Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Out the back with Ma Bendall

YOUNG blokes and sheilas surfing today probably wouldn't believe it but when I started surfing in the mid 1960s, when you fell off your board you lost it - straight onto the beach if you were lucky, or straight onto rocks if you weren't.
You see back then the legrope hadn't been invented, although I saw a big fat bloke roped to his board at First Point, Noosa, about a year before the real legropes appeared.
It was a good surf day and I was paddling back out to the point after a pretty good wave when I moved past the fat bloke and noticed a dirty big rope tied around his gut.
The rope was about an inch thick and disappeared under his board.
I found out later he had it tied to his fin. About a year later proper leg ropes hit the market.
They were great days back then, with very few surfers compared to today. I surfed mostly on the Sunshine Coast - the North Coast as it was known then - and you knew most of the surfers out there.
Two of the most popular surfers back then were Ma and Pa Bendall of Caloundra: Marjorie and Ben. They were among the first boardriders up there in the late 1950s. Pa had seen films of people riding boards with fins, able to twist and turn their boards up and down, not just go straight in with the wave like the finless boards of old.
Pa reckoned this new sport was for him so he got a couple of planks of balsa and carved out a board for himself and one for Ma.
As far as I can recall they were the first surfers in Caloundra and their favourite break was Moffat Headland, where Ma dropped Pa's ashes when he died in 1973.
They sure were funny days back then because Ma and Pa used to leave their boards up against the Moffat rocks for days at a time when they weren't using them. I don't think you could do that today.
Pa was a Canadian airman and  performed pretty well during the Second World War. But this is about Ma, a highly intelligent and very brave woman and a bloody good surfer for a woman who didn't start until she was in her fifties.
How brave was she? Well a couple of weeks before her 89th birthday I asked her what she would like for a birthday present. She wanted to jump out of a plane and parachute down to her beloved Moffat Beach. No kidding. I made the booking but a couple of weeks before the birthday Ma had a heart attack and spent a few days in hospital.
When she got out of hospital she begged me not to tell the doctor about the parachute jump.
"No, don't do that," Ma scolded me. "He won't even let me ride a horse when I go to New Zealand for a holiday later this year, so he won't let me go parachuting."
But when I took Ma to meet the parachute instructor he refused to take her because of her age and her recent heart attack.
Ma was dirty but settled for a joyflight up and down the coast in a light plane.
Ma had always been adventurous ever since she was a child born and brought up in the Queensland bush during World War I. As a bush kid she was  mad about flying and her early heroines were those three marvellous women pilots: Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart and Nancy Bird.
At the age of 23 Ma was the only female among 140  people to enter a newspaper competition offering a flying scholarship as the sole prize. She made the final six.
Several years later Ma posed as an Australian journalist to bluff her way into the BBC's London studios for a private interview with her heroine Nancy Bird, who had just completed one of her historic flights.
In 1935 Ma, aged 25 and single, sailed to England for a six month  trip which turned into almost five years, during which she realised her ambitions to ski the slopes of Europe, hunt with hounds, shoot grouse and fly-fish for trout.
She also saw the rise of Hitler from the inside, working as au pair for a Jewish family in Germany in the late 1930s. Later she took au pair work in Sweden where she skied the frozen wastes near the Lapland border.
Back in England she became engaged to her first husband, Bill, who gave her a good hunting horse, instead of the more traditional engagement ring. Her wedding present was only slightly more unusual: Bill's family gave the happy couple a brace of guns, including  a 10 gauge shotgun for her and a 12 gauge for him.
In 1939, the newlyweds caught a steamer to Sydney where they set up home in Mosman. The marriage ended in divorce and the mother-to-be Ma returned to Queensland  for the birth of her daughter in 1940.
That same year she moved to Caloundra where she bought a block of five flats at Bulcock Beach. In the mid-1950s, along came the irrepressible Canadian Air Force pilot, Ben Bendall.
Like Ma, Ben was an outdoor fanatic and when, later that year, they saw a young bloke riding  a balsa plank across the waves off Moffat Headland, they were hooked. Ben made a rough copy of that surfboard and so began their life of surfing.
Ma told me back  on her 89th birthday: "I was 50 and Ben a couple of years older when we learnt to surf. We started travelling a lot and competing in surfing events around Australia and pretty soon we became rather well known."
They were invited to compete in such prestigious events as Hawaii's Makaha contest. They became media celebrities with frequent TV appearances. Their surfboards, as well as the films and books they created, are held in various surfing museums.
They have a surfing contest named after them: the Ma and Pa Bendall Memorial at Caloundra, the second longest running professional contest in Australia, still going strong after 38 years.
Ma had a some great mottos:
1. You can do anything if you really want to.
2. Never miss an opportunity for the good.
3. They say? What say they? Let them say!
The great Marjorie "Ma" Bendall died in 2001 aged 91 years.
What a wonderful woman and a wonderful life.
(The 2012 Ma and Pa Bendall Memorial contest will be held in Caloundra on April 6-8)


  1. Hello,

    Do you see Kim Mackenzie? I used to be her penpal when I was 9 years old. I am now old but will still like to meet her in person. I visited Australia 3 years ago but I was unable to make contact with her.

  2. I am a grand daughter of Ma & Pa and have learnt from reading this.
    Thank you

    1. I used to go to your grandmothers house at the beach when I was a little girl I remember ma had an older daughter . My mother was friends with your grandmother:)

  3. As a child growing up in the sixties at 21 moffat st on the headland i was fascinated watching this old guy (around my mum & dads vintage) ride his plank with a patch over his eye.also loved the van with so many stickers! I used to look out for the van from our front verandah after school and on the weekend. Very fond memories of a bygone era.