Keith McMullen

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He may be a bit of a wayward surfer himself (just like the title of his book!) but Port Macquarie local Keith McMullen also has a knack for writing and a skill with interviewing. Currently working on a book detailing Port Macquarie’s surfing history, Keith’s been able to draw some amazing stories out of some local surfing icons.

One could say that he’s come from great surfing stock too, as Keith’s own grandfather, Harry McLaren, was the inventor of the surf ski …

Hi Keith. Tell us a bit about your background … 

I’m Port Macquarie born, raised and schooled. I apprenticed to the Uptins as a printer with the Port Macquarie News, working with some real characters; the newspaper world seems to breed them! It was a lot of fun. Once released from my indenture in my early 20s, I took off to see the world, wandering here and there. So, I was away for a while.

You’ve recently moved back to the area, after many years away. What brought about the move back to your roots? 

My mother; she’s 93. She’s semi-independent, but still needs someone to keep an eye on her. She’s resilient too; so far she’s survived nine months of my cooking, although one night the Laksa was a bit much.

What’s your back story with surfing in the local area? 

My two brothers tried to lead me astray with Rugby League, as did my parents with tennis, Nippers and ballroom dancing, of all things. But once I’d ridden my first surfboard at Town Beach at the age of twelve, all that instantly fell away. I had glided into a magic carpet realm and turned around to get out the back to catch another wave as quickly as I could. And, I have been doing that pretty much ever since.

You’re currently working on a book – Port Macquarie’s History of Surfing. What led to this idea – why did you want to document Port’s surfing history? 

My youth was totally infused with surfboard riding here in Port, so I knew some of it from a personal perspective. But once I started researching, it took off quicker than a parliamentary rumour. Its colour, depth, variety and drama, all coupled with fantastic people, captivated me instantly.

The surfing history I’m writing about is specifically surfboard riding, not surf life-saving; although, there is a chapter on bodyboarding. I’d just moved back last year and was finishing off The Wayward Surfer book, so it was perfect timing to start this one.

Where are you up to with the history of surfing project?

I’m eight months into it. Eighty-five people interviewed, I’ve collected over 650 photos (some of which are sensational) and 40,000 words have been punched in. It’s spawned a few side projects as well. The information that’s come in has been far more than I can use, so it will be archived at the library or available on thumb drive if anyone wants the whole package.

Also, there’s a get-together night down at the Chop ‘n Chill on Saturday 5th May at 6pm. There will be a short presentation to keep folk informed of progress, along with some entertainment and a few surprises. It will be a great night for Port’s surfers to catch up with old friends – another little “Woodstock.”

What are some of the stories/photos you’ve collected so far?

Stories? Well, I could tell you about the school principal, the furniture salesman and the priest, but you’ll have to wait for the book. However, I can tell you there are police raids, a couple of riots and lots of angry adults involved. That’s the mayhem side of it, which combined with the beautiful side of great mates and surfers, endless days of surfing fantastic waves up and down our coastline make for a very rich history … One that caught me by surprise.

Photos? Some showing the first waves ever ridden at Town Beach over one hundred years ago.

You’ve penned another book you mentioned, called The Wayward Surfer. What’s it about?

I have a love/hate relationship with stereotypes and sacred cows, which us surfers love dwelling on. Our sport is full of them, so I couldn’t resist taking a few shots at a couple. Might get me into a bit of trouble, but I can blame it on my alter ego, Vladimir Boris Waxanov – he made me do it. But it’s not all satire; it’s in three parts, with some surfing short stories and travel adventures.

The printers have sent me box loads of them, so I’m launching the book at Chop ‘n Chill on the big night. I think it’ll sell quickly; well, I hope so – otherwise my kids will be receiving yet another copy each Christmas for years.

Your grandfather, Harry McLaren, claims a special spot in surfing history. What can you tell us about him?

He was his own man. Proud and resourceful. His home was a huge property that contained a shed full of gadgets that he’d buy, pull apart to examine, but didn’t always successfully put back together. So, it’s no surprise he invented the surf ski while a teenager. The controversy surrounding Crakanthorp claiming to have fathered the ski didn’t bother him throughout his life at all, but it did towards the end. When the record was put straight, he loved it, and it reconnected him to the waves as well. He started going to the beach almost daily, just to watch the surf.

What’s something you’ve uncovered about Port’s surfing history you can share with our readers? 

The drama surrounding the resistance to surfboard riding as a sport. Without giving too much away, I can say it was a conflict that produced some heroes and surprising outcomes. Also, the number of times the people I interviewed confessed to wagging school, having lied to their parents just to go surfing, or the story they’d spun them to get a weekend away surfing with their mates. There was plenty of good-natured mischief. A couple of interviewees rang me the next day to say I better not put such and such story in the book.

Where can we find out more about you, and source your book/s?

My books are on Amazon and some old surfing pics are posted on Facebook at Port Macquarie’s History of Surfing. Cheers, and thanks. Search for Keith McMullen

Thanks Keith. 

Interview by Jo Robinson.

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