MAG&M Collection Stories:

Surfing the waves back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s with the development of surfboards in Australia 


The Northern Beaches was the birthplace of surfboard riding in Australia. From the early solid Hawaiian boards, to the ‘toothpick’ surf skis depicted in Ray Leighton’s photos from the 1940s and the hollow timber boards, surfing continues its phenomenal growth and popularity.

In 1956, a visiting American swim team demonstrated a new type of balsa and fiberglass surfboards at Avalon and Manly. Early Australian manufacturers and individuals immediately started making similarly shaped boards. By the late 1950s surfboards were being made commercially and the Northern Beaches became Australia’s centre of production.

A group of local surfers and craftsmen: Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace, Scott Dillon, Barry Bennett, Greg McDonagh and Denny Keogh become known as ‘The Brookvale 6’. From their small factories in Brookvale, they were designing, innovating and producing the vast majority of boards in this country.

In 1964, the first World Surfing Championship competition was held at Manly Beach, and was won by 19 year old Northern Beaches local Midget Farrelly. Farrelly is captured here committing a classic bottom turn at Long Reef in this 1967 photo, taken by pioneering surf photographer Jack Eden.

Fast forward to 2006 and another Northern Beaches local, Layne Beachley had just won the World Surfing Championship for the seventh time. She has since gone on to mentor successive female surfers and is a passionate advocate for equality in the sport. The signed red bikini was a gift to MAG&M’s collection by her in 2005.



  1. Ray Leighton (1917-2002), Five girls on long boards, Manly Beach, c1940s, photograph. Gift of the artist 1993 (P1444)
  2. Ray Leighton (1917-2002), Manly Surf Life Saving Club members, c1940s, photograph. Gift of the artist 1993  (P1440)
  3. Jack Eden (1931-2019), Midget Farrelly at Long Reef, 1967, photograph. Purchased 1996 (P1371)
  4. Bikini signed by Layne Beachley, made by Billabong. Donated by Beachley in 2005 (M2259)