The journey of acquiring my first car, the trip to learn in a rhythmic tempo of moving thighs, the Fox trot and the tempestuous Austrian Waltz with Phyllis Bates, would now surely also include a first date? It was on the cards long before any of that. Growing genes and rocking hormones does all that for us, irrespective of will and choice. The world is full of people now as sure proof of this.
The Vic’s cabaret at Strathfield was a large hall that had a raised podium on top of which to house a small orchestra. The ceiling was high and made of weatherboards painted a stark white as were the walls. There was seating on both sides with ample wooden benches. On the opposite side of the entrance the benches were occupied by the girls but on both sides of the entrance and opposite the dance floor all the boys. It provided a clear view of both sexes to study each other. The boys were much more blatant, the girls much more coy but also darting quick looks across assessing possible dancing partners.
In the middle of the ceiling was a large rotating ball which held little mirrors that threw fascinating effects around the walls and floor adding excitement and an atmosphere of expectation. I mean those flickering images and the music added to a letting go of inhibitions which of course is a requirement of daring to dance with another body, let alone another body of the opposite sex.
All boys and girls on entering were looked over and sniffed for any hint of alcohol. They were strict on that and that was good. All were stone sober so all initiatives to a dance were of free will and cold choice, no chemical help of any kind. My brylcreme with artificial little Kookie hair-wave and the Pelaco shirt was about the only external aid I could use. It must be remembered that at the late fifties and sixties Australia was swamped with young man and this created a shortage of women.
However, if a man had car it would give him a bit of ‘a leg-up.’ I had a car; what’s more a Ford V8 single spinner. But, I could hardly go up to a girl and say,” Hello, my name is Gerard and I have a big V8, would you like to dance?” With the abundance of men and shortage of girls on the dance floor, many a refusal had to be lived with. The “no thank you”, had to be overcome time and time again. It was also true that at that time the girls were more attracted to the true blue Aussie male. The foreigners had strange accents and eating habits, often far too polite and formal, shaking hands and all that stuff, taking the girls back to their seat after the dance.
However, there was one sure way of getting to dance. It was the ‘Pride of Erin’. This was a dance were a kind of circle or Conga line of boys and girls was formed in equal numbers. It took some time to organise but the excitement was at fever pitch. Everyone loved the Pride of Erin. Many a boy was straining at the leash. This was the time to strike out and get a date. The music started and I remember well the tune. It was ‘ What’s the matter with kids today?’ I soon got in my stride and swirled like the best of them. I tried an air of utter nonchalance and even practised the Australian ‘could not care less’ bravado. You only had seconds to strike out for a date but with the second round and same girl one could get a rapport going that hopefully would result in a date and exchange of addresses afterwards. (Of course texting was decades off let alone sexting or incriminating selfies. Now people have amazing sex through vibrating IPhones or Tweets.)
To cut the story short and after many a visit to Vic’s and endless Prides of Erin, I did manage a date. I took her to Woy Woy which the week before had been struck by a Willy Willy or tornado. It was the best I could come up with. I could have gone to the Blue Mountains but to stare at a mountain-view sitting inside a car might be fraught with some aspects of awkwardness. I felt touring around the devastation of roofs having been blown off and boats blown out of the water could offer a distraction and something to talk about. There was also a very famous artist living in the area and I thought it might be worthwhile to drive past his house and possibly have something to talk about.
The day wasn’t a great success. The talk wasn’t flowing. I tried history and Dresden with WW2, the state of neglect of our cemeteries, ( we drove past one)nothing worked and she kept saying ” oh, that is lovely, and oh, thank you’ over and over. It was difficult. We stopped on the way back when she finally said something; “I would like a malted milkshake”, she said. I think we stopped at Hornsby after the Ford V8 blew a lot of smoke going up a very steep hill when crossing the Hawkesbury river. We sat in the milk-bar and slurped the milkshake. She was really sweet and very shy. Perhaps it was her first date as well. I did not want to ask because it might indicate a kind of unpopularity with boys. It is such a delicate time. I drove her back to Coogee where she lived. The door was opened by her dad. He was a huge tree of a man, and looked me over. She fled inside after another ‘thank you’.
It was my first date.