TAKE A TRIP DOWN BRISBANE’S MEMORY LANE P66-67
DECADES before CityCats, QueensPlaza, Carole Haddad coiffure, South Bank, the Go Between Bridge, Eat Street, Expo 88 and the airport tunnel speedway, there was sunny laid-back Brissie, the swellest country town in all Australia.
If you were a local back then and you got the urge to visit the Big Smoke (Sydney), domestic flights were in the kindergarten. Instead, you took a tram to the old interstate train station at South Brisbane, jumped on the rattler, rocked and rolled down the eastern seaboard for 19 hours – and then you copped it.
Big Smokers treated you like ET- wanting to know where you kept your other head, if you’d seen talking pictures yet, if your milk came in bottles and if f you still had to ride your pushbike to work. Brisbane meant cultural limbo, somewhere to go if you wanted a giggle or a beer after 6pm. Brissie pubs closed at 10, Sydney’s locked off at six o’clock and they hated us for it.
Big Smokers had Brissie pegged as follows: no proper shops, no proper tucker, no proper people. Just a silly little river that didn’t know where it was going. Sydney had The Harbour, The Bridge, Luna Park, Manly ferries and Bondi Beach. What did we have? Backyard thunder boxes (with redback spiders). Visiting Big Smokers trekking up backyards on rainy mornings shook their eir heads. Good old Clem Jones finally put a rocket under our t-boxes in the 1950s and porcelain dunnies went big.
Although rusted-on Brissie-philes chose not to dwell on it, the old town’s history was far from fancy. Many of the town’s forward-thinkers were first cousins of the Dodgy Brothers but nobody took any notice. Brissie in the ’30s was easy living, and easy living didn’t gel with dodgy doings. Sydney had long turned a jaundiced eye. “It’s Dodge City up there. Cross the border and take your chances”.
Things haven’t changed. Hit the Big Smoke and tell them you comeme from Singapore, LA, Barcelona or Reykjavikey and you’ll score a glass of Veuve, a Beluga sandwich, and someone will chatt you up. Tell them you come from Brisbane and you’ll score a meat pie, a porno movie, and a funny look!
Walk into any bash in Sydney and say these two magic words: Clive Palmer. The room clears in a flash. If you’d said “Joh” (in the old days) it would have been the last say you were likely to get. Ever.
Still, as the ’ 30s rolled away, Brissie rocked on. Diversions were legendary.
Just about every suburb sported a picture theatre. There were scores ofof them; some fancy, some plain (with community canvas seats). Business was big through the week, blockbuster on weekends.
There were more thrills – the Breakfast Creek Pub (beer off the wood, fat T-bones and Idaho spuds) Hayles River Cruises, Baxter’s Crabs at Sandgate (yum), Drop Centre trams (‘two to The Valley’), raging at the O’Connor Boathouse (kiss-kiss), curvy sheilas on Suttons Beach (yeah, baby), The Fig Tree dunnies (hello, sailor) and Child’s Wine Vineyard at Nudgee (proper Brissie plonk for the right price).
And for good measure, how about this lot: Barnes Auto (We Never Sleep), Gladys Moncrief (Our Glad) at His Majesty’s, the bad houses of Margaret Street, the Valley and Stanley Street (come in, spinner), the Black and White Milk Bar (ecstasy), Little Mister Fourex, the Shingle Inn (butterscotch ice creamm cake), the Valley Baths (hot bods), pubs on every city corner, the Regent Theatre organ, the mysteries of Marjorie Norval and the Mayne Inheritance, Roma Street markets (fresh and cheap), SS Koopa cruises to Bribie (way cooler than Sydney’s clapped-out ferries) and our very own Paul’s ice cream and icy poles. Hey there, Sydney, suck ’em up, mate. On the goodtime scene, voluptuous sheilas roamed the streets of Spring Hill, and there was so much boom-boom in the Valley it was like the 1812 Overture with overkill on weekends. Fifty Shades of Grey? Kids’ stuff.
Crafty journos prowled dark corners of the Valley and Spring Hill for saucy stories andan gave out with the thrills in the SundaySu Truth every week.
Diehard readers went ape. They set theth alarm, grabbed the paper as soon as it hit the front steps, turned the pagespa while their eyebrows bounced andan allowed bowls of rolled oats to sit untouchedun on the table while the kids readrea Dick Tracy and the Katzenjammerme Kids. When that raunchy rag waswa cleaned up, Brissie Sundays went dead-setde limp.
By December 1939, Brisbane was set to farewell the easy-living ’30s, unawareun of what the new world war hadha in store for it.
With the speed of light, it would soon growgro into a boom town and its cultural desert tag was about to become a myth.
The future would come loaded with treats – nudie-cuties at the Cremorne Theatre (The Atomic Blondes), George Wallace Jnr at the Theatre Royal, Billo Smith at Cloudland Ballroom, strutting sailors at the Valley Baths, Evie Hayes at His Majesty’s and the first post-war Miss Australia (Rhonda Kelly from Virginia).
You could get a thrill under the Victoria Bridge, a good time on the riverside balcony of the Blue Moon skating rink and a really good time in the back row of the St James Theatre dress circle. So much for the talk of a cultural desert.
Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Brisbane rode straight into the slipstream and the ride was unforgettable.
It is a common misbelief that Expo 88 was the miracle that gave Brisbane its long-awaited emergence as a happening place. Not by a long shot, mate; not by a long shot.