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This Is Northern New South Wales

Turning Point – Rusty Miller

TURNING POINT – A Photo-Journal of the ‘70s Surfer

Surfers today relish the thought of discovering deserted breaks, pioneering new spots and living purely for the surf, surrounded by their closest friends and nary another soul.

The pristine coastline of northern New South Wales in the late 1960s and early 1970s was precisely this Shangri-La; long, reeling, right-hand point breaks producing jaw-droppingly perfect, barreling waves and only a pod of resident dolphins with which to share them.

This iconic period in Australia’s surfing history has been captured in films, words and photos by numerous individuals, collected together in a library of books alongside images of Sydney’s heyday of surfing evolution and the handful of exponents pushing the boundaries.

We can exercise the imagination, visualizing the picture-postcard flawlessness of the era, and through these images and films, we gain a keyhole-peek into the life.
Turning Point, however, is our voyeuristic, First-Class ticket to that time.

Rusty Miller is not known for his photography per-se. The 1965 US Surfing Champion has been a figurehead for various aspects of surfing through more decades than he would humbly care to admit. The undeniable trademark symbol of the shortboard revolution, the golden circle of two figures tentatively making their way out across the reef at Uluwatu, is the cover image for Albe Falzon’s 1971 movie, Morning Of The Earth. Along with a 14-year-old Steve Cooney to his right, Rusty is the featured surfer in that world-recognised shot that so evocatively depicts that generation.

And in his home town of Byron Bay, Rusty, despite his American ancestry, is regarded as a town elder, his four decades of residency more than overcoming his still-prominent Californian drawl.

With this, his first publication, Rusty doesn’t simply share his images and memories of the period in which so many of us wish to have grown up in. He opens the door for us, welcomes us in, introduces us to his friends and transports us into not only the locations, but also the emotions, the mindset and the reality of that life. We can feel the Autumnal sun warming us as we look upon Nyarie Abbey, John Witzig and Garth Murphy lounging in the grass of Lennox Head. We can smell the musty cushions and wood paneling as we share a moment with Nat Young. Our ears strain to capture a glimpse of the conversation between Miki Dora and Russell Hughes on Byron’s now unrecognizable Jonson Street.

That Rusty was actually there, that he escorts us so graciously, shares personal thoughts and the words of the friends whom he captures in his work, that he genially and chronologically walks us through a year or so of this unattainable time, separates Turning Point from so many of its photo-journal peers.

The book is bisected. The majority of the first half is devoted to a single weekend: the 1970 World Championship at Bells Beach. The latter is its polar opposite. Journeying almost 2,000 kilometres north, the book turns its back on the media-saturated, acutely orchestrated public image of ‘professional’ surfing to the free thinking, free living, free loving, hippy-like surf community at Byron Bay. But rather than segregating the book into two chapters, what this manages to exquisitely achieve is to embody not only the schizophrenic face of ‘70s surfing, nor the parallel lives led by many of the exponents, but that spiritual chasm of divided emotion and perception that was materializing within Australia’s surfing world. On the one hand, surfing was being marketed, packaged and sterilized for public consumption – surfing was becoming a viably professional entity. But on the other lay that grasping to surfing’s counter-culture, the shunning of the brainwashed, education-work-mortgage-death ethos, the anti-establishment stand to uphold an individual’s rights to follow their heart and live freely however they choose.

Through the pictures and words so carefully compiled by Rusty and his co-creator, Tricia Shantz, we as mere observers can feel our souls crying out against the system.

Many, many other books have contained imagery, information and experiences of surfing’s yesterdays. But, with no discredit to those publications’ authors, the vast majority has been unable to capture such a consummate reflection of what is, quite possibly, surfing’s most profoundly influential periods.

To read Rusty Miller’s Turning Point is to make new friends, gain new memories and, short of a sun tan, some under-arm chafing and dripping hair, experience first-hand that magical time.

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Written by Tommy Leitch –
Photos (in order of appearance) – Reno Abellira 
kissing Joanna, Russell Hughes chilling, Peter Drouyn in Victoria, Jimmy Blears at Bells.