Made a lotta stops
All over the world
And in every port I own the heart
Of at least one lovely girl.”
- Travellin’ Man, Rick Nelson.
JON: I stood and looked out the
window through one of
The Story Bridge Hotel itself wasn’t so bad as such; it was just
that we’d never played to drunks before. All our shows had been to teenagers,
fans of ours, who had come to the show specifically to see us and listen to our
music. Now our audience wanted to get pissed, yahoo, dance, fight, have a
chunder, get pissed some more and then pull a bird! We were of secondary
importance, a little like a freak show at the
I guess the main reason we all came up here, apart from the fact
that there was S.F.A. going on in
Also, to alleviate any possible boredom, we had some extra shows outside the pub for a promoter called Dulcie Day. She had us working at the Ipswich Showground, the Hibernian Hall and the wonderful old Cloudland Ballroom in Brisbane. These shows had good crowds and took us away from the drunks. Back with our devoted fans made us feel like pop stars again! Thank you Dulcie!
Cloudland featured one of the few “Big Bands” that I had ever seen. Tony Cornwall & the Knights. I could imagine what Cloudland must have been like in its hey-day in the thirties and forties, with big bands, ballroom dancing and the like. The only bad thing I remember about Cloudland was that some male band vultures wanted to bash us up and we had to get out of there in a hurry. Still, that’s par for the course! Anyway, that suited me fine, as I wanted to get back, borrow Graham’s car and take Angel out. Dig, who also had some girl with him, went with Angel and I to the Primitif Nite-Club, which was one of our favourite Brissie after-hours hangouts. After a night of aimless “wrestling” with these two in Graham’s car, Dig and I dragged ourselves back to the Story Bridge very bugged at not scoring. Lo and behold! From Leon’s room there were sounds of heavy breathing and the unmistakeable air of copulation. How dare he! We decided that we should watch, if nothing else. Dig and I crept into Leon’s darkened room and stood quietly at either side of the bed. I don’t know who was more surprised us or Leon, when his lady reached out and unzipped our pants. She then gave us a hand job while Leon was still screwing her. The whole episode fell apart when “Flooby” Fred burst through the door with his giant donger; she wasn’t going to have any part of that one! Except for the innocent Drummer, we were all then unceremoniously sent out the door.
Flooby Fred was now playing bass with us. Peter Baker was being a good Catholic boy and staying home in Sydney, having started a course in accountancy while Mike Lawler was still busy doing his Tech. Course. Ryanny, by this time, was going through the New Caledonian pre-marriage rites in preparation for his marriage to Fifi, the native girl with whom he had shacked up. The father definitely wanted either Ryanny’s hand in marriage to his daughter or Ryanny’s balls on a platter! So, we had the “Floob” on bass this time. I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever get a permanent bass player!
As well as the gigs in Brisbane, we had a couple of trips down to Surfers Paradise. We played at a place called the Domino Coffee Lounge run by a guy called Kenny Carter, a good bloke, who was a friend of Victor’s. Sharing the bill with us at the Domino was Johnny Marco, a jazz singer and crooner of some note (possibly Eb). I chose to travel to Surfers with Ron in his VW. Not a good choice! I have never had such a hair-raising trip in all my life. Ron had absolutely no regard for his safety or anyone else’s for that matter! A couple of days later, back in Brisbane, Ron did us all a favour and stacked the VW again. Apparently, the wheels got stuck in the tramlines and he rolled it. Ron ended up with the unfortunate Beetle on its side, catherine-wheeling around a telegraph pole like Curly from the Three Stooges!
August 1, 1961, saw us move into a very nice house, in the Brisbane suburb of Chelmer, rented by Lonnie lee who was still working around Brisbane the same as we were. The household consisted of Lonnie, his wife Pam and two month old son, David, with Dig, Leon, Ron, Fred, myself and Alf the Butler. Alf was the infamous protégé of Johnny Bogie (remember him? Joy Boys, drums, party tricks, fire extinguishers). Alf was acting as our butler at Chelmer. How he got there I don’t know. His main claim to fame was being invited up to sing with the Joy Boys. He was so out of time and out of tune that it didn’t matter because Bogie had other plans for him. He would become famous, Bogie told him. “All you have to do,” said Bogie, “is to get up on stage, hold up your right arm and yell out ‘Hi folks, my name’s Alf… Alf The Arm!’” Now, Alf was a bit thick, if you know what I mean, and he would do whatever Bogie told him. Bogie once told him to run on stage at the Stadium and do his arm routine and to take no notice of the police if they tried to throw him off because they weren’t really police, they were just friends of Col Joye’s dressed up. Poor old Alf did as he was told and was promptly ejected from the Stadium by the constabulary!
Anyhow, it seemed, that we had inherited Alf the Arm from the Joy Boys as our butler (thanks a lot guys!). We dressed him up in one of our old black suits with bow tie and all. Alf’s duties were to serve tea, answer the door and the phone, (“Mr. Lee and Mr. Richards’ residence!”), wash cars and do errands and also provide comedy relief. In exchange for these services Alf would receive free room and board and friendship that he would have been hard pressed to find anywhere else. He was, at this stage, almost one of society’s outcasts. Alf the Arm was later shot dead in tragic circumstances but he is remembered by all of us as one of life’s great characters.
The house at Chelmer was very large with at least five acres of ground stretching down to the Brisbane River, stables, gardener’s cottage and some very puzzled neighbours. They couldn’t understand how people well-to-do enough to have a butler could have so many wild parties with girls arriving and leaving at all times of the night – and all that screaming rock’n’roll music as well. We had our share of visitors, which included singers, Ian Crawford and Lyn Rogers and a few of Lonnie’s Leemen. Angel was a regular visitor to the house but I never could get her to stay overnight. She didn’t want to become one of the semi-residents of this decadent establishment like Madame Zeta who had well and truly installed herself in Leon’s room. Altogether, the times we had at the Chelmer mansion were very pleasant and a whole lot better than living at the Story Bridge. Chelmer was one of Brissie’s better suburbs and there is definitely something pleasant about living in what Peter would call, one of “the better areas”.
Uncle Victor would flit in every now and then (if someone 20 stone in weight can be termed to ‘flit’), telling us of his plans for an extended tour of outback Queensland which sounded very exciting. He planned to start the tour in September after we returned to Sydney to tie up a few loose ends. The tour was only a few weeks away. On the road again, I just couldn’t wait!
YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS
No rest for the wicked they say and we had been very wicked, so we had to play at Bulli Police Boys Club on the same night that we returned from Brisbane. A bigger and better show was held the following night at the Trocadero with Jay Justin, Ken Sparkes, The Hall Brothers, Kevin Todd & Laurel Lea, Billy Cannon and Judy Cannon (no relation). Sunday arvo was back at our usual Bob Malcolm dance at the Ironworker’s Hall.
I spent the next week trying to track down Irene; after all that wrestling with Angel I wanted some good uncomplicated sex! After a couple of days I found her and I wished I hadn’t. She had become a hooker! I got my uncomplicated sex, more uncomplicated than I thought. In fact, it was downright boring! Even after that, I still had a soft spot for Irene but I was glad to be going away again.
Leon and I made an appearance on 6 O’Clock Rock, singing Down By The Riverside with Dig, and standing there like fools with no instruments! Glad to see they’re keeping rock’n’roll alive down here! Johnny O’Keefe produced our next Dig and the R’Jays record, Dee Dee Darlin’ at Fester-ville. Peter Baker made a return on double bass as well as Jimmy Slogget and Ron on saxes, Warren Carr on piano, Lou Casch on 6 string bass guitar, vocal backing by the Delltones and Robert Iredale on knobs! It was one of the best things we ever did at Festival, thanks to the influence of O’Keefe. Another session at Festival, with Doug Richards playing guitar as well, netted us John Henry, an old folk song, and Goin’ On Home To Glory, an old Negro spiritual. “Wot! No rock’n’roll?” “No! You guys have got to grow up. Don’t you know that rock’n’roll’s had it?” “NO! We don’t!”
Another 6 O’Clock Rock (vocals only) followed with Three Jolly Coachmen – sat in an English Tavern! No comment. The last show in Sydney was our dance at the Buffalo Hall. Not many kids there. I thought that Sydney had forgotten us. No wonder when we give them Down By The Riverside and Three Jolly Coachmen on TV!
During the last week I had developed a nasty case of haemorrhoids (piles to the uninitiated) and these were going to play havoc in the heat of Western Queensland, sitting in cars all day long. The doctor gave me some special ointment to take with me; it was good stuff, really eased the pain but it was still most embarrassing to have piles!
Peter Baker still refused to leave Sydney; Mike Lawler was still doing his Tech. Course, Flooby Fred couldn’t go for some reason and God knows what was happening to Ryanny in the wilds of New Caledonia! Peter found a guy called Brian Kelly to play with us on the upcoming banana-bending tour. On Wednesday, September 6, 1961, we set out for Queensland from Dig’s place at Cremorne in his ’61 FB Holden: Dig, Sandy, Ron, Leon, Brian and me, Three in the front and three in the back! I can’t remember how the gear went up but we couldn’t have fitted it in the Holden. It was rather cramped, to say the least. We were to meet Vic and a girl singer in Dalby. Victor had another car for the tour, so things wouldn’t be this cramped all the time. If they were, I don’t think my piles would have stood it!
We arrived in the afternoon at the beautiful Range Motel in Toowoomba and that night we played at the Boom Boom Coffee Lounge to 48 people. Big deal! “Where’s all the thousands of people frothing at the mouth and trying to rip our clothes off?” I said, very disgruntled. “Don’t worry,” said Dig, “Tonight’s only a fill-in before Dalby. We haven’t even picked up Vic and the girl yet.” Dig was right as usual. No tour could officially start without Victor!
“What’s this chick singer like, anyway, George (Digby George Richards)?” I asked. “”I don’t know, Jon,” said Dig, “All I know is her name is Peni and she’s a Maori. C’mon you guys, we better hit the sack. It’s pretty late and we’ve got to be on the road to Dalby early in the morning.” After a few cries of “Spoilsport!” and “There’s still some beer left!” we were slapping the bag.
Lunchtime the next day put us at the Dalby Shire Hall where we met Vic, Peni Wiriani and the other car we were to use on the tour – a 1952 Hudson!! “What’s this ancient heap of shit, Victor?” scolded Dig as he looked at this grey lump already dying in the gutter outside the hall.
“Not to worry Dig, these things are sent to try us. It was all I could get but it’s good for thousands of miles yet.”
“Sent to try us? It’s sent to bloody kill us if you ask me!” yelled Dig.
“Have some faith in your old uncle Victor will you Digby. Have I ever steered you wrong?” Well, he hadn’t so far but things were not looking good. The crowd that night was disastrous! Only forty people! The reason given was that Slim Dusty had been in town last week and everyone had spent their money to see Slim. It was right too. To the people in just about every country town in Australia, Slim was (and still is) GOD! Fortunately for us, God was headed south and we were headed west along the Warrego Highway to our next stop, Chinchilla.
Luckily, we decided to have a rehearsal with Brian, our new bass player, at the hall in Chinchilla that afternoon. With Brian a little more acquainted with the songs, we did a really good show that night.
“That’s more like it,” I said to Dig. “Not quite the Myers Music Bowl but it’ll do.” As it turned out, the crowd of 250 people was quite amazing for Chinchilla! The next day we left Vic, Peni and the Hudson in town and the rest of us drove out to a property owned by Sandy’s Uncle Mac. It was a large station, called Auburn. Seeing as it was Sunday, we made sure we were in time for lunch.
“Come up to the homestead and have some lunch,” invited Uncle Mac who was a pleasant, sunburnt, windswept, fiftyish, typical station-owner. We had the best steaks we’d had in years in this lovely old homestead, with the dining room situated in the middle of the house to keep it cool. After lunch, Uncle Mac took us outside to the verandah. We had a couple of cold ones and the Uncle Mac yelled out to an Aboriginal jackaroo, “Hey, Norm!” Norm was holding up a hitching rail over by the stables. “Norm, saddle up some horses for these boys will ya!” “Righto boss!”
Horses!! And me with piles! Well, might as well give it a go, I guess. Fortunately they were nice horses. Usually, I seem to attract nasty ones. We rode out, following Norm, into some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen in my life. I forgot all about the piles. Horse and rider were as one. I don’t know whether it was the influence of Norm or not, but hardly anyone spoke. We just followed him and seemed to blend in with the land. I saw a 3-foot goanna in a tree and as we approached it hissed and ran further up. We rode on. It was Norm who broke the silence, “Hey you boys! Hop off your horses and follow me. I’ve got something to show yers, eh?” We hopped off our horses and followed Norm. Suddenly we came across a cave in the hillside.
“Here boys, look at this,” said Norm, almost whispering, “These are some of the stories that my people write down in pictures long time ago.” I couldn’t believe it. We were looking at some Aboriginal rock paintings that probably not many white people had ever seen before. Norm told us the stories in the paintings but nothing sank in. As we rode silently back to the homestead I thought about “Don’t give up your day job!” They must have been kidding! In no other occupation that I know can one see such incredible sights, experience such a wide range of incredible things, meet so many incredible people, have a good time and get paid for it!
Back at the ranch, we played the old white man’s game of shooting beer cans off the fence and drank some more beer. After dinner we settled down to a long game of Pontoon with the light from the pressure-lamps luring the many strange insects that would otherwise be feasting on us. Uncle Mac and his lovely wife suggested that we stay the night rather than drive the 40 miles back to town. This suggestion was very well received, as we were all pretty tired. We went to bed between crisp clean sheets with the cool Queensland air blowing through the open windows. I dreamed strange dreams of other people, a long time ago. It was a day I’ve never forgotten.
In the morning I awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs and the realisation that after all of yesterday’s bum-rattling escapades, I had forgotten my pile ointment! The trip back to town was painful. I hate to dwell on something as distasteful as piles but they really were becoming a drag. We had our first taste of bulldust (not the kind that Victor throws around) on this road out to Uncle Mac’s and this was only 40 miles of it. By the end of the tour we would be bulldust from arsehole to breakfast time!
On our arrival back in town, Victor was running around like a man possessed. “Come on now fellas, we have to get to the next town you know. Jon, grab some of this gear and start loading the cars!”
“Load it yourself,” I said angrily, “I’ve got something more important to do.” As I was rushing to my room for the pile ointment, Victor retorted, “Having a little trouble with the old ‘River Niles’, are we?”
Victor and his old “friend” Bill Watson were children of the Depression. They were part of a group referred to as “knockabouts” who were used to wheeling and dealing and not knowing where their next meal was coming from. We were forever getting lectures on the general bad times that he and his friends had to go through in the thirties and the forties. The lectures also included the old time values of traditional show business with phrases like “The show must go on” and “Being a trouper”. To be a good trouper, you were expected to do your job as a team without whinging or making waves. Another good one was called “Observing the coat”. Victor would tug at the lapel of his coat when he wanted us to shut up while he was conning somebody. “Okay, you fat old gay, where’s all this gear you want me to load?” I yelled, coming out of the hotel and feeling no pain, “It’s a storm in a teacup anyway. Drillham is only 26 miles from here!”
“Don’t worry your pretty little red pompadour about it Jon. The gear’s already loaded. Just hurry up. I have to check the advance.” The “advance” was Victor’s job. It consisted of going out on the tour first, putting up posters, booking halls, geeing up radio stations and the dreaded disk jockeys and generally making sure that there would be no balls-ups when the band hit town. Usually there were! “Checking the advance” was seeing what balls-ups had occurred since “the advance”.
There wasn’t much to check in Drillham - One poster outside an old wooden hall not much bigger than a shed. “You must be joking Vic,” said Dig, “How can we have a show in a dump like this?”
“I assure you no jest, Digby. This is just a fill-in before Roma. Besides, Slim always draws people here.” I was getting tired of hearing what Slim could do in this country. Obviously Slim’s show ran on a tight budget and Slim knew what he was doing. Still’ it’s not mine to wonder why, just do my job, have a good time and be a trouper! Drillham County Hall, as it was laughingly called, was once a shearing shed. The crowd that night consisted of forty people of dubious parentage. Lots of “sheepish” grins!
Back on the Warrego Highway, we bid a fond adieu to Drillham, the “Dogpatch” of Queensland, and began the 80 mile drive to Roma. It was not called Roma for nothing; there was a very large Italian population. Victor told us there was also a vineyard there where we could taste some wines, if we got time. I thought we’d just have to make time.
The moment we arrived in Roma, it was off to the hall, set up gear, grab a quick bite at a local café (usually a “Paragon” or “Parthenon”) and on to the radio station for the interview. Radio Station 4KZ Roma was your typical country station with pretty outdated equipment and not much staff. The difference here was the friendliness of everyone. Gordon, the local disk jockey, was “Mr. Hospitality” right from the start. Even his wife, Dorothy, had come into the studio to welcome us to Roma. She was a top sort and had all of us “sex maniacs” drooling. “Well boys,” said Gordon, “I think we’ll do the interview with all of you instead of just Dig. It’ll be more fun that way.” Oh Gordon, what had you let yourself in for?”
Dig had a habit of taking over an interview from the DJ, let alone all of us butting in as well! It was lucky that 4KZ wasn’t pressed for time as the interview went on for about an hour and a half. Gordon must have played every record we ever made, including the embarrassing South Of The Border, with the wrong chords spliced in by Robert Iredale… “Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay!” Every time we heard this song we would wince in agony and for some reason whenever we went into a milk bar or café, someone would inevitably play it on the jukebox.
The subject came up, on the air, about it being Dig’s 21st birthday, Gordon said (off air), “OK, that’s it then, why don’t you stay at my place tonight and we’ll have a huge party to celebrate. What could we say? “Gordon, you’ve got us!”
That night we played to over 300 people in the Hibernian Hall. This it seemed, was a phenomenally good crowd for a Tuesday night in Roma. The radio plug did some good, I guess. They were also a very responsive audience, which put us in a party mood. The whole troupe arrived at Gordon’s home for Dig’s 21st, accompanied by an assortment of male and female band vultures. I think I got very drunk and not only drooled over Dorothy but all the female vultures as well.
As promised, the next morning Vic took us to the local vineyard. We were all much too sick to indulge in wine tasting, especially when we found out that they only specialised in fortified wines. We just bought some flagons of sherry, muscatel, rough port, and went back into town for lunch at the Golden West Café.
Victor, Peni and the Hudson went out to the airport to pick up another “star” for the show, PAUL DEVER, powerful singer of quality ballads and Bobby Rydell songs. Why the hell Paul joined us just in time for the next show at Surat I’ll never know! I guess Victor couldn’t afford another act on the show until he’d made some money, which he had just done in Roma.
In Mitchell we stayed at the Richards Hotel. This was a big laugh, for a while. This place was no palace either. Mitchell was a funny little town with goats wandering down the street untended, and quite a few in the hotel bar as well!
There were 160 people at the show that night and, while we were doing the mime Sh’Boom in the R’Jays spot on the show, we got quite a vibration going on the stage from all the cavorting around. It was this vibration and not anyone in particular that knocked over Ron’s “Music Shop”. Well, that was it! Ron forgot all about the mime, the show, the people, the ‘show must go on’ and all that stuff. His face went purple with rage and he stormed around the stage yelling, “Look what you bastards have done! All this stupid bloody dancing around! Me G sharp’s gone again! I won’t be able to play anymore tonight! You did this on purpose, Jon!” And with this parting remark in my direction, Ron flew off backstage in a huff to sulk in the dressing room. We were flabbergasted to see such a display of unprofessional behaviour! Certainly not a trouper!
Ron was persuaded by the rest of the troupe to come out of hiding in the dressing room to play for the end of Dig’s spot. Wasn’t that big of him? He did have another sax and flute left after all. It was just a tantrum to get some attention. It worked, though! After the show, Ron was still storming around the stage fuming about his “Music Shop” when Victor asked him to carry some gear out to the car.
“WHAT!” screamed Ron, “As if I can be bothered with all that shit. Me G sharp’s gone, man!”
Well, that was the first time I saw Victor Ledwidge lose his temper. “It’s yer G sharp is it?” I’ll give yer G sharp, yer little turd.” Victor’s rougher side was showing now as he booted Ron up the arse and right off the stage. “You load that fucking gear in that fucking car or I’ll have you on the next second-fucking-class Pioneer Bus back to Sydney, you horrible little person! You’re supposed to be the Minister for Transport and Packing, aren’t you?” This was the final jibe from Victor with a sly wink to the rest of us, who were poking our heads around the stage door.
“Bloody good job!” said Sandy who wasn’t a very big Ron fan. “Yes, I think he deserved that!” said Dig. “You’re not just whistlin’ Dixie!” sez I, being the worst Ron fan of all. That night, Ron went to bed early and sulked. We stayed up, got drunk and laughed about the stupidity of the whole thing.
Next morning, with hangovers and bad headaches, everyone was just a little testy. I think the road was starting to get to us. Ron, who used to travel with Leon and me in Dig’s Holden, had been downgraded to the back of the Hudson to minimise the risk of any further drama on the long haul to Charleville. The bulldust was starting to get really thick now and even thicker in the back of the Hudson! It got into everything. We arrived at Charleville Town Hall in the afternoon with little white circles around our eyes, while the rest of our faces, and any part of the body that wasn’t covered, was caked in red bulldust.
Everyone was hot, dusty and very thirsty. “Let’s get this gear set up in a hurry and get to the pub,” said Brian, “I’d kill for a beer.” The Charleville Hotel is one of the grand old pubs of Queensland. The downstairs lobby is positively cavernous with a huge open fireplace. The rooms are fairly ordinary but large and they have one of those beautiful verandahs all along the front. What a shame we would only be spending one night.
At the show that night, we had 180 people, which was good for Charleville. The areas we were now getting into do not have a large township population and most of our audiences were coming in from outlying stations. One of the golden rules, of course, is never to tour here in the wet season because your audience can’t get in to town!
Back at the pub after the show, we had a party with a bunch of local girls in the lobby. The hotel manager was very hospitable and the grog was free! I was getting a bit pissed when an older woman (in her thirties, I guess) started to get very friendly with me, if you know what I mean. I had just got her up to my room, when Victor burst in. “How dare you burst in here! Get a floor cloth and wipe it up!” I joked.
“Never mind that,” Victor screamed in a whisper, “Get that woman out of here, you bloody idiot!” He pointed to the woman in question and bellowed “THAT’S THE PUBLICAN’S WIFE!” He’s roaming around the pub looking for her now!” “Shit!” screamed the publican’s wife and ran out the door, hurriedly throwing on articles of clothing. Well, you win some, you lose some. On this occasion, Victor saved my bacon! Mind you, had I known she was the publican’s wife; I never would have taken her up to my room. We musos do have some ethics?
The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast downstairs, served by a rather subdued publican’s wife. I did get the occasional wicked glance, as if to say, “Guess what you missed out on?” These glances were over the unsuspecting publican’s shoulder. I thought Victor was going to choke on his breakfast sausage.
After breakfast, we were off again on a road of really thick bulldust to Augathella. Half way there, Victor blew a tyre on the Hudson, which was very hard to change owing to the low ground clearance and the spats over the back wheel. The jack kept sinking into the bulldust, which didn’t help our resident mechanic-bass player, Brian. We were glad to finally get to the Ellangowan Hotel in Augathella and have a nice cold Four-X beer to wash down the bulldust.
Victor was very fond of finding the ‘village idiot’ in every town. This was usually done in the public bar of the pub we were staying in. The public bar is the epitome of Australian manhood; the inner sanctum where women are not allowed! It is a place for serious drinking and talking about things that women “wouldn’t understand anyway”. As we sat at the bar in the Ellangowan, a bloke came up to us and said, “So you’re these rock’n’rollers, eh? I s’pose yers think yers are pretty bloody smart, eh? But yers never fought in the bloody war, did yers, eh?” Victor’s reply was simply, “You’re just a bloody chocolate soldier anyway!”
Well, this started a barrage of war stories between Victor and the “chocolate soldier” that lasted until it was time to go and set up at the Augathella Memorial hall. The “choco” was recruited to take tickets at the door that night. This was Victor’s real reason for picking up the derros and the village idiots at the bar. They came in handy for doing jobs of importance for free or for very little money. The show that night was played to 170 people with a slightly higher proportion of aborigines in the audience this time. They seemed to be accepted by the white townsfolk the further west we went.
Next morning, it was Sunday and we actually had a day off to wash the bulldust out of our clothes. There was a huge wood-burning copper out the back of the pub, so we loaded ‘er up and got stuck into it. That night the Augathella nightlife consisted of the pub or the pictures. We chose the pictures. No main feature, just three 16mm documentaries. We had met a bunch of local girls outside the milk bar in the afternoon, and one of them was one of the prettiest aboriginal girls I had ever seen. I took her to the pictures that night. She was very nervous, wouldn’t even hold hands! I thought it was just going out with someone from the show that made her that way but after the pictures were over and we went outside, she said, “Thank you so much for taking me out, I really like you but if my people saw me out with a white boy I’d be in real trouble!” I saw her point, as a group of rather aggro looking young aborigines were eyeing us off. So saying, I split back to the pub pretty quickly before the boomerangs started flying.
Monday morning found us on the Landsborough Highway, heading north for Blackhall and Barcaldine. Not a lot happening in either town. Longreach, however, the next town, was the biggest we’d had so far with over 500 sun-drenched souls in attendance. And a very appreciative audience they were too! Longreach is a jumping town!
We noticed that the roads were getting narrower now, only two wheel tracks to be exact. The next town was Winton, home of the original Qantas Airways, 120 miles away. Although the roads were narrow, we still had to keep up a good speed to make Winton in time to set up and at least have a shower and dinner before the show. The country was starting to get a little boring, so we decided to open up one of the flagons of port from the Roma vineyards, to make the long journey bearable. Boy, rough is right! Still, it was great fun burning up the wheel tracks at 70 mph with our heads hitting the roof over bumps and the occasional involuntary detour off the track and into the mulga.
Fortunately, we did arrive in Winton in time to have dinner at the Australia Hotel, another typical Aussie outback pub, which boasted the patronage of Banjo Patterson. Our audience that night was 200 people with more aboriginal members than before. We decided to have a little party back at the hotel as usual.
The next morning, one of the old housemaids was heard to utter the immortal line “Who was that bugger last night, playin’ guitar with a bloody mattock?” From then on, any heavy-handed rhythm guitar player was said to be “playin’ with a bloody mattock”. I think the offending guitarist was Sandy.
“Righto, you lot, wakie, wakie now!” trumpeted Victor in the hallway followed by the housemaid who was still muttering about rock’n’rollers and mattocks. “We’ve got to get an early start. This is a really long haul today,” said Victor the elephant. Over one of those great hotel breakfasts, Victor told us the tale of the road we had to travel to Cloncurry.
“This is the Horror Stretch!” exclaimed Victor knowledgeably.
“So what!” said Brian, “It’s all one big horror stretch if you ask me!” Brian would have noticed this more than anyone else because, being the only one with any mechanical knowledge, he had spent a lot of the time under the cars, grovelling in bulldust, fixing all the (so far) minor break-downs that had occurred. As a bass player, Brian was a fine mechanic!
“NO!” said Victor, annoyed at his story being interrupted, “This is the REAL horror stretch, out of the Redex Trials” In the early fifties, the Redex Trials were held on the very route that we were tracing. Well there’s no other route and the next stretch wasn’t so-named for nothing – two hundred miles of the worst road in Australia!”
“Back in those days, that was real car racing,” Victor went on, “with people like Jack Davey and ‘Gelignite Jack’ Murray, driving the big Ford V8s, blah, blah!”
“Come on then, you fat old gay. Stop talking and let’s hit the road,” interrupted Dig. “Righto, Digby George, I’m ready,” said Vic, wearily dragging himself out of his memories. “I’ll start now and you follow in about five minutes so you won’t be eating my bulldust.”
“We’ve had enough of that already,” said Dig. So saying, we were off to Cloncurry on the “Horror Stretch”.
We were nearly half way when we came across the grey battleship hulk of the Hudson. “She’s making some very funny noises,” said Victor. “What is it Brian?” Poor Brian was of course underneath the dying monster by now, coughing up bulldust. “It must have been that last rock we hit, Vic. There’s a bloody great hole in the sump!” So, Dig’s Holden, which was fast becoming a wreck itself, had to tow the Hudson into the next town of Kynuna.
Sump fixed, we were well and truly into the worst part of the Horror Stretch as the sun was going down. If you have never seen a sunset in Diamantina country, you’ve never seen a sunset! It was magnificent. All too soon it was over as the West Queensland daylight was extinguished, along with the Hudson’s headlights! We couldn’t see a damn thing! Paul Dever had to lean out the window with a torch so I could see the road. Yes, it was my bad luck to be driving when the lights went out. Fortunately for me, it was decided that Dig, Sandy and the band would go on in Dig’s car, minus Brian and the others who had to nurse the Hudson through the traumatic trip to Cloncurry.
That night saw Dig Richards become an instant bass player (behind the curtain), which I must say he did very well. During Dig’s spot Brian still hadn’t arrived and Sandy played bass (badly). The others arrived, eyes hanging out and covered in bulldust. The Hudson looked like it could use a spell on a cardiac machine. Brian went straight on stage and took over the bass from Sandy (Thank God) just as Sandy’s fingers were about to explode. “Take this bloody thing away!” Sandy cried, “Give me a bloody guitar any day!”
I don’t think the 200-strong audience even suspected that anything was wrong at all. The reception was great and a rewarding end to a very trying day. But it was not over yet! We had some more bad news from Victor. He hadn’t come up with much good news lately, or much money either I was thinking. “There’s not a hotel bed left in town,” said the bulbous one, “It’s shearing time. The town’s full of shearers!”
“That’s fuckin' great, Victor!” I exploded, “I’ve had enough of this crap. Where are we supposed to sleep for Christ’s sake?”
“Well, we’ll just have to be good little troupers and make the best of it, won’t we?” said the Empire State Building in his ‘you naughty boys’ tone.
“You can stick that trouper shit up your fat arse, for all I care!” I yelled as I started to pull down the curtains from the front of the stage. “What the hell are you doing with those? You can’t do that Jon!”
“Can’t I just? I’m going to sleep on the bastards because I’ve ran out of pile ointment and I’m not sitting up all night in a car for anyone!”
“Alright, Jon, give your ‘River Niles’ a good rest on the nice soft curtain but you better hope that the caretaker is not taking care.” I soon fell asleep on the old curtains, thick with the dust of past performances of other “little troupers” who were foolish enough to tackle the “Horror Stretch”.
Three nights we were spending in Mount Isa and they looked like being fun. Saturday night, September 23, found us at the Mount Isa Cycle Club Hall. The band was firing and the R’Jays went over bigger than anyone that night – even Dig! Much partying and a very late night - must get a decent night’s sleep soon.
The next morning outside the hotel, we were confronted with a gnarled old miner called Joe. “This is the first time there’s been no smoke comin’ out of that bloody chimney for fifty years!” he said, pointing to the mine. “Why? What’s happened?” we inquired. “Well, we’re on strike of course.” This strike meant that we had to cancel the next show. The townsfolk of Mount Isa had no dough to go to the show, Joe! This was another setback to our already dwindling finances. There was nothing left to do but spend the next two days sightseeing.
The first day was spent inspecting the defunct mine, followed by a trip out to the huge dam at Transport Bay for a swim, for those who could swim, that is. Sunday night was spent at the cycle track where they had scheduled a special race for us. Dig won and I came last!
A surprising amount of people turned up for our last show and after the first decent night’s sleep, I was prepared for the trek to oblivion on the Flinders Highway and eventually the Queensland coast. I was beginning to feel like bloody Matthew Flinders himself.
HEADING FOR THE GUTTER: The Long Way Round
“Well my children, have we all had enough rest and are we all ready for Julia Creek?” The voice came from a rotund person hoeing into a veritable mountain of sausages, bacon, eggs and tomatoes. All slurped down with gallons of tea. “We have to go back over the horror stretch as far as Cloncurry and then we’re on to Julia Creek along the Flinders Highway (slurp).”
“Fine with me, Victor,” I said, rescuing the last piece of toast before ‘Buddha’ got it, “I’ve had plenty of sleep, my arse is not on fire and I’m ready to hit the road like a good little trouper.”
“I’m so glad, Jon. I thought for a moment there you had fallen by the wayside. Okay, you lot, let’s extract the ‘Onka’ and hit the ‘Frog’.” (Onka Paringa-finger) (Frog & toad-road). The mountain hath spoken.
As we headed east, the road surface changed again from bone-shattering potholes and rocks to just plain dust. Not the red bulldust but more your average, garden-variety colour. We passed a big herd of kangaroos bounding along beside the road. It was as if they were racing us. Emus were also very plentiful and these bastards can really ‘run the pants off a kangaroo’; John Williamson wasn’t kidding when he wrote those immortal words!
The Julia Creek pub was by far the most primitive that I had witnessed so far. Single-storey, bore-water showers and no doors to the rooms, only a curtain. “I’m suck of thus, Vector,” said Peni in her best Kiwi accent, “I want to go beck to Brusbane. Theer’s no door on my beardroom.” If the reader is wondering why Peni hasn’t had much to say so far, it’s because she never said very much.
“Peni, my little New Zealand flower,” crooned Victor, who had such a way with words, “We’re quite a way from civilization now. In fact, we’re not too far from the Gulf as the crow flies, and you can’t expect all the comforts of home here, my dear. Why, they reckon that some of those big salt water crocodiles even come down this far.” Victor was about to go into his ‘Top End of Australia’ rave.
“You mean crocodiles as bug as theert stuffed one in the bar? Shut! Theert’s all I need, one of thum crawling into beard wuth me!”
“I think they’d have better taste,” I retorted from the verandah, getting sick of all the whinging. “Shut up Jon! Just because I wouldn’t let you into beard wuth me un Roma, theer’s no need to say thungs like theert!” With that blast of Maori savagery still ringing in my ears, I leapt into the Holden and we drove around to the theatre to set up the gear. “Shit, there’s no roof on this joint,” said Sandy. “It’s all sent to try us,” I replied, sounding more like Victor every day.
I don’t know which was worse, the open-air theatre or the Hotel “Primitif”. With no doors on the hotel rooms, the place soon filled up with local rough-head drunks and some of us decided it was better to sleep on the deck-chairs back at the theatre.
On arrival in Richmond, Victor had another surprise for us in the form of an old wooden caravan. A caravan!! “This will not do, Vic,” I yelled. After last night’s digs I didn’t think that things could get much worse. “How the hell do you think we’re all going to sleep in that thing, you stupid old bastard,” screamed Ron, his face going an even darker shade of purple. For once I agreed with Ron. Victor was a stupid old bastard. Actually, not so much stupid as cunning.
“Sorry boys,” said Dig, “We forgot to tell you about the caravan but the accommodation is killing us.”
“But we can’t all fit,” said Paul, poking his head out the door of the so-called four-berth caravan. It looked like something out of Noddy; all that was missing was the little pipe sticking out of the roof.
“Some of us will have to take turns sleeping in the cars, said the rotund ‘Big Ears’. “Yeah, like you for instance,” I said, feeling more and more like Noddy. (Thinks) “Episode 3. – Noddy kills Big Ears.”
“Oh, be fair Jon. I’m far too big to sleep in the car. Besides, it is my caravan.” “Yeah, well you can have it on your own then. Who could sleep in there with your bloody snoring anyway?”
You may have noticed by now that the rot had set in. People were beginning to become disillusioned with being good little troupers, copping it sweet, having things sent to try them, etc. It always happens on every tour. Sooner or later, the dramas start but this time we really had cause to claim extreme hardship. Well there was no Musician’s Union out here to specify conditions of accommodation and meals to be served on ‘regulation tin plates’. Musos had enough trouble getting decent conditions in Sydney!
The next town of Hughendon is hardly worth a mention, except for a party with some local girls – don’t remember your name darling, do you remember mine? Leaving Hughendon the next morning and rounding a bend, we were delighted to see the Hudson at rest, slewed off the road with Victor’s beloved caravan, arse-up in a paddock. Unfortunately, some Good Samaritan came and towed it out! Dig’s Holden then had to tow, both the Hudson and the caravan. The Hudson had blown something and the Holden had a broken U-bolt and was now crabbing along sideways. It was in this fashion we limped into Charters Towers for a rather aggro reception from a bunch of pissed aborigines in the audience. It saddens me to see what the white man’s grog does to a wonderful race of people. The only redeeming feature of Charters Towers was the Royal Hotel. Otherwise, for me it will always be the arsehole of the earth.
Finally back on the coast at last! No more bulldust or bore water. Civilisation reared its wonderful head in the form of Innisfail, one set of traffic lights, the highest rainfall in Australia and Junior See Poy, the arranger of the Innisfail compulsory ‘jam’. While we were playing at the party where the jam was held, I plucked a very nice older lady with olive skin, long dark hair, what can I say? – Beautiful! Innisfail will always be one of my favourite towns. Mind you, I’ve never seen the sun shining there yet. Doesn’t matter to me though. Most of my good times are had at night!
Floods of tears and cries of “Please don’t go” followed the inimitable, unstoppable, a legend-in-her-own-Poi-dance, Miss Peni as she left Innisfail, the tour and our lives forever. “Never mind Sandy. We still have the photos,” I consoled as Sandy wept on my shoulder.
The next day we went north to Cairns. After a short stop at the Cairns Trocadero where we were to play in two nights time, we headed out to Ellis Beach. That night, we met a gentleman of Teutonic decent who owned a red sports car. His name was Manfred – “the Wonder Dog”. He agreed, after some plying with drinks from Victor, to be an unpaid roadie. Great! We had another car. Well, almost. It was a fibreglass shell on a Ford Prefect chassis. Not a very comfy ride but fun! We set up camp at Ellis Beach, which is one of those magic spots in North Queensland with coconut palms, golden sands, mountainous country behind the beach and a nice kiosk with a large supply of ice cream.
The caravan was sited as near to the beach as we could get it and a palm frond hut was erected with the speed of a snail on Valium. The top end had got us. We’d slowed down. The tour funds had also slowed down to a halt and, to make ends meet, Leon had to shuffle up a coconut tree every morning to get our breakfast.
Thursday, October 5: We played to about 30 people at the Cairns Trocadero (and with the name the resemblance to Sydney’s Trocadero ends). They were appreciative but it sure wasn’t the Stadium! What was it Peter Baker had said about October? Something about being in the gutter? I wondered if he was right. Who cared? It was all lost in a haze of booze, broads and bananas. Although we had no money for such luxuries as hotel accommodation, we didn’t mind sleeping on the beach. It was sort of romantic, I guess.
On Friday at the Mossman Town Hall, they advertised us as “The Rock & Roll with Dick Richard and the Dee Jays!” This amazing piece of marketing genius netted us 50 people. Saturday night, Cairns Trocadero again – 250 people this time. Big night out in Cairns, thank God! We needed the money just to eat! On Sunday we pulled up stakes at our Ellis Beach campsite and, after what was really a top week despite our impecunious circumstances, we partook of a last Chinese meal at the Kow Loon (Nine Dragons to all you foreign devils) Restaurant and kept going south. We were on the home stretch. Won’t be long now Mum. I wonder what Irene is doing?
I travelled south most of the time in Manfred’s red sports car. It was like riding with the Red Baron. We played Innisfail again and the Boomerang Motel in Mackay. The best incident there was when Ron and Sandy had a fistfight and Sandy won! On the spooky little road between Mackay and Rockhampton, the Hudson blew a head gasket and finally died. That night’s dinner consisted of boiled Vegemite consommé and stale bread from out of the glove box. I don’t know if Victor ever got the Hudson out of there or not, but at the time, we didn’t care what he did with it. Everybody jammed into the other cars and went on to the last stop of the tour, Yepoon Beach, just east of Rockhampton.
Yepoon Beach is an extremely long stretch of rock-hard sand, which is great fun to do wheelies on. That is, of course, unless you are in a fibreglass sports car with a very rigid Ford Prefect chassis. Funny things happen when you throw such a car into a wheelie at 50 miles per hour. Like it rolls over! Manfred didn’t realise this and neither did I. “Look out! You dumkopf!” KERAASH! BOOM! BOOM! “Auch du leiber!”
Manfred and I were taken to Hospital. His face was pretty cut up. I didn’t have a scratch. A slightly jarred elbow was all. I had fallen out as it started to roll whereas Manfred went all the way and the shattered windscreen gave him some nasty lacerations.
On Sunday, October 15, 1961, we drove non-stop to Sydney in Dig’s thoroughly ruined 1961 Holden. During our first week home, I contracted severe rheumatoid arthritis, which was to follow me like a curse for the rest of my life.