‘On Any Morning’, Anything Could Happen.
The initial success of Tracks from when it was launched in October 1970, not only helped to fund the 1972 landmark film Morning Of The Earth, but indirectly it provided a nurturing environment for a whole emerging generation of surf
This wasn’t the first time that a surf magazine had played a pivotal role in surf film – for a decade before this Bob Evans had used Surfing World to help fund and promote his annual contributions to the genre, and before him, John Severson had created a magazine, The Surfer, specifically to promote his first films – but Tracks in those days still had a hippy ethos, a sharing, caring side that meant it was happy to promote not only the films of its publisher and co-founder, Albert Falzon, but those of the already-established Paul Witzig, along with newcomers like Steve Core, Steve Otton, David “Mexican” Sumpter and Jack McCoy and Dick Hoole.
When I rocked up to start working at Tracks in 1974, Falzon and producer David Elfick had already turned the world upside down with Morning Of The Earth and were working on the follow-up, Crystal Voyager, with George Greenough. But Albe was still the main man at Tracks, and his presence – plus the fact that Elfick kept an office in our Whale Beach HQ – meant that wannabe film-makers trudged up the sandstone steps with great frequency, seeking, if not an audience with the “Little Master”, then at least to bathe in his aura.
On one of these occasions, before I had ascended to the dizzy heights of the editorship, I was toiling away on a minor project – perhaps the first Tracks Questionnaire – when our gorgeous secretary (PA if you must), Mary Camarda, started bellowing at a rather loud fellow who was coming up the stairs in a cloud of blue tobacco smoke. “Mex, I’ve told you before – no smoking in the office!” And it was true. You were only allowed to light up in the Tracks office if you were going to get stoned.
David “Mexican” Sumpter was the older brother of ‘60s surf star Rodney “Gopher” Sumpter, who had represented Britain in the 1966 world championships. The Sumpters were “ten quid poms” who had migrated and learnt to surf in Avalon. Gopher was the first to pick up a movie camera (shooting, among other things, the Severn Bore wave) but Mex (so named for the sombrero he liked to wear while shooting from sun-drenched cliff-tops on the Bukit) wasn’t far behind him. He was a big bloke with a loud voice and a quick wit. We were introduced and he said he liked my crude attempts at humour in Tracks.
“You’re a funny bloke,” he said. “My whole life is a funny story so you should write about me.” Before I knew it, the Mex had hired me to hit the road with him while he roadshowed his first film, On Any Morning, chatting up the media up and down the coast while he plastered posters on walls and lamp posts. The cabin of Mex’s Falcon was smoky from the get-go, and after a couple of days of living in it, it was pretty rank for other reasons. My press release, headlined “Surfer lives in car and eats dog food to fund first film”, got a good run in the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, so I dragged it out again for the local rags from Coffs to Colac, found plenty of bored morning DJs who wanted to chat to this surfing vagrant, and, despite the fact that it was mostly out of focus, On Any Morning played to full houses everywhere.
After the last show of the run in Brighton, Vic, Mex paid me $250 in cash and sent me off to Bali Easyrider Travel Service where I bought a 35-day round-trip ticket with motorbike and losmen accommodation chucked in.
It took me another forty-plus years to become an Australian surf film-maker myself, but the bloke who eventually made that possible had tromped up the stairs to Tracks just a couple of months after Mex. Unlike Mex, he was small and neat as a pin. He said: “Hi, my name’s Brian Walsh, I’m studying communications at university and I want to work in surf films and magazines.
Walshie started out roadshowing up and down the coast and ended up running Foxtel.