Photos: Mick Burnside and the Road to Bells - Part 1

Mick Burnside
Swellnet Dispatch

I'm a dedicated surf photographer that grew up in Melbourne, where I now live again after a time away. Like many Victorians, I wasn't allowed down to Bells this Easter. It was a frustrating situation, but instead I pulled together some photos from the past to the present to share with other frustrated, dry docked surfers.

Being from Melbourne, I first swam in the surf at age 11. I loved being smashed by the foamy waves.

In 1977, during a school camp to Torquay I caught my first wave bodysurfing out front of Torquay Lifesaving Club. I'd swam in heaps of surf but that one wave was different, it picked me up and pushed me to the shore. Later that trip, one of the teachers walked us along the shoreline at low tide from Torquay to Bells. It was autumn, and when I think about it now it was an awakening for what lay ahead.

Later, family Christmas holidays changed to Pambula, where I had access to a surfmat and boogie boards and got a little more educated in riding waves. I was anything but a quick learner, so board riding was way out of my realm for the time being.

One evening the famous Pambula River mouth was on the cook. I'd recently bought my first Surfing World photo annual mag, and was mesmerised by the perfectly spinning tubes coming towards me as I sat on the rocks watching. At that moment I wished I had a camera, and a seed was sown in my mind: I wanted to photograph it swimming and get pics like in SW magazine.

I eventually got my first camera, a yellow Minolta Weathermatic. An old style pocket camera that I could swim with, taking my first surf pics in the summer of 1981-82, again at Pambula. 

At the time, surfing was still an interest, not an obsession. Working as an apprentice chippy and playing Aussie Rules took most of my energy.

We were up at sunrise one morn and I remember being at the top car park at Jan Juc, seeing the gold cliffs and deep blue lines of swell working their way from Bells to Winki to Boobs to Steps to Bird Rock and finally to Juc. We drove to Bells and it was breaking well, so I swam out and took pics with no wetty or flippers. No idea, and no-one to teach me.

Eventually I became more surf oriented by reading Surfing World and Tracks magazines. Some kind Torquay locals, Andrew Flitton and Simon Kellet, recognised my interest, encouraged me, and got me swimming out at the Quiksilver Trials before the Bells Easter comp in 1986.

Being the the different personality that I am, being from the area I lived, and mixing with the sort of people I did, I didn't recognise the opportunity or understand the surf royalty I was allowed to photograph. MR, Simon, Kong, Michael Ho. I was raw. I simply kept working and playing footy. I was small-time compared to some of the wild people at that place.

I continued to scoot down the coast and take few pics when I thought there would be waves. At the time, I was super fit and super durable, and I started realising I'd be spending many more years swimming in the waves with a camera.

In 1987 or 1988, I got my first photo run in Surfing World of Greg Brown at Winki.

Like many bodyboarders I was a barrel hunter and wanted to photograph barrels. Bells wasnt the spot, though I continued to take pics there, especially around Easter. It was a difficult place to nail a good watershot but I always liked being there trying.

By the late 80s, I was thirsting for big waves and barrels, but wasn't in any way a member of a surfing group. In February 1990, I decided to go west in search of big waves and logically found myself at Margaret River where I learned to surf and live the surfing life - which for me included catching big wave and taking big barrel photos.

I had a great time in Western Australia and took a while to return...around 13 years. 

By 2002, fate was steering my life away from West Oz. I was swimming big swells, and had been planning to swim Cow Bombie with Damon [Eastaugh] and Corts [Courtney Gray] who I was photographing at that period. It was a heavy call. I was fit and prepared to try....but work was quiet, I'd had a few tough years and I was missing family and, strangely to me, I was also missing the grey skies and cold water.

I discussed with mum about my intentions of swimming Cow Bombie and she said maybe fate is steering me away from danger, thinking my extreme personality traits would get me smashed and drowned taking water pics at Cow Bombie. A year later two fatal shark attacks occured in the Margaret River region. I'd spent so many hours swimming and surfing that coast at that time of year, very often solo. Thoughts about fate are now even more prominent in my mind.

So I moved back east, settled back into Vicco, surfing around Bells, Winki, PC, and the Island, branching out to wherever suited me.

Surf photography had slowed a bit and I'd only swim taking pics around Bells and Winki during Easter when the pros were down.

Part 2 coming tomorrow.

Greg Brown at Winki 1987, with matching colourways on his Piping Hot wetty and self-shaped Roar

Kelly Slater warming up at Woolamai in 2005, back when the comp was more mobile

Thirteen-year old Tyler Wright warming up at Johanna in 2007

Pancho Sullivan belts it during a Bells dawn session in 2006

Parko at Winki in 2012, his world title year

Taj whipping it in the 2009 competition

Rod Brooks styling through Winki in 2013

Occy gets the last wave of dawn practice as Sebastian Zietz paddles out for the first heat of the day

Comments

Elliedog's picture
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Elliedog commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 4:58pm

Nice shots Mick. A great contribution. your a great personality and a breath of fresh air around surfing given some of the egos around.

Luba

dave's picture
dave's picture
dave commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 5:06pm

Lovely insight and great pics Mick.

Seymour Scagnetti's picture
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Seymour Scagnetti commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 5:19pm

Legend!

Surfalot67's picture
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Surfalot67 commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 5:22pm

Miss the West Coast especially this year. Great shots Mick, the Parko shot is perfect

Fraser G's picture
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Fraser G commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 7:47pm

Great bloke!!! was at The Bluff when Mick was there in 2000 haha he loved his purple Freo footy shorts practically lived in them for months great times..

Pupkin's picture
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Pupkin commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 8:00pm

Good egg. Great photos.

Pupkin's picture
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Pupkin commented Thursday, 16 Apr 2020 at 8:03pm

Scagnetti, who is that in your profile pic?

ken.vincent's picture
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ken.vincent commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 8:35am

The Minolta Weathermatic - great little camera, crap format. Brings both happy & sad memories. My 1st water shots, and my 1st car getting burgled at Summercloud bay. Would give all the stuff in my car again to surf those barrels though!.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 11:41am

Mick > are you the same guy who took that photo of Rob Conneeley at MR Bommie - the one he says was "biggest and best wave of my life"? > RR

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mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:44pm

gday rr....yep thats true.....that session with bonza , russ h , dmac , matto n few others was epic...... was many years ago now.....kinda like a big wednesday finale big wave session for those two older school legends........miss west oz a lot at times.

mick b

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 5:16pm

Hi Mick > thanks for getting back to me. I had an exhibition in 2016 titled Frontier Surfing, which Bonza participated in, in a number of ways. I really wanted to feature your photo (s) as Rob told me an amazing story about that wave/day/and how much the shot meant to him. I tried to track you down then; but obviously failed. I'd love to know if you still have the negatives, as I have some more works on surfing in development for a new museum being built in WA. It could be that your pic's are relevant to the museum process - so would like to personal message you, if you're interested in being a part of that? No pressure at all.

In the meantime, here is a link to Rob in a doco I made for the exhibition, sharing some classic tales. What an icon! I used this link to help encourage Tim Winton to be a part of the exhibition, hence the password, which I don't know how to change?

On yah - keep up the awesome photography!

https://vimeo.com/160045574

Password: timwinton

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 9:42am

gday again rr......i have a margaret river timeline done .....some of the pics were used in a surfing wa 50 year book.....message me on fb.....micheal burnside.....and ill sort you out with contact details.....amazingly i still do have a few of trannies of bonza and russ...

mick b

tango's picture
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tango commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 9:40pm

Great yarn from Rob, thanks RR. Talk about goose bumps.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020 at 11:23am

Hi tango > thanks for listening and taking the time to comment; and agree amazing stories from a distant era. One of my motivations for that film was to capture the social history of these early pioneers. As for me Rob Conneelly is a bit like John Lee Hooker dieing off, once that generation of surfers/bluesman die off, that's it. In Rob's case early days and signficant insights captured forever in this doco. > RR

tango's picture
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tango commented Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020 at 12:36pm

Great work, RR - capturing those yarns is capturing an integral part of surf culture. He loves a yarn, as I recall, and was terrific in the water so if he's saying he was terrified I can't think how terrifying it must have been.
I was lucky to have dinner with him maybe 20 years ago by chance in Margaret R when he came into the cafe with Peter Cuming who I knew when the Spirit of Surfing was in full swing, and I'd recently had the privilege of being part of the Surf Elders gathering at Ian Cohen's place (as a 30yo grommet in that company). He had some truly wonderful ideas about how surfing could and should be, some great yarns and a keen interest in coastal issues generally. Next day he introduced us to the local mob out the back at Main Break and we split sunny 5-6ft peaks all morning. It was one of the most memorable surfing days of my life.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020 at 1:02pm

Awesome memories there for you - spitting the peaks, which must mean W swell at MR Main with no wind - that's a fairly rare experience! Is Ian Cohen that environmentalist guy who gripped the bow of the nuclear boat in Sydney Harbour years ago? If so, you were lucky to meet him and hear his ideas - what a trail blazer.

troppo dichotomy's picture
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troppo dichotomy commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 1:15pm

Mick i think we met at Billabong challenge in 95?I picked you up hitchhiking back to the bluff and we then got invited to the pro's after party.You sent me a couple photo's for the ride.a water shot of the Box and Machado at Tombies.Epic photo's!Thanks m8!!

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:47pm

no worries troppo.....thanks for the lift to gnaraloo.......that was a great day......and thate hitch hike trip and bluff stay was all time......one of many at red bluff.......great times and great place......cant wait to do another trip there again.....hope life is treatin you well.

mick b

Seymour Scagnetti's picture
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Seymour Scagnetti commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 3:46pm

Hey Pup,
That’s Akima brah! ...shot by another great waterman. Mr Don King.

indo-dreaming's picture
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indo-dreaming commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 4:26pm

Cool to see a pic of Kelly at my local.

Please Stunet give me an ignore button for Talking Turkey, Shatners Basoon, Dale Cooper, Factotum, Pupkin, and any new fake profile he decides to create.

coopers's picture
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coopers commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 7:49pm

Mick took a couple of photos of me back in the late 80s at Massacres. I still have them, he kindly sent them out to me.

Tim Fisher's picture
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Tim Fisher commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 10:45pm

How good does slide film look. Nothing like it.

bluediamond's picture
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bluediamond commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 11:28pm

Beautiful pics

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 11:59pm

Loved the Occy bottom turn shot

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Sunday, 19 Apr 2020 at 3:16pm

+1

Kham's picture
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Kham commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 8:32am

Mick is a true individual Aussie legend.
About as dry as a Oz summer drought and a truer friend you couldn't find. Bit like a blue healer really. Good memories surfing EB (WA) with ya Mick.
Keep the shots coming mate.
Kham

Kham

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:50pm

cheers kham......lookin forward to a catch up.....eb what a wave......i miss those sessions.....too old n slow now......was a treat to have so many great times in gods own country.

mick b

spelled3's picture
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spelled3 commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 9:53am

Awesome. Love the Browny and Parko shots especially.

gavin007's picture
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gavin007 commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 11:20am

That teacher who walked you along the shoreline from Torquay to Bells... he/she must have rocked! Trace him/her down and send some of your best work with a big thank you note!

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:53pm

cheers gavin..... he was different....was an old christian brother with a drinking problem at times.....was a pretty ok old fella .....liked his science and geology......he be likely well and truely passed now.....

mick b

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:55pm

thanks for the help n giving the story a run stu .....and thanks everyone for the kind feedback..

mick b

Fritz's picture
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Fritz commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 9:14pm

Khams on the money. That sunset shot ya sheared of mulga downs should’ve made the cover. Look forward to catching up at Dangerfield creek soon