Mixing with the Micks.
In ‘Part III’ I wrote a little about my first meeting with my Catholic chums after starting work in Melbourne, there were a few young blokes employed by the “Royal” around my age but I never struck up any sort of friendship with any of them, I won’t go into the why’s and wherefore’s in this series as this is about me and the ‘micks’.
It wasn’t long after I started in the accounts department and was toddling along with Bluey Naughton and Frances Delaney to Mass quite regularly that an air of excitement started to the permeate throughout the office, all sections and departments were involved.
A strange event (to me at least) was fast approaching; the annual “Australian Insurance Institute Ball”.
Each year the Institute held their ‘Ball’ at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne, and back in the 1950’s the Insurance Ball was one of the biggest if not the biggest ball of the season. If there are any Australians reading/following this drivel who watch commercial TV Channel 7 they will have seen the ads for “Dancing with the stars”. This ad is made inside and out of the Exhibition Buildings and a close look will show the glorious dance floor. I digress!
The ‘Royal’ at the time was the biggest most prestigious insurance company in Australia, (like the British Empire -which was current in those days- and like the empire “on which the sun never sets”) had offices on every continent, bar Antarctica, on earth; so naturally the greatest number of tables in the very best position was reserved for the staff members family and friends from the Royal.
Naturally I got caught up in the growing excitement when Bernece(Bluey) asked me if I was going and after my humming and hawing, I really didn’t know much about balls at the time, she said I could be her partner at the ball if I wanted, she liked to look after me; what else could I do I said okay! Of course there was a large group of us; there would be a total of six couples at our table, how many other tables the ‘Royal’ had I don’t know
My mother gave me her permission to go, I was around 16 or17 at the time so I had to get her okay, she knew who I was going with, she knew there was going to be a lot of Catholics but she couldn’t see any harm in me going to a dance; I used to go dancing pretty well every week at the Orama Ballroom in Footscray, I always loved going dancing. :)
The dances I’d been used to were nothing like the ball I was to discover, they were not just a glorified dance.
Being an ignorant Pom I received instructions from a couple of old men ( they must have been 30 if they were a day; Peter ?(I can’t recall his last name) and Don Martin, blokes who’d taken me under their wings when I first started at the R). on the etiquette of the ball, I was a willing student.
Came the big night, nerves started to get to me, I’d never been out with a girl/woman before and here I was going off to pick up a young lady, and escort her to a ball. Not only that I would have to meet her parents.
Remembering everything I had to do I picked up the corsage that I’d ordered, gardenias had been recommended, and made my way to Glen Iris Road, Glen Iris there to meet Bluey’s parents. Must admit I was pretty scared at the time, I’d never been into a Catholic house before, it was okay working with them and going round to the church with them from time to time but now I was about to go into one of their houses.
I gaped at the house when I arrived, it was huge compared to what we lived in and what was in our locality. Brick not timber, huge front garden with a proper lawn. This little Cockney kid was coming up in the world.
With some slight trepidation I approached the front door, rang the bell and was greeted by Mr. McNaughton, he greeted me very gently and invited me in to his home and introduced me to his wife, (naturally Bluey had given him the drum re her Cockney C of E protegé) and they were natural and very friendly.
I didn’t really know what to expect I thought perhaps there’d be lots of pictures and statues and candles burning around but except for one fairly small picture in the hall there was nothing to distinguish it as a Roman Catholic house. They actually preferred Catholic to Roman Catholic, anyway that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway a few minutes later Blue arrived and she looked lovely. She was knee high to a grasshopper stood around 4’8″, and made me and my 5’9″ look tall. She had on a pale green ballerina length dress which set off her naturally curly red hair and freckles. No one seemed to mind that she was 9 years older than me. we were just a couple off to a ball. I remembered to call her Bernece in front of her mother and father. :)
I forget who picked us up except that it was Frances Delaney’s partner, (I wasn’t driving then, still under age) and off we went to the Exhibition Building.
WOW! I’d never seem anything so glamourous in my life I was stunned, the beauty and size of the place, all decked out and flowers and people and music, in this enormous great ballroom I almost expected to see Fred Astaire swirling around on the dance floor, I was rapt!
Let the dancing begin
We wound our way through the milling throng to our table, I don’t think I’d ever been so excited in all my life,the dance music hadn’t started yet the big band was yet to wind up there was just a small group playing soft music while everybody was coming in and settling down in their groups. Our table was in a prime position one back from the dance floor so nor too far to go before tripping the light fantanstic; I could hardly wait to get on that floor.
I’d never been dancing with Bernece before (now we’re at the ball I think I should call her by her real name), in fact nobody that I worked with had ever been with or seen me dance in fact we hadn’t even talked about dancing, I suppose they just assumed I could; there was one thing that struck me as strange about this ball that was the dancing was to be 50/50. In England a dance was just a dance either one or the other old time or ballroom.
Old time and 50/50 was something uniquely Australian I think when it came to the dance. I had been to some local hops where 50/50 was the norm, the old consisted of ‘The Pride of Erin’ , Progressive barndance sometimes a circular waltz,that type of thing and the ballroom was the ‘Foxtrot’ actually the ‘Quickstep’, slow foxtrot, modern waltz, with the occasional tango or rhumba thrown in to liven the mood. I never really liked the tango or rhumba, I did them only under sufferance, they don’t have the gliding grace of the foxtrot.
Back to the ball. After what seemed an eternity the band leader put out the call ” gentlemen. take your partners for the foxtrot (Quickstep)!” I grabbed hold of Blue and said someting along the lines ” come on Blue lets go” and we were up on that floor one of the first couples. And that’s where I changed.
Normally I kind of flop around, round shoulders, you could say I was slovenly, but once I hit the dance floor it was stand straight, shoulders back take command. probably came as a shock to Bernece initially, I held her in the correct position waiting for the music to start and said to her “I’ll lead off on my right foot into a quarter turn, progressive chassis and we’ll go from there” I don’t know if she knew what I was rattling on about she nodded the band struck up and away we went and she was brilliant. Light as a feather, not just because she was tiny, I’d danced with tiny women/girls before who weighed a ton and with Amazons that would float. But Blue was good and we were good and we looked good together on the dancefloor.
The music came in sets of three fast/slow/fast so after the first quickstep we got my favourite, the slow foxtrot, I never bothered telling Bluey how I planned to go, there wasn’t any need. We had a magic night of dancing.We had a real ball, there were times we were first up on the floor and did a circuit of the ballroom before the next couples joined in the fun.
Looking back it was one of the best nights of my life, and at that time it was the best I’d ever had; unforgettable.
Looks like I’ve strayed way off track again today, not much about the religion, mother just mostly about me; for which I apologize, but I’ll post this anyway not going to let all this work go down the gurgler!