Nick Carroll: Maurice Cole and the Surf Coast Showdown

27 Oct 2020 1 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer



(Maybe it’s the Covid. Maybe it’s just the times. In the same month, two of Australia’s epic old school surfers are running for political office: Rabbit Bartholomew for the Queensland State seat of Burleigh, and Maurice Cole for a seat on the Surf Coast Shire Council. We’ll know the results of both races in a week or so. But in the meantime, given this unique moment in history, we decided to take a close look at each race: what the hell is going on, and if either of these huge characters are in with a chance.)

Part one: Maurice Cole and the Surf Coast Showdown

There’s 10 candidates for the four Surf Coast Shire Council seats in the Torquay ward. And if you go on to the Vicco electoral website to see who they are, only one of the 10 doesn’t have a manifesto next to his name.

Yep, that’s Maurice. He missed the deadline. “I was 47 seconds late!” he told us.

What do the other nine candidates’ manifestos say about them? Family people, care for the environment, more facilities, etc.. To be honest, they’re pretty much pablum. Maurice isn’t pablum. He’s possibly the most talkative, he’s surely the most recognisable, and he’s got a real issue: Bells Beach. Possible development of.

Maurice was surfing Bells back when it was first declared a Victorian State recreation reserve on the basis of its surfing status. That was in 1970. Since then the Bells area has seen a grading and surfacing of its parking areas, some low-profile paths, cliff stairs and small wooden viewing platforms, and a small toilet block. Aside from regular plantings and other careful upkeep by volunteer groups, that’s been it.

For the past decade and more, members of those groups — Maurice usually among ‘em — have been fighting intermittent battles with the Shire over what they see as risks to Bells’s sanctity. There was the crazy influx of tourist buses that targeted Bells as a first stop on the Great Ocean Road showcase tour, took over the carpark, and never paid a cent toward upkeep of the reserve. There were the rumours of a cafe in the Winki carpark. There was the question of the Bells CT gate money, ie where did it actually end up? And why did it take 51 days to set up and pull down the contest? There was the b-n-b development down the road.

For Maurice these have all been barbarians-at-the-gate type stuff. But his run for Council was triggered by surely the weirdest and most mysterious proposal of all: a 60-metre long, two-metre high walkway-cum-viewing platform that the Surf Coast Shire is insisting on building above Winkipop.

The thing — a much larger, permanent version of a temporary scaffold set up in recent years as part of the Rip Curl Pro — looks like nothing else in the reserve, and has an estimated price tag of over $200,000. The Shire wants to build it, despite its own public surveys returning a significant rejection of the idea, and everyone else involved — including the World Surf League, who originally requested the temporary version, and Surfing Victoria, who put it up and take it down each year — suddenly adopting a hands-off approach.

The process has led Maurice to doubt pretty much everything about the way the Council currently operates. Together with Surfrider’s Darren Noyes-Brown, he’s been filing FOI requests with Council and State, trying to figure out why the walkway is even on the agenda. “It’s completely out of character for the area,” he says. “There’s just too much secrecy around this stuff.”

It’s also caused him to question the Council’s willingness to examine the impact of development in the Shire. In 2009, with large scale development already in the wind, councillors passed a motion directing council to carry out an impact study on the likely effects of heavy development in the area. Massive housing developments in north Torquay have sprung up in recent years, but no impact study has been done.

He’s tried to mitigate the 47-second slip-up with a detailed Facebook page.

It’s been one of the most full-on years in Maurice’s very full-on life. He thought he’d had a recurrence of prostate cancer and that he might be gone by Christmas, then discovered he was fine after all. He’d just got back into surfboard design with some cool innovations around his re-born reverse v, and began surfing again after an extended layoff. Then! Yep, run for Council. “I’m pretty sure this is going to make me sick again,” he said. “But someone’s gotta do it.”

Another wacky aspect to this race: Torquay ward has traditionally included Bells Beach in its boundary. This year, the boundary has been changed, shifting Bells out of Torquay and into Anglesea. 


Torquay Ward 

Up for grabs: Four of nine SCS councillor seats 

Candidates: 10

Alignments: Kate Gazzard (Greens), Paul Barker (Liberal Democrats) all others claim Independent status

Enrolled voters: 15,786

A seat could be won with: 3,158 votes

Vote: conducted by postal vote only (due to Covid)

Does Maurice have a shot? Maybe, but it’s a slim maybe. He’s an untried candidate in a large field, including three current councillors. Even if every surfer in the ward voted for him, there wouldn’t be 3158 of ‘em. Preferences will probably be his best chance.

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