Tommy Walker was photographed surfing in Yamba in 1912. Is this Australia's first surf photo? Experts cannot disprove the claim.
Tommy Walker was photographed surfing in Yamba in 1912. Is this Australia's first surf photo? Experts cannot disprove the claim.

Yamba claims historic first

A 1912 photo of Tommy Walker surfing at Main Beach looks set to add another jewel to Yamba’s already glistening crown – the home of Australian surf photography.

The photo of the man, credited with introducing surfing to Australia was taken by former Maclean professional photographer Oseric Notley.

And, according to Manly Surf Life Saving Club life member and historian Ray Moran, it could very well be Australia’s oldest surfing photograph.

Mr Moran said Mr Walker was a member of both the Manly Seagulls Surf club and Yamba Life Saving Brigade when the photo was taken.

“As Manly club historian I have had numerous opportunities to look at hundreds of old photos and I can’t find anything that pre-dates this one of Tommy Walker surfing at Main Beach, Yamba,” he said.

While there are photos of people with surfboards that predate the shot of Mr Walker in action, Mr Moran said they did not show people actually surfing.

“There is a 1909 photo taken of Tommy Walker at Manly standing alongside his surfboard on the beach – it’s a nice portrait, but he’s not surfing. If there is one that is older I would definitely be interested in seeing it,” Mr Moran said.

THE search is being driven by Yamba Festival of Comedy, Music and Arts chair Debrah Novak.

Inspired after being shown by a friend an old newspaper clipping of a man riding a surfboard at Main Beach, Ms Novak said she was yet to hear of the existence of an older photo.

“There was nothing overtly special about the surf photo until you noticed the date when it was taken. The photo is named and dated: ‘Tommy Walker 1912–13 season’,” she said.

Ms Novak said during her research at The Port of Yamba Historical Society she found two photos that appeared to have been taken in 1910 or 1911, but the location of the shots was not identified. Hoping to claim the title for Yamba as the “birthplace of Australian surfing photography”, Ms Novak said the Soul Surfing exhibition at next month’s festival would be opened by a relative of Tommy Walker.

“If we can claim that particular cultural sporting crown, it means our committee can start planning to celebrate ‘100 years of surfing photography’ and the ‘Tommy Walker Long Board Classic’ for next year’s festival,” she said.

People of the current Lower Clarence Surfing community who would like to be part of history can gather on the steps of Yamba Surf club on Sunday, August 22, with their boards for a photo, which will be sent to the Australian National Archives.

If you have any Australian stand-up surf board riding photos pre-dating 1911, please contact Debrah Novak on 6646 1174 or Ray Moran on 9977 6667.



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