Bill Haley and the Comets were rocking the speakers at the new movie theatre that Pinhead Reardon had built in Bank Street, the very foundations of the place had been a playground for so many of us as we ran up and down the floor joists and perilously balanced above the floor metres below... eventually the council became worried about the kids and stopped us. A month or two later, the theatre was used for an Anzac memorial service and then the movies started. So did Rock and Roll.
I begged and begged, came up with every reason why I had to, absolutely had to see the movie, regardless of the fact that newspapers and radio commentators and any one else with an opinion that mattered, thought that this new phenomena called Rock and Roll, was the absolute epitome of all evil and that Satan himself was on screen, hell bent on the utter corruption of youth and the destruction of society as they knew it. (Interestingly in some hindsight the phenomena of Rock had a massive impact and reverberated widely, even today the life style and changes that Rock music made to the lives of every day people, is profound.)
In the end I won, but not before I huffed and puffed and Mum had grilled me closely about why I had to see the movie. Of course I had to see it, all the kids, teenagers and young adults spoke about nothing else and when 3YB Warrnambool played music that had a beat, we were all on our feet trying out the new moves we had seen on the movie promos and even on the news.
Its hard to imagine how a movie and a few singers and musicians could bring about so much change. I was on that wave. Until then we lived just like our parents, same thinking, same style. I was dressed like a junior version of Dad. Clothing was not thought of as something that was divided into age categories. Boys wore short pants for as long as it was thought appropriate (don't ask... I don’t know!) mine seemed to last for my whole time at High School and when I was to start work at the National Bank (also don't ask, I blame my mother for that monumental mistake!). I was whisked off to Warrnambool where there were a couple of men’s wear shops that Mum liked. We had a two places in Port Fairy, Walikers Men’s Wear and Gilpins, but these were more for the everyday and the farmers. Not special occasions. Mum was a great knitter, she knitted for the whole family and was seen always with her knitting bag. It wasn't just Mum, it was something that, in the days before television, people did. I did manage a jumper from Walikers on one occasion, it had a sort of cowl cross over neckline that I thought very stylish, as I remember it was blue green and I hung on to it until it fell apart.
Wardrops my Tailor was in Leibig Street in Warrnambool and was a long store dedicated entirely to menswear. Long counters swept all the way down either side of the shop backed up with cabinets of shirts, jumpers, socks and in discreet areas, underwear, hidden so as not to offend the sensibilities of those unused to such a disturbing sight. In the centre of the shop were racks that contained trousers, jackets and coats, suits, considered as the top of the tree for the male fashionista, were located on the left as you entered and were shown in colour variations, the styles were very limited to a double or single breast, and some other minor changes. Real change did not enter the world of suits until a few years after Bill Haley when radical changes started, the first as I recall was a very slim leg (stovepipe) that had to be worn with shoes, sharpened (it seemed) to a pencil point, designed to destroy feet and when used in battle, inflicted hideous wounds to anyone silly enough to get in the way. Jackets did not alter much except that the shoulders became wider and a little more padded. The overall look kind of wide shoulders tapering down to the pencil pointed shoes. Ties, narrow, belts almost non existent, socks often loud colours. Hard to say it was a beautiful look, but it was the first time in my life that we dressed in our own way. And it was a battle.
Mum had determined that as a bank clerk, I needed white shirts, can't remember the ties and grey pants, sensible shoes.
All that was soon to change as Port Fairy was swept up in Rock and Roll fever, the word spreading via the media of the day about changes. The girls started layering up the petticoats under swirling skirts and growing their hair to put into pony tails to stay in the fashions needed to part of the Rock and Roll era. The towns elders, the churches and the movers and shakers (read the gossips from the bowling and golf clubs) all started to worry. The young people were starting to rebel. It was no longer a question of being able to tell them what to do and they would do it, they were saying no. No to the hair styles, short back and sides for the men, butterfly waves for the girls, no to the clothing that was now 'seriously' unfashionable for the young and no to the music of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and the big bands. That was yesterday, today was a whole new world. Meetings were even held to try and prevent what was perceived of as the demonic and unchristian behaviour taking hold. Threats were made to ban the movies, ban the playing of Rock and Roll music and curtail the sales of records and record players so as to not allow this perversion.
It didn't work, it never could. The 1940's had seen a war, great devastation even in Australia as a result of men and women going to the war. Change was needed and inevitable. Dreams had been shattered, the world was a hostile unhappy place and Rock and Roll music and all that it brought with it, was the change needed to rebuild.
Hair for men started to become of great interest, no longer the short back and sides, the two resident men’s 'barbers' of the town both retired almost simultaneously, the barbershops being taken over by barbers from Melbourne who knew how to cut and style the Rock and Roll hair. In my case I was in a complete dilemma, my hair, whilst full, was fine and getting it to sit in some of the more extravagant waves and effects was not possible, even when I applied loads of Californian Poppy hair oil for men! It all just flattened out. I tried having a crew cut, that also failed, my hair had a will of its own and having it stand up all over my head, didn't happen. I was much more successful when the era evolved a little and the start of the beatnik era happened, I could accommodate the look well, duffle coat, desert boots, corduroy pants, dark glasses. I did it well. Some would say too well. The era of mod was also not one of my better times, when the Rock stars of that era came out with shoulder length hair, I knew that would never be for me, I simply allowed my hair to be as full as I could, without showing off my hairs intractable nature.
Looking back at that time, I started work, and yes, it was a huge mistake in hindsight, but the choices for a kid in the country were limited, I started going to dances, even got a car (Morris Minor... very second hand) learned to smoke, became extremely confused about many things, never could work out what to do with the creative side of me. And the rhythm that beat in my life was Rock and Roll.
Bill Haley was followed by many, seems cruel to say that much of the blues, soul singers of the USA in particular were not well known or understood in Australia. There was not much exposure. That all changed when Rock and Roll allowed singers from the USA to start becoming well known. Think Elvis Presley, think Motown (my all time faves at that time, the impact that record label had was amazing... if you ever have the chance, find the DVD, In the Shadow of Motown.. great stuff) and then it all exploded.
Port Fairy would never be the same, the Debutantes Ball and the dances and balls that were held during the year when the music would be provided by a pianist, a saxophone, a set of drums and a guitar with the occasional trumpet or slide trombone, started to change. The young would dance for an hour or two to the music of the oldies, and then start to drift to the sides of the hall in anticipation of something modern. Often simply did not happen, there were times when the supper room, after supper, was cleared and handed over to the young people to dance and play their music, in those times, amplification was not something that was easy, you needed to call out the local electrician ahead of time. The volume generated by a record player was just not enough.
The Palais de Dance in Warrnambool started to change. The Palais was a dance hall that had been built in the immediate pre-war era and was renowned as having a 'sprung' dance floor, couples would glide around the highly polished floor to the sounds of swing music. But it was not enough, the local Warrnambool big band had started to learn some pieces of Rock and Roll and would intersperse that music with swing, it did not take the management all that long to notice that the floor would fill to overflowing when Rock was played. Change was inevitable. The menu was published as being 60/40, that meant that either swing or rock could be 60 or 40. The Palais would start at 8 pm and finish at midnight, that never changed. When the advent of me owning a Morris Minor happened, a few of us would head off to the Palais for a night out. Alcohol was not thought of as something you needed at that time, the Palais was unlicensed. Hotels had long closed since 6 pm closing was still in, so unless you had taken your own drinks, then you made do with soft drink. On one memorable occasion, one of my passengers decided to bring along some 'Creme de Menthe' liqueur and we were urged to try it, one glass was enough for me to be quite sick. The days of innocence.
Change had come, things would never be the same again, the new era had begun. We soon started wanting to eat things like Hamburger and drink Spiders, we wanted clothes that reflected us, we listened to music that for all her life, my mother never came close to understanding. For me it was exciting, like being let out of jail and be told to explore and be what ever you wanted to be. Sure we went to excesses, the free love etc., we dived deep into waters that were absolutely forbidden. We looked at new religions and spiritualties, we explored the world (often to the detriment of the countries we traipsed through eg: India) and we faced things that out parents never had to face, the annihilation of all life with the invention of the Atomic Bomb. We learned to live under a constant threat, Communism or the Red Peril was something we all feared. We stopped Australia's involvement in wars, Vietnam. We protested in the streets which caused our older citizens to be very concerned. We started to change the world. Not always for the better, not always as we thought, more freedoms, but we did take on our own lives.
In the end I hope that we the Baby Boomers or Gen XYZ (I never know!) made the world at least a more open place, not better, just more accepting.