the pre dawn

More than half a century after he started filming Morning of the Earth, Albe Falzon
still has a vivid recollection of the experience. While the finished product will always be a timeless distillation of a journey that spanned several years and three, major locations – Australia, Bali and Hawaii – there are countless untold stories from the making of the film. From being amongst the first Westerners to dwell in the fabled cave at Uluwatu, to the serendipity of the celebrated soundtrack, Albe takes us on a wander through the pre-dawn of Morning of the Earth.

Albe and Dave ‘Baddy’Treloar: Two city kids who went bush.

…When I look at that photo and I look at today’s world, it’s bizarre because everything gets so homogenised today, like everything
is so clean, perfect, and packaged.You know, the glamour industry has taken over and everything’s so polished. And digital’s like that, it’s really polished. It’s actually a bit too polished for me. I kind of like a bit of the rawness and the roughness and the softness. And that photo, I think, is like, to the extreme of what I just said, because it’s so out there. It’s kind of way beyond feral. But in today’s world, it’s appealing because you don’t see much of that. Because anytime you want to look out in today’s modern society, you’ve got the latest car, the latest camera, the latest this, the latest that – everything’s a bit too polished… I like the organic feel of publishing. And of holding the book, or magazine or whatever in my hand. And that’s just something I’m totally attracted to. So, looking at that photo, my connection with that is amazing, because it takes me back to that period, which still exists a lot in my life now because I live in the country.

My connection with David was because of that pure organic aspect of his life. I mean he was raised pretty much in the city, like I was. I was born in Redfern and somehow we connected through surfing. And then he found himself up in a rural setting. Firstly, in those beautiful, broken down buildings, that nobody wanted to rent for $5 a week and just go surf. And to me, I love the rawness of that. And I loved the rawness of David, because he was, like, really grounded and down to earth.

After growing up in Manly he ends up at Yamba and spends most of his life in the country… I mean I didn’t see a tree ‘til I was nine years old. I didn’t even know there was grass on the ground. I lived in the concrete jungle. So, me stepping out was like, ‘Whoa!’ and my grandfather connected me to that through a small plot of dirt. So, both Baddy and myself end up finding ourselves in this rural wide-open setting. And I don’t know what it was that attracted him. I think it was just the quality of the wave at Angourie, and the fishing, and the simplicity of the life. And I could relate, I identified with that. And we just tuned in both of us on that level. … We were kind of connected.That was what was important.

Simple Ben as the soundtrack to Baddys section in MOTE

… Actually, I didn’t hear Simple Ben until after the cut was done. Isn’t that amazing? I cut the film with David because of his connection to the rural lifestyle and the waves up there. And then the music was done with various groups. And that track came in late – Simple Ben – And it was done by John Francis. It was a late night drop-in because they’d been recording in the studio. And apparently, he said, ‘well, let’s just do this song, let’s just do one take on it’, because they were all pretty stuffed from working on an album. And they did this one take on Simple Ben. And that was it. And when I heard the take, I just went, ‘perfect’. Because the lyrics and the narrative of the song expressed so perfectly, David and his lifestyle. It was serendipitous.

The Fishing Shack at Uluwatu.

I think the scenario was kind of written in our minds, that we wanted someone to come in and build some far-out little hut on the beach.Yeah. And that we could just find ourselves there. But in truth, it was built by the fishermen from the local village. It depended on the tide, but they’d often go down there and fish and hang out on the beach at night. And they built this little shack up against that cliff at that little beach around the left hand side of the cave. And we just happened onto it which was far-out because you can’t actually get there, as you know, at high tide because there’s so much surge around those rocks. But at low tide there’s a tunnel between Uluwatu and the beach on the left-hand side. And we walked through that and it opened up in this cute little beach, and then on the beach up against a cliff was the hut.We couldn’t have scripted that better. And we’d hang out there while we were surfing.We actually stayed down there a couple of nights on the full moon … it felt like it was built out of driftwood, and I just loved it.

You know, they were so inquisitive, because the Balinese are kind of into magic and mystery, I find. You know, underneath it, they’re really tapped into that. And I’ve always found that Bali was a very magical place, you know, and the cultural aspect of the Balinese it’s really representative of that in a way. And I just found that when we wandered in there that they hadn’t been exposed to too many Western people. And they were really inquisitive and open, because basically, they were fishermen. You know, they had small crops, but they were fishermen, and that’s how they were connected to the ocean. And here we were wandering through their fields with surfboards, and it was kind of like, ‘What is this?’ So it was fascinating for them as much as it was for us, because it was a real connection through the ocean for both of us, two different cultures meeting. And it was pretty amazing. Because once they knew we were there, word spread really quickly… I don’t know about now, but then they were very playful. Plus, they’re very magical. And I think when they saw us there, and Steven and Rusty surfing for the first time, it was like, the film ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’ – when the Coke bottle fell out of the sky.

I think the language barrier was broken down because David (Elfick) had some mull and a chillum. Because with that there was no language needed… he just pulled out the mull. I don’t know if he had any grass with him when he went through customs, but it was pretty low key then and there were no tourists… But that was a real breaking point for us. And that was our connection – pretty far-out.

The Cave.

We had no idea that it existed.We just walked along the edge of the cliff. But when the Balinese saw us, they actually then became our guides, and they showed us the way down into the cave. And it was like we were descending into this magical place because it had this aura about it, it was purely Balinese, I mean, I don’t know if any other Western people had been there, maybe some along the way, but to me, it was sort of powerful in that respect, it was purely Balinese magic in that cave. And for us, it was the first time there and quite possibly the first time for any Western people into that cave. Because if you were walking along the cliff at that time, and you didn’t know it existed, you would never find it.

And the magic thing about it was, I mean, apart from the energy of being in that beautiful place, there was a resonance in there for sure. You couldn’t see the ocean because it curved, but you could hear the water rushing in against a cliff and it had this sound; the water from the waves was rushing in… And it bounced off the walls, so there’s this amazing sound.

The Ladder.

It was a bit testing… Even though we were surfers, there was still a certain amount of agility required to go up and down that ladder; the Balinese just did it with no shoes, their toes wrapped around, it was effortless for them, but was kind of like ‘whoo’ a bit shaky here and there and a bit of a dance to get down too. But it was just, you know, just perfect. Unlike any ladder I’d ever seen and since then I haven’t been down another ladder like that. It was a perfect entrance to a beautiful place.

Steve Cooney on His First Session at Ulus.

The following story and brief interview was taken From Tracks November 1971 issue. The simple, and honest account by a then 15-year-old Steve Cooney, illustrates what it was like for a surfer to happen upon a wave like Uluwatu.

As soon as you got there and unpacked your gear and sat down for a minute and looked around, you started to slow down.You’d kind of sit back and just be really pleased with yourself just doing nothing and it was really good.

It was just unbelievable. Nobody had surfed there before.You had to walk through all these places.The first time we went there, all the old locals showed us the way, it was really funny.

We arrived at this place, you know, we caught these little beamos out for three miles, no it was more than that, about six miles, and then we got off these little tracks and the guys were all stoked ‘coz we gave them money, you know, and everything like that – it was just incredible, and we had a coconut kid … a guy who used to carry our coconuts … But the only time we ever took him to carry our coconuts, he said he had to go back ‘coz he had to go to the temple before we reached the place, so we had to carry them ourselves.We got off the beamos and walked about two miles through these little tracks and things and you come to it, and you’re looking down about 150ft straight at the waves, you know.When we got there it was high tide and the waves were hitting up against the cliff and I thought – oh no, we’ve blown it, you know, because it’s not looking really good. So we went down through all this incredible bush, you know. If you touched the bush it kind of stuck to you – it’s kind of all prickly stuff, and we got to this track that kind of goes down a hole in the ground. It was all kind of rocky, you know that sharp barnacle rock.We climbed down this hole and into this really giant cave with sand on the bottom, and we went out and it wasn’t really good because it was really sloppy. So we just waited for a few hours till the tide went out and then the waves were about six or eight-foot and so hollow – incredible.We were just surfing with the turtles.

The locals used to come crowd around. They’re like little children.They really just dig doing things in a fun way.When we were out surfing – because they’d never seen a surfboard before – when we caught a wave they’d all cheer and stand up on the hill. They’d all cheer until we finished our wave and when we pulled off they’d stop cheering and wait for someone else to catch a wave. It was just incredible. After we’d been there awhile, they started to get on to selling things.They used to bring us sweet potatoes, melons, and things, and we used to have to give them bread for them.

Do you really like travelling?

Yeah. And I’d like to come back.

Do you think the adventure of surfing trips is the best thing about surfing?

No. I think that just surfing is the best thing about surfing.You know what I mean. Just riding the waves.

One Camera, Three Lenses.

It was a French camera. I traded my Hasselblad in for it. I wish I hadn’t but anyhow, I didn’t have any money at the time. I traded it to get a Beaulieu 16 millimetre camera. It was so perfectly designed because it was really small. And you could hold it in a way that you became the tripod.

I’ve always liked the idea of the moving camera, rather than the steady camera. I’ve always felt that it was like an extension of your eye. And the beautiful thing about small cameras, especially in film cameras, is that you’ve got that freedom to just float. And that was always appealing…

I did a lot of the footage when we were just sort of travelling around, with a smaller lens

so I didn’t have to set anything up, I could just pick the camera up and press a button and off we went … Personally, I don’t like to be surrounded by a lot of people. So I like the intimacy of having a small camera. So I can go solo and sort of in and out.

I had a bigger lens (400mm) on it for shooting surfing and I had to use the tripod. I only had one camera. And I had three lenses for that camera. And that was it.

The Lost Archives.

Well, it was like I knew it (the footage) was somewhere but I’d given up.You know, I made a few inquiries over the years to try and find it. But I just gave up on it, I kind of thought it might have been with the Spectrum place in Sydney, because that’s where Bob Evans and Paul Witzig and myself did our post-production and in some instances editing… So, I gave up, then last year Jack Eden’s son, Adam, rang me up out of the blue and said said, ‘Call me back. I’ve got something you might be interested in’. I had no idea what it was. So, I called him back and said hello. I knew Jack a little bit, but I didn’t know his son, Adam. And when he was going through Jack’s estate after he passed away, Adam came across all that footage, and there was 90 minutes of Morning of the Earth footage and I nearly fell over when I heard that. I couldn’t believe it. (Some of this uncovered footage will feature in a new mini- film, which will be part of the re-release.)

Strange Times in Hawaii.

The first time I was over there in 1969, I was working on a film for Bob Evans. We were staying with the Tomsons (Shaun Tomson and his dad Ernie) in Makaha, where the traditional families surfed, and it was a great vibe. It was fantastic. We had great fun and great surf…

When I went back with Terry in the winter of 1970/71 to shoot for Morning of the Earth, what had happened in that two years is that Woodstock the film had come out (the festival was in August 1969 and the film was released in 1970), and it was a lot of free love, there was a lot of drugs available. And you know, for me, that was like a new experience because I hadn’t been exposed to any of that. I hadn’t been exposed to any drugs at any time. And then all of a sudden, we hook up with these two guys.They’re really cruisy guys and they’ve got a boat down at the harbour.Turns out they were smugglers…We go around to their place and they’ve got this stack of cocaine on the table that you couldn’t jump over… I didn’t even know what it was, it was like this big castle of cocaine. It was a foot and a half high, a big pyramid on the table. And there’s like about five of us in the room and I’m going ‘what the fuck’s that?… I’m not going near that’.

So, that’s like those guys we were hanging out with, and that sequence at the end of the film was on their veranda and they’re all just mulling on these big pipes.Yeah, so that was a different scene.

Because the first time over there was with the family, With the Tomson family and it was so kind of polite and astute, and wealthy and fun… And, you know, they cared for us like their children. And next time we go over there, we’re in the middle of this fucking drug cartel. So it was pretty bizarre actually.We didn’t have any problems, but it was kind of weird to step into something like that.

Lucking Out with Lopez.

I didn’t know Lopez, I’m not sure if he came to Australia before we made the film or not, but he had friends in this country. And he’d slip in and out of the place very discreetly.

And I never got to know him really well. But when I think about Pipeline, I never engaged with him on a personal level. I was just there on the beach and he just arrived. I think it was it was a day that I got up really early, and I went down the beach, and it was like, solid eight feet Pipeline. There wasn’t a soul on the beach. And there was no one in the water. And I was down there filming. And Jeff Divine went by and he got a shot of me. And I didn’t see it until 20 years later.You’ll never see that again.

But that day, I stayed there all day. And I remember looking at the waves thinking – this is my first time Pipeline – I’m never going to surf that wave. I was pretty fit at the time. And I just went it’s not going to happen. And then gradually, people started to arrive. And Gerry did. And that was part of the day and I just hung out there and filmed it. And it was like, just a moment in time happened and went, and then I don’t know if I ever really connected with him after that. I mean, we’d see each other casually in passing but we never really engaged on any level. It was great because he was peaking at that time and he was, you know, the man who had probably ridden more Pipeline waves than anyone around that time. And I just happened to be there for that day, and got what we got.

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