The iconic surfing destination in Victoria.
The iconic surfing destination in Victoria.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

FOR Whom the Bell Tolls at Bells Beach.

That’s been the catch cry for the annual Bells Beach Easter event since I was a young grom taking the big, long trip to the south-west coast of Victoria about two hours out of Melbourne, or that much longer depending where you disembarked.

This year’s Rip Curl Pro Bells is pretty special, being the celebration of the Golden 50th anniversary of Bells.

It will attract one of the biggest surfing re-unions and gatherings of the surfing tribe to date.

Bells reeks of history, the name came from cowbells as it was originally dairy and cattle country bordering the coast.

The phrase For Whom the Bell Tolls was originally written as a poem by John Donne in the 16th century inspired by the interconnectedness of humanity.

American novelist Ernest Hemmingway picked up on the phrase in the 1950s for his book about the Spanish Civil war and the book became a movie with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

Then in the 1980s, heavy metal band Metallica used the title for a song.

So what’s all of this got to do with surfing and Bells?

That phrase was used by 1964 World Champion Midget Farrelly when he wrote about the Bells Beach event in an issue of Surfing World and it’s stuck with me over the years when making the southern sabbatical trip.

Back in the day we would go to Bells at least two weeks before Easter to prepare for the competition.

That early start would pay off big time, getting used to the colder water, a different breaking wave compared to Queensland and adjusting to the many moods and tidal changes that change the wave from the Bells Bowl at low tide to the high tide Rincon plus the tricky in between sessions.

I’ve had a couple of wild trips to Bells and back, or should that be hell and back, as portrayed in Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew’s Bustin’ Down the Door biography written by Tim Baker.

The first trip was taking PT, Rabbit and long-time friend Bobby Knight to Bells in 1972 in a brand new Kingswood Holden Station wagon.

The only problem was that I‘d never driven a manual car before and learnt the hard way, kangaroo-hopping all the way from Gold Coast to Bells much to the shock of my fellow passengers.

By the time I arrived at the iconic Bells Hill car park driving down to the bottom (or was that sliding down) the wet gravely road victoriously, PT couldn’t wait to bail out, joining his trusted and way more experienced driver Steve Core – and he finished runner-up to winner Terry Fitzgerald.

On the way back home, it was a drama-free run as by this time I’d fully mastered the three-gear change and was driving like a champion.

The travelling surfbillies were dutifully rewarded when we stopped at a pumping Lennox Head line-up, joining Nat Young and Baddy Trelor of Morning of the Earth fame as mentioned in Rab’s book.

In 1975 I needed a lift home from Bells to Byron and joined Keith Paul, Rabbit Bartholomew and Guy Omerod for the trip north.

I’d placed ninth overall earning about $200 prizemoney and was cashed up for the ride.

Ironically, I ended up driving everyone home with quite a few pit stops along the way. It took two or three days to reach our destinations and too many stories for this column, but some of those stories are once again in Rabbit’s book!

I look forward to joining all the crew for this year’s mega 50th.

And no I won’t be driving this time, at least not the 1000km journey that so many have taken, including Bobby over the last 50 years.



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