(I had moved up the social ladder somewhat with dating a girl who I had taken out to one of Sydney’s most prestigious restaurants In Sydney at Martin Place, called Quo Vadis.)
We majestically sauntered downstairs at our pre-booked table to be met by a smarmy waiter moving chairs and cutlery. He opened the napkins, waving them around as if expecting a standing ovation. (Or a huge tip.) My meal was a ’steak a la Moliere ‘and it tasted as much. I think she had a chicken in the basket with lovely buttered spuds. We enjoyed a Flaubert a la Francaise, a mentholated spirits infused flambé desert afterwards. It was a curious dinner. She kept looking sideways and answered in monosyllables.
I tried to lighten the situation by showing some photos that were taken with a camera and long distance lens a few weeks earlier at the Anzac Day of returned soldiers. One photo was of a very stern looking ex soldier with one arm and a vintage hat leaning against a column of the GPO building at Martin Place. I had developed the pictures, and to go with the subject, printed that shot on sepia glossy paper. I was very proud of that picture and I still have it. Perhaps, anything with wars and Anzac would stir her into a patriotic fervour and it would put me at some advantage for future developments?
She was totally disinterested and continued looking past, but at least kept saying ‘ oh, how nice’.
Nola Dekyvere, with her ever-present social tuned hawk eye scanning the patrons for a solid donation in return for a picture on the social page of the Sunday Telegraph, totally ignored us; a loss to the ‘Black and White Committee and hence the Parramatta Girls Home’. The meal cost me 2 weeks wages. I got a peck on the cheek and ‘thank you’, ‘it was really lovely’,’ thank you so much’,’ very nice’. She quickly strode back to the safety of her parents front door. Perhaps the ride back to her home at Ashfield in the cold night air, tucked inside a Triumph side car wasn’t as glorious as she might have expected or imagined. What had she imagined; a hired Rolls Royce?
I walked past the Phyllis Bates dancing Studio next to the Lyceum Theatre in Pitt Street a couple of times hoping to catch girls on their way in, in order to weigh up the general clientele of aspiring dancers from the opposite sex, but did notice instead a few Latin looking blokes going in but not many girls. Of course in the days of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, The Mount Isa mines and the desperate need for short but hefty Cane Cutters in Queensland, Australia by and large was inundated with male migrants. In fact someone had written on an overhead rail bridge in Glebe, “Australia, country of men and no women”. It was an ominous and sad bit of public writing and found support amongst some of my friends who were also faced, not only with the cultural and language differences but also with the shortage of available girls to date. The bridge sign writer at least gave vent to his frustration and it received some publicity in the Newspapers. The general opinion was that those swarthy dagos should speak English and jettison their odiferous garlic habits together with pulling knives out of their socks. Anyway, at least I had blond hair not looking dago, a huge advantage at that time. I was not to be put off and after a while booked dancing lessons.
The way to book the dancing lessons was rather adventurous but also cunning from a commercial point of view. The more one booked, the cheaper the dancing lessons. I bought a half year supply of dancing tickets, an hour lesson per week. The girl doing the bookings showed me around and the dance floor was superb. A highly polished wooden floor. I noticed loud speakers on the wall and a gramophone turn table on a small table with a stack of records next to it. I also watched a string of men waiting perched on chairs against one wall for some lessons and a couple of female teachers swirling around following black painted footsteps on the floor but did not see any females waiting for their lessons. Did girls know how to dance instinctively? Were they born with dancing gifts as well as a need for malt in milkshakes? If they suffered from raging nerves as so many magazine advertisements were implying how come they could dance with, apparently, enough confidence and without taking lessons? Was the Glebe bridge sign writer correct and that the male migrant was doomed to compete in a world of males only and not enough opposites?
Where were the loving caring females for the males with guttural accents? I remained positive and bought a nice pair of leather shoes. The Lambretta Scooter club had fulfilled an important role in the art of wooing the female in Australia. The spoonful of malt in the milkshake wasn’t the only trick of capturing hearts and minds of the opposite sex. During a few socials we did a dance of some sorts at the Parramatta Ambulance hall after meetings but with most members being males, it was a bit tricky and the dance did not really amount to much body contact. To be honest I just craved to have an armful of a full woman and the more formal way of dancing was the way to go. The lessons were to be Saturday mornings between 11am and midday.
I duly turned up wearing a freshly starched shirt and a black pair of trousers also nicely ironed with a cuff at the bottom just touching the top of my new shoes without being too long or creeping up into any kind of ugly fold. The trousers were from my spare suit, the free suit that came from Reuben Scarf’s,’ buy one suit and get the second free’, remember? I took the trip by train and was careful not to cross my knees and spoil the crease in the trousers.
The entrance upstairs into the dance hall was with much trepidation and a well practised kind of nonchalance hiding behind a smile and a copious well brilliantined head of hair. A nice but short woman approached me and called out my name. I thought it a good start that she knew my name and even better was when she took my hand and said, ‘ shall we start with doing the beginning steps of the Fox Trot’? I had heard of this Fox Trot and seen Fred Astaire sweeping lovely women around the floor in magnificent variation of many dances including the Fox Trot. She explained to try and follow the painted black footsteps on the floor. The music was a version of ‘Rock around the Clock’ on a piano and I had to try and let my body do the pre-painted steps on the floor in tune with the music. “Just try it by yourself for the time being” and “I’ll see you in about ten minutes’ to see how you are progressing”, she said with a kind smile. It was a rather fast “Fox Trot’ ,and for about 15 minutes I was doing the steps backwards and forwards, trying to put as much swing and swagger into my movements as my lanky and somewhat gangly body would be capable of. It occurred to me that ‘trying it by yourself’ had been the story of my life so far. I quickly banned that thought to mind’s sandbox and with renewed vigour kept on fox trotting away, backwards and forwards, on the worn out painted dance steps.