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Puberty Blues

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

At the cherry ripe age of 17, I inadvertently gave Australia an enduring vision of itself in the cult film Puberty Blues. The empowering moving image of my character ‘Debbie’ surfing slo-mo in a ridiculously tiny bikini was not described in the original book but it changed our beach culture forever. Women are now out in the line-up in numbers like never before and I take a little bit of credit for the seismic shift that created that tsunami.

In 2004 I was commissioned to write a book about the making of ‘My Albatross’, as I call it, because it’s still the thing most people always associate me with, even now, over 40 years on. The full story is in my contribution to The Australian Screen Classics Series which you can grab a copy of here. I’ll even sign it for you if you want!

Tragically, the curse of the Albatross, as described in Colridge’s 1798 poem, claimed a victim in my co-star Jad. The Australian Story episode ‘Life After Puberty’ is dedicated to her.

For me, the curse has been lifted through my renewed life aquatic around Australia’s Easternmost point. Every time I go for a surf I feel stoked. That feeling of being rinsed by a wave and even better, gliding across its glistening face is thrilling.

I surfed Seagull’s the other day and beheld a vision splendid; Pacific waves glowed chartreuse sencha against a bruised and blackened backdrop of storm clouds. Sea eagles, Brahmany kites, gannets, dolphins and, yes, whales. It was magic. The gratitude I felt was immense.

Surfing started as an escape for me from a difficult domestic situation. My teenage self was immortalised on celluloid and a generation of young women have been empowered by Debbie’s journey to emancipation.

I thought it was behind me but I recently received a box of black and white still photographs from the film. I’d already given all of mine to the National Film and Sound Archive so it was great to see them. But I didn’t want to keep them so I organised an exhibition called Black and White Blues to raise funds for a local group called the Women’s Village Collective which was helping house the many homeless women in the Byron Shire.

I still have a few of these photographs left so drop me a line if you’d like to purchase one.

Cast from Puberty Blues
Danny (Tony Hughes), Sue (Jad Capelja), Gary (Geoff Rhoe) and Debbie (Nell Schofield) on location for Puberty Blues


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