Good reads

(Main Pic) Sydney’s eastern suburb’s beaches gestated a surfboard with a strange purple patch, birthed on November 23, 1963. Author Monty Webber grew up and maintains a strong connection to the environs of Bondi. Image: Ryan Chandler

Giving life to an inanimate object

Geoff Helisma

Monty Webber’s Purple Patch traces the ‘life’ of its namesake, a surfboard (DOB: November 23, 1963) manufactured by Bobby Morris, whose renowned shaping skills are akin to Elvis Presley’s revered drummer and band leader of the same name, Bobby Morris.

Tony ‘Tiger’ Smith, 10, was manoeuvring his billycart around the streets of Rose Bay, Sydney, when “an unusual industrial odour” interrupted his “reverie”. Across the laneway, in a double garage, Morris was pouring “a clear syrupy liquid from a jam tin onto an unusual, long, white object, balanced on two stands”.

After some friendly dialogue, Tiger asks, “What are you making?”

“It’s a surfboard,” says Bobby.

Tiger wasn’t a surfer, but he longed to be one; and the surfboard with the mysterious purple patch reinstated Tiger’s optimism “for the first time since his Pop had died” and, when he fell asleep, “he dreamt about surfing”.
Webber, born in 1961, grew up amidst the surfing culture of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs beaches, before moving with his family to the famous Australian surf destination, Angourie. He has previously self-published five short story collections, written extensively for various surfing magazines and produced documentaries and award-winning films … all connected with surfing and the cultures it has propagated over his lifetime.

This is Webber’s first novel, but, really, it is a collection of short stories bound together by the surfboard … sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Each chapter follows the interaction of its namesake with and around the surfboard – for some characters, the surfboard is a life-or-death proposition, for others, it only touches their lives fleetingly … but it’s always a revelation.

Webber’s storytelling moves along at a steady pace, doesn’t indulge flowery language and, if anything, sometimes ties up the loose ends in relatively few words, however, that foible is soon forgotten as the next story begins on the following page.

The final chapter takes place on December 9, 1970 (Webber tells me, though, that he has already written 16 chapters for the next part of the story and intends to follow the board’s life through to the present day), where the serendipitous nature of the surfboard’s journey reaches a crescendo and a satisfying resolution.

As the surfboard makes its journey from owner to owner, the characters Webber introduces are fictionalised versions of real people – some displaced in time – the personalities (or public personas) of whom many older surfers would be familiar with.

Narrating the stories in the third person, Webber’s storytelling puts the reader inside the heads of his characters as they go about their sometimes-dodgy business, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

While the surfing culture theme connects the yarns chapter to chapter, Webber’s honest depiction of what life was like for his characters will make you laugh, cry, reminisce, cringe, empathise, sympathise and, probably, wonder, ‘WTF’.

Surfers with a keen sense of the east coast of Australia and the geography of other, nearby surfing locations will make the journey with the Purple Patch, wondering just where and how it will re-enter the narrative – all those dreams, looking out of the classroom window, wondering what the surf was like, will come true.

Style-wise, two authors came to mind after reading Purple Patch: John Irving’s earlier books (from 1968 to 1989) and Trent Dalton’s recent, multi award-winning book, Boy Swallows Universe – each of these authors use aspects of their own tumultuous and/or extraordinary experiences to inform their narratives, so much so, that at times it’s hard to judge where reality ends and fiction begins.

This, too, is Webber’s strength … no matter how far towards the outer edges of credibility he travels, authenticity rings true, suspension of belief is not necessary.

Purple Patch can be purchased online from various sellers; hard copies are available (until sold out) at Revival Yamba ($25).