It takes a week or two, but when we finally get Laurie Towner on the phone he’s in Carnarvon. “Washing the dust off the kids for the night,” he says. “It’s funny, Chase hasn’t seen TV for weeks but he’s not interested. He’s too busy skating. I suppose he hasn’t seen concrete either.” You can hear Laurie’s young bloke tic-tacking in the background. The Towners are six months into a round Australia trip and have made their way from Yamba all the way to the Great Northwest. They’ve been there six weeks and have no plans to leave.
The family trip had been a long-held dream, and like most crew who’ve done it, came about when Laurie and wife, Bron ran out of reasons not to. “The kids are a perfect age, to start,” says Laurie. “Chase starts kindy next year and Isla’s in grade one, so they’re young enough not to miss the schooling, but old enough to remember everything we do.”
In terms of work, Laurie was between jobs. He’s spent the past seven years tiling, but was just starting a new, freestyling design role with good mate, Ryan Scanlon at Needs. The other part of the role is Laurie being Laurie, chasing surf. When he pitched the idea of the family trip to Scanno, he replied, “Well, what are you doing next year?” It was a good question. They bought a van a couple of weeks later.
The pandemic gave them the final shove. With the east of the country paralysed by lockdowns, life in the west suddenly looked pretty good. They left Yamba just before Easter. There was no real plan to be anywhere, but the threat of wildcat lockdowns hurried them west. “We missed Vicco because there was talk of lockdowns and all of a sudden, we’re in South Oz, cruising. The weather started to get a bit cold and the plan was always to get up north for winter, so we just started driving.”
A guy like Laurie has seen most of Australia’s surfable coast, he just hasn’t seen the bits in between or hung around anywhere for longer than the duration of a swell. “It’s like you rock up to a place, surf your swell and you piss off,” he laughs of his old life. “I guess when you’re young and hungry it’s all you’ve got eyes on. A lot of my early surfing days were like that. This is just so different.”
“You just don’t realise how big Australia is. You can drive for hours and it’s still the same then you keep driving and it’s like a different planet. I guess one of the biggest things about the trip is that it’s made me appreciate not being so attached to home, you know. We’ve just cut ourselves free and there’s so much beauty out there, and to experience it with the family has been amazing. Most of the stuff we just stumble on by accident. To not know what you’re doing and just go with it feels so good.”
The other part of travelling the country is catching up with old mates from his old life. “I was on a job site for years so I haven’t seen a lot of those guys in a long time. I’ve seen some faces that I haven’t seen for years, which has been one of the coolest things. Down in South Oz I ran into Josiah [Schmucker] and then in Kalbarri I ran into the Browns and Craikey, guys I haven’t seen in forever.”
Once they got up north the surfing almost became secondary. “There’s been a good swell every week pretty much, which has been nice but we’ve had more fun in between. Every time I’ve come up here in the past, I’m just like, I wish I had more time to just sit here and not just go surfing. Go and enjoy the down days and check out other things.” Laurie took a little Zodiac up with him, and he’s been out fishing the drop-off. “The funny thing is actually I haven’t done a whole lot of fishing because you land one big fish and that’s enough to feed the family for a few days.”
In between days it’s been spearing. “At home we just don’t get the quality of water with the river nearby, so I’ve made the most of it here. I love my spearing. When you’re looking for a feed and you’re on a little bit of a mission to go and hunt something you want to eat. It’s not like fishing where you have catch and bycatch and bits and pieces. You might only pull the trigger once and you’ve got what you want… or you might not even pull the trigger at all.” Laurie recounts spearing the previous week and looking down at a huge shadow moving on the ocean floor. “I looked up and these humpbacks were heading straight for me.”
As a dad, Laurie knows how precious this time is for the kids and how they’ll remember it in years ahead. “We jumped off the keyhole at The Bluff a couple of days ago with them off and we all paddled out and sat on the end corner and we pushed them into a couple of waves. It’s been epic. The kids have seen so much and it’s been really good for us as a family.”
The campground has been busy – red dirt Kuta – but the Towners have seen enough of the country to see it in some perspective. “I’ve gotten over that thing of like, ‘Oh how busy is it?’ That’s the biggest thing you hear everyone saying. But when you’re thinking in your head, ‘How amazing is it? How lucky are we?’ You just enjoy it don’t overthink it and wig yourself out.”
“No plan,” is how Laurie describes what’s next. He mentions Isla really wants to see Uluru so they’ll cut inland on the way home at some point. Maybe Victoria in spring. Who knows? But for now there’s no rush. “Craikey reckons when the whales leave, we need to leave,” he says. “You don’t want to be here in summer.”
– SEAN DOHERTY