves combined produces tsunami type conditions that swept me across the rocks.

And before I knew it, I was swept into pristine bushland. I was lying on my back, partly unconscious. And then when I woke up, I had sunlight streaming through the trees and I was looking up at marine trees and peppermint trees. And as I looked around, I was in lush, pristine bushland in a natural, beautiful setting.

And I just lay there, and I just had this moment of peace as my initiation to the sun, forgiving coastal landscape. I survived my first initiation, and there I was lying in this bed of grass in it, and it was quite a beautiful experience. So when I got up, I walked up back to the car. I was feeling quite cocky with myself.

And when and when my friends came out of the water, we all talked about what had happened to me and what had happened to them. After the surf, you know, we drove to Dunsborough and went to the bakery and I was sitting in the front seat with the window down, and I’ve just completed, I’ve just basically got a [inaudible words].

And it could have been something else. But because us, we were totally unprepared, and we had no food. So I made a real guts to myself. I noticed there were some other surfers there, you know, some tall, rangy, athletic-looking men with long blond hair. And I was standing on the pavement. And after I’d finished, my meal, my food, I obnoxiously belched out the window and then arrogantly just threw all the rubbish out onto the pavement.

I didn’t even think twice about it, you know, about littering. And before I knew it, one of these tall, rangy guys, walked straight over and put his hand through the window and grabbed me by the neck in a vice-like grip and I couldn’t move. And he said, Look mate, I’d like you to pick that rubbish up now, you little prick.

And I don’t know if he said that politely, and I said, Yeah, okay, okay, I’ll do it because I had no choice. So I got out of the car, and I was really embarrassed because in front of his mates and mine, I picked up my rubbish and I put it in the bin, and just before I hopped back in the car, he came up to me and goes, look mate, next time you visit this place, show some respect.

I just nodded my head and sheepishly hopped back in the car. Fifty years have gone on, gone by. And yes, I went on quite a few risky surfing adventures. I followed and continued on an art career and settled into a stable family life as well. My altercation with my father that was more, is more to do with me trying to establish myself and create an identity than his failed attempt at stopping me going.

My introduction to the Southwest. That is my, I think that’s what got me interested in living here. You know, like that first initial imprint. And, but it was, I think I was given a gift, you know, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gift to me, the way I was introduced. And I never forgot about it.

And later on in life, it helped inform my doctoral studies, the life lessons I learned as a 16-year-old, I’ve carried with me for my whole life. Well, where I’ve learned to respect all peoples and have respected the environment. And there’s one thing I have never done ever again, is I’ve never littered again. Thank you very much.

Thank you for listening.

Back to Top