Danny Morris is a grizzled sixty eight year old engineering man.
It takes him back to aplace where his tough spirit was forged. His eyes mist over and a smile opens up on his craggy face when Danny tells the golden tales of the early days of Marine.
They are indicative of what formed the big heart and soul that sustains Marine 50 years later, what defines the club ethos today. In his youth, Danny was typical of the kind of guy who started Marine. They were tough, street smart and had lots of attitude. Somehow they were drawn to the idea of joining the legendary Norman Billingham, Bill Scotney, Bert Ashford and others in forming what is now an institution on Durban’s Golden Mile. “I was 18-years-old when I joined Marine,” Danny remembers.
“It turned my life around, 180 degrees. Before that I was involved in a bad crowd. “There was a lot of fighting and some guys ended up in jail. “I didn’t go off the rails because I got in with the guys from Marine and they’ve been my lifelong friends.”
Danny, now the president of Marine, recalls how Bill and Norman, then members of Durban Surf, decided to break away and form the new club at Addington. The more the guys from the existing clubs objected to the idea, the more the renegades were determined to go ahead with what seemed like total folly. Today the state of the art Marine Surf Lifesaving Club, opened in June 2010, takes pride of place on the promenade. It has 800 members and has garnered too many accolades to mention.
It’s a far cry from the facility that the city council begrudgingly approved back in the 1960’s, a hut near the pump house at Addington. To call that a modest affair would be exaggerating but that was back in the days when some of the piers were wooden and a siren rang when a bather was in distress.
Danny says they used to haul the reel from Durban Surf every day. Back then guys like Jimmy Green, Peter Asselburg, Alf Bennett and Graham and Kevin Vincent were part of the gang. Raymond Wykerd, another Marine pioneer, now living in America, remembers more of the early Marine members. Among them was Mike Langenstruss, Tony Shearing, Pat Mahar, Nick Overy, Terry Smith, the Rees brothers, Dave, Mike, Chris and Tim. And then there was Ronnie Moir, Roger Johns, Neil van den Berg and Pat McCain.
Raymond says: “We would go down to Bert Ashford’s flat to learn resuscitation and first aid in the evenings. We learnt the drill of the lifesaving reel and Danny Morris got us doing laps at Rachel Finlayson. If you thought 600 yards would get you out of the pool, he had other ideas, but we became very fit.
“If you were late, Danny would make you swim out to the nets and if you were not fast enough, he’d make you do it again.” Danny rubs his gnarled hands together. “It was different back then, the guys spent from 7am to 5pm on the beach, for the whole weekend. It was tough, but it taught us commitment. It taught us structure and discipline.” Lifesaving was the glue that held the band of degenerates together, it gave them purpose, but it also created a magic social life.
Danny says the jolling was legendary. The beer-swilling escapades of the boys from Marine were, by all accounts, world class. “Hey, the discipline made us successful. I dare anyone to disprove that theory,” Danny say’s. “But then the club always had beer. The wild parties would carry on way into the night. The next day we’d always be in the water, even if it involved a bit of chundering.” “Then there was the location of the clubhouse – opposite the nursing quarters, that helped.
Oh boy, they loved lifesavers.” Training hard and playing hard meant the guys from Marine became like family. Raymond recalls how many of them often slept over at Danny’s place in Rutherford Street after a heavy night of partying.
“We would go dancing with our girlfriends to bands like “The Bats”, “Four Jacks and a Jill” and other bands and then crash at Danny’s place and his mom always made us feel welcome and woke us up with a cup of coffee in the morning.”
Back in the day a movie cost 19 cents and a pie, chips and curry gravy with a Coke at XL Restaurant cost 27 cents. Danny says the memories are golden. He is still in touch with almost all of his mates from early Marine. He was best man at Raymond’s wedding.
The other day, rummaging through his things he found Kevin Vincent’s Std 8 certificate and a lifesaving award belonging to Terry Smith. “How did I end up with all this,” he asks, his eyes tingling with nostalgia.
“These are my mates and it’s a bond that will never be broken.”