‘Billabong’. From Wikipedia;
“The etymology of the word billabong is disputed. The word is most likely derived from the Wiradjuri term bilabaŋ, which means “a watercourse that runs only after rain” and is derived from bila, meaning “river”, and possibly bong or bung, meaning “dead”. One source, however, claims that the term is of Scottish Gaelic origin.Billabongs attained significance as they held water longer than parts of rivers and it was therefore important for people to name these areas.“
Gaelic or aboriginal, I’ll settle for the latter and painted accordingly in the ochre, chrome yellow, sienna colouring and avoided any kilt hues. You’ll be hard pushed to see any well hung MacDonald’s quarter pounders in my Billabong.
The above painting ‘Billabong’ must have got the nod of approval by the panel of judges and was hung in the NSW Gallery in 1972. The seventies was a period, not only of vegie co-ops, baby sitting clubs and going bra-less, it was also a period of enormous cultural change in Australia.. It all started in the late sixties and had its origin in a couple of cafes around the Cross in Sydney. I think Frank Morehouse, an Australian writer, was savvy to this and even wrote a book called ‘ Days of Wine and Rage.’ Up till the late sixties, the Nescafe instant coffee was the preferred brown drink. For many years TV advertisements used to swear each cup had 43 beans of ‘real coffee’, implying that there were coffees around that were not ‘real’, conveniently forgetting that Nescafe instant coffee is as far removed from being real coffee than ‘tasty cheese’ is from being an honest cheese. Most readers of this blog would know my stand on ‘tasty cheese’!
Towards the end of the sixties a coffee lounge opened up named ‘Reggios’ at the corner of Crown street and near Chapel Street, Sydney. Not only was it one of the first ‘real’ coffee lounges to open, it was also selling the best coffee in town and it was ‘real’ coffee percolated from ‘real’ beans. Reggio’s was frequented by a lot of Italians. Many were migrants from boats such as Roma and Sydney. Most were single. If one looked carefully it was noticed that many looked somewhat doe- eyed. The tragedy of a shortage of available women was expressed in their eyes after they lifted their faces from the empty coffee cups and looked into mine. I understood their plight.
A few girls of the night soon cottoned onto this Mediterranean loneliness and for a modest sum would allow some relief to the forlorn of Messina or Napoli. It wasn’t the kind of love those men sought but it was better than nothing. The coffee afterwards helped. But it was a love so bitter and not helped by the dusty train journey home afterwards to their even lonelier suburb.
Soon more coffee lounges followed. Today it has become a mile long stretch of coffee lounges and cafés, catering for the well-heeled, the property developers, the gangsters, toy boys and their well coiffured owners. All now are sitting under the striped awnings together with their barristers or Labor Ministers. All are wildly gesticulating and doing their sipping. Of course there is so much more to coffee now. There is a bewilderingly long list of different coffees available. It frightens me, as I have long ago given up in remembering the latest of this or that. We still ask for a simple ‘latte’. Does anyone in our age group ask for a macchiato coffee? I doubt it. What is it?
In between running a business we also found time to do life drawing and have fondue parties. The fondue set would come down from the top cupboard and with the help of a little dish with methylated spirits we would cook bits of raw meat in a container with oil which was heated by the metho. The meat was held at the end of steel prongs. The fad lasted for a few years together with exercise bikes. I noticed there has been an upsurge of exercise machinery. Some look as if they are ready to go on an outer space journey. So massive, I wonder if they can double as a diesel truck or prime mover or a good lathe? Would it not be better to go for a walk or has that become too dangerous with perverts stalking the streets?
In any case, society had progressed and nothing was not tried and experimented with. It came about that some would eagerly strip off for a spontaneous life drawing session all inside our Gertrude cottage. Of course, that is finished. Can one imagine the horror of stripping off now. There would be a stampede out of Gertrude’s cottage or a call to the police, even an ambulance!.
Those were the days.