Just in: Jetski crashes into Wedge!

A super wreck! Dramatic lifesaving! Perfect viewing!


I’ve done a lot of stupid shit in my life. We all have. It’s part of living. You make bad decisions, pay the consequences. Hopefully learn a lesson. No harm, no foul. Just pick up your shit and move on.

But, you know, there’s a level of utter fucking stupidity that’s hard to swallow. Sticking some firecrackers in your mouth and lighting the fuse.

Making terrorism jokes on line at the airport. Taking out a payday loan. Mixing benzos, painkillers, and booze.  Trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing. Being the only black guy in a group exploring a haunted house. Voting Trump.

How about ramming your jet ski into the jetty at solid sized Wedge? Is that the stupidest thing anyone has ever done?

Gotta be up there. Blow apart an expensive piece of gear, nearly kill you and your lady. Force a bunch of bystanders to risk their lives to save yours. Shut down the spot while your thousand pound hunk of scrap floats about the lineup.

Thank goodness for lifeguards. Or maybe not. Now we’ve gotta live with these people. Maybe shoulda let nature takes its course.

Elio Canestri
Did this kid, thirteen-year-old surfer Elio Canestri, have to die, attacked twice by sharks, for authorities in France, and Reunion, to address the obvious result of protecting the damn bull shark?

Watch: The Sharks Killing Réunion!

A wonderful documentary about an island besieged by protected sharks… 

Reunion Island is a pretty little French island, nearish to Africa’s east coast. Hell of a place. Volcanoes soar into the blue skies. Waterfalls. Warm-water reefs. Brown gals with afros and rows of white teeth. Creole fever. Catch it, as they say.

Like nearby Madagascar, sharks have always been a bit of a thing there. If you surfed there, you played your cards straight: no surfing after rain or in dirty water or river mouths, avoid the east coast, dusk, dawn. Hardly the science of rocketry.

And, so, for years, surfers, swimmers, tourists, co-existed in relative harmony with a steady population of sharks. Fishermen hauled twenty or so tonnes of sharks out of the water, restauranteurs used ’em for shark curry. No species was threatened. Kids could surf. Swimmers could swim.

In 2007 a marine park was created, shark fishing was banned, and…boom…Reunion suddenly become the worst place in the world to jump into the ocean. Eighteen attacks in five years. Seven fatals.

As the Reunion-born pro surfer Jeremy Flores told me last year when hot-rat Elio Canestri was killed, “I can’t tell you how many times I surfed that place by myself. When I heard it was a young kid, thirteen years old, I started shaking. I could picture myself at the same age, frothing with all my friends, just trying to get a surf. On Reunion, it’s a small surfing community, everyone knows each other, and I’ve lost some really close brothers to shark attacks, but this time, to be a thirteen-year-old, one of the best surfers on the island, with all his life in front of him. To die like that, so young, is terrible.”

So when he went back to visit family and pals, Jeremy didn’t go near the ocean.

“It wasn’t worth it to take the risk. It took a long time for people to realise how bad the situation is. People thought it was like everywhere in the world. But, right now, we have the world record for attacks for how many people are here. It’s not like everywhere in the world.”

This documentary, Island of the Sharks, is a wonderful study of an island torn between the political elites on Reunion, and back in France, searching for fashionable “high-tech” solutions to appease their electorate’s squeamishness and locals who either had to avoid the ocean, as suggested by the mayor and at one point enforced by law, or deal with it in a more pragmatic fashion.

In the end, it came down to a little of both. The governments supplied the fabulous vigie requin, divers who swim around the lineup as bodyguards (the movie studies this phenomenon) and a one-kilometre shark net.

It ain’t a perfect solution. Give the fishermen the keys back if you want to surf St Leu again without fear of attack. But at least surf is back on the menu.

Watch here.


Grant "Twiggy" Baker
Grant "Twiggy" Baker wins the Puerto Escondido Challenge 2016 amid the chaos of men padding twelve-to-fifteen-foot waves.

Twiggy Baker Wins Puerto Challenge!

“He is a hog, just out there in his pen," says Strider!

Second and final day of Puerto Escondido: taking advantage of people, Mexican Style!

Yesterday’s little contest write-up contained an error. The guys who lost in the first round, and also the semis, don’t earn a thousand bucks. The magnanimous lizard people who don’t surf but still run the show are paying everyone two thousand dollars this year! You can earn more if you make the finals. But everyone else gets a slim 2k.

(By the by, notice that “TBA?” I’m betting that’s the prize purse for the sole female BWT comp that’s running this year.)

The WSL has no right to monopolize huge swells and treat the riders like cheap whores. A top tier big wave surfer should earn at least as much as high end prostitute.

This is why people need unions. Fuck the lie of “you’ll make more when we make more.” Fuck exposure. If this contest wasn’t running the surfers’d still be there, plus the guys who didn’t get invited, and there’d be a million cameras pointed right at them. The WSL has no right to monopolize huge swells and treat the riders like cheap whores. A top-tier big wave surfer should earn at least as much as high end prostitute.

But, whatever. I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall. The conditions looks great, I’m up extra early to watch. Bring on the carnage. Let’s see someone earn hospital bills there appearance fee won’t cover!

Twiggy Baker started off the day with a beaut. Big wide open right, foam ball ride and easy-ish exit. Looks a little smaller today. More manageable. Great great great. Yesterday was neat but there weren’t many made waves. Ramirez pulled in behind and didn’t come out. Then Layer on number three. Fading the takeoff, so scary! Then a high line pocket ride. Pretty, pretty, pretty, nice.

Will Skudin came in spitting up blood yesterday! Yes! Carnage! Let’s play up the injuries! Exploding bodies!

Think the WSL has an event doctor on site? Like, a real one? Because spitting up blood is very very very serious. Very likely caused by aspirating water. Potentially deadly. Can lead to secondary drowning. Skudin should not be paddling out. I understand why he would, he’s a maniac. Got a ton of heart and that’s really damn great. But if this bullshit “governing body” gave two shits about the competitors he’d be in the hospital right now.

Twiggy’s second wave is another gem. Strider says, “He is a hog, just out there in his pen.”

Does that make the WSL a bunch of pig fuckers?

At the midway point Baker is way out in front.

Makuakai looking intense on the beach. Remember when he used to be all chubby and cherubic? Wonder if it’s just something he outgrew, or if he changed up his diet and went exercise mad. Hope it’s not the latter, for his sake. As a guy who gets fat easy and hates himself for it I wouldn’t wish that self loathing on anyone. For all the shit people talk about the Rothmans online, they’ve invited me into their home, were really really cool. And what a home! I’ll admit that Papa Rothman is kind of intimidating, even though he’s about two feet shorter than me.

Listening to Strider talk about how dangerous this is, how badly they get hurt, how they’re “blue collar” workers busting ass back home to afford to compete, is ruining the comp. Making me so fucking angry.

Lots of unmade rides. Pull into a cave, get shut down.

Greg Long is a patient man. Takes a more cautious approach ever since Cortes Bank nearly sent him into the void. Reminds me of the stories I grew up reading about Pat Curren. Slightly off kilter charger sitting way outside all day long waiting for that one big bomb.

I was talking to Dave Wassel yesterday about this stuff. About the BWT, money, women. Other stuff. Gotta love Wasselhoff.

I brought up the women, how I think it’s stupid they think they can’t compete with men. Hell of a thing, he changed my mind. Laid it out, proved me wrong. Showed me that, in the end, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I can admit when I’m wrong. I’ll keep the details under my hat for the moment. The whole things on tape, you’ll be able to listen in soon enough.

Jesus tap dancing Christ, Layer got sucked over on a nightmare.

Four minutes left in semi one. Baker/Skudin/Lenny looking to advance.

Big set rolling in with two minutes. Twiggy drags his hand off the bottom into a double spitting cave. Oh my.

“It looks like Greg Long must have gotten a wave we couldn’t see,” says Strider.

Must’ve been a good one. Got him through the heat, knocked Lenny out. Seems as though they didn’t get it on camera. That sucks.

Twiggy, Will Skudin, and Greg Long are into the final.

Semi two starts off with a big sets that beats the shit out of everyone. Pedro Calado took off on a first wave closeout. I’m sure the last few minutes hurt pretty bad.

When exactly did Makua Rothman become Makuakai? I know that’s always been his name but I could swear no one called him that until a year or two ago.

Whatever the reason, he’s fucking charging. Part of a long tradition of guys who couldn’t really get it done in small wave comps, embraced the big stuff and set himself apart. Takes off retard deep on a huge right. Huge barrel that shuts down on him, kicks his ass.

Thank allah for water patrol. I know Abe Lerner is working today, flew out from Hawaii. But some of the drivers are local guards, right?

North Shore lifeguards are without a doubt the best in the world, but the Puerto dudes are a close second. Very close relationship between the two groups. NS heads helped them get the whole thing set up decades ago. Provided training and equipment and support when no one else would. Admirable actions.

Carlos Burle goes left, can’t get around the section. Goes full Da Bull, flops onto the deck and takes a churning whitewater belly ride to the inside. Smart way of saving what could’ve been a bad situation.

Bit of waiting between sets, not much going on. With ten minutes left we’re looking at Rothman/Calado/ Burle. The Hawaiian pigdogs into a left that almost looks easy but it runs away.

Then Jimel Corzo, lone local left, grabs a very pretty right. Quick cover, would be the wave of my life. But with seven minutes left it’s unlikely he’ll make it through. Kid definitely made a name for himself in this event. I know they’re saying he’s the Mexican national champ, but if we’re being honest that doesn’t mean much outside their borders. If that trophy doesn’t say USA, Australia, Hawaii, maybe Brazil, it may as well not exist. Very unfair. But that’s just how things are.

A couple unmade rides in the dying minutes. Guys hucking themselves over the ledge, hoping to find the score.

With the teachers strike, and the gov’s attempt to union bust South of the Border, I’m seeing a lot of propaganda on social media. Some idiots crossed the picket lines, got snatched, had their heads shaved, enjoyed some public shaming.

Good, great, grand! Fucking scabs deserve what they get. Never cross a picket line. Never! Running dog pieces of shit.

Jack London put it well.

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of Hell to keep him out.

No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Into the final…

It’s Grant Baker, Greg Long, Pedro Calado, Carlos Burle, Will Skudin, and Makuakai Rothman.

Everyone else gets a check for $2k. Go home, go back to work.

Pedro Calado grabs a left to start things off. Can’t make it out. Twiggy on a right, big pump off the bottom on a “small” one. Strider says he’s playing tactics. I don’t know, are these guys really wired like that? Maybe, there’s a huge difference in the finals. Fifth and sixth get 3K, fourth gets 7. Third earns you $10k. Second sixteen. First place gets twenty five thousands of dollars! Meh. Like, that’s a nice check, but it ain’t exactly that much. How do tax rates work on contest winnings? ‘Cuz you gotta pay that shit. Sunny Garcia will back me up on that.

Couple of rides exchanged. Nothing super special. Just a lot of evidence that the human body can take a surprising amount of punishment while you’ve got a gallon of adrenaline pumping coursing your body.

Greg Long goes right, looks at the closeout section, says, “Fuck that.” And kicks out. Discretion definitely the better part of valor.

Rothman’s on the beach, he looks hurt. Out of the heat. Cost of a smaller left hander. Earned some points for the title, but only enough money to cover airfare.

Rapid pace wave exchange. Twiggy, Burle and Long all go left and eat shit. Burle’s was a sick fade into the barrel but the nose of his giant sled caught the curve on the way out.

This is basically turning into a wipeout contest. Great for the guy’s who are gonna profit from the highlights. Pretty tough on the dudes performing.

Holy hell, Twiggy on the best wave of the day. Gotta be a ten!

Half hour left in the heat, no way anyone is catching Mr Baker. Not enough makeable waves.

Oh man, that’s just great. I’m about an hour behind, been trying really hard not to spoil the results for myself.  But the WSL just emailed me a press release with the result in the title.  Heard the little notification, clicked over without thinking. So, as of two minutes ago, I know how this all turns out.

In the end it’s…

1. Grant “Twiggy” Baker

2. Greg Long

3. Pedro Calado

4. Carlos Burle

5. Will Skudin

6. Makuakai Rothman

Can’t say I’m terribly surprised. The usual suspects, mostly.

In my mind, the guy who most impressed me? Kinda came out of nowhere? The local kid, Jimel Corzo. Charged hard, did well. Earned some money without hemorrhaging his own getting there.

That’s it, we’re done. I’m going for a surf. Gonna see if the ocean can rinse this sour taste out of my mouth.

Highlights here!

Puerto Escondido Challenge 2016
That's a lot of juice! For your phone!

Just in: The WSL hates your friends!

"They bait you to download the app then secretly lock you in their garden!"

Did you enjoy day one of the Puerto Escondido Big Wave challenge? Oh sure there were some lulls and Dave Stanfield but the Mexican Pipeline is magnificently freaky! I paddled out there once on a smaller/medium sized day, if you can believe it, and almost got smashed, if you can believe it. Crazy energy! The finals are on right now and ummmmm!

When the sets come it is nice viewing. But apparently, the WSL doesn’t want you to view with  your friends! Ido Dar-El, BeachGrit‘s favorite big wave surfing deaf Jew, reports:

Since Fiji comp I’ve been trying to see the WSL on my 60inch TV. There’s a miracast u can project from phone or tablet the WSL live or any movie playing. Guess what? The WSL bastards changed the WSL app! Every time I tried screening the webcast to big tv from my tablet n phone it turns black. No webcast. When switching off the allshare/miracast or any screening-voila the live webcast appears on the phone tablet only.

I asked him why? Why the bastards would do such a thing and he says:

The WSL wants multiple onlookers thru internet only. The big money is from internet entry and all my friends are pissed. U can’t watch 20ft waves on TV anymore. Only 2mm waves on a 10 cm screen. The dirty thing is that they changed after the Rio Pro so Fiji and Puerto are Internet entry only. They bait you to download the app then secretly lock you in their garden.

And hell. If someone wants to throw a big wave viewing party and invite all of his friends they a) are probably the only person in the world doing that and b) should be encouraged! Surfing is self-centered enough! We don’t all need to be hunched over our small little devices. Alone. Internally hating those around us.

Give us community damned WSL! Give us joy!

P.S. It is being aired live on CBS Sports in California! Maybe the WSL just hates your Israeli friends!

Matt Branson
“I loved where pro surfing was going. But my whole trip was different inside my head because I was gay. I’d get a bit of exposure in a magazine, I’d see that and go ‘fuck!’. And then it sort of snowballed. People started to know me off the street, and I’m almost getting more paranoid. Like, ‘Oh my god, this person thinks I’m this, this person thinks I’m that.’ And I’m sponsored by Rusty, and they’re promoting me this way, which is what I am, basically, no worries about that, but imagine if the fucking hammer comes down and someone found out that I’m gay. What would that do to these companies? Think about that. That’s what is going through my brain. Sitting there, right, Rusty is paying me to go around the world and promoting me, and West Suits are doing the same; two companies that I fucking love, and the guys who work with them are really cool, they are promoting me as their number-one guy. Imagine if they found out! It would send these fucking companies down the gurgler almost.” | Photo: Steve Baccon

Long Read: “Best Gay Surfer Ever!”

Hello sweetheart!

(Editor’s note: Six years ago, I commissioned the noted Fred Pawle to write a story about the surf photographer Paul Sargeant’s misadventures, which had included a sexual assault on a journalist. While that story was back and forthing, and at one point stalled because a former Tracks editor said Sarge would kill himself if it ran, I offered Fred the slightly more uplifting story of surfing’s first openly gay pro, Matt Branson. Openly gay in the sense that long after retirement, he’d come out.

In contrast to the hoops Fred was jumping through to get the Sarge story, Branno answered his phone on the third ring and invited Fred to his home on the Gold Coast for the interview. Arriving with a case of beer on his shoulder – oowee, Branno likes to drink – the pair got boozed and, according to Fred, within ten minutes he’d recorded every significant quote he needed.

As the writing of the story progressed it transpired that, as a teenager, the closeted Branno had been involved in hassling gay men around public toilets. Fred called Branno, who wasn’t real thrilled with that detail being included in the story.

Fred don’t do half-truths, however. And the story, which I called The King of Queens after a popular TV show at the time, was feted by the mainstream press and nominated for a Walkley Award, the highest honour in Australian journalism.

If you want to read the entire four thousand word story, click here, but for those of you with an abridged attention span, here are the highlights…

Hassling homosexuals

Branno says it was “just disgraceful”.

“We were 16 or 17. It was a pack mentality, and me going along with it all. My mates are straight, to the core. They are a pretty extreme crew, and I was one of them. I grew up in the same environment. I was thinking, ‘If I do this, then I’m not gay.’ I knew what I was inside and I thought by doing it I wouldn’t be like this anymore. It’s a real black spot in my growing up. But remember, this was 20 years ago. The world was a totally different place.”

Branno is reluctant for this detail to be written about but he agrees after I explain that it illustrates not only his inner trauma but what was at stake for him to come out. His oldest friends, who in every other way were his soulmates, were virulent homophobes.

“I don’t think they even realised what homophobia was,” he replies. “It was just, ‘Who are these guys? Let’s bash them.’ Knowing they were strange to their life. I don’t want my friends to be seen as opposed to what I was as a person. That’s an immature way of thinking. My mates hadn’t developed then. They weren’t their own men. I’m the luckiest man in the world to have the friends that I do.”

“It was fucking incredibly hard. You always felt like you were lying. You always felt like you were putting on a charade. As a young person growing up, to have that charade, it can fuck with you because you can’t grow as a person.”

Post tour

If you want the short version of the story, it goes like this: Branno dropped off the tour in 1991, started playing in a punk band, worked as a dishwasher (then as a council worker, now a glasser for JS), moved in with a boyfriend and over the next few years told some close friends and family. Some took it hard and spent a long time getting used to the idea. Other’s brushed it off because it didn’t matter. Either way, as word spread, the immediate response from everyone was, “Bullshit! Branno? But he’s the last bloke…” Now he and every one of his friends are cool with it. He’s been approached by other magazines over the years to tell the story but declined them all partly because he feels uncomfortable talking about himself. He’s only doing it now because he’s finally, as he approaches the age of 40 (Branno is 38) content with who he is, and wants other young kids who are trapped in the potentially suicidal hole in which he spent the first 25 years of his life to know that it’s okay. He’s got a point there. Let’s face it, if a dude like Branno can come out, anyone can.

On his punk image

“Branno pioneered the whole surf-punk thing on tour with the tatts and all that stuff,” says Sunny Abberton, a fellow member of Rusty’s “dirty half dozen”, as he calls it. “To travel with all those guys was great but I don’t know how good it was for my career. He was the first one to say, ‘Fuck the rules, I’m doing my own thing.’ He was the first in the modern era to be influenced by things outside surfing.”

“Branno and his mates were raging against the machine that was pro surfing,” says Matt Hoy, two years Branno’s junior, who went on to refine the surf-punk image even more. “I looked up to him because he didn’t give a fuck. He’d do what he wanted to do and still go out and rip when he had to.

“When we were on the tour, half the guys wouldn’t even speak to us. We wanted to see the world and live the dream, hang out with as many people as we could. We wanted to live every part of the dream not just the surfing part of it.”


“Branno was the type of guy who would turn up late for a heat hungover, borrow a board and blow people away,” says Mogga Sutton, Rusty’s team manager at the time. “That was a big time for us. The grunge-headbanging thing was happening. It was part of where we were as a brand. They were all great surfers but our philosophy has always been that they’ve got to fit in with what Rusty is all about. We’ve always done things differently. It was more about image and having a good time. And Branno was totally there. He totally crossed over.”

Imagine, therefore, the turmoil in Branno’s head. “I loved it,” he says. “I loved where pro surfing was going. But my whole trip was different inside my head because I was gay. I’d get a bit of exposure in a magazine, I’d see that and go ‘fuck!’. And then it sort of snowballed. People started to know me off the street, and I’m almost getting more paranoid. Like, ‘Oh my god, this person thinks I’m this, this person thinks I’m that.’ And I’m sponsored by Rusty, and they’re promoting me this way, which is what I am, basically, no worries about that, but imagine if the fucking hammer comes down and someone found out that I’m gay. What would that do to these companies? Think about that. That’s what is going through my brain. Sitting there, right, Rusty is paying me to go around the world and promoting me, and West Suits are doing the same; two companies that I fucking love, and the guys who work with them are really cool, they are promoting me as their number-one guy. Imagine if they found out! It would send these fucking companies down the gurgler almost.”

On almost being murdered in a toilet

On April 15 1991, filmmaker Tim Bonython and a few others left a Tracks party in North Sydney to drink on in Kings Cross. It was a Sunday night and the options were limited. “We ended up at a seedy underground bar run by the mafia,” Tim says. “It was the devil’s armpit. The scum of the Cross would go there. But when everywhere else is closed and you’re partied up, you’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Tim remembers thinking Branno had gone missing for a while. Then he saw him emerge from the men’s toilet, stumbling through the crowd. “He looked a bit sick, a bit weird, then I heard someone say, ‘He’s been stabbed!’ I ran out to the street and got him just before he was about to collapse. He just wanted to get out of there. He started going into shock looking a bit sleepy. His eyes were floating around in his head. There was blood all over him. He had holes all over his body. He was fucked up. We both sat down and I yelled for someone to ring an ambulance. I just remember trying to comfort him. I was scared for him but I was confident he was going to stay with us. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I’d been partying since about 8pm. We were in our tenth hour of partying and numb to the reality of what was going on. I just kept saying, ‘You’ll be right, mate, just keep breathing in, keep it together.’ I remember keeping him buoyed up, keeping him confident.

“I’m glad I was there for him. He would have been more fucked up if he didn’t have anyone he knew. A lot of the other guys were so freaked out, they had to disappear. Nobody wanted to be caught up in it. It didn’t worry me. I was definitely there for Branno till I knew he was going to be okay.”

Tim rode in the ambulance to nearby St Vincent’s Hospital and stayed in emergency till they wheeled Branno into surgery.

Hmm. Gay dude attacked by psycho in dunny of a seedy bar. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. “It definitely wasn’t sexual,” Branno says. “I’d tell you if it was – I’ve got nothing to hide.” In fact, it was a case of mistaken identity. An earlier exchange with a Tongan dealer at a nearby, equally seedy bar had gone wrong, and the dealer had come looking for a blond surfer kid, someone who happened to look like Brando. “I didn’t even see the guy,” Branno says. “He came in and hit me. My head hit the top of the urinal. I turned around and – bang! – he had a knife.” Branno was stabbed in the neck and stomach. His thumb was almost severed from trying to stop the dealer ripping his guts open with it while he screamed, ‘Stop it! You’re killing me! What have I done? What do you want?’”

The dealer was convicted of another crime soon afterwards and bragged to an inmate that he’d almost killed a surfer in the Cross one night. Word got back to the cops and Branno was brought in to identify him. He couldn’t. “All I could remember where his eyes,” he says. “His eyes had death written all over them.” Last Branno heard, the dealer had been deported back to Tonga.

Coming out

The first person Branno came out to was Will Webber, who he’d known for five years. The Webber family home in Rose Bay, Sydney, had been a regular stop while Branno was on tour. They were all serious punks. When Will visited him in hospital after the stabbing, he brought along the Fender Strat he’d just bought, his first guitar. Branno had for years been dabbling in punk bands, as a diversion from the tour. Now that he was off the tour he, Will and his brother Ben could start their own band. Mindcrack went on to become underground legends. Branno chose Will to be the first person to hear his dramatic secret. They were on a bender, as usual, when he made the announcement.

“I remember we were having a sword fight in the toilet,” Will says. “I was talking about trippy things like space and time and stuff and he said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you that’s going to blow you away.’ I said what, and he just goes, ‘I’m gay’. Strangely enough, the first thing I said was, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Don’t say that!’ I said, ‘Sorry mate, that’s fine,’ and gave him a big cuddle.” Will happily kept the secret for years.

Branno knew the next stage would not be as easy. Neither was it avoidable. “I still needed that acceptance from WA because that’s where I’m from,” he says. A few years later he wrote to Manners, starting the letter with a warning that he should be sitting down when he read it.

“I remember the day,” Manners says. “We used to write to each other all the time. We were like pen pals, that’s how close we were. The letter said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you: I’m a fag, I’m a poof, I’m a homo.’ I was in shock. He asked me not to tell anyone. So I just quickly tore it up and put it in the bin so nobody would see it. I had this secret that was spinning me out and wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone about it. He rang me after a week or two and said, ‘You haven’t rung me.’ I said, ‘If that’s your fucking choice, you made your bed you sleep in it.’ I was hanging out with bikers at the time, everything was pretty tough and rugged. That was the scene I was in.”

Branno, living on Sydney’s northern beaches by now, was devastated, and called Will over. “He was crying his eyes out,” Will says. “He was shattered. I just told him I would be by his side forever. It was a powerful moment. I didn’t think he would make it through the night. When someone’s world falls apart, especially a man, and a man’s man, it’s almost inevitably suicidal. Then I said, ‘You know what you’ve got to do, mate? Let’s call your parents now.’ We did it at night, while I was there. When he got off the phone, it was like a new beginning.”

“I was shocked but I kept thinking of the pain he must have been going through all those years,” Jan says. “And I didn’t understand the gay thing, it just didn’t compute in my brain. But I just had to continue to show unconditional love and support.”

Will then turned his attention to Manners. “The Webber brothers rang me up and said, ‘What are you doing, man, writing your best mate off?” Manners says. “Both will and Ben rang me up and had a go at me. I just thought my response was normal. I was like, ‘What are you doing accepting this? I guess in Sydney it was a lot more accepted at the time. I was just thinking about myself. I didn’t for a second think about what Branno was going through.”

Some time later, Manners was out at a night club with some friends, and one of them took him aside. “Is Branno your friend or isn’t he?” he said.

“Well… he’s my fucking friend,” Manners replied.

“A light switch on,” he recalls now. “I just felt all the love in my heart for him and ran outside and rang him up.”

“He had to deal with it in his head,” Branno recalls. “I was hurt but I understood the response because of the background my mates had come from. They’d never had dealings with anyone who was gay. But that’s what you’ve got to do when you’re gay. You’re always scared you are going to lose your mates.”

Richard Kelly, another member of the Perth punk crew, found out indirectly and drove 4000km to Sydney to get it straight from Branno’s mouth.

“I just drove over there without telling him, knocked on his front door and said, ‘What the fuck is going on, mate?’ It wasn’t so much, ‘How come you’re a poof?’ I just wanted him to explain what was happening. I thought all of us deserved someone to go over there and ask him.

“We sat down and had a beer straight off the bat. He tried to explain how his brain was going through it. It wasn’t the time for me to go, ‘Oh, that’s shithouse.’ I went, ‘Whatever you reckon, mate.’ The conversation probably went till the beer ran out. We probably went for a surf the next day. Life was normal. I just left it to him, whenever he wanted to tell me about it. What can you do? There was no way, him going through that and being our mate, there was no way we were going to say, ‘Oh, now you’re a poof, go and kill yourself.’ It took a bit of getting used to but he’s still our mate. It was as much a matter of him getting used to us getting used to him. But we put it in the same shit-hanging comedy way we’ve always dealt with each other.”

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