Waves of nostalgia wash over legendary South Coast surf spot

Green Island, much loved by surfers galore. Photo: John Hanscombe
Green Island, much loved by surfers galore. Photo: John Hanscombe

Tucked away on a NSW headland, a quick barefoot walk through she-oaks to a world famous surf spot, is a cluster of distinctively unrenovated holiday cabins.

We are at Cunjurong Point on the South Coast of NSW, about three quarters of the way between Nowra and Ulladulla, on the northern side of Lake Conjola.

At first glance, the holiday cabins here appear as a weathered remnant of days long gone - a rustic outpost that has somehow escaped the gentrification of much of the South Coast.

But Don Hearn's Cabins are more than that. They are the story of how a tiny South Coast village and a party-loving peace activist from Sydney's suburbs came together in the 1960s to createa hippy hideaway from the world.

Don Hearn, who enlisted the help of mates to build the cabins, as its website states; "between beers, bongs and good waves", was a veteran of WWII and staunchly opposed to the Vietnam war.

A haven for generations of surfers, the rustic Don Hearn's Cabins at Cunjarong Point on the NSW South Coast are the subject of the latest Voice or Real Australia podcast. Photo by Kathy Sharpe

A haven for generations of surfers, the rustic Don Hearn's Cabins at Cunjarong Point on the NSW South Coast are the subject of the latest Voice or Real Australia podcast. Photo by Kathy Sharpe

Rumours abound that he hid draft dodgers at the cabins in the 60s and 70s.

His hatred for the American government was such that he once mailed, by varying accounts, a funnel web spider or a blue ringed octopus to the president.

Surfer Mick Purdy describes the break at Green Island as "everyone's wave".

"It's basically a big, long left hand wall of a wave," he says.

"It's the kind of wave that makes your average surfer feel good about their surfing, it's a very easy wave to surf."

Lexie Meyer has managed Don Hearn's Cabins for 30 years and believes people need a place to let their hair down. Photo by Kathy Sharpe

Lexie Meyer has managed Don Hearn's Cabins for 30 years and believes people need a place to let their hair down. Photo by Kathy Sharpe

The place today still has the feel of a hide-out to it, a place where time seems to have somehow stalled.

Phil Rowse first came to the cabins more than 40 years ago as a young grommet, and was welcomed by Don Hearn.

Phil remembers Don's passionate opposition to Australia's involvement in Vietnam.

Most people who came to Cunjurong Point were there for the famous surf break at Green Island, but many stayed because of friendships made around the fires at Don Hearn's camp.

Though Cunjarong Point feels like it's in the far corner of nowhere, most people connected with surfing have heard of it.

"He just constantly preached peace and he had a big peace sign at the front of the cabins," Phil says.

"He just didn't have time for anything that was violent or anything like that. He was quite an amazing man.

"He used to say, 'wars will cease when men refuse to fight'. And he always preached it."

Shoalhaven artist and surfer Mick Purdy says surfers from all over the country gravitate to the break at Green Island, Cunjarong Point.

Shoalhaven artist and surfer Mick Purdy says surfers from all over the country gravitate to the break at Green Island, Cunjarong Point.

Lexie Meyer has managed the cabins for the past 30 years, since not long after Don's death.

She hasn't seen the need to pretty the place up, describing it as "camping with a hard roof".

For Lexie, the basic nature of the cabins forces people outside, to slow down and simply enjoy their surroundings.

"My mission in life is to get people to just stop, you know, so there never will be flat screen TVs. The whole point is not to have you sit inside, it's all about getting outside, communing with nature, to have real conversations around the fire."

Amid the nostalgia, the colourful stories and the friendships made here, the natural environment is the real magic of Don Hearns.

Wallabies, kangaroos and possums are as at home here as any of the human visitors. The resident red belly black snake heads back to his warm home in a pile of mulch. A goanna stalks the fenceline, and overhead, black cockatoos and sea eagles patrol the skies.

Lexie says she thinks Don Hearn would be proud to know the place has retained both its original style and spirit.

"This place is just a bit iconic. It's just a bit peculiar. You have to be a particular sort of person to enjoy it."

Listen to the full story on the podcast search Voice of Real Australia, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred platform. You can also listen on the webplayer above.

This story Waves of nostalgia wash over legendary surf spot first appeared on The Canberra Times.