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Dozen Day: Setting the record straight on a local icon

The following is written with a direct insight into the legendary event known as Dozen Day.

The word ‘legendary’ is synonymous with the word ‘myth, but Dozen Day was no myth – it was an event created more than fifty years ago and the following contains a recollection of facts to the best of known knowledge.

But, some points of correction need to be applied after a press release recently surfaced promoting a photographic exhibition in Lake Macquarie and painted Dozen Day in a negative light by presenting misleading information about the long-running event.

This, naturally upset the originators of Dozen Day so I’m here to set the record straight with the complete story, to the best of my recollection, of Dozen Day.

Setting the story straight

Dozen Day began more than fifty years ago in 1969 when 12 people were enjoying a counter lunch at the Mawson Hotel in Caves Beach.

One of the group noticed it was midday on 12th day of the 12th month. So, it was decided that the assembled would meet again the same day, the same time next year.

Thus began the legend now known as Dozen Day.

Each was given a number from one to 12 which was decided by hair length! It was also believed to have come off the back of the 1967 war film The Dirty Dozen.

So on the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month in 1970, The Mawson Hotel hosted the first Dozen Day.

It started as a small affair but over the years word spread like wildfire across the bush telegraph. and more and. more people started pouring into the hotel to celebrate the event.

Ken Hick who held the number one spot in the Dozen was the first to supply music with his stereo but, in later years, the tunes came courtesy of John Hill also known as the Master Blaster and one of Newcastle’s first mobile DJs.

The sound system was loud and proud, belting out vinyl (well, it was the ’70s), and it wasn’t long before the dozen were tagged as The Magnificent Dozen, gaining a reputation for their ability to host a great party.

The seventies would have to be one of the most influential decades of our times. The surf culture of the sixties was now truly entrenched into the decade, the music was exciting and rebellious, the fashion and culture were rapidly changing all laid in wait for the youth of the times to reach out and grab.

And Dozen Day too was becoming entrenched in local culture and crowd numbers grew rapidly – so rapidly in fact that by 1976 it was too big for the hotel to handle.

The hotel was very receptive to the local youth, giving much support with regular events such as Monday Night Madness or Mad Monday’s. This also became one of the most popular nights of the week, even outdoing the appearance of many of the great local, national and international bands that graced the venue.

But by 1976, the Dozen needed to find another venue to continue the tradition of Dozen Day, thus the area just north of the hotel, known as Crabbs Creek situated below the escarpment of Swansea Heads, was selected to be the ideal place.

It was tucked away from the view of the street above and a place where surf could turn it on at any time.

The first year at this location was a medium affair with maybe a few hundred locals attending. Organisers ventured to the site the day before to mow and clean up the area, for the following day. Pits were dug and lined with canvas to keep the kegs cool and in a safe location, scaffolding was erected and covered with canvas tarps to shelter the sound system from the elements.

But, we were lucky. December 12, 1976, graced us with glorious summer weather and it’s believed eight kegs, transported via an old walking track lined with painted yellow rocks (follow the yellow brick road!) were mustered up and a small entry fee or donations was applied.

You have to congratulate the Dozen for their foresight in keeping the event safe and controlled for all that attended despite being in their ‘rebellious’ early 20s.

The event employed what would be called an event marshall today, keeping an eye on the proceedings, taking care of all.  A first aid station and surf rescue reel, acquired from Caves Beach Surf Club and manned by experienced lifesavers, were also available because, as mentioned, the surf could really turn it on and only the brave or experienced surfer would venture out.

To power the event, a lengthy connection of multiple 240 power cables was run from Brian Swain’s premises situated high above the area and how it actually worked, given the length of the run (well over 300 meters), was astonishing!

Actually a few power amplifies did take a dead dive. Oh, the things we did to make the event a happy success.

More and more people began to hear about Dozen Day and crowd attendances soared in the years to follow, with revellers venturing from all areas of Newcastle and beyond – many having no comprehension of what Dozen Day was all about.

All they knew was it was one of the biggest regular open beach parties in the area in those times.

Of course, there was the consumption of alcohol, and probably some of mother natures “givings” as loud music soared outwards across the ocean.

As Peter Dunnage was quoted as saying: “There was nothing like surfing pristine conditions listening to Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower reverberating across the waves!”  

Lets still keep in mind it’s the seventies and it wasn’t unusual to see topless women on the beach area, but in many cases was just taken for granted for it wasn’t an uncommon affair, practically in the seventies. But when the ladies ventured into, let’s call the entertainment area, they’d re-don the bikini tops and cover up appropriately, as sensibility required.

Again no trouble! Oh, except for the dog fight, but we never harmed anything or anyone. Just a good group of people having fun!

By 1978/79, the crowds had grown to an overwhelming amount of people, the keg count varies but some say 15 to 20 kegs while others state 32, 18-gallon kegs.

There was nothing like surfing pristine conditions listening to Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower reverberating across the waves!  

Peter Dunnage

But let’s remember the event was now catering for an estimated 1500 people. Just a large group of friendly and mostly sensible humans having a wonderful time that remains strong in many of their memories.

Also over the years, a core group would stay overnight to keep the site safe as equipment and structures were still in place. By early morning many returned to the area to clean the event site up, dismantling structures, gathering broken glass and rubbish, and the beer pits and fire pits filled in.

This was done every year of the existence of the event at Crabbs Creek. We cared about our environment and this gesture was conducted without protest.

I would like to also add that the constabulary never or rarely visited the event from 1975 through 1980 but they were aware of the event all the same as in the earlier days, again no trouble but I think nobody can say for what people did or how they conducted themselves after the event?

It’s now 1980 – another pristine summer’s day and Dozen Day continues with this year becoming the biggest of them all. Not having the exact time frame of the day, but there in the sky above us appeared the old NBN TV News helicopter, at ground level journalists had appeared, to take photos and report the story.

The following day there it was on the front page of The Newcastle Herald, the event and the story. 13th December 1980. The social criticism that followed was breathtaking and taken out of context.

Yes, it became a large beach party, but again just young people having a great time without trouble. In the ensuing days, the Dozen made the decision to finally bring the event to close. It was our choice as Dozen Day had finally outgrown itself.

Does the story end here?

Well, no it didn’t! In the years following, up to about 1985 others had decided to hijack Dozen Day and try and turn it into a commercial event, all unofficial and not condoned by the Dozen themselves. (There was much anger over this!)

And there was resistance by some individuals. Our lost brother Alan McKenzie (RIP) ventured down to Crabbs Creek and overturned a table of salable paraphernalia.

He wasn’t happy, man. His quote? “This is not what Dozen Day is about.” So whatever occurred during those years was not of what Dozen Day was about!  Dozen Day had been put to sleep.  

But in 1982, we lost Alan in a mining accident so only with coincidence with the date and his passing, Dozen Day reappeared at The Mawson Hotel, conducted as a more low-key affair and fundraiser.

However, a motorbike rider in the car park slammed into someone’s car. The police and ambulance came in attendance, it was a serious issue, people arrested but those involved in the incident had no involvement or association with Dozen Day.  

Dozen Day today is still celebrated by the original Dozen and associates with an annual low-key event, thus keeping the tradition of youth alive and well.

Note most of us are now retired or close to the fact. You can never take the true essence of tradition away from Dozen Day and its community, as we know who we are and what we have achieved throughout our lives.

This community of people have shared one very important thing that needs specific mention, friendships formed back in the early sixties and seventies still remain strong and true to this very day.

The memories will remain vivid for each person, for one reason or another. Maybe the shenanigans, the music, the girls, the surf, the beer or mostly the good times of youth in the ’70s.

As is sometimes mentioned, truth is sometimes more compelling than fiction. Still, these were some of the best times of our lives.

Written by Gregory Lunn