Joan dressed for the part
Softly spoken but still full of life, Joan Equinox has danced her way through life, as Moya Stevens learned
Joan Equinox is readily recognised by her exceptional style and taste in clothes but there is more to her than just her appearance.
Born on a dairy farm at Conondale, a small hamlet west of Maleny, Joan lived a life of most country children, helping on the farm and enjoying the freedom afforded by small community.
“Dad (Ernie Prior) had a bullock team, so he would go away working,” Joan explained, “and the kids would have to milk the 30 cows we had – and it was in the days of hand milking.”
There were seven children in the Prior family, Joan being the second born.
“Our mother was very loving but she really was more academic than a homemaker – she hated housework,” Joan said, “so I did a lot of the raring of my siblings.”
After attending school at Elaman Creek with a year at Ipswich Girls Grammar, Joan got a job as a domestic at the nearby Maleny hospital.
“Entertainment when I was a teenager was centred around local dances and I just loved it,” she said, “and it really was a lovely life.”
Joan very much wanted to become a nurse so she trained at the Gympie hospital, graduating when she was 20 years old.
“Life as a trainee nurse meant we went to the beach and drank too much, we went to the park and drank too much,” she laughed, “and we all really loved beer – but we were very good nurses too.”
Upon graduation, Joan got a position at the Cairns Base Hospital and she remembers complaining that she had been in Cairns for two months and “there were no dates and no going out”.
“Then one night one of the other nurses came in and said there were some guys sitting in their cars out the front of the hospital, asking if there were any nurses who wanted to go out.
“I said to my friend ‘that’s us’ and off we went,” she said, “and that night I met Lou Equinox – and I never saw any other bloke after that.”
Joan said that one of her stipulations when going out with a man is that they liked to dance, and fortunately Lou was a good dancer.
“Lou lived with his father for many years in New Guinea, and he would go to dances, and as he didn’t drink, he would dance with all the wives of Australians who were living there at the time,” Joan explained.
An engagement ensued and wedding plans made. In 1954, they were married in Mossman as Lou’s father, Carlos, had cousins in the area (the Lombardis), and he had bought a house in the town and a cane farm at Cassowary.
Joan and Lou lived happily in and around Mossman and had three children, Russell, Keri-Lu and Joanne and soon bought a bigger cane farm in Mowbray.
“Lou and I still loved to dance so when we heard about a dance somewhere around, often on the tablelands and Cairns, we’d pack up the kids and go,” Joan reminisced.
“We particularly liked the modern waltz and the quick step but didn’t care what it was, we were on the dance floor,” she said.
“Lou was shy but a very, very good dancer and luckily he only wanted to dance with me,” she laughed.
Along with the dancing came the gowns which were designed by Joan and if not made by her, by a local dressmaker.
After many years working the farm at Mowbray, Lou became ill and spent 10 years easing back from the farm’s responsibilities which were taken on by Russell, their first born.
“It was only when the doctor said that he needed hospital care, that I moved him to Mossman Hospital and he was the first patient in their Aged Care Ward,” Joan said.
“He was looked after beautifully there,” she said, who visited Lou every day of his 12 month time in Mossman Hospital.”
Meanwhile, the family sold the farm and Joan bought a lovely home in Port Douglas and shortly after she had settled in her new abode, Lou died.
“Shaun Cram sang Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life at Lou’s funeral,” Joan said, “and it was really beautiful.”
“We were very much in love from our first date until the day he passed away,” Joan sighed.
Joan busied herself with sewing clothes and patchwork quilts, and continued to seek out dances with friends and family joining her, and she took up going to the Cairns horse races.
“It’s another opportunity to dress up,” she laughed.
As Joan’s dancing has waned over recent years, she donated her gowns to the Cairns Choral Society but still has an enviable wardrobe of stylish, bespoke outfits.
Joan dons these elegant ensembles when attending the theatre both in Port Douglas and Cairns.
“I know I may look a bit overdressed but I feel good,” she said, “and when I dress up, I feel myself.
“I have a good life still,” she explained, “going out with girlfriends and I have lovely neighbours who pop in at 5 o’clock some nights for a glass of wine.”
Seeing Joan dressed in her finery is one of the pleasures of living in Port Douglas and it would appear she intends to maintain her exceptional style.
I said to my friend ‘that’s us’ and off we went and that night I met Lou Equinox – and I never saw any other bloke after that
Joan Equinox with one of her gowns. Inset above: Lou and Joan in the 1960s. Right: Nursing graduation, 1954