I remember Dad as a salesman both in his professional and his personal life; it seemed that everybody enjoyed his company and reveled in his outward personality. He was a volunteer at the Williamstown Youth Center, a Free Mason, a member of the Williamstown Lions Club, and he seemed to dabble in whatever took his interest at that moment. I can’t recall any meaningful father son planned activities that we did together that were opportunities for shared learning, or occasions that promoted my self confidence and character development. We didn’t have a barbecue so he couldn’t fire up the barbie so we could grill together. He wasn’t very adept at mechanics or construction so we didn’t share building projects, and he didn’t know his way around a car engine. Dad did know that first impressions are very important and assumptions are made based on attitude and appearance so I know that he planned my first two public appearances to help with my personal growth. These were not one on one activities that we did together but he did have some closeness to both and I think he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to muster would cause me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.
Moomba was a cultural festival staged annually in Melbourne. It started in 1951 when Melbourne celebrated fifty years of Federation with a street parade. In 2003 it morphed into Melbourne Moomba Waterfest and events still included the traditional Moomba parade, crowning of Moomba monarchs and fireworks displays, but now carnivals in the gardens and along the Yarra and river watersports, water floats, the birdman rally, as well as live music and bands are all part of the festivities; today it is Australia’s largest free community festival.
From the 1950’s until the 1970’s the parade that stretched down Swanston Street was the highlight of Moomba. The parade attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and would take several hours to pass. It was made up of humble tractor drawn floats adorned in flowers, armies of clowns with some even riding bicycles among the floats, assorted bands that included the perennial favorite Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Band, costumed historical characters, giant paper mache puppets, and the flamboyant floats of Myers, the Gas & Fuel Corporation, and the State Electricity Commission.
One year the Williamstown Lions Club sponsored a post Moomba parade in Williamstown. Dad was the organizer; I don’t know if he stepped forward or if his fellow lions knew that he could do it. It seemed every night for a couple of weeks his fingers had found a home on the keys of the portable typewriter that he set up on the dining room table. He persuaded several of the companies, businesses, and others who had their Moomba floats meander down Swanston Street to be part of the Williamstown parade; they agreed to warehouse their floats, transport them to Williamstown, and volunteer their employees to smile and wave from the float on a Saturday afternoon. Assorted local community groups, businesses, and bands also agreed to be part of the parade that was to proceed down Ferguson Street, turn into Nelson Place and travel on to Thompson Street.
On the day of the parade I drifted through the designated assembling area outside the Williamstown Town Hall and marveled as all the participants somehow arranged themselves into the parade order: And dad appeared from out of this coalescing assemblage and walked toward me. I didn’t know what to prepare myself for; he put one hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes and said; would you be a milk bottle. It seems the person who originally offered to carry the paper mache milk bottle hadn’t arrived. Dad motioned and someone lifted the milk bottle over my head as I bent from the waist. I settled the two inside straps on my shoulders; I was the milk bottle. The parade started and I gingerly started to walk with faltering steps. The paper mache bottle was designed with a small gauze mesh at eye level and all you could see was what was in front of you. If you wanted to see anything either side then you had to turn as a milk bottle; if you wanted to see where you were stepping you had to bow down as a milk bottle.
I soon adjusted and as I gained confidence I swayed from side to side, did a little skipping, completed small circles, and even sashayed down part of Nelson Place. I was showing visual milk bottle pizzazz.
The youth centre was housed in a building behind the Williamstown Town Hall. It was a wood framed relcaimed building surrounded by unused electric light poles. There was a small street beside the Hoyts picture theatre that Williamstown’s electrical and maintenance vehicles used that led to the back of the town hall. The youth centre building contained a stage, a small to medium auditorium with attached toilets, and changing rooms. Off the front of the hallway that separated the auditorium and toilets was a small counter high snack shop canteen, and further along a room for hobby activities. First Constable Merv Storey was the youth centres pt instructor and manager; he was the catalyst for the centre. I also remember Tom Webb who was known for his model glider and plane making classes in the hobby room; and his wife, who we only knew as Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb provided piano accompaniment for all the centres public displays of physical culture, pyramids, vaulting and parallel bars. The youth center offered recreational and physical culture activities for boys and girls from eight years old and up.
I attended the youth centre one night a week. I think dad volunteered at the centre as a committee member, and he would help out one night a week with games and instructional activities. He would umpire games of iron goals; one of my favorite games. Iron goals was played in the auditorium and the junior boys would be randomly divided into two teams and the teams would line up along opposite walls; each boy would number off. An iron goal was at each end of the auditorium. The iron goal was a miniature soccer goal without the net and was made from bent and welded metal rods; you scored by dribbling a basket ball from the centre of the auditorium, along the floor, into your goal. Your opponent had to steal the basket ball from you by only using his hands. They could then attempt to pat and dribble the ball into their goal to score. Dad would blow the whistle call out two numbers, for example four and seventeen, and then four and seventeen would run to opposite ends of the auditorium, touch the iron goal, and run back to the basket ball in the centre to start dribbling to their goal.
I know that dad never favored me when calling the numbers but he always called my number during a game of iron goals; it was as if he was preparing me to choose life as a competition; or a game. The youth center staged an annual coed display of gymnastics and physical culture, indoor games, marching, boxing and wrestling, and other activities in the Williamstown Town Hall. I was one of the selected junior boys who gathered in the centre of the town hall floor, the outer portion of the room was crowded with spectators, to demonstrate the indoor game of iron goals. My number was called; I was first to the basket ball. I bobbed and weaved, my hand patting and guiding the ball on an unimaginable journey across the town hall wooden floor. All I could hear were the gasps from the spectator parents as they followed my dreamlike control of the ball toward the iron goal. I also heard the distorted chord progressions and inversions as Mrs Webb, her feet furiously pumping the pedals and her hands a blur, created a medley of improvised piano riffs to accompany my iron goal ball dribbling.
I don’t remember scoring the goal but waiting for my number to be called forced me to practice mental readiness and also to invent some personal rituals to maximize my performance and control anxiety.
So dad knew that he hadn’t played enough games of snakes and ladders or draughts, or taken me to any car shows, hadn’t helped with my homework, or gone camping just with me and the dunny seat, and hadn’t played much catch with the cricket ball; the times we could have been just dad and son bonding. But in his own way he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to display would cause me pass into manhood and help me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.