New information unearthed by the Point Lonsdale Boardriders Club indicates the pair, born in the 1880’s, may lay claim to have been surfing local breaks as early as 1910 – four years before New South Wales teenager Isabel Letham, the woman credited as being Australia’s first female surfer, received a much-publicised lesson from Hawaiian legend Duke Kahanamoku, and five years before another Point Lonsdale woman, Grace Smith (nee Wooten) is thought to have been the first Victoria woman to ride the waves.
The club’s Ian Duckworth who is currently compiling the town’s surfing history, says his research, which includes photographs of the Gill girls in action, could change the entire history of surfing in the state, possibly the nation.
“The reason I went to all this trouble was not to discredit Grace Smith, but I know from talking to very old local people that at some point the Gill sisters were surfing the front beach before Smith in 1915,” Mr Duckworth says.
“It is as much a disappointment to me as I’m sure other people. It was a great story but history is history and if two local Lonsdale girls were s urfing the front beach before 1915 I think that should be recognised,”
Australian surfing history credits Wooton with riding a board brought to Australia by “a Mr Jackson and a Mr Goldie from Hawaii."
After some basic instruction she became proficient and a local carpenter was commissioned to make her a board for the following season.
Mr Duckworth’s research indicates surfing was becoming so popular the time that wooden ironing boards were being taken from local guesthouses and used as surfboards.
“Most times these boards were screwed back onto the frames but in some cases they went missing, so the proprietors of the guesthouses got [them] printed with their name printed on them and a number.”
Photos of Grace Gill clearly show her riding a six foot wooden surfboard, he says.
“From 1910 when their father opened the first Post Office in Point Lonsdale, the girls would have been over the beach every time the surf was breaking. [A] picture of them standing out the point together waiting for the surf to come up with the tide is nothing different to what the kids do today. ”