Frank’s Last PatrolBronte Beach is a much lonelier place now following the passing of one of nature’s true gentleman, Frank Conrad Norton (OAM, BEM).
Frank’s association with the Bronte Surf Club dates back more than 70 years, when, as a 16 year-old, he was first persuaded to become part of the surf club fraternity in 1936.
In those early days Frank was working for an automotive spare parts company and every weekend he would make the journey from Edgecliff to Bondi Junction at 5am and then catch the Bronte Tram to be on time for his 6am surf patrol.
As World War II approached, many club members saw the opportunity to enlist due to the work shortage during the Depression and in 1941 Frank answered the call to help protect his country.
During the war, Bondi and Bronte beaches were enclosed in barbed wire to stop any invading forces from coming in and Frank had visions of serving on the home front at his beloved Bronte Beach.
When the call came for volunteers to become machine gunners, Frank was one of the first to accept.
“I saw the guns down at Bronte and the guns over at Bondi, so in I go,” Frank recalled in Stan Vesper‘s book, Bronte – The Birthplace of Surf Lifesaving.
“When we ended up in New Guinea I was not the most popular man in the place. I’ll never forget that. They called me Bronte Norton for a while.”
He served in the Australian Army for five years in three campaigns – New Guinea, Tarakan and Balikpapan – and on his return married his sweetheart, Gwen Cubitt, and rented a flat above one of the shops at Bronte Beach.
One of the local youngsters living near Frank was Pee Wee Wilson, who, along with a few of his mates, regularly sang in the showers at the surf club.
Frank took a shine to the young blokes and suggested they should put on a concert to earn a few bob for the club.
The group went on to become The Delltones and Frank was regaled by the band when they performed at the Bronte Centenary Ball in 2003.
Frank was also a handy rugby league player in his day and after returning from the war he played alongside one of Australia’s rugby league legends, Dave Brown.
When a fire destroyed the Bronte Surf Club in 1972, Frank was deeply distressed at the loss of so many trophies and records.
After his retirement, Frank took it upon himself to start documenting the club’s history, in which he played a big part, and every day he spent endless hours writing the information out by hand.
I once asked him why he didn’t use a computer to update the records and he told me: “There weren’t any computers around when the club burned down, so why use one now. I wouldn’t know how to turn the bloody thing on anyway.”
Bronte was Frank’s nirvana and, weather permitting, he would rarely miss a morning’s stroll along the promenade, tipping his trilby to the ladies and giving a few of the ‘gerries’ a bit of a rev-up outside the dressing sheds near the pool.
He was revered by the young lifeguards, with the likes of Anthony Carroll, Bruce Hopkins and Aaron and Kobi Graham always taking time out to have a bit of a chin-wag to Frank about his days as a champion lifesaver.
Frank was awarded a British Empire Medal in 1978 and received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to surf lifesaving in 2002. Earlier this year he was the recipient of the President’s Award from Surf Life Saving Australia and was made Life Governor of the Bronte Surf Club.
Unfortunately that life came to an end too quickly.
Rest in peace old mate.