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VALE - Graeme 'THE ZOM' Knox


(Wording provided by Elton McKay)

With greatest of sadness we wish to inform you all of the passing of Graeme James Knox, AKA The Zom peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday 27th May after a tragically Short battle with Cancer.

Zom was a Giant in the Sport of Surfboat Rowing both here and abroad, leaving a legacy of positive change to Racing we as Rowers enjoy to this day.

Zom Loved his family and his extended family of Boaties all over the World. In recent times Zom had made the microphone “his Own” as one of our Sport’s Premier Boat Race Commentators’ across all levels of Competition.

Receiving a diagnosis just a few days prior to Collaroy Young Guns in February, Zom came to realise the Tumor was aggressive and inoperable. Instead of Commentating his beloved Ocean Thunder and Young Guns events that weekend, Zom was in Hospital. Via Facetime, Zom was able to watch his beloved Grandson Julian, win the U23 Male final at Young Guns that Day!

At the Mollymook 2020 ASRL Open Officials welcome, Zom was able to let his “extended family” know the personal Health challenges he was facing. At this time he was presented with a Beautiful Half Model Surfboat award hand made by Mike Tamblyn as a “Thank you” for a Lifetime of Commitment, from the Australian Surfboat Fraternity.

Zom’s final appearance in commentary was at the NSW State Titles at Blacksmith’s Beach.
Zom was that hellbent on getting to this Carnival, he was discharged from Nthn Beaches Hospital on the Saturday morning and his daughter Simone (a founding Female Surfboat rower) drove him straight up to Newcastle! That weekend after each day’s racing, Zom shared as many “Schooners of Black” he was able to put down, with as many of his “extended family”.   Memories of these final events he cherished attending, despite his ailing health.

Covid-19 became a reality and the Rowing Season was sadly cut short.

Zom is survived by his Wife Jennifer, Brother David, Sister in Law Wanda, Stela, Brian and the O’Donnell clan, children Vanessa, Nathan, Simone and her partner Jarna, Son in Law Elton, Daughter in Law Vashti, grand children Julian, Callum, Chelsey, Paige, Courtney, Emelia and Xavier.

We wish to thank those who managed to capture Zom’s life in some way as his journey’s end drew closer. These memoirs and his colourful life story will be released through other channels.

A celebration of Zom’s Extraordinary life will be held after current Social gathering restrictions are lifted later in the Year. His passing leaves a huge hole in the Sport. We will miss his dulcet tones on the Airwaves.

We will then give Zom the Send off this “Larger than Life” contributor to our Sport deserves!

For now, am sure Zom will be sinking icy cold Schooners of Black with his mates Woofa and Sparrow who have been patiently waiting for his arrival.

“ZOM FM, Signing Off!”


(This summary was written by Zombie 12th May 2020)

EDUCATION:              Harbord  Public School
                                    Manly  Boys High  (Intermediate Certificate)
                                    Technician PMG (1962-1967 5yr apprenticeship)
                                    Certificate of Culinary Excellence  (East Sydney)
                                    Hotel Management Certificate  (East Sydney)
LIFE SAVING:             1960 Qualifying Certificate  (Freshwater)
                                    1962 Bronze Medallion  (Freshwater)
1963 SNB Jr Branch Champs,
1963 DQ Aussies (leading final, turned red and Yellow ski can, limped home, could have got a medal, Callo (sweep) just had the shits and drove home.(from Warrnambool)
1963 November, Freshwater; Mountainous surf 30’ plus (yes30’, surfboats were 26’ long) Convinced Callo to take a crew out in a boat with a broken back, crew of Callo, Don Graham, 1St year Jr Bill Lucas, me, and Bill Clymer. Crowd of 5,000 on the cliffs witnessed us catch a mountain, which caught up with the wave in front and turned into a killer wave, we swung left into the green room (20’at least) boat smashed to bits. We caught it all on Super 8mm film, Callo borrowed an 8mm projector with intention of fund raising, wrecked the film which he just shot in the bin…….History lost.
1964 Collaroy, Every one was training in flat seas (Collaroy always flat) When we get there for Aussies…..15’ shorey, bigger out on the bank. We won the Interstate on the Saturday, and made the final on the Sunday. Copped water on shore, but got out, with Bronte, and as far as we could see…no one else
1965  NSW State Team  (Scarboro  WA)
1973-1988 Sth Curly, Went from Outhose to Penthouse in a very short time, with Roger Ninham as coach
1974  Freshwater Tour Manager.  England/Wales
1980  Tour Liasion Officer.  SLSA  Wales tour of Australia
1984  2nd Tour by the Welsh  (Liasion Officer)
1984   Letter from Prince Charles – Patron of Welsh Surf Life Saving
1988  Organiser (coastal)  Inaugural Bre to Bourke outback Classic
1988-90  Bre to Bourke  (91-93 Event transferred to Forster due to lack of water and blue green algae
1993  Present.  Secretary  NSW Surfboat rowers Association
1994  Present:  Organiser Surfboats in Uncle Tobys Super Series
1994   Introduced Surfboat premiership to NSW
1994   Convinced Officials on Merits of Two sets of cans in Major Surfboat events.  Now in place
1996    Inaugral NSW SLS Award of Excellence    Media
1987-2003  Wrote a column for the Manly Daily   Between the Flags with the Zom
1998  Outstanding  Community Service Award for Media Service
2007 ASRL Life Member
2007   NSW  Rowers League  Hall of Fame Award               
2009 – 2020 Ocean Thunder Surfboat Series announcer     
2019  SLSA 50 Years Service Award
2019 SLSA 20 Years  Officiating Certificate
2019 SLSA 20 Years Officiating at Aussies certificate
2020 SLSA Sydney Northern Beaches Life Membership
CLUBS:                       Member of:  Freshwater, South Curl Curl, Manly, North Narrabeen


(Wording by Mike Tamblyn after interviewing 'Zombie' in May 2020)

This is a little insight into the man we all knew as Zombie Knox. It is not intended as a chronological history of his life but moreover some of his memories.
Zom was kind enough to generously give me some time while he was unwell to impart many facets about his life. We seemed to spend more time reminiscing and laughing than getting down to the nitty gritty of the story, as there were dozens of chapters from his colourful life. Some of the anecdotes were just as Zom described them to me in his own words.  
Further above is a historical list which was written and sent to me by Zom himself. There may by some repetition in his story but so be it.   Mike Tamblyn
In February 2020, Zom was informed he had developed a serious cancer in the oesophagus and liver, and possibly only had a limited time to live. This was obviously a devastating blow to Graeme, his wife Jennifer and their family and his many friends.

He underwent a round of treatment at Northern Beaches Hospital in the hope that help may be possible. However, despite the best efforts of all the cancer specialists, they came to the conclusion that this was not to be and Zom and his family should prepare for the worst.

In typical Zom fashion, he faced his inevitable death with strength and courage and amazing humour, supported by his wife Jennifer and all the family.

He was determined to keep his surf boat commentating going for as long as possible this 2020 season, including Ocean Thunder, Sydney Northern Beaches events, travelling to Swansea for NSW state championships and Mollymook for the ASRL Open.

A moving presentation was made to Zom by Griffo at the 2020 ASRL Open in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the sport and his distinctive, humorous announcing style.
Zom was presented with an award for recognition of his lifelong contribution to our great sport at 2020 ASRL Open, infront of his peers
So, let me tell you a bit about Graeme “Zombie”  Knox. (or “Zom” or “Zombo”)

He was born at the Mater Hospital in Crows Nest, Sydney, 5th August 1946 and lived with his parents Harry and Joyce and brother David at Harbord in Sydney’s northern suburbs
Little Graeme commenced school at Harbord Primary and went on to gain his Intermediate Certificate at Manly Boys High. All through school he enjoyed his sport, but more on that later.
In 1963 he commenced a five-year apprenticeship with the then PMG as a Telephone Technician and continued on in that career, eventually working for the PMG/Telstra for 32 years.

He worked at the huge nine storey PMG Daly Street telephone exchange which employed over 1800 female operators in, (Zom words), all shapes, sizes and colours. Many of them dressed in tiny miniskirts which were, as he commented ‘’no bigger than a wide belt’’! A great place for a strapping young boat rower to work. In fact, he wore his rowing speedos under his workplace dust coat ready for a quick exit to training.

Keeping pace with the constant changes in communication technology was challenging and one day the bosses informed everyone they were introducing some ‘new stuff’…  STD digital phone systems, which meant 1300 female telephonists were quickly redundant. Not a happy time.
Graeme completed a Certificate of Culinary Excellence plus a Hotel Management Certificate which he put to good use later in his career

In 1968 Graeme Knox married his lovely wife Jennifer and they produced three children, Vanessa, Simone and Nathan (Simone subsequently rowed in Manly’s first female crew)
While chatting about his career, Zom reminded me that at one point he and his mate Zacca Watts bought a hotel in Wagga Wagga, which they took turns in managing three months each at a time. Eventually the travelling became too much for them both so they sold it.

After he retired from Telstra, Zom and his wife Jennifer ran the Kiosk at South Curl Curl, selling ice cream and drinks and “the best hamburgers in Australia mate” People came from miles around just to get them.

A very successful phase in his working life, however very hard and constant work.
Zombie was a gifted and tough Rugby League front rower. He played for Nth Curl Curl E grade then Harbord United. Progressing to Manly Jersey Flegg where he captained the side for two years then followed two years playing Manly Presidents Cup also as team captain.

In 1965 his brother David (who incidentally won the Aussie junior boat with Freshy in 1961 and again in 1962), suggested he should try out with Manly Blues Rugby club in a trials game against Northern Suburbs Rugby Club for selection in an upcoming a touring team to New Zealand.

An all expenses trip to New Zealand sounded pretty good to Zom so he signed up. However, his touring ambitions came to a quick halt in the trial match when he stiff armed the opposing full back and broke his jaw. That was not really a good tactical move to get selected as it turned out the full back was the trial selector’s son! Good bye Zom.

Zombie played two seasons for Valley United Rugby League Club then was poached to play for Erina Eagles Rugby League Club on the Central Coast. However, the long drive home from Gosford “post training” after copious schooners eventually became a bit too much for him and his young pregnant wife
Zombie, a very strong and tough athlete
Harry Knox, as mentioned earlier, was Zom’s father. A prominent member of Freshwater Surf Club and club captain, Harry was a champion March Past coach with five Aussie Championships to his credit and coach to many clubs. From Corrimal in the south to Newcastle in the north, with many in between. Harry was the driving force behind the resurgence of the March Past event, an achievement of which Zom was justifiably very proud of his Dad. He reminded me that at the Australian Titles at Coolangatta in 1966 there were 126 teams marching. A far cry from today!  

When young Graeme was fifteen, there was no question what surf club he would join - Freshwater. He gained his Qualifying Certificate in 1960 and his Bronze in 1962 and quickly found himself in the 2nd bow seat of the Junior boat crew under sweep Brian (Callo) O’Callaghan.
The crew was Peter Tillerson, (Tillo), Graham Akenhead (Ako), Graeme Knox (Zombie)   and Alan Graham (Peg) {please forgive my spelling here}
One day Alan (who was tall and skinny) and Graeme (built like a brick dunny) were on an errand (as juniors generally were), bringing back some ice blocks from the shop when someone quipped, “they look like a clothes peg and a zombie”.

And that my friends, is where the Zombie name came from!
In 1963 that fledgling young Freshwater crew won the Manly Warringah branch junior boat title. Luck was not on their side at the Port Kembla State Championships so they headed off to Victoria for the Australian Championships at Warrnambool. They comfortably made the junior boat final and were leading the field when they mistakenly turned a ski can the same colour as their boat buoy. Realising their error, they dejectedly limped home.  They were of course DQ’d and Ken Murray’s Swansea Caves crew were awarded the gold.

In November that same year, a huge 30’ swell had built up at Freshwater, so Callo, with a crew of Don Graham, Bill Lucas, Zombie and Bill Clymer decided to have a go at these massive waves in an old timber damaged boat. Over 5000 people lined the cliffs to watch the action as they rowed onto a mountainous 30’ wave which doubled up with the wave in front and sent the boat barrelling into a 20’ green wall which demolished the old timber boat into match wood.

The following season ,1964, the junior crew from the previous season were still together and eventually lined up in the Aussie Championships in mountainous seas at Collaroy. They won the open interstate race on the Saturday then eventually found themselves in junior boat final next day. Zom recalled using the “head of the South Maroubra bowman” as leverage on his oar at one point getting out through the break.

Coming home, they pulled onto a huge wave as did Bronte, swept by Alex Menzies. Both boats nosed dived and, full of water, (no pumps in those days) and they were both struggling to drag their heavy timber boats towards the finish line one wave surge at a time. Then from behind, Bundaberg had picked up a small wave and breezed past them both to take out the title. Aussie bronze medal for Zom.
Perth was the venue for the 1965 Aussies. Zom was now rowing 2nd bow in Freshwater Open Men’s crew. Their goal was to win the NSW State Championships, (and they did), automatically selecting them to represent NSW in the NSW State team which gave them a free trip to the West.
At that time, Western Australia crews used to perform a left-hand buoy turn to counteract the Freemantle Doctor wind which prevailed. Most eastern crews practiced these turns before we arrived. However, there was confusion just prior to the Interstate race, as officials quietly announced it would be a right-hand turn. This instruction was not heard by the Freshy sweep, Brian Callaghan.

Gun goes and only three crews arrive at the cans. Point Lonsdale (Vic) Maroochydore (Qld) and Freshwater (NSW) The other states had composite rep crews and they were still trying to get off the beach.

Qld and Vic performed a perfect right hand turn and were on their way home while NSW just stopped. Confusion!! Left or right?? Callo blew up and simply rowed them home without turning any can. Result, NSW DQ. Final overall point score result, Qld won the series by 1 point from NSW! Rest of the NSW team not happy with Freshy.

In the Open Men’s racing next day, Freshy drew a red-hot 6 boat semi-final along with all the various state champion crews. The sand bank only had room for 5 boats. “So they pushed us down to ally 6 with water up to our f…..g  necks and the other crews in knee depth! Bloody officials”!  No final for Zom.

That turned out to be the end of Zom’s A grade rowing for Freshy.

South Curl Curl beckoned and from 1973 to 1988 Zom found himself rowing A’s with the Flea sweeping also being coached by Roger Ninham. They became the most successful South Curly crew at that time winning heaps of races. (see Zom’s own words in the attached addendum)
In 1974 Zom was selected to manage the Freshwater SLSC tour to England and Wales and in 1980 was selected as the SLSA Official Liaison officer to the Welsh Team touring Australia. This was followed by a second Welsh tour in 1980 and again in 1884 accompanied by his mate Freshy Kim Marsh and their wives. He received a personal letter of thanks from patron Prince Charles for his services to Welsh Lifesaving.

Zom was missing his rowing and in 1987 was approached by John Sneezby from Manly club, to form the “Manly Steamers” 180 masters crew. They had a great time with lots of laughs, schooners of Tooheys Black and in 1991 won Gold at NSW Masters titles at Bondi. At the Aussies that season, they rowed at City Beach WA, winning the inaugural 180 Australian Masters Championships, followed up with a Silver at Kurrawa the following year.

At about that time, there was much unrest about the direction surf boat rowing was taking, and at a meeting in 1992 with Zombie, Zacca Watts, Matt Clymer and Steve Shepherd, the NSW League of Rowers was formed where Zom was secretary for the next 27 years. Much has been written about the development of the Rowers League and the eventual ASRL, so I won’t try to do it all again here. However, it is important to recognise that Zom has been an integral part of the sports development since then.  

Suffice to say that Zom and Woofa Barnett travelled all over the country, towing a boat and promoting the potential of a new surf rowing organisation.

In 2007 Graeme Zom Knox was inducted into the NSW Rowers League Hall of Fame and also awarded Life Membership of the ASRL

By 1992 Zom had felt that “if you can’t beat em, join em” was best the was way forward, so he became an accredited SLSA official as a boat starter, and in 1995 was appointed to the Board of Examiners, Manly Warringah Branch (Now SLS Sydney Northern Beaches)  

Always a man with an eye on improvement, he was instrumental in the introduction of the laying of two sets of boat buoys to speed up the racing program as more boat events were being introduced.
His initiative also saw the introduction of the NSW Surf Boat Premiership commence under the flag of “Tooheys Blue Premiership”

Did I mention his work as a support boat crew for the George Bass Marathon? His club boat crew had trained hard for the Bass, so Zom had borrowed a boat “from a mate” for crew changes and general support. I’m not quite sure how it came about- but the support boat sank out at sea!
Zom had the presence of mind to tie an empty esky (of course it was empty!) to the boat’s line as it disappeared from sight into the depths. I understand that Darrel Eastlake was covering the race for channel 9 in the Nine helicopter and they came to the rescue. I gather the boat was eventually pulled up using the floating esky as a buoy marker.

Zom recognised that the off season needed a bit of a lift so in 1988 -93 he was the joint organiser of the Brewarrina to Bourke Outback Classic Surfboat Marathon. He was mates with the local country police sergeant so they planned the idea of a surf boat race on the Barwon River.  A wonderful experience for many rowers to get to the outback and also inject some spending into the local economy. Who can forget Zom’s sidekick “Sparrow” onstage at the local club? Burning an old derelict timber surf boat standing on end in a paddock?  Great times.

Zom rallied a few rowers to make up a two crew team for the Outback Marathon. They called themselves the “Harlequins”, made up of rowers from South Curl Curl, a crew of Police from Freshwater and Manly boys. 

Around that time a young Shaun Stacey (current 2019 Australian Champion sweep for Dee Why) was just starting to sweep and had picked up a novice South Curl Curl junior crew, so Zom worked with them coaching, writing program systems, technique advice and conditioning. He would sit on the rocks at Little Manly (in Sydney Harbour) sometimes with his mate Zacca, giving advice to the crew. That crew went on to win the Junior Boat at Australian championships that season.

From 1987 to 2003 Zom was a regular columnist for the Manly Daily newspaper “Between the Flags with Zom” with his sometimes-controversial thoughts on all things surf boats.

For his insightful writing skills, he received an “Outstanding Service award to Surf Lifesaving” from the Manly Daily and in 1998, Warringah Council presented him with the “Outstanding Community Service” award.

Zombie was also the recipient of the 1996 Inaugural NSW SLS Award of Excellence (media) and in 2019 the SLSA 50-year service award, the 20 Year SLS Officiating Award  and, at the 2019 Aussies, he was presented with his 20 Years SLS Officiating at Aussies certificate.
However, through all the work and dedication to his own rowing and the staunch development of the sport, his passion in the last twenty years or so, has been announcing and race calling at all levels of surf boat racing.
Griffo and Zom in action at 2020 ASRL Open
I asked him how he got started as an announcer. “I was at a carnival in about 2000 or so and spotted the microphone so just picked it up and had a go” The rest as they say, is history.
Zom’s voice and unique, laidback, humorous and entertaining style of calling and has become synonymous with surf boat racing. His researched knowledge of the crews and their achievements was encyclopaedic as he knew most of the sweeps by name and could recall a story for each of them.

He provided commentary for races in the Ocean Thunder events and Sydney region carnivals, New South Wales, Australian and World Championships, plus many others. Special mentions of Coffs Harbour craft carnival and his favourite, Pacific Palms ‘Battle of the Boats’.

At Pac Palms, Zom had a passion for not only the odd schooner of Toohey’s Black beer but also the local oysters. He and the late Peter Daley had a challenge one day to see who could eat the most. Peter got to 5 dozen so Zom did one better and polished off 61 oysters! Ended up in hospital with acute gout!

It was always a pleasure to work with Zombie calling boat races and discussing the merits of local hamburgers (along with Griffo and in recent times Andy and Rod at Aussies). Zom was simply welcoming and unselfish in his sharing of the microphone and a ton of fun to be with as we shared much banter filled with laughter in those quiet times “in between races”.

In the last few seasons Zom has been proud to watch his grandson Julian McKay rowing at a highly competitive level with his beloved South Curl Curl. It’s not easy to provide an unbiased commentary for a boat race when it’s your own flesh and blood out there in front.
Graeme “The Zom” Knox, new Life Member SLS Sydney Northern Beaches Branch
On Monday 11th May 2020, at a specially convened meeting of the SNB executive committee, Graeme Zombie Knox was awarded Life Membership of SLS Sydney Northern Beaches Branch, for Services to the Association. This was presented to him at his home by the SNB President the next day. A very proud moment for him and his family.                       
There are a million stories to be told surrounding Zombie Knox and these are only a few of them. He knew a vast amount of people from wide ranging backgrounds, all of whom would have a story to tell. He was simply a great Australian character, a staunch friend, devoted husband, father and grandfather and “mate to everyone”.

The Surf Boat fraternity of Australia owes so much to this man who has given his life to improving the sport and providing us with lively, accurate and entertaining race calling over so many years.
We will all miss his call sign- “This is Z.O.M-FM, signing off”

Thank you, Zombie.

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