Aug 19
Radio Ga Ga
icon4 Aug 19th, 2009 | icon2 Family, Memories | icon31 Comment »

I recently came across a dusty box of cassette tapes, one of which was an interesting anthropological recording made by my family in 1981.

My sister Julie had moved to England with her husband around 1979 and lived there until 1984, during which time she had two children. Back then there was no email of course, and international phone calls were prohibitively expensive and so reserved for special occasions.

I can clearly remember when mum & dad had our phone line updated to support ISD – or International Subscriber Dialling, now known as International Direct Dialling. This meant we could call Julie’s home phone in England directly, without having to go through an operator. (Sadly we had to change phone numbers, but our old number – 574576 – will always be burned into my memory.)

Anyway, with the cost of phone calls to England being what it was, we didn’t get to speak to Julie very often. Then sometime in 1981 local radio station 2KO did a series of broadcasts from various cities in the UK, perhaps as some sort of loosely defined cultural exchange. And in the spirit of Anglo-Australian good will 2KO was giving Aussie expats the chance to broadcast a message home to their family in Newcastle. My mum was all over this in a flash, and so it was arranged that Julie would record a message to be aired at a specified time.

Such an important occasion had to be recorded for posterity, so dad’s mono cassette recorder (more used to playing Johnny Cash at full volume while dad worked in the backyard) was brought into the kitchen, a blank tape purchased especially (a “Tempest” brand C-90!) and the “record” button pressed as the time for Julie’s message drew near.

What with radio technology being what it was back then the broadcast sounded like it was being beamed from Pluto rather than northern England, but thankfully the cassette recording – now 28 years old – is still reasonably clear and intelligible. Here’s what my sister had to say:

Hello. This is Julie in Yorkshire. I’d like to say “hello” to Marj and Les ***** of New Lambton. We’re all happy here, mum and dad, our expected baby is coming along nicely; we think it’s going to be a girl. We’re very much looking forward to seeing you next year. Love to you all, and many thanks to 2KO for making this possible.

The tape ends as my mother bursts into tears of joy.

Somehow I ended up with this precious cassette – I think I made a case later on that as only three minutes of it had been used I could certainly fill the remaining 87. And although I was always careful to preserve Julie’s message I seem to have made good use of the remaining blank tape. One side has Australian Crawl’s “Sons of Beaches” album while the other has “Screaming for Vengeance” by Judas Priest. (The guitar solo in “Riding on the Wind” blew my 13-year-old mind.)

I’ve now transferred the message to computer, so it’s safe forever. Right? I’ll email it to my sister, she’ll probably get a kick out of it.

In other phone-related trivia, here’s something I just remembered. For years we had a little wooden box sitting next to our telephone, with a slot in the top like a money box. The intention was for people who used the phone to drop a coin into the box, to pay for their call. Exactly who these “people” were I don’t know – presumably “visitors” who had to use the phone, which was basically nobody that I can remember. The box always seemed to have a solitary 20c coin rattling around in it, and no apparent way to get it out. I remember the box had a picture on the side of Stockton bridge – one of Newcastle’s most conspicuous local landmarks – and a little poem that went:

Call from here when e’er you will,

But don’t forget who pays the bill.

If there is another single object that sums up 1970s suburbia more than this coin box I’d like to know what it is.

Aug 10

Things were different in the ’70s. Life was simpler, people were friendlier, the sky was a brighter shade of blue. But most importantly, tourist attractions were unhindered by bothersome laws regarding public safety and animal welfare.

About thirty minutes drive from where I grew up in Newcastle there was a magical place called “Raymond Terrace Lion Park”. For just a few dollars a family of four could enter the Lion Park and drive around at their leisure – in the comfort of the family sedan – observing the most majestic of Africa’s big cats.

Let me make this clear: once inside the Lion Park, you could drive unsupervised, among the lions, in your own car! Only common sense prevented you from opening the car door and stepping out into the realm of one of the world’s most savage killing machines!

Recently, while delving through the Snubian archives, I came across some photos of the Lion Park, probably taken by my sister. This would’ve been the mid-’70s. Note the Lion Park jeep painted with zebra stripes. Also note the large male lion gnawing on the thigh bone of its latest victim.

Here are a few other rare shots.

These days you’d have to go all the way to Africa to see this

Female lion prepares to attack neighbouring horses

Thankfully, the park caretakers observed the strictest of security measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. For example, the man at the front gate would explain that you should keep your DOORS CLOSED at all times.

Not only that, but the park itself had a foolproof double gated entrance, so that none of those pesky lions could escape and go on a murderous rampage through Hexham. As you arrived in your car, a man would emerge from a booth, collect the entrance fee, and then open the first gate, at which point you would move forward a few metres into the “lion exclusion zone”. After closing the outer gate, he would check that any nearby lions were otherwise occupied, then quickly open the inner gate and wave you through. Amazing! I can picture those double gates like it was yesterday.

I don’t recall what the advice was should your car break down, or should a lion decide to consume it. But I suppose cars were more robust in those days. For example, our family car at the time was a 1967 Holden HR sedan – see below. That’s my dad leaning on the bonnet. Hopefully this was not taken inside the Lion Park, but anything’s possible.

In doing some “research” for this piece, I discovered that Lion Parks were quite common back in the day, and were usually run by circus companies. For example, the Raymond Terrace Lion Park was run by Ashtons. They probably figured they could make a few bucks from their lions in the off season. Whether such an arrangement was good for the lions is arguable I suppose, although they had plenty of space and could always supplement their diet with the occasional stray koala.

I have always had fond memories of the Lion Park, or as I knew it, the “Lion Safari” - as in “Dad, can we go to the Lion Safari today PLEEEEASE!!!!” (repeat fifty times). Incidentally, the ’67 HR was our family car up until about 1976, when we upgraded to a Holden HJ “Belmont” – woohoo! The Belmont ran like a dream right up until I wrote it off in 1988. Ah, good times.

Aug 1
I am Woman, Hear Me Bore
icon4 Aug 1st, 2009 | icon2 Concerts | icon3Comments Off

Well, we saw Judith Lucy last night at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse. Let me get this out of the way right now – I thought she was awful!

I’ll admit I’ve never been a massive fan, but she’s usually been good for a chuckle whenever I’ve happened to catch her on the radio. But I barely cracked a smile last night. And when I did it was only because I was in the second row and afraid that if I sat stony-faced for 90 minutes she might pick on me. Because – and here’s my biggest gripe about the show – audience participation was a main feature.

I don’t mind the odd bit of audience interaction – heckling latecomers is a nice way to warm up a crowd, for example. But to be constantly talking to people in the audience gets tired pretty quick. After almost every gag she’d ask for a show of hands to see how many people agreed, or canvas people’s opinion. “What did everyone think of the movie Australia?”

And then she spent about 20 minutes discussing the differences between gen-X and gen-Y, a topic which pretty much shits me to tears at the best of times. We’ve heard it all before, Judith, and it’s not even funny! She picked a couple of young people (early 20s) in the front row and asked them a range of quite personal questions about their sex lives, drug intake, and so on. Aren’t we over pubic hair jokes? Honestly.

For someone who considers herself a feminist (she drove this point home several times during the show) Judith is pretty down on herself. We got to hear how upset she was that no Italian men hit on her during a recent European holiday, among a bunch of other “poor me” gags.

I’m certainly no fashionista, but Judith’s low-cut, black strapless dress was a train wreck. And although I feel uncomfortable commenting on someone else’s physical appearance, I’ll do so anyway. Let me just say she looked quite puffy from the second row. I could see the individual hairs on her arms too, which was a little disconcerting. This may be a little out of order, but her hair was pulled back in a way such that her general appearance reminded me of the portrait of Captain Cook they always show you in primary school.

Back to the gags. Or lack of them. Judith’s delivery has always grated with me a little. It just seems so put on. But admittedly most of the audience loved it. All she had to do to elicit screams of laughter was to mention her vagina. (There’s a tip to all aspiring female comedians.) And again, the reliance on getting laughs from hassling members of the audience doesn’t sit well with me. Shouldn’t a comedian – especially one with twenty years’ experience – be able to make you laugh at least once in ninety minutes?

The only buzz I got was when she mentioned that the show was almost over. Ahh, escape! Sweet freedom! She closed by singing (and I use the term loosely – which I suppose is her intention) “Send in the Clowns”, perhaps a last poke at herself. She’s the clown, get it?

However, the night wasn’t a total let-down. When we returned to the car I discovered Australia was 8 for 203. Go England!