Blacks. Photo: @sa_rips
You’d probably think that Blacks in Elliston, Australia was named after the color of the deep channel that one must paddle across in order to surf it. Or perhaps it’s a reference to the black eyes of the Great Whites that have dined on three men here. Or maybe because it’s really hard to find anything colorful at a place that has such a weird, twisted energy about it. But the truth is that Blacks wasn’t named after any of those things. The real meaning behind how Blacks got its name is much, much darker.
Elliston feels like a country town out of an old western flick. Bone dry, dusty, barren of greenery. The buildings mostly look overexposed and faded to the color of skeletal remains. There is a quiet pub, a quaint bakery, a grocer of limited stock, and a police station armed by one of those overzealous backcountry law enforcement types. The entire place is shaded by a cloud of anger and haunted by the ghosts of a massacre that occurred here in 1849.
As the story goes, European settlers stumbled into Eliston in 1839 looking for a place to export wool. They found that it was conveniently situated in a deepwater bay. They also found that an Aborigine encampment already occupied the area .The location was deemed too valuable to pass on and the white men came with their horses, whips and guns, attempting to claim the land as their own. The locals didn’t take so kindly to that and a war began.
One fateful day, a farmer counted his sheep and found that four were missing. Obviously, he accused the natives. The police chief’s investigation turned up the names of two hunters. Both claimed that they didn’t steal the missing sheep, but the judge didn’t believe them and hung both hunters in the middle of town. Infuriated by the outcome of the trial, a group of Aborigine men lured the judge out of his house and hung him as an act of retribution.
While the details of what happened following the judge’s death are hazy, they all end the same: the settlers rounded up 250 members of the Aborigine camp and began edging them towards the cliff, cracking whips on unmoving backs and shooting at those who tried to flee. Inch by inch, the settlers pushed the Aborigines to the edge of the sandstone cliff — the same one you climb down to access the wave — and kept riding until all had fallen off. Women and children were not excluded. Skulls rolled on blood stained sand and sharks got their first taste of human flesh.
In local folklore, they say that the violent nature of the wave is due to the anger of the souls who perished during the massacre. Albee Layer, who surfed Blacks while filming for Attractive Distractions confirmed that haunted energy. “It feels like you’re tiptoeing around a sleeping beast and at any point you could be gone forever without a trace.”
Despite the horrific history of Blacks, there are men brave enough to light up the darkness here. Take @SA_Rips for example, who makes art out of the haunting hues, swimming with housing in hand where he probably shouldn’t be.
Note: A love for surfing — like any love at all — is strong enough to transcend color so don’t get hung in the lip of bigotry.