It was the decade of wonder-woman and superman. Jimi Hendrix died. Smoking wasn’t a health risk, and bell-bottoms were a staple in the wardrobe; and the soundtrack rolling in the background was the Stones, Janis Joplin, and Led Zeppelin.
In 1970’s Margaret River, there was a character who had more than a glimpse of this iconic pop culture. Ric Chan was a photographer for some of the big bands touring Australia at the time. Mick Jagger, The BeeGees, Elton John, Nina Simone – the list is extensive and pretty outrageous. For someone that called Margaret River home in the 70s, Ric bucked the status quo tremendously. An eccentric mix of Chinese & New Zealand heritage, he had an urbane air of cool, and a wild adrenaline that was clearly magnetic. Ric gathered friends wherever he went. Professionally, not only did he photograph high profile musicians, he was a well-known surfing photographer, a model, a voice-over artist and a DJ. Ric pretty much had every base covered in the creative industry.
Ric’s legacy of photos sat in boxes for years from the 80’s into the 90’s. His old surfing mate Graham Noakes stored them in the shed of his salvage yard opposite the Margaret River Lions Club where they gathered dust, and didn’t see the light of day for a good 20 years. In that time, Ric moved to Bali to manage Cheaters nightclub in Kuta, married an Australian woman, Sami, and had two sons, Taron and Tao. Ric says, “I was put up in a hotel in Kuta, 100 metres from the waves. It was work, surf, eat and surf some more. Life couldn’t have been better. The club took off, and became very popular, very fast. During this period, I met a really hot babe on the beach, and married her a couple of months later. We had it pretty good.”
In 1991, the carefree Bali life came to a halt when Sami passed away suddenly of septicemia. “It was a terrible time, because I had 2 young boys to look after, and all of our money had been spent on hospital costs. Dad in his wisdom sent my sister Tina, to Bali, to pull me and the boys back to NZ.”
Ric retreated to Auckland to raise the boys on his own, and his whereabouts faded from local knowledge in Margaret River. He lost touch with the community. Rumours circulated that he had died. And the photos in the attic of Graham Noakes’ shed continued to gather dust.
Fast-forward to today. The elusive Ric has made somewhat of a comeback. Tracked down through an old email address, the crew re-connected with him and flew the near 70-year-old back to Margaret River for the Surfing WA awards in 2013. Ric recalls the day he got an email from an old surfing mate from Dunsborough. ‘On the 16th November, 2012, I received an email from Jim King in which he told me that he was working with Kevin Merifield, Brian Cole and a certain Sue-Lyn Moyle, to produce a book about WA surfing in the 50-70’s. It was a total surprise. I was blown away. MY photos in a BOOK? Outasight! I bundled up all the negs, trannies and photos and sent them off to Jim. After the book was released, I was flown over for the launch of the new 50th anniversary book.”
Ric’s got the same free spirit he had in the 70s and you wonder how he made it this far. He sort of reminds you of a badass Dalai Lama. The guy doesn’t like seatbelts, smokes like a chimney, and aside from green tea, favours scotch as his preferred beverage. But his charm is infectious and his ability to see the positive in life is utterly uplifting.
He was in Margaret River recently to film an episode for an ABC iview documentary series following Tom Forrest – aka ‘The Kununurra Kid.’ The series follows Tom – who made his debut in the recent ABC series ‘My Year 12 Life’, as he confronts the big adult world post-high school, travelling around Australia and onto LA.
In the documentary, Ric offered his photography skills and a bit of life advice to Tom. Together, armed with long lenses and life-jackets, they went out on the water in a tinny to capture some surfing shots 1970s style. Local surfing talent, Jerome Forrest, was the subject of the shoot, and with a lumpy swell and offshore wind conditions, the boys got some pretty nice shots.
When filming was over, Ric packed up and went back to Auckland. In his wake he left a string of people who are still recovering from the belly laughs and late nights. Somehow, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.
Kununurra Kid is set to broadcast on ABC iview later in 2018
Image credits: Billy Menzies, Ric Chan, Tom Forrest