A proposed statue of international surfing legend Midget Farrelly is closer to realisation, with the majority of supporters keen to see it installed on Palm Beach.
However, a monument to surfing in Australia at the very beach that saw the advent of its modern popularity – Freshwater – is deteriorating through neglect.
An online fundraising campaign for the statue, attracting publicity and pledges of donations, is gradually bringing to fruition the ambition to establish a monument to Midget Farrelly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Although Farrelly grew up in the Eastern Suburbs and learned to surf at Bondi Beach, he relocated to Palm Beach in his teens and surfed there almost daily for 54 years until he passed away in August 2016, aged 71.
The statue has the support of surfing legends Layne Beachley (from Manly) and Tom Carroll (from Newport) and the record-breaking 11 times world champion Kelly Slater.
The committee is aiming to raise $150,000 for the statue, likely to be a life-size bronze sculpture, inspired by a photo taken by Ben Perrott during Farrelly’s world-beating rides at the first official World Surfing Championship off Manly Beach on Sunday 17 May 1964.
The money will be donated to Northern Beaches Council to include the statue in its Public Art Working Group program. So far they’ve received pledges of $50,000 and a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign has raised an additional $3300 towards the goal.
Surfing ‘Walk of Fame’ needs attention
Meanwhile, the Surfers’ Walk of Fame in Freshwater, the birthplace of surfing in Australia, appears in need of a make-over.
The walkway, in Duke Kahanamoku Park on the northern headland along Lumsdaine Drive, is adjacent to a statue of Hawaiian surfing legend and swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku, five times medal winner at the Olympic Games (three golds and two silver at the 1912, 1920 and 1924 Olympics for swimming).
Kahanamoku is credited with popularising the burgeoning sport of surfing in Australia when, in the summer of 1914-15, he gave demonstrations of his prowess, which included performing headstands on the board and carrying a young woman on his shoulders while descending waves.
The tree-lined winding walkway beneath Kahanamoku’s statue, which was originally opened on 26 January 1994, features circular mosaics of celebrated Australian surfers. These include Wayne Bartholomew, Wendy Botha, Pam Burridge and Nat Young.
The Midget Farrelly mosaic utilises the same iconic Ben Perrott photo that has inspired the aforementioned statue destined for Palm Beach.
Sadly, the mosaics, commemorating 16 men and 8 women, are fading and some of them damaged or missing pieces. The largest mosaic, of Kahanamoku himself, has scorch marks where vandals lit a bonfire on top of the artwork.
On 20 September 2015, a proposal to update and upgrade Duke Kahanamoku’s memorial park was released by Peter Warr, co-trustee of the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve.
In it, he stated, “I have raised the concept of an Ocean themed art walkway in Duke K’s Park with Warringah Council staff in 2013. Further works of Art as part of a paved walkway to replace the current dirt track through this Park would greatly improve its functionality and visual amenity and allow Disabled Access to it.”
Warr also recommended “The Duke Kahanamoku cast bronze statute, the Park’s dedication plaques and the 24 existing Surfers’ Mosaics need to be cleaned and maintained annually to ensure their best possible condition is maintained…
“Regrettably between 2005 and 2011 this iconic Freshwater, NSW Park and Statute were allowed to deteriorate significantly in both their physical appearance and condition…”
Warr also proposed that Midget Farrelly, involved in the actual creation of Duke Kahanamoku Park, become its patron to ensure its ongoing care. Sadly, Farrelly died 11 months later of stomach cancer.
Manly Observer contacted Northern Beaches Council about refurbishment of the Surfers’ Walk. A Council spokesperson said, “Council continues to maintain public plaques and mosaics along the Surfers’ Walk of Fame, as well as the statue of Duke Kahanamoku in Freshwater. Over the years a number of repairs and restoration works have been completed. Council staff will inspect the existing mosaics and determine what restoration works may now be required.”
New campaign to care for ‘Walk of Fame’
Friends of Freshwater, a non-profit registered organisation, are campaigning for much-needed renovations to the Surfing Walk of Fame.
Friends of Freshwater, founded in 2010 and run by Freshwater locals, runs a community garden, oversees a volunteer bushcare group that has regenerated and improved Undercliff Reserve, and maintains the heritage-listed Soldiers Avenue memorial to Australian military personnel lost in WW1 – one of the last remaining ‘Avenues of Honour’ in greater Sydney.
The neighbourhood alliance is also campaigning for an extension to the Surfing Walk of Fame, updating it with new commemorative murals (the last was added in 1994, making it 28 years out of date).
The community group suggests these could feature along a nature trail through the former Harboard Diggers carpark alongside, which they hope will be returned to native bush now it has reverted to Crown Land.
Harbord Diggers, which previously used the land behind the Kahanamoku statue and Surfers’ Walk for a carpark, returned it to the control of Northern Beaches Council after a redevelopment of its premises.
The Diggers club, founded in 1930 by ex-soldiers, was taken over by the Mounties Group in 2006. In 2018 Mounties upgraded the club premises to a luxury retirement village for the over-55s, building 96 apartments and moving vehicle parking underground – thus freeing the carpark for reversion to Crown Land.
Sharyne Mullens and Denise Goldstein of Friends of Freshwater shared their hopes that the fading, cracked mosaic artworks are restored to their former radiance before new ones are installed.
Ms Goldstein told Manly Observer, “We are unsure of the Harbord Diggers’ plans at this stage for the Crown Land they have leased for many years. Whether the Surf Walk is part of their remediation plans is also unclear…
“We’d like to see either Mounties front up some money for this or we get Council involved, like a public art project. Perhaps a regeneration of the headland with a donation from Mounties – but it’s in desperate need…
“This is a very important commemorative area in the scheme of things – for surfing, Freshwater and Australia’s heritage.”
Northern Beaches Council confirmed Mounties Group were still in control of the abandoned carpark. A Council spokesperson told Manly Observer, “Mounties Group leases the old car park behind Harbord Diggers from Crown Lands.
“Following discussions about the use of the site, Crown Lands, Council and Mounties Group all agreed that the old car park could be turned into a public park as per the Freshwater Beach Open Space Masterplan.
“Mounties Group will need to lodge a development application prior to commencing any work, which would be placed on public exhibition and assessed by Council.
“If approved and completed, the public park would be handed over to Council for care, control and management.”
However, Northern Beaches dashed hopes of adding new mosaics to the Surfers’ Walk of Fame. “There are no plans to extend the Surfers’ Walk of Fame,” a Council spokesperson said.
Nevertheless, Mounties Group are keen to be involved in the enhancement of the area. A spokesperson told Manly Observer, “Mounties Group shares a view that there is ample opportunity to improve this local amenity and foresee that it has the potential to be a much-loved feature of the Northern Beaches. We believe that the transformation of this overall space provides a unique opportunity to enhance this headland, striking a balance of improving nature, commemoration, and experience.
“As such, Mounties Group have previously spoken with Northern Beaches Council and various community members into potential improvements to the open-air car park and the Surfers Walk in endeavours to improve this space for wider community benefit and engagement.
“Following some of these discussions, Mounties Group at our expense, have commenced conceptual designs for this space with a view to increasing connectivity, providing areas for contemplation and reflection, whilst acknowledging our rich culture and heritage and improving engagement with the community. This has been drafted with the inclusion of green spaces where the existing bitumen car park is and improvements of the Surfers Walk.
“It is our desire to engage with various key stakeholders ahead of approval requests to ensure that these concept plans consider the needs and desires of the local community.”
“It’s such a lovely spot,” Ms Mullens declared. “If the Mounties are regenerating the area, it’s a shame to ignore something that so wonderfully serves the surfing community and the locals able to enjoy this space. It’s so tranquil, a calming place…
“People do walk through here. You can sit, read a book and meditate. It’s just a really lovely place.”
Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan agreed, “There’s no doubt the Surfers Walk of Fame is a much loved part of Freshwater, considered the home of Australian surfing. The plaques and mosaics honouring surfing legends and the famous Duke Kahanamoku statue continue to inspire people as they walk along our extraordinary coast. We will continue to maintain the mosaics for future generations.”
Mayor Regan also revealed, “We are excited to soon add another major public artwork to the Freshwater headland, with First Nations art team mili mili commissioned to create the new artwork at McKillop Park. Inspired by the signal fires lit by Aboriginal people along our headlands, the contemporary artwork will provide a place for the community to rest and reflect as they walk along our stunning coastline.”