Tribute to Aussie surfing legend leaves locals fuming after move at iconic Sydney beach

Angry locals have described the development as 'an act of vandalism'.

A tribute to Australia’s first surfing champion has divided local residents at one of the country’s most beautiful beaches. A relief carving paying homage to 1964 world champion Bernard "Midget" Farrelly at desirable Palm Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches has been created out of rock, featuring the surfer in his famous laidback, arms-outstretched-in-the-air pose.

Commissioned by Northern Beaches Council (NBC) and produced by local stonemason Newton Bishop after lobbying from the Midget Farrelly Recognition Committee (MFRC), the carving has polarised locals. On the 60th anniversary of Farrelly’s much celebrated win in the first surfing world championship at nearby Manly in 1964, debate is raging whether the carving at a nook known as Black Rock is appropriate.

A tribute to late Aussie surfing legend Bernard
A tribute to late Aussie surfing legend Bernard "Midget" Farrelly in the form of a rock carving at Sydney's Palm Beach has divided locals. Pics: Getty/supplied

Some critics have described it as "vandalism" while others have declared it a fitting salute to a surfing pioneer. Farrelly, who died in 2016 aged 71, was not only one of the best-known surfers of his generation but was also heavily involved with the Palm Beach Surf Club.

In campaigning for council support after raising more than $50,000 for the tribute, the MFRC said: "It's hard to understate Midget's influence on Australian surfing, winning the first men's world title when the sport was dominated by international competitors. He remained at the forefront of a number of water sports and surf related businesses and was an idol, mentor and friend to so many.

"(The tribute proposal) is supported by world champions Kelly Slater, Layne Beachley, Tom Carroll and Barton Lynch." NBC conceded the proposal had caused angst among local residents.

"The feedback collected during consultation indicated a high level of support for the proposed commemoration of Midget Farrelly in Palm Beach, with comments citing his contributions to the community and to the sport of surfing," it stated in its findings. "Feedback also indicated that many community members, whilst supportive of the idea of commemorating Midget Farrelly, did not feel that a permanent relief carving on Black Rock was an appropriate form of recognition."

Seen here, Workers shape the contentious rock carving at Sydney's Palm Beach in tribute to surfing legend, Bernard
Workers are seen here shaping the contentious rock carving at Sydney's Palm Beach in tribute to surfing legend, Bernard "Midget" Farrelly. Pic: Supplied

One concerned local wrote: "Whilst my wife and I both support the idea of a sculpture commemorating Midget Farrelly, we are totally against defacing the rock. We believe this would be an act of vandalism to a natural rock which itself is a Palm Beach icon."


Another added: "I agree that Midget Farrelly should be recognised at Palm Beach, but carving a statue into the natural environment doesn’t seem the right way to do it. It’s destructive, it’s likely to suffer wear and tear and depending on how subtle it is it may not be noticed at all! Surely a sculpture/statue etc next to Black Rock would be a more appropriate memorial?"

But there was also strong backing for the carving. "I support the proposal. Rocks have been used as a "canvas" for art for thousands of years. It looks reasonably subtle and will weather into the rock. I think this artwork will actually "respect" the rock/boulder and value it," one proponent posted.