Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Evans, Harold Cecil (1902–1954)

by Douglas Booth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Harold Cecil Evans (1902-1954), surfboat sweep and furrier, was born on 3 October 1902 at Enfield, Sydney, fourth child of Sydney Ernest Evans, commercial traveller, and his wife Alice Emily, née Tant, both native-born. Schoolkids gave Harold the nickname 'Rastus' (at that time a popular appellation for Black people) as a jocular play on his blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes. Although under age, he joined North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club at 15, avoiding suspicion because of his large frame. He was a member of the team that won the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia's rescue and resuscitation title in 1921.

In 1920 Dick Matheson had been persuaded to coach North Steyne's surfboat crews. He taught Evans, his star pupil, to control a boat by using the heavy 'sweep' oar in the stern. Appointed boat captain when Matheson returned to Freshwater, Evans won seven S.L.S.A.A. senior boat titles between 1921 and 1930 which remains a club record. His sea skills and uncompromising training regimes made him 'king of sweeps'; his crews were known as 'Rastus's Slaves'. With master boatbuilder W. M. Ford, in 1927 Evans designed a carvel surfboat, made from cedar, which cost £130 to build. He cajoled club members to contribute sixpence a week to pay for the boat; thinking that they were being 'stung', the secretary suggested christening her Bluebottle. Next year Evans took a crew to the Queenscliff bombora and manoeuvred Bluebottle onto a twenty-four-foot wave that drove her under water. Club members eventually hauled the partly submerged boat ashore.

The Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales presented Evans with a certificate of merit for rescuing a drowning man at North Steyne in 1928. At the carnival at Bronte in February 1931 the surf seethed like a cauldron. 'Escalators' (strong currents) swept out the thirty-six competitors in the first event—the junior surf race. Senior swimmers and boat crews rushed to the rescue, but only Bluebottle breached the thunderous breakers at first try. Evans and his crew made three trips to gather the scattered swimmers. The Evening News reported that 'Rastus Evans upheld the prestige of the champion sweepman when he came in on a wave with his overloaded boat and landed high and dry'. The S.L.S.A.A. sent him a letter of commendation for heroism. Evans and Bluebottle were subsequently filmed by Fox Movietone News.

In the 1920s Evans worked as a commercial traveller. On 16 November 1929 he married Isabel Iris Wilson at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney; they were to remain childless. A 'good-humoured fellow with his soft speech (so unmistakably borrowed from Welsh forbears)', he went to New Zealand on business in 1933 and joined the surf lifesaving club at Lyall Bay, Wellington. Back in Sydney in 1938, he set up as a manufacturing furrier in George Street. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 March 1942 and served as a gunner in Western Australia until 10 February 1944 when he was discharged medically unfit (peptic ulcer). In 1948 he agreed 'to desert for a time his beloved garden' to stand in as captain of North Steyne and appear for the last time at an Australian championship. Survived by his wife, he died of coronary thrombosis on 6 July 1954 at his Seaforth home and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. B. Maxwell, Surf (Syd, 1949)
  • North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club, North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club (Syd, 1957), and Annual Report, 1920-39
  • B. Galton, Gladiators of the Surf (Syd, 1984)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28, 29 Jan 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Jan, 4 Feb 1929, 9 Feb 1931, 10, 20 Mar 1948, 8 July 1954
  • Sun (Sydney), 7, 8 Feb 1931, 9 July 1974
  • Sunday Pictorial (Sydney), 8 Feb 1931
  • Daily Telegraph Pictorial (Sydney), 9 Feb 1931
  • Sydney Mail, 11 Feb 1931
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 7 June 1982
  • private information.

Citation details

Douglas Booth, 'Evans, Harold Cecil (1902–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/evans-harold-cecil-10129/text17881, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014