I Look At My Clothes To See What I’m Wearing

The other day when I was resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I slowly became aware that I was surrounded by racks or women’s clothing that had parts of their shoulder, or the complete shoulder removed. It appears that leaving part of the shoulder exposed, or the whole shoulder and upper arm exposed, is the must have look for 2017. The cold shoulder look is everywhere; dresses, jumpsuits, bridal gowns, and even bathers. And surrounding the cold shoulder displays were racks of Hippie Laundry label smocked off-the-shoulder tops, tie-dye popover tops, and destructed shorts.

image source:johnmcadam

As the sales associate wandered by I turned to her and with a slight smile said

If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.

The sixties welcomed tie-dye shirts, long flowing gypsy skirts, fringed vests, and peasant blouses; I learned that women had shoulders. The associate was staring off into the display of cold shoulder clothes and answered

I had a halter top sun dress and a batik tie dye halter top.
I wouldn’t wear the cold shoulder; it’s for the young ones.

I don’t remember going shopping for clothes back when. Mum made most of my clothes until I was in my late teens. It’s impossible for me to forget the blue blazer and grey long trousers that she made for me; I was maturing into a teenager and it was time for me to wear grown up clothes. The blue blazer and grey long trousers were about twice the size they should have been, but they were made for me to grow into; maybe the loose, baggy fit was some cool early sixties look that I didn’t know about. Mum said that the blue blazer and grey long trousers were to be kept for best; they were my going out clothes.

image source:pinterest

On school holidays mum and nanna would take me with them when they went into town on one of their shopping days. Like everybody back then they would wear their best dresses, and sometimes gloves, when they went into town. I would wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes. We would stop at Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade and I would sit with mum and nanna, and the other shopping ladies enjoying their sandwiches or if it was later in the day scones and a cup of tea; they were all in their stylish suits or dresses. I was in my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes.

If you looked closely into the dark night you could just make out the glow of the new landscape that television was carving out across Melbourne. But it was still a time when going to the pictures in town on a Saturday night was a special occasion; a special night out and you would wear your best clothes. Dad would wear a suit and tie, and mum her best Saturday night going out dress. I wore my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes.

image source:considerthesauce.net

I was a young teenager when I first caught the train to Yarraville to take learn to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom. I was expecting the debonair Pat McGuire and his wife Marjorie to turn my two left feet into dancing sensations; I would glide across the floor showcasing the pride of erin, fox trot, and the evening three step. Mum was so happy that I wanted to learn to dance; I was so happy for the opportunity to meet girls. Mr McGuire would walk the boys through a dance, and Marjorie did the same with the girls. When he thought it was time to practice the dance he had the boys line one side of the hall and the girls the other. Most of the time it was boy’s choice so you had to invite a girl to dance. The girls didn’t know if you had mastered the dance steps or not; I’m not sure they cared because they were at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom to meet boys. I know it wasn’t my pot cut, I was growing my hair into a long sixties style, that caused the girls to turn down my invites to step onto the dance floor. Every week the refusals repeated themselves and I would spend the night sitting in front of, and learning against, the boy’s wall. As I sat in front of the boy’s wall I searched for the reason why the girls refused my invite to join me on the dance floor; the only common denominator that came to mind was that my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes made me look like a dork.

image source:pinterest

I stopped going to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom and I never wore my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes again.

I remember when The Beatles invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour. We all wanted a Nehru collar jacket. A year later Jean Shrimpton shocked Melbourne when she wore a mini skirt to Derby Day and caused absolute silence in the members lounge at Flemington Racecourse. It was five inches above the knee and her legs stopped a nation. And that was the first time I appreciated women’s fashion. I learned that women had knees and thighs. I was neither a mod nor a rocker but I did take charge of mum’s electric sewing machine and peg my jeans to produce a stove pipe effect. I turned the legs inside out and sewed a new tapered seam alongside the original seam; creating a small opening at the bottom of the legs that I could just squeeze my feet through. Even though I was rewarded a new freedom when I became a college student at Footscray Tech I still needed mum to provide food, shelter, and clothing. I wanted to shop for my own clothes; the closest I got was telling mum what I had to have. It was the late sixties and cool college students rejected the hippie fashion of tie dye, leather sandals, flowers and peace signs, and beads and fringes; that would all come later.

image source:leonidgurevich.blogspot.com

Our uniform was corduroy pants and desert boots. I did persuade mum to buy me a paisley shirt. It was a time of conflicting idealism, protest, rebellion, and freedom of choice. We could choose to be hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinheads, or surfers; and I became a little of each depending on what I could persuade mum to make with her sewing machine. A bottle green duffle coat, navy blue refer jacket, a green jerkin, tapered jeans, bell bottoms, and black ripple sole shoes were the only constants as I brushed up against the late sixties and early seventies sub cultures. I remember owning a suit. I left the suit in Australia when I set out in the early seventies on my first hallowed rite of passage searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. Mum would have kept the suit, but I never wore it again.

Carnaby Street was on the cusp of it’s hey day when I was living in London. In the early sixties it was the birthplace of Swinging London, the home of mods, skinheads, and punks. It was the place to be if you were creative and in search of inspiration. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks made Carnaby street a legend; in the early seventies it’s rebellious reputation was fading.

image source:pinterest

The fashions of yesterday in the left over menswear boutiques were making way for the emerging punk culture. I resisted becoming a dedicated follower of fashion during my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary; my journey started and ended in jeans. When I returned to Australia after wandering Europe, and drifting through the Middle East and into India along the ill defined hippie trail, I left my jeans on the bedroom floor for mum to wash. I wore my Indian kurta shirt, harem pants, and scarves the first few times I walked Douglas Parade.

And as I sat back resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I started to ponder why is fashion only for the skinny, gap tooth smiling, youthful young ones and why is fifty plus the age that makes us no longer style conscious.

If fashion designers refuse to create daring, provocative, every day fashion that allows all of us fifty plus to flaunt an intense, emotional street style image then we need to create our own. Every pop culture that we travelled through defined itself by the clothing and fashion they established and left behind; hippies, bodgies and widgies, mods, skinheads, surfers and punks wore their individual clothing in a collective way. I think we need to forget about the 50 and older sections in clothes shops that are stocked with age appropriate clothing and just shop in whatever section we want. Ours is the right to create a mix-and-match wardrobe.

image source:johnmcadam

But there is a place for the trousers with an elastic waist band that straddles the back of our waist, and need to be positioned just above where our stomach starts it’s bulge. We need to lower them so they sit low on the hip, below the waist, below the waist band of our brightly coloured, patterned boxer shorts. We need to reveal our underwear. Sagging shouldn’t be the exclusive fashion of Justin Bieber.

Fashion predicts that for 2017 hipsters will combine styles. Hipster chic street style will be mixing grunge and hippie; must-haves such as matching button ups, knee-high socks, polka dot tights, cool striped crop tops and big floppy hats. So it’s time that we reach into our wardrobes and storage boxes and reclaim our skinny jeans and trousers, the corduroy jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, the leather sandals, tie-dyed and paisley print, and shirts decorated with beads and fringes, bell-bottomed jeans, Nehru collar jackets, and the duffle coats and refer jackets of yesteryear.

For the last thirty years I have headlined floral print shirts year round. And I bought shorts from Australia and wore them before they were popular in the mid-west; before the united parcel delivery driver or post men wore shorts. Mum would only let me take a little from each culture; a pegged jean here and a paisley print there so my wardrobe is bare. If only I could wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes one more time. This time with a floral print shirt and I would glide a partner across the polished dance floor in my own maverick style.

 

Sixties’ model Jean Shrimpton shocks world with first miniskirt

Carnaby Street: 1960 – 2010

The Beatles let it be in Australia: 1964

A House With No Name

You wouldn’t know if it’s springtime or what season the outside world was grappling with when your walking the upper level of WestRoads in the mornings. Inside the mall each season has the same prescribed climate; temperature is maintained at a constant mid-seventies, there is no breeze, and the lighting is never darkened by clouds or the threat of rain. Because spring has dismissed winter, I’m walking throughout the neighbourhood in the mornings instead of WestRoads. The three laps of the upper level and the two laps of the lower level of the mall have become a meandering one hour stroll through the streets where I live.

image source:johnmcadam

Some mornings I have to wait for the spring harsh rains to become a soft gentle shower; when occasional droplets are falling on the sunshine that is breaking through the clouds. It’s that perfect time of the year. Mornings are being warmed by the gentle spring heat; the tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches are straining to open and the trees are sprinkled with leaves and blossoms. I vary my walking track each morning. Sometimes I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first off and other mornings head in the opposite direction to keep the hills for midway through my amble. The other morning I set off before the rubbish trucks had wandered through the neighbourhood so the bins, plastic bags of rubbish, green recycling tubs, cardboard boxes stuffed with paper and plastics, yard waste bags bursting with grass clippings and leaves, and bundles of branches tied with string were all in disorganised chaos on the footpaths. It was easier to leave the footpaths and walk the roadways; I fell into a pattern of long and short strides and my thoughts went back to when rubbish bins lined the nature strips of my childhood.

Like most people back then we only had one galvanised rubbish bin. Once a week on rubbish day the bin was put out on the nature strip to be emptied by the rubbish man or, as we all knew him, the garbo. One bin was more than enough because most people burnt their rubbish. Our incinerator was an old 44 gallon oil drum in the back of the yard. I don’t know where it came from or how it got into the backyard. There was a cut out rectangular hole, about ten by six inches, at the bottom of the tin so the ashes from the burnt rubbish could be culled and thrown onto mum’s garden.

image source:johnmcadam

When I think back I wonder if it was the ever present incinerator in the back yard and the ashes being scooped out from the fire and smoke that caused me as a youngster to close my eyes whenever we drove past the Springvale Crematorium on the way to Aunt Peg’s. Mum’s sister and our cousins lived in the country town of Dandenong; a 20 mile drive from Melbourne in the Austin A40 down the Princess Highway. The crematorium was a silhouette across the fields. I silently ached for the A40 to accelerate and leave behind the incinerators that burnt bodies.

Before meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, and bread and biscuits were wrapped in plastic you’d just tell the shopkeeper how much you wanted. Items were weighed on a shop counter scale and then wrapped in paper, or put into a paper bag, to be carried home in a string bag or a shopping jeep. And the paper and food scraps became food for the incinerator. Our rubbish bin was filled with glass bottles, tin cans, and anything that wouldn’t burn in the incinerator. I remember the small horse drawn rubbish cart; green with large wheels on each side. The cart’s shape was a large drum cut in half; curved metal, sliding coverings on each side formed the top of the cart. The horse stopped, slowed down, and started without a command. The rubbish tins were the equine traffic signal.

The garbo lifted the metal tins onto the side of the cart and dumped the rubbish into the cart, and when the cart was filled he would slide the coverings closed. I remember the rubbish trucks replacing the horse drawn carts. In summer the garbos would run up and down the street, dressed in footy shorts and a singlet, banging the rubbish bins on the sides of the truck as they emptied the rubbish into the truck. At Christmas mum and dad would always leave a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos.

Aksarben, where I now live, is a quaint suburb of Omaha. Bordered by Elmwood and Memorial Parks, it embraces an array of homes, from brick Tudors to Craftsman-style bungalows, and the streets are lined with mature trees. It’s a suburb where you would expect houses to have front fences and a name. I amble a different way through the neighbourhood each morning searching for a front fence; a French Gothic picket, a row of dense evergreen hedge plants, or a low stone front yard wall. But my front fence searching is in vain.

image source:google

No one is gonna call a house a real Australian house unless it has a front fence, front yard, and a name. The front fence and front yard are part of Australian history. I think the front fence has remained part of the The Land Down Under suburban house because an Aussie wants privacy from the street, and a place where their little ones can safely play.  There are some, though, that maintain a fence in front of a house adds nothing to the appearance of the house or street. Many different styles of front fence lined the street where I grew from a young boy through early childhood and then, to a fledgling adolescent. A relative of ours had a large concrete scalloped fence. Our house had a high wooden picket front fence; in time it transformed into a low square picket fence and then into a scalloped picket fence.

image source:johnmcadam

During the fifties and sixties many picket front yard fences were restyled into unique statements by Greek and Italian immigrants. Melbourne still has a few traditional front yard fence styles; wooden picket, low stone or masonry pillars interlinked with thick chains or rods, woven wire, squat brick veneer with a touch of decorative wrought iron, or tea tree.

It is said that every house built in Australia before about 1930 was christened and given a name by it’s architect, builder or first owner. After the Second World War the Australian government committed to a vigorous and sustained immigration program and house naming was once again in vogue. British, Italians and Greeks were the first to arrive in large numbers to the The Lucky Country, and when they secured their first home they named them after the counties, Italian towns, Greek regions, and English parishes they came from or where their families lived. If a house didn’t have a name then its name became who lived in the house; the Tillerson’s, the Bate’s, and the Ashford’s houses made up part of our street.

image source:google

Our house was named Montrose; a lovely little dark coloured plaque with curly and fluid gold lettering was attached to the weather boards by the front door. Montrose is a small Scottish coastal town nestled between Dundee and Aberdeen. The McAdam name stems from the Scottish Gaelic McAdam clan, which originated as a branch of Clan Gregor. Clan Gregor is a Highland Scottish clan famous for the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor. Back in the late forties and early fifties I don’t think Mum and Dad would have so admired Rob Roy that they would name our house after a small Scottish coastal town 100 miles from his birthplace. Maybe the house was already called Montrose and, because I’m a descendant of Australian Royalty, a third great grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines, the house chose us.

image source:google

The immigrant Lebanese family, the second owners of the Milk Bar on the corner of Douglas Parade and North Road, only knew mum as Mrs Montrose. The shop was only a block away so when ever we ran out of milk, or needed some bread, mum would duck over to the corner shop instead of going to Mrs Worm’s on Melbourne Road. She would be welcomed as Mrs Montrose; whenever mum was in the middle of something and I went over to get the milk whoever of the Lebanese family was serving at the time would ask, and how is Mrs Montrose.

As I saunter through the neighbourhood I also look for house names. So few houses have a name. They only have numbers. But there are a few house with the same name; Huskers and Big Red. And that makes me stop and think; a house shouldn’t have the same name as another house in the neighbourhood. A house should be named for a geographical feature, a type of tree or plant or flower, an animal of the area, the seasons, an event or period of local history, a memory or desire of the person who lives in the house.

Our house also doesn’t have a name, just a street number, so I think I need to give it a name. If the house had a name it might help the help the postman deliver letters and it would ensure the butcher, baker and milkman made their deliveries to the correct address; a trend already redefining the retail grocery trade is the convergence off online shopping and home delivery. Coming up with a name for a house should be an enjoyable and pleasing experience so I need to think about a name in the backyard over a few cold ones; I’m thinking The Beer Drinkers Arms, The Malt Shovel, or The Stagger Inn.

I should probably also start leaving a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos at Christmas time.

 

How Do I Trace The History Of My House

Rob Roy Scottish Outlaw

Shit brick fences of Melbourne  Facebook

I’m Still Spewin’ Over Last Night’s Footy

The other Saturday afternoon the sun was streaming through the front window; I was stretched out, head back with my eyes closed, listening to Way With Words on National Public Radio. When Martha and Grant were giving the closing, could not have made this program possible without spiel, it sprung to mind that I had just spent an hour doing nothing else but listening to the wireless. I tried to make a mental list of other times I had just listened to the wireless; driving all day, brisk exercise walking, sitting in a dentists waiting room, and long haul air plane flights don’t count.

I would head straight for the dining room as soon as I got home from school, and sit glued to the wireless listening to the Air Adventures of Biggles, Superman, Adventures of the Sea Hound, Tarzan, Hopalong Cassidy, Robin Hood and Hop Harrigan. Mum would bring my tea into the dining room so I could listen to the cliff-hanging end of the last serial. Back then the only vegetables I would eat were peas and potatoes so she would carry a plate with a couple of grilled lamb chops or cutlets, boiled peas, and mashed potatoes from the kitchen into my world of mystical adventures and danger.

But there came a time when I was no longer distracted by the Air Adventures of Biggles and the Sea Hound, or Hopalong Cassidy. Perhaps I was just growing up; or maybe I lost interest in the serials because a His Master’s Voice television became part of our lounge room furniture. But I didn’t desert the wireless. The kitchen wireless was my retreat from the cold and rainy Saturday afternoons for the next couple of Melbourne winters.

The city would come to a stop on Saturday afternoons. All Victorian Football League football games were played on Saturday afternoon and supporters invaded the six sacred grounds where the twelve teams were playing; North Melbourne’s home ground was Arden Street, Carlton’s Princes Park, Hawthorn’s Glenferrie Oval, South Melbourne’s the Lake Oval, and Footscray’s the Western Oval, and the other seven teams had their own hallowed home suburban footy ground. There was little choice about what team you barracked for. If you were born and raised in the working class Western suburbs you barracked for the Footscray Bulldogs. I barracked alone in the kitchen; it was cosy and warm.

image source:westernbulldogs.com.au

Brownlow Medallist John Shultz, and Ted Whitten, led the bulldog boys into battle at the wind swept, wintry, hostile enemy grounds and the adoring Western Oval. It must have been the young boy in me that decided to ride the coat tails of a wining side; I drifted from barracking for the Bulldogs to barrack for the Geelong cats. It was the heyday of Polly Farmer, Bill Goggin, and Doug Wade. The distraction from the Bulldogs only lasted a couple of years and the wireless dial once again was tuned to the boys of the Bulldog breed.

And there was the Victorian Football Association as well as the Victorian Football League. Association games were played on Sunday afternoons. The Williamstown VFA team was the Seagulls and they played their home games and trained at Point Gellibrand Oval. The grandstand was at one end of the ground and a grass mound stretched from just past the grandstand to the Morris Street gate; and the old lighthouse, seagulls, and unpredictable waters of Port Phillip Bay flanked one side of the oval. Watching the ships entering and leaving Port Melbourne, and the Melbourne docks was a welcome distraction when the cold, salt water laden, strong Port Phillip Bay winds kept the ball at the far end of the ground away from the grandstand. And trying to stay on your bike as you free-wheeled down the grassy mound was another distraction.

image source:slv.vic.gov.au

Half time and the end of the games were the meaning of footie; you herded into the dressing rooms as the boys walked in from the field. At half time you watched in amazement as ankles were re-bandaged, and you became intoxicated by the suffocating scent of the liniment that was splashed and rubbed into every inch of bare skin. And you were mesmerised by the coach’s passionate speech; it was inspiring and rousing whether the boys were winning or losing. At full time you were with the boys when they dropped onto the dressing room’s benches at the same they were unlacing their boots; the room was filled with the incredible scent of sweat, liniment, and cigarette smoke and beer; the proud fragrance of the football brotherhood. And the coach followed up his half time rousing address and caps were popped from tall bottles of the golden amber and they celebrated.

image source:pinterest

As I entered into the world of change and uncertainty that was the sixties and seventies I lost interest in the kitchen wireless and riding my bike to Gellibrand Oval. During my first journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism in the ordinary I found myself at an afternoon game of rugby in Edinburgh. I stood among a crowd of passionate Scotsmen; passionate for their team. When I was overheard confessing I didn’t know the rules of rugby because I was a boy of the Bulldog breed, a boy who only knew Victorian Rules Football, a nearby passionate Hearts supporter reached into his inside coat pocket and produced a flask of whisky and proclaimed

Now I’ll be telling ya what’s happening and we’all drink whisky and
you’ll be a Hearts supporter

. On a cold, dank Scottish winter afternoon, surrounded by cigarette smoke and Scottish whisky, I stood together with the proud brotherhood of football.

On cold winter Saturday afternoons I stood on the sloped terraces in front of the Whitten stand with the familiar faces; the veterans sat in the front two rows of the Whitten Stand stand; their sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thermos full of hot tomato soup rested in their lap, or at their feet. We ambled to the Western Oval turnstiles after a few starters at either the Rising Sun, The Plough, or the Buckingham carrying a thin paper bag with a couple of bottles of the golden amber under each arm.

image source:foxsportspulse.com

We drank our beer and cheered the boys on with a selection of affectionate obscenities and insulting encouragements; we could reach out and touch Gaz, Bernie, Laurie, Sockeye and Bazza: there was only red white and blue on the ground; they could do no wrong. As committed one eyed barracker’s we encouraged the umpires to make the right decisions with indecent and threatening support. The last quarter was greeted with the tribal ritual of a pie in one hand and raising a beer in the other as a salute to the sounding of the siren to start the final onslaught; the four n twenty would either be hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth or more on the cold side of warm. On a cold, dank, Melbourne winter afternoon surrounded by the smell of meat pies and tomato sauce, and cigarette smoke and beer, I stood with the proud brotherhood of football.

I went back to teaching when I returned from my first journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism, in the ordinary. Wednesday afternoons at Victorian Technical Schools were sports afternoons; usually football in the winter and cricket in summer. Each Technical School had a football or cricket team cobbled together from the best of the best senior boys in the fourth and fifth forms. Neighbouring schools would play against each other on Wednesday afternoons. Someone at my school decided it would be a good time for the boys if they could watch a football match played between the teachers, and the school football team. On a mild winter’s Wednesday afternoon I ran out onto the school oval with the teacher’s team. The entire school, form one through form five, wearing the school uniform of grey pants, grey shirt with tie, and maroon jumper lined the oval.

image source:wikipedia

I closed my eyes and the boys became a cheer squad, dressed in their duffle coats covered with badges of their favourite player names and jumper numbers. And they waved their floggers; six foot long sticks with massive amounts of streamers taped to the ends. The teachers team had four players who were better than any of the senior boys in the school footy team; two physical education teachers, and a couple of teachers who played for Williamstown’s AFL reserves team. Our plan was to play keepings off; four teachers against eighteen boys. The cheer squad welcomed me onto the ground with a chorus of barracking. It was just a few minutes into the game when my excitement caused me to forgot about the plan; I jogged towards the corridor, the ball was kicked my way. I heard the roar from the boys lining the oval fence and then I was lying on the oval ground gasping at the air; it seemed to take forever for the air to return to my lungs, and for my eyes to focus.

I had been shirt fronted by one of the man mountain teachers that played for the Williamstown reserves. I spent the rest of the match standing alone on the half forward flank. A few of us went to the local after school; the lounge was soon filled with the incredible scent of sweat, my liniment, and cigarette smoke and beer. We were the proud brotherhood of football celebrating the victory of a heroic, stout hearted, sweat stained battle.

Australian Rules Football is now a national competition; Melbourne provides ten teams, Sydney, Queensland, and South and Western Australia two teams. Melbourne games are no longer played at the old suburban footy grounds but at the MCG, Etihad Stadium, and Geelong’s Kardinia Park. Smoking and floggers are banned, and no alcohol can be brought into the grounds. You can’t use indecent or obscene language, or threatening or insulting words toward the players or umpires, and you can only get rid of your rubbish in a receptacle provided for that purpose.

image source:johnmcadam

And the Footscray Bulldogs are now the Western Bulldogs; some say that the local magic of the game has been lost.

Sons of the ‘scray,
Red, white and blue,
We will come out smiling, if we win or lose.
Others build their teams my lad, and think they know the game,
But you can’t beat the boys of the Bulldog breed, that make ol’ Footscray’s name!

I think I should take a class in gesturing hypnotically just like Mandrake the Magician, or attempt to uncover a Tibetan mystic who can pound into me the secrets of ancient magic so I can stand once again on the sloped terrace in front of the Whitten Stand; a four n twenty pie in one hand and a beer in the other, raised in a salute to the proud brotherhood of football. Or perhaps I can just watch the replays of the footy on YouTube.

 

Australian Football League

Radio: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Western Bulldogs

I Can See What I Say Now

Sometimes when I’m driving down Dodge Street heading to Westroads for my walking the mall activity I close one eye and read the outdoor advertising signs. Dodge Street is Omaha’s major East West thoroughfare and is the same as every other main street in every other mid size American city; it contains a kaleidoscope of street level and rooftop signs, and towering billboards. At each stop light I close my left eye and squint into the distance to see which is the furthermost sign I can clearly make out. If the light is still red I switch to closing my right eye and repeat my streetscape visual acuity test. Sometimes I start to second guess myself

m …… a ……c ……c …… a ……s

only to discover when I get closer it was McDonalds. From time to time I do the squint reading thing at the Mall. But it’s not a ritual I do every time I round a corner; it could be days or weeks between when I do it. I didn’t do the squint before I had cataract surgery.


Mr Fraser our fifth form science teacher at Williamstown Technical School would perform experiments at the science bench in the front of the room. When he finished the experiment he would recreate the assembled equipment in coloured chalk on one of the front of the room blackboards. And using only white chalk he would write detailed descriptions, observations and measurements, calculations, and conclusions on the other two front boards. We neatly copied that blackboard notes that spelt out scientific laws, theories, postulates and principles into our science exercise books. As the fifth form year wore on I had more and more difficulty reading Mr Fraser’s blackboards and so I asked if I could move from the third row bench to the front row. I was again, without error, able to copy the blackboards. I didn’t tell mum or dad I had had trouble reading the board. Three years later at Footscray Tech I confessed I had trouble seeing the board. And so I got glasses. I wouldn’t wear the glasses in everyday life. I would wear them to read the boards and take them off as as soon as I left the room. I don’t remember my world being blurry and smudged or ever being asked why are you squinting. It was the late sixties and nobody admired glasses for cultivating a mischievous and cultured look.

image source:memegenerator.net

My education was nearing an end at Footscray Tech; it was an early Sunday morning when I knew that I would wear glasses for the term of my natural life. I drove Andrew Lambrainew’s Ford Fairlane in the blackness of that early morning. I remember squinting but the street lights persisted as smudged blotches and the suburban streetscape continued as an out of focus polaroid. Fortunately the city was still sleeping; trams hadn’t started to run. I was alone driving through the blurred streets. I looked back at the reflection in the windscreen not knowing how my life was going to change. A few years later I set out on my journey searching for inspiration and idealism wearing rimless metal frame glasses. As the years flowed on I became tied to the apron stings of my glasses.

The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest and most visited gallery in Australia. The gallery’s new St Kilda Road building opened in 1968 and no one could resist running their hand along or through the streaming water flowing down the glass window that formed the arched water wall by the entrance.

image source:commons.wikimedia.org

And some could not resist sticking their tongue into the falling water; and some could be heard to say:

Don’t know why they bothered it looks just like a big fish shop window.

Once inside, and before entering the Great Hall to admire the world’s largest stained glass ceiling, the curious would walk over to the water wall and linger; watching St Kilda Road from behind the cascading water. And some could be heard to say:

I wonder if the green smudge is a Holden or a tram.
Is that a bus or people queueing for tickets

What they saw was sometimes my world; rain meant foggy, smeared, wet glasses and hot humid summer days would produce sweat blotched and fogged up lenses, and glasses that slid down your nose.

image source:buzzfeed.com

Wearing glasses has advantages; by pointing to your glasses you can thwart any invitation to go biking and thus ward off wearing spandex shorts. Glasses can also circumvent accepting invitations to participate in triathlons. I’ve tried to imagine but just can’t envisage how I would perform a full body shave in the shower without wearing glasses.

At the same time Mr Fraser’s chalkboards became blurry swimming at Williamstown beach became risky. It seemed as if the tides and water currents carried every Port Phillip Bay cluster of seaweed and jelly fish into the beach. The water was as fuzzy as the blackboards so I would swim into the masses of floating gelatinous jelly fish blobs. I couldn’t avoid hitting them with my head or arms; and the more I hit them, the more my arms flailed. The jelly fish were chopped and diced and I was buried in a churning gelatinous broth, unable to avoid painful jelly fish stings to my arms and legs.

image source:pixabay

Cairns is the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. Endless coral formations provide shelter and a home to over fifteen hundred species of fish; an aquatic landscape that has to be admired and appreciated close up. The catamaran was bobbing and floating lazily with the current and the Reef was below the water line; deep enough for a snorkel dive without having to wear a lycra body suit or stinger suit. I drifted with the other snorkellers. All I could see beneath me through the snorkel mask was a fuzzy shroud. You can’t wear glasses with a snorkel mask. I took a deep breath and duck dived. The reef was just a couple of inches from my snorkel mask, I was holding my breath and my chest was wanting to let go, and I squinted. I didn’t see a bed of coral; the reef was a blurred, shadowy, waving carpet.

image source:pixabay

Sometimes I wonder why you can’t wear your glasses when trying on new frames. You pick out a few eye catching frames and then it’s time to see how they suit you; will they provide you with a mischievous, carefree, and cultured look. You sit or stand in front of a mirror wearing a pair of the potential new frames but without lenses. Your nose is almost touching the mirror so all you see is the bridge of your nose, or the top or the lower half of the potential new frames. When you turn to the associate they inquire:

And how do we like them, they make you look quite distinguished.

I only remember getting frames at an Omaha trend setting opticians. I became known for the funky unique frames that caused people not to notice that I was wearing glasses but wearing cool frames. And I had the three, four-day, just shaved beard look. Not too wild not too neat; somewhat similar to the rebellious and free spirited hippies of the sixties aka as hipsters.

image source:johnmcadam

My messy but clean look was perfect; shaving is not easy sans glasses. All you see of yourself in the mirror is a soft, fuzzy face. All it took to maintain the messy but clean look was running an electric razor over my face and then putting the glasses back on to pay attention to the upper cheeks, beneath the chin, and around the neck with a razor. I’ve always thought that wielding a safety razor around your face is hazardous so I used a 90 degree pivot head disposable four blade cartridge razor; something that would turn and not damage the skin.

When I did community theatre none of the characters I played wore glasses. I would wear glasses during rehearsals, run through, and tech week, but starting opening night my glasses stayed in the dressing room. For the run of the play fellow cast members would display strange nervous mannerisms, rituals and behaviours, or just withdraw and stay silent waiting for their cue to walk out on stage for their first entrance. I didn’t have to deal with crippling stage fright, or worry about being less than perfect, because I couldn’t see anyone or anything. All I saw on stage were fuzzy blobs. And the audience was a sea of soft fuzzy blobs.

image source:pixabay

Whenever I went to the ophthalmologist the large E on the top of their Snellen eye chart was a soft fuzzy smudge. As the associate asked phoropter questions, the smudges slowly focused into letters of the alphabet.

Can you please read the first line
p …… e …… d
Which is better one or two
two
Which is better one or two
one
Which is better one or two
they about look about the same
Are You Sure ……. One or Two
umm two
Two or One
one
Let’s Try Again ……… One or Two
p …… e…… c …… f …… d

And then it was time for the tonometry test. After your eyes were numbed with a yellow liquid and the tissue in your hand streaked with yellow you were asked to rest your chin in a chin rest and look straight ahead into a slit of light. The tonometer grew larger as it moved slowly towards touching your eye. Back when, nanna developed glaucoma and cataracts so the ophthalmologist was monitoring cataracts in my eyes for a couple of years; forewarning me that surgery would be part of my future. And then the future became the present; she removed my clouded cataract lenses and replaced them with monofocal synthetic lens designed for distance vision.

image source:pixabay

A few days after the surgery on one eye I remember opening it when the dressing was removed; I saw colour for the first time. And after covering the non corrected eye the E on the top of the Snellen chart was clean and crisp. I spent the rest of the day looking at colours that I had only seen before through opaque, frosty, fogged up eyes.

I wear glasses for; reading, cooking, scanning labels on the cans in the grocery aisle shelves, cutting vegetables with a sharp knife, and watching the seat back entertainment when flying. I don’t wear glasses for; daytime driving, reading alarm clocks in the morning, getting out of bed after waking up in a dark hotel room, watching television in bed, finding soap and shampoo just before getting under the shower, walking in the rain, and drinking cups of hot tea or coffee. I wear sunglasses and I’m no longer afraid getting hit in the face with a cricket ball.

 

National Gallery of Victoria

Free Eye Chart

Overview Cataracts: Mayo Clinic

Riding A Tait Back To The Future

It’s that time of the year when spring starts to creep out from under winter’s canvas. Daylight has become my alarm clock by sneaking early, and before it should, each morning through the bedroom wooden venetian blind slats; and so my walking journey around Westroads Mall starts before it should. The mall looks the same at 8:00am as it does at 9:00am. I think most of the other 9:00am mall walkers must also have wooden venetian blinds in their bedrooms. I give my modest head nod, or my indiscernible move of the index finger, as we pass. And I wonder if I was really there an hour or so earlier. After three laps of the upper level I am ready for the two laps of the lower level. I head for the escalators; they are motionless.

image source:johnmcadam

I did the obvious and looked around a couple of times; moving my head through interrupted semi circles. The escalators weren’t working. And there was no On Point through the ear buds; just news but no news analysis. I looked down to my smart phone. The digital smart clock was showing 8:30am. And then I got it; escalators don’t have venetian blinds in their bedrooms. I don’t enjoy walking down non moving escalators so I set off for the stairs at the other end of the mall. I lightly gripped the handrail so my hand would slide the length of the first flight of stairs. I stared down at the stairs and absent mindedly started to count. And as I counted the stairs seemed to vanish in the distance. At the end point of the never ending stairs I could make out the faint glow of a long salmon pink tiled corridor; display windows lined the walls and there were black granite columns and Art Deco shop fronts.

image source:c1.staticflickr.com

The Degraves Street Subway and Campbell Arcade connect Degraves Street with Flinders Street Station. It was the start of our shortcuts to Collins Street when we took the train into town to go to the newsreels. On newsreel day we would be anxious to catch the first off peak train into the city; the first after 9:00am. We would gallop up Peel Street, cross into Davies Street, and when we got to the Dispensary look across Melbourne Road to see if a city train was stopped at the signal. If there wasn’t a train it meant a slow jaunt into Melbourne Road, past the Newport Post Office and shops to the station. A stopped train meant a frantic run to the station; buying your ticket just as the porter was closing the platform gate. And sometimes when my mind wanders I am back asking for a ticket into town.


After leaving Spencer Street Station the train would turn onto, and start to rattle over, the twisting viaduct running alongside Flinders Street and the Yarra. I remember when the viaduct carried four railway lines; they converged and diverged into other lines that arrived and departed from the thirteen platforms of Flinders Streets Station. It always seemed that the signals stopped the Williamstown train just before it go to Flinders Street; and you would watch the two carriage St Kilda and Port Melbourne trains scurry across the river on the Sandridge Bridge. Warehouses and factories edged the river and the pylons that supported the buildings reached down into the water. I remember the Glaciarium ice skating building, and the Allens factory. The Allens factory had a giant animated neon sign on the roof; Allen’s was on a lolly wrapping with green coloured Sweets just below.

image source:islandcontinent.com.au

When we had a spare sixpence from our pocket monies we would head down to Dashers to spend it on lollies. I don’t think we ever knew their real name but we had christened them Mr and Mrs Dasher because they moved so slow. Dashers was a traditional milk bar and was on the corner of Douglas Parade and Bunbury Street. Inside, at the back of the shop, was a wooden display case; a mind boggling treasure chest of little trays crammed with all types of loose lollies. This sugar happy land was part of the shops counter and was protected by a hinged glass lid. The lid was scratched, and made opaque in places from the countless times the knurled edges of threepence’s, sixpences, and pennies had been run along the glass. Spending our sixpence came with it’s own angst. We were possessed with tormented decisions deciding what was the better sixpence value; clinkers, fruit tingles, choo choo bars, black cats, spearmint leaves, milk bottles, bananas, musk sticks, or a packet of fags. Fags were white thin sticks of soft hard, sweet musk flavoured sugar with red colouring on one end; miniature fake cigarettes with a glowing tip. You would keep your packet of fags in your shirt pocket, and spend the whole day with a glowing white, thin sweet musk flavoured sugar stick hanging from your lips. Smoking was cool back then. Sixpence would buy you a bag of mixed lollies and you were lucky if it lasted through the afternoon. Milk bottles, spearmint leaves, bananas, and a host of other famous Australian lollies were made by Allen’s.

image source:milkbarsbook.com

As the signal standstill wore on and the Yarra bank lost it’s fascination you started a search for distractions. The carriage became it’s own distraction. Each Tait carriage was it’s own sitting parlour. Bench seats ran across the carriage in aisles and partitions divided the carriages into small spaces; a collection of spaces was divided into compartments. An aisle of seats had its own sliding door and carriage window; each window had a wooden latticed blind. Lights hung from the patterned pressed tin ceiling and each carriage had luggage racks mounted onto it’s stained wood grain walls. A carriage was divided into first or second class and the inside was split into smoking and no-smoking. I don’t think we ever appreciated the Tait carriage for what it was. Most times a glance around the carriage and over your fellow passengers would only take a couple of minutes; then the disinterested would reach for their cigarettes and the wooden carriage would be filled with clouds of drifting smoke. Stubbed cigarettes quickly gathered on the floor. Smoking was banned on Melbourne trains in the late seventies.

image source:flickr.com

And for the next ten plus years I pondered why you could smoke on air planes but not on Melbourne trains. I can easily think back to when the first thing I did on a plane was to light a cigarette; the moment the wheels left the ground. The only time you couldn’t smoke in a plane was when it was on the ground. It seemed as if the entire plane was smoking a cigarette, pipe, or a cigar before the metal tube had reached it’s cruising level. Clouds of drifting smoke would hover just above seat level waiting to be recycled through the plane. And there came a time when smokers were restricted to the back of the plane. The last few rows were designated as smoking so you had to remember to request smoking when you were assigned a seat. If you forgot to request a smoking seat, or they had all been taken, as soon as the seat belt sign was off you gathered with the rest of the smokers at the back of the plane; and stood for most of the flight. Smoking was banned on all Australia domestic flights in 1987 and in 1996 on all Australian international flights. Smoking is now banned on most airlines in the world; and now I ponder why is there an ashtray in the lavatories of air planes.

image:dailyherald.com

When the Red Tait’s were being replaced by the Blue Harris trains and we were going into town we hoped beyond hope that our train would be a blue one. When we got to the Dispensary, and if we saw a red train was stopped at the signal we would dawdle to the station to miss it. And our fervent desire was that our meandering was fruitful and that the next train would be a blue one; we would wait breathlessly at the station without knowing if it was going to be a red or blue one. If you stood close to the platform edge and arched your back you could see an approaching Williamstown train. The signal would stop the train just past the workshops so the two carriage Altona swing door dog box or the Geelong diesel country train could stop at the station; or a goods train slowly make it’s way up the line. And if it was a blue one the wait for the signal to release the train was gruelling; excitement overcame us when it pulled into the station. We sat in agitated intoxication in the modern cavernous metal carriage and stared out through the large glass plated windows. In summer passengers opened the two sets of two sliding doors to move the air through the carriage; just as they opened the sliding doors in each seat aisle of the red rattlers on hot stifling summer days.

image:arhsnsw.com.au

You used to change trains at Newport for Altona; the red two carriage swing door, dog box sea weed city flier, was kept on a small siding just past the station. And now Altona is a loop off of the overcrowded Werribee line; and the two carriage Williamstown train is now kept on the siding just past the station. On the weekends and late at night you change trains at Newport for Williamstown.

Allen’s was Australia’s largest confectionery company and it’s now owned by the international giant Nestle. Milk bottle lollies, the milky white colour vanilla flavoured miniature milk bottles are now a bag of banana, lime, caramel, strawberry and chocolate flavoured milkshakes. Fifteen year Australian lolly eaters are voting whether to remix black cats, teeth, or strawberries and cream. Allens, the Glaciarium ice skating building, the Wirth’s Circus buildings, and the other old warehouses and buildings that created Melbourne’s industrial landscape on the other side of the river are long lost memories. The area has been carved and shaped into the Arts Precinct and Southbank; Melbourne’s bustling river front, overflowing with clusters of arts organisations, cafe’s and restaurants, public art, entertainment, and stylish shopping.

image:facebook.com/LostMelbourne

I should adjust my rear vision mirror; or maybe visit Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens Model Railroad Garden and chew on a bag of Minties.

 

History Of Southgate & Southbank Area

Lauritzen Gardens Model Railroad Garden

Tait train

Christmas in Australia

I have lived in the mid west for thirty plus years. At first I went back to Australia every couple of years; and then that grew to three, and then four years. I just returned from the fatal shore; it had been six plus years since I had been where beer does flow and men chunder. The last time I saw Christmas in Australia was twenty plus years ago. And Christmas is still different in Australia and my new memories will do little to change how I remember my childhood Christmas’s; posted in this blog over a year ago.

john-window

image source:johnmcadam

The Hobart Central Business District could be described as a suburb surrounded by metropolitan Hobart. It’s the oldest part of Hobart and is made up of the original English settlement, as well as most of the city’s important institutions and landmarks; Parliament House, Supreme Court, Salamanca Place, Mcquarie Wharf, Battery Point, and the State Library. The pace is slow and the shopping is somewhat limited compared to Melbourne, Brisbane, or Sydney; but that’s the charm and pleasure. It is small and compact and you easily wander the arcades, lane ways, nooks and crannies, narrow main streets, and smaller side streets to discover the hidden speciality stores, boutiques, eateries, and national brand stores. I was wandering Murray Street toward the State Library of Tasmania; it was early November, somewhat late for winter but too early for a Tasmania summer. There was a small warmth in the air and when I looked up there was a brilliant blue sky between the heritage buildings and other architectures. And there was the Murray Street Christmas decoration; this kaleidoscope of colours dancing before my eyes radiated the emotional regime of Christmas. And as I continued to stroll toward the library I caught myself humming and silently carolling Joy to the World.

hobart-xmas

image source:johnmcadam

A few days after leaving Tasmania we were enjoying the drive along Geelong’s Corio Bay foreshore. Geelong is about an hours drive from Melbourne and offers a range of lifestyle choices; inner city cosmopolitan, suburban, coastal, and rural. Some say Geelong is a gateway city; a jumping off point for the surrounding wineries, Great Ocean Road, Ballarat, Torquay, and the Port Campbell National Park. Others say Geelong is industrial and boring. The foreshore is a five minute walk from the city centre and contains the Eastern Beach, parks, a carousel and Ferris wheel, beautiful landscaped gardens and fantastic public art. Geelong has always reminded me of a simpler time; a place to go with mum and dad for a swim; a place to play on the play ground swings and slides, and a place to lick the melting ice cream from an ice cream cone. And it was a place that was home to the Ford assembling factory. I remember dad driving mum, my brother, and me down the two lane Princess Highway for the Ford Christmas Party; dad didn’t work for Ford and we never knew how he got us invited to the party. After the first year we started squirming and fidgeting as soon as we left Newport; the forty plus miles to the factory were an agonising, never ending wait for the tractor trailer ride. We rode on facing out bench seats that were put onto large flat factory delivery trailers; what I now know as a hay rack ride but without the hay and the paddock.

assembly-line

image source:flickr

A Ford tractor pulled us through the factory; past myriads of assembly lines and mountains of miscellaneous, unassembled steel car parts. The conveyors, belts, and transporters that made up the lines where workers manoeuvred and assembled the assorted steels were silent and motionless. The tractor trailer ride was a reminder of the true meaning of the holiday season and the Christmas story; told as the creation of a car.

That afternoon, driving along Geelong’s Corio Bay foreshore I caught sight of the Floating Christmas Tree. The eight plus feet tall structure is Australia’s largest floating Christmas tree; it contains 11,000 reflective discs and can be synchronised to music through a downloadable app. It is estimated that the steel tree will cost the city about $1 million over the next five years. Maybe you have to see the Floating Christmas Tree at night. But we all know that Christmas is not about the money; it is about memories. And as I gazed at the unattended mechanical lifeless marvel, I thought I saw in the tree a small boy sitting on a trailer being towed by a tractor. As I drove off I found myself gently singing Do You Hear What I Hear.

geelong-xmas-tree

image source:johnmcadam

Even though it was mid November summer was struggling to arrive in Melbourne. It was typical Melbourne weather with contrasts in the temperature from day to day; warm to hot and sunny days, and then cold and showery days. It was mid week and mid morning and I stood in the Bourke Street Mall after walking through the arcades and shopping emporiums from Latrobe to Bourke Street; you can walk the Hoddle Grid of Melbourne without stepping onto a street. Trams, buskers and Christmas shoppers populated the Mall. I faced away from the Myers Christmas windows and slowly closed my eyes and thought of those early evenings many years ago when mum delivered us, in our pyjamas, to the Myers Windows. And we left out smudgy finger prints, and nose prints on all six of the windows after ogling the make believe worlds of costumed puppets and life like animations that existed in the magical landscapes and enchanting wonderlands. I walked nervously with my head down and joined the queue that had formed at a stanchion; I was at the start of the windows. It was at the last window that I learned that the windows are based on the Australian children’s book One Christmas Eve by author Corinne Fenton and illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.

myer-window-2-2016

image source:johnmcadam

myer-window1-2016

image source:johnmcadam

The book tells the story of Bella on Christmas Eve in 1968 when she visits her Grandparents in St Kilda for a typical Australian BBQ. Bella and her grandfather head to Luna Park and she is given the choice of one ride so she chooses the magical carousel. She jumps on the horse and lets her imagination take hold as she daydreams about the ‘Majestic Horse’ taking her high above the clouds over Melbourne and being greeted by Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer’s. Once the ride ends, Bella’s dream fades back to reality and she heads home with her grandfather. When Bella wakes on Christmas Day, she is delighted to unwrap a rocking horse that her Grandfather hand-carved for her to resemble the ‘Majestic Horse’ she rode on the carousel.
excerpt from The Myer Blog

But the windows were not as I remembered; maybe I should have worn my pyjamas. I searched for dad; wanting to be driven back to Newport. I would soon be asleep in the back seat of the Austin, or Vanguard, dreaming of my own castles in the air. But all I saw were trams and the advertisement for the Melbourne production of Kinky Boots. I walked towards the Royal Arcade warbling It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.

We had a My Brother and My Melbourne Cousins and Partners soiree at Russell’s. Russell is the youngest of the Oliver cousins and is back living in the house at Chadstone he grew up in. Before long all the boys had formed a tight circle in the kitchen and it soon became; And remember when. And remember when we went to nanna and granddad’s for Christmas dinner. And remember nanna’s Christmas pudding; we would eat it double quick looking for the sixpences and threepence’s that she put in it when she first made it. And remember when we had to give our sixpences and threepence’s back to her because the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepence’s into puddings. And then Russell said And remember when nanna always used to cut the pudding in the kitchen and then push sixpences that she had kept out of the pudding into Peter’s slice of pudding. We all fell silent; each of the cousins taking a doubting, fleeting look at each other. And Russell said yeah, nanna used to push sixpences into Peter’s plum pudding. And the magic that was nanna’s on Christmas Day unravelled before all of us cousins; that perfect star would no longer shine upon our tree. It will be a long time before I write to Father Christmas or sit on his knee asking for a bunch of presents. In the car with my brother Peter whilst he was driving us back to our hotel from Russell’s I fell silent, but I was singing in hushed tones Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

fish-market

image source:johnmcadam

And it was satisfying to see that Christmas Day Dinner is still a family activity. You can still find some of nanna’s favourites on the table, but because it’s summer it’s not all about plum pudding; some of the help yourself seafood table staples are prawns, fish, crab, crayfish and oysters; and you could throw a few steaks on the barbie, or do either a roast chook, or turkey, or bake a ham. And desert is pavlova, Christmas cake with treacle, or ice cream cakes. Your not going to find a lot of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, parsnips, carrots, cranberry sauce, and gravy, or pumpkin and apple pie. But you will find people pulling open their Christmas crackers, donning the inside colourful paper crowns, and then sharing the hidden jokes to whoever is listening.

What do they sing at a snowman’s birthday party?
Freeze a jolly good fellow
What does a frog do if his car breaks down?
He gets it toad away
What do you call a line of men waiting for a haircut?
A barberqueue

Maybe for next Christmas I will download the 1983 remake, starring Nicole Kidman, of the Australian movie Bush Christmas; it’s about an Australian outback families struggle to keep their farm from foreclosure. Unfortunately, the family is deeply in debt and their only hope is that their horse, Prince, will win money in the annual New Year’s Cup race. As Christmas comes around, a pair of thieves steal Prince and the children embark on a dangerous and exciting adventure to get him back.

I could roast some chestnuts on an open fire and we could sing God Rest You Merry Gentlemen.

 

The 2016 Myer Christmas Windows

A Guide To Australian Christmas Foods

17 Ways Christmas Is Very Different In Australia Vs America

Eating Lollies And Walking Down Sideshow Alley

One of the tourist must do things in Florida is to hang out in the keys; that string of coral islands south of Miami that stretch for 120 odd miles between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. I knew about Key West and Key Largo; Key West because of Ernest Hemingway’s six toed cats, and Key Largo because of the Bogart and Bacall classic film Key Largo. I started a little late the day I ventured into the keys so knew that I didn’t have the extra hours needed to sample every wilderness and seascape that unfolds along the one hundred plus miles of roadway, and the forty two arches of concrete and steel, that make up the Overseas Highway. I stopped at Shell World in Key Largo; the quintessential tourist souvenir shop stranded in a time warp. There is something for everyone at Shell World.

john-unicorn-head

image source:johnmcadam

Some may find it unusual to find a latex unicorn head nestled among the snow globes, alligator hats, marine inspired resort wear and shell lamps, but I saw it as representing the hippocampus; the fish tailed horse of the sea from Phoenician and Greek mythology. I slipped on the latex unicorn head. There was a strange but satisfying scent in the mask and within a few minutes I could only hear my deep, slow, relaxed breathing. I opened my eyes and I was just one of the many people staring up at a platform. Behind the platform was a tarpaulin wall serving as a canvas for the most incredible art work; a panorama of workmanship depicting the elephant boy, snake girl, lobster boy, the mermaid lady, and dog faced man. This majestic painted canvas wall teased all of us about the collection of excitements, sensations, and bizarre fantasies that were just inside the tent.

sideshow-alley

image source:pinterest.com

The Royal Melbourne Show is organized by The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and for more than 150 years has been bringing a small slice of Victorian country life to Melbourne. The Show happens for eleven days every September at the Melbourne Show Grounds and attracts up to half a million people each year. Mum and dad took us to the Show a couple of times and later I remember dad driving me to the showgrounds; dad would drop me off at a side entrance gate and we would agree, and promise, on a time to be picked up. I spent the whole day alone at the show. Then I rode the red bus to the showgrounds. The red bus wandered from Williamstown Beach through Footscray and past the showgrounds. The bus stop, at the corner of Melbourne Road and Wilkens Street, was only a short walk from our house. And there was a green bus. The green bus went from Newport railway station, down North Road to Douglas Parade, Ferguson Street, Nelson Place, and then to Williamstown Beach. When I was a youngster, mum’s special treat was to take me on the green bus to the Williamstown shops. I was allowed to kneel on the seat; and I pressed my forehead and nose to the window so I could watch the bustle of Douglas Parade pass by.

grand-parade

image source:i135.photobucket.com

The Royal Melbourne Show was about celebrating champion livestock, the country’s best horse riders, the toughest wood chopping axe men and women, and life on the farm. The agricultural pavilion showcased perfectly arranged eggs, ham, vegetables and bottled fruit, and the art, craft, and cookery competitions produced amazing cake decorations, and eye catching embroidery and smocking. And Victoria’s excellence in livestock was advertised each day by the swirling mass of hundreds of animals choreographed to become the Grand Parade. Back then I didn’t care about any of that. My Royal Melbourne show existed for three reasons; sideshow alley, show bags, and the Victoria Police exhibit.

I don’t remember a Melbourne Show without sideshow alley; made up of merry go rounds, ferris wheels, other mechanical rides, test your skills stalls, and the tents housing the freaks, illusion and magic shows, death defying acts, and boxing performances. I was young, naive, and innocent and I was seduced by the promises of sword swallowers, mermaids, bearded ladies, five legged cows, two headed calves and much more; all just inside the tent and just for a couple of shillings. The showground air carried the hypnotizing, funereal tempo beat of the bass drum from the Sharman Boxing Troupe tent.

sharnin-tent

image source:dictionaryofsydney.org

Until 1971 the Sharman Boxing Troupe had spent sixty years being part of the Australian Show landscapes.

Boom, Boom, Boom.
Who’ll Take A Glove.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
Come on, come on, come on. Give it a go. Survive three rounds and we will give you five pounds.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
And the tent boxers were introduced one by one to the crowd.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
But I never did have the courage to go inside the tents of sideshow alley.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.

And the games of sideshow alley challenged your skills and you were rewarded with a prize without taking a glove. Most of the games involved throwing something at something. A popular game was throwing tennis balls at a group of stacked tin cans. Throwers stood at a line at the front of the tent and tossed the balls the length of the tent; and there was always a tin can left standing.

clown-game

image source:brisbanetimes.com.au

Another popular game was pushing ping pong balls down a clowns mouth when the head was moving from side to side. The first ping pong ball was always a test ball. After putting it down the mouth you would pay attention to the numbered slot it ended up in. And then you figured out when to put the ball in the clowns mouth to get the score needed to win one of the prize’s on the top shelf. All you needed to win at the game was a knowledge of mathematical and physics concepts, courage, perfect timing, and concentration. I watched people play the clowns for a long time but never saw anybody win a prize from the top shelf. Maybe they just needed a little bit of luck. I never played any of the games in sideshow alley.

The Show was also about show bags and the Victoria police exhibit. I remember the paper showbags; they were used by companies to promote their products. There were only a couple of halls where you could buy show bags and there were a couple of kiosks scattered around the showgrounds that also sold the bags. The halls were lined with showbag stalls and once inside you navigated carefully passed the prams and pushers, laden down with showbags, to arrive at your chosen showbag stall. The contents of the bags were displayed on the stalls back wall, or spilled onto the front counter. My favorite bags were the Cherry Ripe, Lifesavers, Violet Crumble, and the Giant Licorice bag.

showbags

image source:pinterest.org

Each year I just looked at the Rosella and Coles bags but never bought them; there were never enough lollies in them. There were over fifty show bags to tempt a young boy, and they were just a couple of shillings each. But time marches on; there are now three hundred plus plastic bags filled with assorted treats and the cost is upwards of twenty five dollars. Licensed bags fill the showgrounds; Barbie, Disney’s Frozen, Looney Tunes, Breaking Bad, and Captain America show bags now persuade today’s show goes; and the Australian Food Awards Deli bag contains cheese, olives, and baked pita. Where are the lollies.

The Victoria Police Exhibition was the magnet that pulled you away from sideshow alley. The small exhibit shed was crammed with police memorabilia, archives, and collectibles. I would squint at the faded sepia colored police mug shots and become the police photographer at the scene; examine the forensic evidence collected by the specialist crime squads and mature into a D24 detective; stare at large grainy black and white photos of Melbourne’s notorious crime scenes and be the fearless photographer capturing the images of the blood stained carpet and crumbled bodies. And I stared wide eyed and in awe at the newest technologies for fingerprinting, photographing, and communication. For a short time I was Plain Clothes Constable Smith.

fairyfloss

image source:funfoodhire.com.au

The air at the show was an exotic blend of animals, fairy floss, meat pies and tomato sauce. I never heeded mum’s guidance to go and find the country ladies food hall to get something to eat. The ladies food hall was the Country Women’s Association hall and the ladies sold home cooked meals. The dinners were meat with roast pumpkin, scalloped potatoes and peas, rissoles, or silverside with mashed potato. Ham, egg, and salad sandwiches were also popular And desert was a slice of pavlova, or fruit jelly. I happily snacked on meat pies, cups of hot chips, jam doughnuts, and fairy floss.

Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
As the years passed I lost interest in the show bags and the intrigue and mysteries of the Police Exhibition were replaced by staying home and watching the Australian television police dramas Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
And each year the sideshow alley tents became fewer and fewer.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.
Years later as a young adult I visited the Royal Melbourne Show and I went to the country ladies food hall for scones with jam and cream, and a cup of tea.
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom.

The Royal Melbourne Show was a September tradition along with the School Holidays; and there was a Show Day public holiday. And it’s still a tradition for some Show visitors to stop at the country ladies food hall for scones with jam & cream, and a cup of tea.

The 2017 Royal Melbourne Show will run from Saturday 23 September through Tuesday 3 October.

 

Royal Melbourne Show

The Country Women’s Association of Victoria

Five Minutes of History: Jimmy Sharman