On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning United Kingdom monarch.
On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned monarch of the UK and on 3 February 1954, the newly crowned Queen became the first reigning monarch to set foot on Australian soil. Much the same as most of Australia my mum and dad were also swept up by the excitement of her visit and wanted to catch a glimpse of the Queen. I wasn’t disappointed that I wasn’t one of the youngsters dressed in a white shirt and shorts who assembled and spelt out Elizabeth II on the Melbourne Cricket Ground when she visited. Two and a half years later the MCG was the host for the track and field events of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. I remember standing with mum, dad, and my brother behind a barricade, dressed in pyjamas, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Queen. It was one of the roads leading from the Exhibition Building and eager, excited, Melbournians were lining both sides of the street; it must have been Victoria Street. I remember the sudden quick shout; here she comes and just as suddenly and quickly a black Rolls Royce, or Bentley, hurried by. We all waved madly and I think I heard someone say; wasn’t she lovely. We most likely had the Vanguard back then and I fell asleep, in pyjamas, fatigued by the excitement, on the back seat, on the way home to Newport.
In the fifties and sixties, Bourke Street was the epicentre for a day out shopping in Melbourne. Foy and Gibson, London Stores, Coles, Leviathan, Buckley & Nunn, Darrods, Dunklings, Paynes Bon Marche, and Myers were all clustered in Bourke Street. Each December the streetscape became a Christmas wonderland as each department store adorned their facades, verandas, and windows with decorations. Foy and Gibson, known simply as Foys, even had a roof top carnival; after seeing Santa you could ride the Ferris wheel and look down on Bourke Street.
All of the department stores, except Myers, have now gone and Bourke Street has become Burke Street Mall; Myer’s Christmas Windows is the last survivor of a bygone era and is now a Melbourne tradition. Since 1956, by using inventive lighting, costumes, puppetry, and animatronics, the windows have brought to life popular Christmas themes that have included; Santa Claus and the Three Bears, The Twelve Days of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, How Santa Really Works, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Generations of parents and grandparents on warm summer’s night, when it is too sticky to sleep, still deliver their pyjama dressed little ones to the end of the queue so they can slowly shuffle past each window. For several years Mum delivered us, in our pyjamas, to Myers Windows and we left out smudgy fingerprints and nose prints on the windows as we followed the motion of the puppets and the exotic movements of their worlds. There were six Myers Windows and it was well past our bedtime when we had smudged all six windows. Dad would drive us back to Newport; and we were soon asleep in the back seat of the Austin, or Vanguard, dreaming of our own enchanted Xanadu.
The Skyline drive-in theatre opened in Burwood in 1954; it could accommodate six hundred and fifty-two cars and was Australias first drive-in theatre. When the theatre opened in Burwood, even though only seven miles east of Melbourne’s centre, it was mostly paddocks and there was only the Burwood Highway leading to the theatre. The drive-inn caused traffic jams that lasted for hours in both directions along Burwood Highway and also to the entrance of the theatre. For some reason, mum and dad decided we should go to the Skyline. I don’t remember very much about going to the Skyline. I do remember that we wore our pyjamas and I remember that we seemed to drive forever in the Vanguard before we could even see the drive inn screen in the distance; I remember the traffic gridlock: But I had on my pyjamas and knew that I could outlast a real game of rush hour. Even the emotion of the traffic gridlock couldn’t keep me awake; I was asleep on the back seat as soon as we left the Skyline.
Mum made my pyjamas as well as making some of my trousers, shirts, and coats. Her sewing machine sat in one of the kitchen corners; the kitchen on Sundays would be filled with the smells from mums baking and it seemed at least one night of the week with the dulled, subdued, mechanical chuka, chuka, chuka sound of the sewing machine needle hitting and piecing fabric. We had winter and summer pyjamas; summer were seersucker, short pants and top and winter were flannel, long pants and top. My pyjamas were more utilitarian in style rather than styled for lounging around at night with a dressing gown stylishly draped on top listening to the radio.
I don’t remember the precise time when I stopped wearing pyjamas but it was in the sixties; the time I entered the world of change and uncertainty: Youthquake, hippies and mini skirts, alcoholic oblivion, the Stones, Who and Kinks, and more. I know I didn’t pack pyjamas in the backpack that I used to carry all my essentials for the overseas working holiday exodus from Australia. Most Australians of my age assumed a working holiday as a rite of passage to true adulthood. You left Australia in your early twenties with London as your destination; whilst working in London you did Scotland and Wales and sometimes Ireland and a collection of weekend and longer expeditions to different European countries. When the time came to return to Australia I did it in a burdensome way; overland through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Each European country has stitched into its culture a unique thread but Turkey is a mosaic of eastern and western culture, traditions, and history; it is where the treasures of the silk and spice roads intersect. At first, I would goggle at the men wearing loose-fitting pants that looked like pyjama pants but as I drifted further East I saw more and more men wearing loose billowing pants. I learnt that in India the traditional clothing for males is the lungi, dhoti or pyjama.
It is accepted that pyjamas date back to the Ottoman Empire; both men and women wore loose drawers or trousers tied at the waist. History suggests that during the European colonial period pyjamas were adopted as an alternative to the traditional nightshirt and when the Europeans returned to the motherland they continued to wear their silk pyjamas as exotic loungewear. Even though I was an observer of history as reality and an onlooker to this sea of cloth wrapped around the waist and legs of every man and knotted at their waist I was not transported back to the European colonial period. I left India, the home of the pyjamas, with only two kurta shirts.
And I still don’t wear pyjamas. When I think back it seems the pyjamas of my younger years became street ware for early evening and night time special outings and events: And I went to sleep after these events on the way home in the back seat of either the Austin or Vanguard and then woke up in bed the next morning. Granddad used to fall asleep in his chair watching television. And now I have started to fall asleep on the couch watching television but I always wake up on the couch and not in bed. I think this is a sign that my childhood is over; waking up in the same place where you fall asleep. I don’t want to leave so soon that safe place of childhood; that place of fantasy, simplicity, and innocence: I think I will buy a pair of cotton poplin pyjamas, change into them, drive around Omaha for an hour or more and then go to sleep on the back seat of the car with the longing to wake up in bed in the morning.