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A Spanos In The Works

By Christie Bennett on February 13, 2011 in People

Photo: Brad Malyon (www.frothers.com.au)

When organisers of the recent (dubious) Mr Bondi contest encouraged Tony Spanos to compete they did so due to his sculptured Grecian physique and exuberant effervescence. What they didn’t realise was that they had handpicked one of Bondi’s most eminent characters: Tony Spanos, the Greek Kangaroo, not quite your typical Bondi celebrity but a legend in his own right.

Tony has been a part of Bondi’s backdrop since age 10. He rode the 322 to its shores decades before they were glittered in gold. Scum Valley was yet to become a playground for the rich and famous. While Tony’s birth rite was in fact to be a member of the social elite, he has carved his own path in life. The son of a wealthy meat exporter, Tony was brought up kind and with a strong social conscience. Working at the family’s Alexandria-based meat factory, Tony was surrounded by families who were struggling to make ends meet. Over the years Tony and his father employed, fed and supported multitudes of disadvantaged local folk, sponsoring kids sporting teams from basketball to ballet and providing a glimmer of hope for the youth of the inner Sydney streets.

Rewinding back 20 years from now, before Green Square was a trendy development and when street kids were given next to no opportunities, Tony was at the forefront of youth work. The car park of his meat works was scattered with beat up cars, given a second life with a bright spray of paint and a homeless teen asleep inside. There was not an inch of brick to be seen underneath the walls of his factory. It became known as ‘The Graffiti Hall of Fame’, adorned with artwork created by the disadvantaged youth. Tony aimed at taking the criminalisation out of graffiti, facilitating the creation of portfolios, business cards and pride for these kids. Instead of police reports and wrist slapping he encouraged their creativity; Tony could see the bigger picture. While he ended up in some hot water for supplying the cherry picker used in the creation of Newtown’s Martin Luther King mural, Tony also had a hand in the conception of first ramp’s Felix The Cat, one of Bondi’s most iconic images.

With DA approval to sponsor the youth through the promotion of art and sport, Tony initially had the local police and council onside. But this relationship soured as Tony began allowing aspiring party promoters to use his venue for underground raves. Of these all-night parties, Tony recalls: “I had a no alcohol, no dealing rule. You couldn’t stop the kids from taking something beforehand but I could provide a safe space for them.”

While the authorities were busy getting their knickers in a knot Tony was creating ‘Rave Safe’ pamphlets, and providing a secure environment with St Johns Ambos at every rave, food at the end of the night and a bus fare home in the morning. Over the years the police conducted 47 raids on Tony’s raves, coming up empty handed every time. When the police tried to shut down the raves they were faced with the task of getting 2000 young people home safely at 3am.

“My balls were on the line,” reflects Tony. “I would say to the police that parents sleep comfortably knowing their kids are safe with me. For those who don’t, they should come down and help me. If they are not awake, wake them up, because I need help!”

The Graffiti Hall of Fame was at the cutting edge of music, art and dance when the council rezoned the Alexandria area from industrial to residential, causing the eventual closure of the meat works. Court cases were plentiful and eventually the biggest losers were the kids.

While Tony feels victimised and defamed by the authorities he hasn’t lost his fighting spirit.

“You can’t stop good energy. Once it’s out there it does not dissipate, it comes back… enriched, empowered,” said Tony.

During those turbulent years in court Tony sought calm in the waters of his home break, Bondi. He thrives on the natural high of surfing and as I sit with him on The Hill he recounts his most memorable waves with gusto.

“Whenever it was 10ft Ben Buckler I’d be out there with Graham Pratten. One time it was like the Great Wall of China. I was a speck. I prayed to the angels. As I saw this giant looming I equalised my ears getting ready for it. I know this is a big one. I meditate. All of the Greek Gods have a little laugh. It’s a test of good and evil. A mini tsunami. I paddle and it’s a spectacular late take off. I’m flying. Somehow the angels guided me. I made it and rode all the way to the wall.”

A little creative licence you may ask? Not according to childhood friend Harry Nightingale. Stopping past on his pushy H-Man reminisced about an 8ft bomb that Spanos rode in from out behind the Icebergs to win victory at a boardriders comp. Tony still likes to get out there and remains actively involved with the Bondi Boardriders, sponsoring the groms and driving them around to comps in his reconditioned ‘Peace Bus’.

Honestly, I could go on and on about Tony. I could ramble about all of the time and money he dedicated to advocating freedom of speech amongst youth, from Peace Bus rallies to the Hemp Olympics. Perhaps I could pen a paragraph about how Tony bankrolled the Victoria Park Tent Embassy, sponsored Indigenous sporting teams and that he plays the didgeridoo. What about his days as a NASCAR driver or Mulgave Ferry Captain. Or the tumultuous times that the Unofficial Mayor of Youth and Garbage attempted to become Mayor Elect. For over 20 years Tony has been like a gardener to the youth of Sydney, cultivating an active life for them through sport, music, art and love.

“Packer bought a lot of shares, I invested in youth. While his dividends are money and stocks, mine are endless love,” said Tony.

Tony is currently developing a series of free-spirited surf carnivals to take up and down the coast. Last month he drove a busload of Bondi Boardriders to Sandon Point for the first annual Sandon Point Masters, a celebration of the Indigenous people and surfing. Tony wants to roll his bus out to rural communities, to help alleviate the boredom of the isolated youth. He would like to share the virtues of Mother Nature and the ocean through creating murals, tarp surfing, love and dance. His renovated Peace Bus is a trojan horse of environmental activism and youth advocation.

Like the Phantom Tsunami who baffled last year’s Bondi Boost Mobile Surf Sho audience, expect the unexpected from Tony. In a short film created a few years ago, Through Tony’s Eyes, Tony revealed he was waiting for a happy ending. When asked if he was still waiting Tony answered: “Yes. When I buy a Greek Island and raise the Aboriginal flag I’ll be a happy little vegemite. I’ll build an Ancient Greek-style sporting arena where the Indigenous Greeks and Australians can play basketball and where the Bondi Boardriders are always welcome.”

Sadly for the chumped Mr Bondi judges perhaps they didn’t take the time or effort to delve a little deeper beneath the tanned surface of Tony. Instead, they gave the title of Mr Bondi to a guy who doesn’t even call Bondi home and who was getting around in dick-stickers. Fair enough that the winner was a little younger and fitted the bill for the modelling contract on offer, but Tony was going to pass that opportunity onto one of the Bondi groms had he won. Organisers stated that Mr Bondi was about inner beauty, with the one prerequisite being that you had never littered Bondi. For anyone who hasn’t caught the tail end of a Boardriders event, I’ll assure you that Tony is the one scouring The Hill for every last crumb of rubbish. Perhaps the judges were a little confused about what the essence of the Bondi community is all about. If you scratch the trendy surface you will find people like Tony who keep this place alive. When all of the ‘wactors’ move on Tony will be here inspiring the next generation of youth. My apologies for the next cheese ball line but Tony, you are our Mr Bondi!

This article was provided to The Beast by Brad and Christie from www.frothers.com.au.

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