NEWLYWEDS: Beverly and John at their wedding reception in 1967 in the Brisbane Tower Mill restaurant.
NEWLYWEDS: Beverly and John at their wedding reception in 1967 in the Brisbane Tower Mill restaurant.

Touching tribute to Ipswich Boys Grammar swimming star

FORMER Ipswich Boys Grammar swimming champion John Curtis may have been “a bit of a lad” as a boarder at the elite college in the 1960s, but he turned out to be one of the finest athletes and gentlemen the school has ever produced.

Every Friday without fail for 52 years of his marriage, the Tweed Heads South newsagent bought beautiful oriental lilies after work, took them home and gave them to his darling wife Beverly with a loving kiss.

But John didn’t buy his favourite flowers for Beverly on Friday, December 20, 2019, because the former champion water skier and schoolboy swimmer died unexpectedly two days earlier from a suspected heart attack. He was 72.

It was, without a doubt, the saddest day of Beverly’s life, as it was for her three children: Christopher, Katrina and Rebecca; and four grandchildren: Jasmine and Tiah (Bec’s daughters); Oliver and Flynn (Katrina’s sons).

Their heartbreak, their grief and their many tears were clearly evident at John’s funeral service the following Monday at his “second home”, the Coolangatta & Tweed Heads Golf Club.

Such was the admiration and love for this devoted family man and maker of many friends that the club auditorium was packed with what somebody said was “half of the town”.

They came from near and far to say their final goodbyes to a man of substance who was known for his kind heart, friendly demeanor and dedication to his work.

He never took a day off sick and on his early morning newspaper runs not even floods nor cyclones could halt his progress. He even delivered papers by boat and once swam a creek to make “a very personal drop-off”.

He was a rock as a decades-long active community service member and businessman and long-time executive committeeman of his golf club, as indeed he was a rock to his family. He was the glue that held them together, which was so obvious by the outpouring of love his children and granddaughters voiced in their tributes to their beloved “Poppy”.

Funeral celebrant Liz Jesse more than once spoke that one word which aptly described the feelings the family had for John Curtis: “beloved”.

Among the attendees too there was a great deal of love for this wonderful man who touched so many hearts. Such was the case that grown men were openly shedding tears.

So, who was John Michael Curtis, known to his golfing mates as “Curly”?

His name never appeared in media headlines for any heroics; he never received any Australia Day awards; he was never on the Queen’s honours’ list.

No, that isn’t what he was about. He just went about doing what any caring and kind human being would do and what a patriarch should epitomize. He was, in essence, a good man, a good provider, a good deed-doer who always seemed to have time for everyone.

Curly Curtis never boasted about his sporting achievements in the 1960s as an Ipswich Boys Grammar record-breaking swimming champion, nor his talent as a professional barefoot water skier and one of the stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s ski troupes at the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens and Chinderah Ski Lodge on the Tweed River.

One of his stunts involved jumping through a “ring of fire” that always thrilled spectators, which numbered in their thousands.

One of the Gold Coast’s and Australia’s major tourist attractions, the internationally-famous Surfers Paradise water ski shows featured 24 different acts including men’s jumps, slaloms, pyramids, girls ballet, clowns and daredevil fire tricks. Apart from the ballet, John was in the thick of it, even as a clown.

Starring the best skiers in the country, there were high-risk boat sequences culminating in boats launching through flaming barricades at the top of jump ramps.

John was there also when the Ski Gardens hosted the world water ski championships in 1965 which attracted 80 of the best, representing 20 countries. It was the first and only time Australia was the host country of world ski titles.

John also demonstrated his “have a go” attitude when he raced dragsters at the Surfers Paradise International Raceway, owned and operated by the Ski Gardens’ proprietor and property developer Keith Williams.

JUMPIN' JOHNNY: Curtis performing one of his wake jumps at the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens in the 1960s.
JUMPIN' JOHNNY: Curtis performing one of his wake jumps at the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens in the 1960s.

In fact, many of his old mates only found out about these feats when it was eulogised at his funeral by good friend Ken Bennett.

Ken also told of Curly’s ardent support for “his footy team”, rugby league’s St George Illawarra Dragons.

An email to Beverly from the Dragons Team read: “Our sincere condolences to you, Christopher, Katrina and Rebecca and your extended family over the loss of a beautiful man and a passionate St George supporter. We will do our best to bring home a premiership in 2020.”

John had a personal association with St George, a fishing buddy by the name of Harry Bath, one of Australia’s rugby league legends and the 1977 premiership winning coach for the Dragons.

Bath, who died in Sydney in 2008 aged 83, owned a 35ft flybridge cruiser and on his fishing trips to Queensland he had as crew John and good mate Arthur Sears.

As Bath supplied the boat, “Captain Curly” insisted that he and Arthur supplied the “beer, prawns and oysters”.

Considerable imbibing meant skipper Bath’s boat encountered “rough going” as the team headed north to Tippler’s Passage fishing grounds.

When Cessnock-born John Curtis finished high school he started a job as an apprentice butcher in Kingscliff and it wasn’t long before he met the girl of his dreams in 1965 at Coolangatta’s famous “The Patch” beer garden.

Using his country charm, he wooed Bev with flowers to begin a romance that many people can only dream of. The flowers kept coming every Friday.

The teenage sweethearts were married on July 29, 1967, in Brisbane at the Mt Gravatt Presbyterian Church, and in 1975 John took over the running of his father Cleve’s Tweed South news agency and worked as a team with Beverly for 20 years before selling and later retiring to live in Terranora.

The Minjungbal Drive news agency was a later inclusion to the Curtis smallgoods “corner store” built in the early 50s by Cleve and his father Walter. The original building was extended to also include the Tweed South Post Office which was managed by John’s mother Enid.

BUCK'S NIGHT: John shares a drink with his mates on the eve of his wedding at the famous
BUCK'S NIGHT: John shares a drink with his mates on the eve of his wedding at the famous "The Patch" beer garden in Coolangatta.

John Michael Curtis was cremated at the Tweed Heads Gardens and Crematorium where his ashes were laid to rest beside his father and mother Clarence and Enid Curtis, his grandparents Walter and Grace Curtis and his uncle Keith Curtis.

Peter Murphy is a journalist, author and former golfing mate of John Curtis