Meet The Locals: A Little History Of Avalon Beach With Geoff Searl

By Jonathan Fletcher

It would be hard to find anyone more knowledgeable, committed and passionate about Avalon Beach than veteran local Geoff Searl. The significance of his contribution was recognised in 2019 in The Australia Day Award List when he became the recipient of an OAM (Medal of The Order of Australia) for ‘Service to the community of Avalon Beach’.

The list of Geoff’s local contributions are extensive; 26-year local business owner of ‘Searl’s Health Foods’, service as a JP, the formation of Avalon Beach Historical Society and a member of the Avalon Preservation Trust, Avalon Beach Surf Club patrols and writing the 75-year history of the Surf Club.

I caught up with Geoff to hear more about the history of Avalon Beach and his 74 years living here.

All historic photos below are courtesy of Avalon Beach Historical Society. Photos of Geoff Searl courtesy of Alison Guesdon of Pittwater Online News

Tell me about the origins of Avalon Beach…

Well, it all started around 1920 with Mr A.J.Small, a property developer, town planner and real estate agent, who had bought up all the land in Avalon Beach! He saw the area, which was so far out of the city at the time, as a great opportunity to create a seaside village. He bought it with the intention of subdividing, selling and investing in recreational facilities such as a golf course.This slogan was used by A.J.Small to attract potential land purchasers to his ‘new seaside village of Avalon Beach’ in the 1920s.

By 1921 he had built his house (40 Bellevue Avenue) which was called “Avalon”, and the suburb he called “Avalon Beach”. This view along Avalon Parade was taken from South Avalon headland in the early 1920s. (Old) Barrenjoey Road is clearly visible as the horizontal line running from left to right. As yet there is no (New) Barrenjoey Road. The indistinct house on the left is “Avalon” at 40 Bellevue Avenue, built by A.J.Small

So 1921 it formally becomes “Avalon Beach”, and that means next year we are celebrating 100 years as Avalon Beach.

So when did you move here?

Well, mum and dad bought a block of land off Mr Small in 1944 on Avalon Parade, it cost them £110. They cleared the land and approached the bank to borrow money to build a house, but when the bank saw it was in Avalon Beach they said ‘no’ as they thought it was too much of a risk being that it was too far away from the city and the land would never go up in value. So my mum’s mum and dad lent them money to build the house.

1946 we moved in as a family, I was a baby, I have lived in Avalon Beach ever since. After we were married in 1971, Collette and I rented in the area for several years before buying in Albert Road in 1978.

How did a family home in 1940’s Avalon Beach compare to now?

They were much more modest, for example, the home mum and dad built was only two bedrooms. Because all the construction materials were being used to build defence forces in Ruskin Rowe and on Barrenjoey headland they had to wait until after the war to build a third bedroom for me.The home was fibro and timber on a brick foundation, nothing glamorous, but, Mr Small did provide big blocks – mum and dad’s block was 1300 sq.m., so comparatively blocks of land were bigger then.

What was it like growing up in Avalon Beach in the 1950s and 1960s?

We used to have a lot of bush to play in – the whole area to ourselves! We had a lot of recreational variety in those days, sports, artists, surf club etc. There was also a population of koala’s!

I went to Avalon Public School as a kid in the 80’s, tell me about when the school started…

The public school was fantastic – It unofficially opened in 1950 to cater for local students who had to travel to Newport previously. In 1951 it officially opened, which is when I started kindergarten and since then there have been three generations of Searl’s attend the school. There were around 150 kids and the first school building was a demountable building.Pictured above, the first school building of Avalon Public School late in 1950 after 66 pupils from Newport Public School, became the first pupils of the new Avalon Public School.Pictured above, this photo shows pupils marching south along Old Barrenjoey Road through the shopping centre to the school on official opening day 26 May 1951.

What about the Surf Club?

In 1925 Mr Small gathered a group of locals on the steps of his ‘Avalon’ home on Bellevue Avenue and they formed a ‘surf club’ to prevent drownings and fatalities on Avalon Beach. In 1926 they started patrolling and then in 1934 the first clubhouse was built.A photo of the meeting on the verandah of A.J.Small’s house in Bellevue Avenue was reliably dated 1925.The original surf club building was designed by the architect B.W.Ford and this photo shows the official opening on 23 January 1934.

When did the golf course open?

The golf course was opened and became playable in 1927 – Mr Small had to work hard to clear the rocks, boulders and trees and create the fairways. His idea was for it to be a drawcard for people to come down and have a game of golf and then think this would be a nice place to live, and maybe buy a block of land.This photo of the golf course appears to have been taken around 1928.

When did Avalon Beach start becoming more suburban?

Probably coming into the 1960’s it really started to develop. The main road, which was the now Old Barrenjoey Road, was relocated to what is now known as Barrenjoey Road, from the Shell garage to the fire station. It created a magnificent pedestrian shopping centre and more of a village feel.These days there are probably ten times the amount of cafes and shops there were in the 1950s and 1960s.

What is so special about living here and what do you hope remains?

Climate, recreation, variety of things to do – indoors and outdoors. The environment is so congenial to healthy living. The hope is that development is kept appropriate. At the moment I can stand at the headland and turn around and look west and think there’s still a big canopy up there, isn’t it fantastic… but we’ve had to fight so hard to maintain that canopy, some people don’t realise just how precious that is.

How can we best get involved in making a difference in the local community here in Avalon Beach?

Put aside some time to help by volunteering and getting involved locally, whether it’s in the Avalon Library, The Red Cross, The Surf Life Saving Club, the sporting clubs, there are plenty of opportunities to give back to the community. You can find the Avalon Beach Historical Society at abhs.org.au and Avalon Preservation Association avalonpreservationassociation.org.au.

If you would like to better understand your real estate options and would like further advice, you can contact me on 0424 053 355 or on email.

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