Melbourne’s sprawl seemed a sudden affair. Back then, the middle east was part of the outer, and by the time I graced the bistro of the Whitehorse in the late 80s there wasn’t a band to be found and little to frighten a boy from Bendigo tuning in to 3XY late at night. But there was certainly a ghost or two. I remember on my long Sunday afternoon and evening shifts as a one woman cook-waitress act, finding myself the object of contemplation of a regular at the bar. As the day wore on he’d become drunker and his gaze more intense and despairing. After months of this, finally, one Sunday he grabbed my arm and told me I was the image of his dead wife, who was a singer in a band who used to play there. Seeing me each week, he said, was torture. His revelation culminated later that evening in the hurling of an empty pot from his bar stool over to the bistro where it collided with the side of my face. Other than that incident all was pretty quiet including the orders for meals. Not like today. Several years ago a musician friend insisted that an increase in gluttony had seen a downturn in his gigs: more and more people just wanted to go out to eat and the dance floors had been taken over by tables. So maybe we can’t lay all the blame on the Pokies. But we can try.
My proud (um, bogan) days saw me frequenting and/ or working the floors of my collaborator’s fantasy. Those scary places took quite some effort to get to as a car-less 17 y o with a fake ID. Find me at a bus stop in broad daylight with a girlfriend: me in black lycra and black & white checkered t-shirt, knot at the side, and her in pink lycra, a psychedelic pink & orange t-shirt, knot at the side. It was a 15 minute walk to get to the bus stop, an interminable wait, then a 10 min ride to the station, then a train ride to wherever and another walk to the venue at the other end. Then doing it all again in reverse before the last train, bus. One night at the Dorset Gardens Hotel in Croydon, maybe seeing the Warumpi Band, another girlfriend and I ended up intervening in a fight, trying to stop a guy from having his head smashed against the footpath. The gig must have been over as there were a lot of people outside looking on, and there wasn’t a bouncer in sight. It was the surprise factor that arrested the event, rather than our physical prowess (it’s hard to get a grip on a shaved head with long fingernails and needless to say they all got broken).
In my early 20s I worked at the Ferntree Gully Hotel doing 8 hour shifts till 3 am as a drink waitress. I had blonde tips in my big hair, which probably got me the job in the first place as there was not a brunette to be seen amongst my fellow glass collectors. Venturing upstairs to clean up the band room, more often than not, meant coming upon a bouncer with his latest ‘catch’ in one of the ‘suites’. There was an unspoken code: if you wanted security to look out for you, then you had to flirt and flirt hard. I chose to go it alone and found that an empty beer jug in each hand was an effective way to push one’s way through the big blokes in flannelette shirts, became artful at dodging trigger happy fists, and the burning cigarette ends (mostly). My hearing loss began to the likes of Chain. I remember the wailing “gaol don’t make me no better, it just makes me haaaaard”. That pub was rough, but it was seething, alive. My days there saw the demise into disco, and then the rise of the Pokies. I think that was about the time I fled the suburbs in my beloved 69 HT to somewhere near Smith Street (or Smack Street as it was known then), to the music of the Punters Club, the Evelyn, the Rainbow, and the spoken word poets of the Rochester Arms & the Dan O’Connell.