REMINISCENCES OF ANDY CLELAND
Fifty years ago a group of enthusiasts met on the rocks at South Bondi to indulge in their favourite pastime of winter swimming. There were a mere eight or nine such pioneers and they swam regularly in what was then, and is now known as the Bogey Hole, near Bondi baths.
Few, if any, of this small band of dedicated enthusiasts to the cause could have realised that in well under 50 years, the Club would be known as Bondi Icebergs Club, have a modern clubhouse four storeys above Bondi Baths and control the baths under license from The Bondi Icebergs Trust.
The social round has grown and continued over the years, humbly with a few of the rock spiders bring bottles of beer and some pickled onions, etc, and the mornings developed more socially from this humble start. The numbers increased, the news of this new Club became more widespread and the Club was on the way to success a more members joined.
It is believed that the first thoughts of forming a winter swimming Club came in the mind of stalwart Berg "Snow" Stewart, the sole remaining Club foundation member. Other pioneers whose names go down in history include Harry Greig, Nat Fuller and Frank Kelly.
To enable readers to drift back down memory lane to the early days of the famous Club, veteran member Andy Cleland, takes up the story and discusses his memories of the Club from 1929-36. Mr. Cleland said:”Fifty years ago a group of enthusiastic winter swimmers used to gather near Bondi Baths on Sunday mornings on the rocks where the kiddies swimming pool, the Bogey Hole, is now. We had our swim in the Bogey Hole and baths followed by light liquid refreshment and a little food came "out of a hat". We used to take turns in supplying the goodies, and after a few seasons a suggestion was made for us to have a few races. These were proposed by Bill Stewart and Nat Fuller”.
The gatherings were full of fun and novelty events were the keynote of the Icebergs competitions. Handicap races were held for undisclosed prizes such as a tin of worms as first prize. The rules were stretched in those far off days and to become a member one had to walk around the baths fully clothed and be pushed into the pool.
The members in those early days used to have a night out occasionally and met in the Hotel Astra or Hotel Bondi for refreshments and discussions. In 1929 we decided to put the Club on a sounder basis and the first committee was formed. We were not without criticism though as a lot of people put their hands up in dismay that a professional body was being formed at Bondi Baths.
Quite a lot of hostility was soon evident because we were believed to be a professional swimming body. Anybody who swam with us was barred from competing in amateur events and that included beach inspectors who swam with the Icebergs. One of them, Bruce Wilson, was at one time barred from the NSW Amateur swimming championships at the Domain Baths but swam in the 100 yards championship, only to be disqualified.
Alf Hayes was the lessee of the baths and he and his wife and son, Ken, (not to forget his bull terrier dog) all lived in the premises at the baths. The location of the residence was in the centre of the present building. When the committee was formed in 1929, the first president was Jack Fitzpatrick, Bill Stewart was captain, and Nat Fuller the Vice Captain. Most of the early-established members are now sadly deceased, although in some of the early photographs I see faces that are still with us. In 1930 quite a number of prominent swimmers joined. Men such as Jim Porter, Bob Scrimgeour, Jack Paris, Frank Kelly, Jack Staunton, "Rajah" Miller, Jack Kerr, Bill Knight, J. McFarlane, the first secretary and Frank Lindsay. I took on the tough job of handicapper, but lasted about five years in the job.
In those far off days we did not get much help from Waverley Council as we were meeting strong opposition from Bondi Amateur Swimming Club, which was one of the leading swimming Clubs in Australia. In 1932, the baths were remodeled and the Council took them over and Ces Martin was appointed manager. He lived in a new flat built further back, but on baths' premises. Ces Martin was a good manager and gave the Icebergs much co-operation and assistance.
Arthur Dewar joined about that time and was one of the best workers the Club has known. A musician, he was in a position to bring the top musicians of the period down to the club for a "jam" session.
Our opportunity for further advancement came about 1932 when the Ladies' Swimming Club had acquired a new Clubhouse and vacated their old premises, which was the residence of the old baths' lessee, Hayes. After many deliberations in Council, we were allowed to acquire the premises for £1 a year and what days they were.
By 1933-34 the Club membership had risen to about 150.
So readers will see that the success of this grand Club was due to the work of the pioneers such as Bill Stewart, Nat Fuller, Bob Scrimgeour, J. Lazzerino, Mick Burke, Keith King, "Rajah" Miller, J. Staunton, Andy Cleland, Arthur Dewar, Bill Farmer, Jim Millar, Morrie Gold, Jack Kerr, J. McFarlane, Jack Maegher, Martin Dunn, Reg Raymond, Clem Finch, Bill Flaces, Jack Cunningham, "Snowy" Webb, Norm Healey, Les Tidinarsh, Fred Empson, D. Robinson and Professor Golot, Emma Norton, of Truth fame was a man who donated considerable money to the Club.
Other stalwarts included Otto Wilkinson, Harry Marsh, F. Knight, Frank Kind, Hugh Donoghue, Reg Mouatt, T. Harrison, Mick Burke, Reg Hart, "Greasy" Joe Hancock, Keith King to name a few, not forgetting the Rock Spiders.
I have had second thoughts and recall others who helped the establishment of the Club from 1929-33 or about that time. There was Dick O'Connor, "Whacko" Walker, of rugby union fame, Lou Bourke, who used to get a lot of printing done for the Club, who was a real character, and present president, Morrie Bulpit, the king of the belly-floppers, "Dad" Sherin, renowed lobster searcher, Bill Tynan, Harold Rugless, Frank Leason, Frank Morcombe, Morrie Lee, who had the most extended handicap of 93 seconds for 40 yards, Arthur Kelim, Arthur Beresford, Mick Jarnes, Harold Rugless, Harry Ainsworth and his brother Bruce, Dinny Kelly, the brother of Frank. Frank was our secretary for some time.
Author's Note: "Rugless" seems a good name for aft Iceberg, shiver me timbers! In the main, these notes of the early days of our Club are fairly accurate, but no doubt a few names are missing, but it is to the best of my recollection. In the pioneering days many Club visits took place and the first in 1930 was a visit from Bronte Splashers Club, headed by Phil Garvan. Some great swimming took place that day and rivalry was keen, although many dead heats were evident in 1930.
We had a combined picnic at Casula with Bronte Splashers, and a feature was the verbal battle between the presidents of the two Clubs. Then a little later, other winter swimming Clubs were formed, such as Coogee Penguins and various other Clubs. Today there is a mammoth organisation of these Clubs.
Rajah Miller took over the reins of our Club president in 1930 and did a marvellous job for the Club. Those early days required much hard work by the pioneers and it was a struggle to survive and I would like the younger members to know that. The struggle to acquire Club premises was a huge task.
Norm Gow has done a fabulous job as Club honorary secretary for 25 years, and is still doing such a job for us. One of the features of our meetings in the early 1930s was the ping-pong (now table tennis) competition with Bill Stewart being our star player. I used to take Japanese players there as I was connected with the silk industry and they were keen players. One of the features of our early days was being visited by players and swimmers from other Clubs. They were highlights for us older members.
In conclusion, Andy Cleland said that the hat was sent round many times for benevolent causes. One of these was for F. Knight, who had T.B. of the throat. In the depths of the Depression the Club raised £35 ($70) which was the equal to at least $500 today. The Bergs were like one big family in that depression, with everybody helping each other, as there was 33 per cent unemployment, mr. Cleland concluded.
1929 Rule Book: Original rule book issued to JC Porter in 1929 and signed by President Jack Fitzpatrick. Click on the images to view each page in more detail.
Milestones: The guest list at the 50th Jubilee Anniversary Carnival on June 25th at Bondi Baths reads like a Who's Who of Australian politics and sport. State Minister for Housing, Consumer Affairs and Co-operative Societies, our patron Syd Einfeld, graced the gathering, along with his colleague the Minister for Sport and Recreation Ken Booth (a grand sport himself). The Mayor of Waverley, Ernie Page, represented the municipality.
Sporting personalities made quite a splash (not only in the pool but also in the Club), and included that mighty master of the English Channel, Des Renford, who came up for air to take part in the swimming and a burlesque race. Those swims must have seemed like a paddle across the bay to Des.
Sporting personalities Tony Greig and Peter Toohey of cricket fame, combined with Des, Buster Craigie and Phil Coles, manager of Australia's 1980 Olympic Team, to defeat a media relay four which comprised, our Daily Mirror friend, Bill Jenkins, Mike Tancred (Channel 7), Phil O'Sullivan (Courier), and last but not least, Ken Laws of The Sun. The race was started by jockey Malcolm Johnson, who knows a few things about the barrier, no doubt.
Mike Tancred compared the displays and races and a highlight came when eight veteran Icebergs, dressed in nostalgic neck to knee costumes, kindly provided by Speedo, swam a "hoppled" exhibition race, so handicapped in fact that the swimmer in lane 6, had elastic trouble and nearly went out for a "stretch".
Three starters contested the over 40 years 50 metres championship, won by Bob Stewart in the good time of 30.3 seconds, with Alan Granquist second and Bob Hamilton third.
Four of the Scrumbergs packed down to figure in a 100m surfboard race. These lads are among the younger members of the Icebergs and provide much strength in relays and they also assisted in our narrow victory in the invitation 10 man-a-side relay race. Wollongong Surf Club and Coogee Penguins filled the minor places.
Then we saw Des Renford clown magnificently in a race between a dinghy, board rider and swimmer Des. He was soon joined in the water by Bob Dawson who started in a dinghy while Tim O'Brien used the lane rope to move his board. Geoff Williams added a bright commentary to add to the humour of a memorable act.
The old Rock Spiders, forerunners of the Icebergs of today, would have plunged into the depths of the water, never to emerge, if they had seen the spectacle that was to ensue. Glamorous models wearing furs paraded to show the fashions from Cornelius Furs while Robin Garland displayed swimsuits for the coming season (for those who swim in the summer months). But furs at the Icebergs, I ask you! It wouldn't have done for the rock spiders. One can almost hear them mutter "sissies… tut ... tut". Ngaire Laundy, wife of Club director Don, did a grand job as compere beyond compare to the fashion parades that had a backdrop of the pleasant musical backing of Arthur Dewer and the Icebergs Improvisers. To add beauty to the day, a memorable day, was the presence of "Miss Australia Charity" entrant, Margaret Smith.
Sadly the day was not without accident and Club stalwart Wally Glover slipped and fell 1.5 metres into an empty pool when taking pictures of Des Renford. Happily we can report that Wally's injuries were not as serious as at first reported. In his weekly column in the Bondi Spectator, Syd Einfeld referred to Wally's accident, and said that Wally is "one of the great identities out Bondi way, and a stalwart member of the Bergs”. At speech time Ken Booth said he was happy to see such a large gathering of personalities honouring the Icebergs on such a day and jocularly commented that Mal Johnson seemed to have more "holidays" than a politician.
But Mal rode five winners the following Saturday, enough to ensure him a fine holiday when, if again, he is granted time off by the race stewards. On that score Norm Gow said that over the years top sportsmen and teams who have visited the Club seem to gain the Club Midas Touch and go on to victory. We quote, for example, that the American Davis Cup team which came here in 1956 for the first Challenge Round after the war, although outsiders against the cup holders Australia, the United States went on to win by five rubbers to nil after Ted Schroeder called at our Club with cartoonist Jim Russell of "The Pow" fame.
South Sydney were favourites to win the 1969 Rugby League first grade premiership, having won the title for the previous two years to end a run of 11 wins in a row by Saints. But after the Tigers visited the Icebergs the Sunday before, they went on to score a shock win against South's in the vital Grand Final match.
An England league team who came here was written off, but after they visited our Club they went on to score a shock victory in the final Ashes deciding test.
The Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union team was entertained at the Icebergs in 1969 and went on to win the premiership. It seems the Icebergs not only possess grand officials and members, but also have the elixir to sporting success.