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the balconies

The balconies – Hood collection 1939

This melancholy ruin, shuttered dark and slowly rotting from the foundations to the roof, hard cooked by the northerly sun and miserably tenanted by parolees and men without hope.

This festering building with its filthy kitchens and sagging corridors and air of irretrievable loss, with its small and windowless rooms all stinking with the must of the dozens of rats living in the walls. This last place with its night noises of violence and fright. This End.

The upstairs café, blinded by stained curtains and unswept for years, offered only laminated tables, hard chairs and the thick dead air musk of cockroach decay – together with a panorama of the whitest beach in the world.

The Americans came in 1959 and used the room for scenes from the film of Ray Lawler’s play Summer of the 17th Doll. A droll production that did no favours for the proprietors.

In summer men would congregate on the upper balconies overlooking the sea to drink away the hot afternoon hours and leer at the women making their way down the hill to Bondi Baths.

Dusk would see them toppling up against the frail railings in a drunken and roistering camaraderie, and dawn saw the shattered litter of broken beer bottles that they had tossed onto the roadway during the night.

Some places needed to be torn down

The public phone at the corner didn’t require any pennies if a boy could shout loud enough into the receiver to let his mum know he had just missed the bus home and was it ok if he could stay down the beach for just another hour because the waves were so good please mum thanks won’t be late goodbye.

The railing here behind the phone booth was where schoolboys congregated in the morning to discuss their options; to either continue to school, or just slip down the hill to the beach for the day  – there were always plenty of spare boards in the south bondi shed.

The railing was also a crawl spot for lone men passing by in their cars and vans, men who slowed as they passed the loitering boys, thinking that they were not noticed. Some were fathers looking for their truant sons; others were seeking a different comfort.

The balconies – Hood Collection – 1939

So hard to resist the welcome breath of a summer north-easter, and the allure of that bone white arc of Bondi.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. I felt as if I was staring into a snapshot while reading this – you took a moment and made it real.

    April 26, 2011
    • heya Jo

      The view from that old cafes’ windows was astounding and it was a measure of the times that it was rundown and closed more often than not – anyone with a couple of thousand quid could have had it, but those were the days when a house in dover heights cost 1,800 quid

      April 26, 2011
  2. This is a brilliant piece of descriptive writing. And I love the other stuff I’ve been reading this lunchtime, especially the restaurant tale.

    November 29, 2011
  3. Terry Jenkings #

    Spot on description PB. Knew the area well …tram stop for trip to school and to the ‘Jungo!!
    The milk bar was run by a guy called Jack Penchinya? who was a refugee and a hero in WW2. In early ’50’s someone tried to rob the place and Jack jumped the counter picked up the thief and threw him onto the street .. … Jack became a legend to the kids from Francis Street where he lived .
    Shouting into the receiver/ Meeting before school at the railing etc…. what great memories .
    Talk about prime real estate and great views….these things didn’t enter our heads .

    May 20, 2014
  4. Brennan lived in a room on the bottom floor for a while, with some buzzed out, pox faced ex prisoner who just wanted to root him. Sometimes he’d freight Head down to the beach on his shoulder, pissed, unable to walk. Dark days, best forgotten.

    May 20, 2014
  5. satch #

    great work congrats on the book–the images are brilliant. you should go for a mitchell library history grant–still plenty of creative licence

    May 21, 2014
  6. you should see what’s coming up nxt stachmo ..

    May 21, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Bondi Stories.

    May 27, 2014
  8. Fond memories of what was probably Sydney’s first Indo cafe, the Java, it couldn’t be called a restaurant. And only across the road from the Astra.

    May 28, 2014
  9. john schultz #

    my father ken schultz, mum ellen, dads twin brother darcy [tommy] my aunt, irene lennox and her husband barney, my grandparents nita and ernie schultz, and my brother peter, sister christine and myself all lived at the balconies from the war years up to when it was pulled down at one time or another through the years. i believe the sculptor of the original bronze mermaids that were on the big rock at ben buckler also lived there.

    May 30, 2014
  10. Ahh this bought back memories. As a child we used to dare each other to run up the stairs through the building to Campbell Parade. It was dark and scary, the stairs creaked, some broken. There was a stench of stale beer and musty. I remember the amber broken beer bottles at the front of the building where the men threw them over the balcony. At the time, I did not know it’s history.

    You have created a fantastic site for the history of our beloved Bondi! Thanks. 🙂
    Bondi gal born and bred..

    August 31, 2014
    • john schultz #

      thanks for the memory lexa and your spot on about the stairs creaking. i hope it wasn’t MY family chucking beer bottles over the verandah railings. i have a lingering memory of a curry cooking somewhere in the building every time we visited and the coin operated power meters that were in use back then. thankyou!.

      August 31, 2014
      • I love the precious memories John! And to think Packer lived there years later!!! he he he

        August 31, 2014
  11. you too pretty to be there that long ago lexa baby …..

    August 31, 2014
  12. ha ha Pete, I was a young child when we raced up those stairs. I am a Baby Boomer, 56 was a good year! he he he

    September 1, 2014
  13. jennyt #

    Just joined and the above makes my heart jump for joy. I soooo remember The Balconies as I had to pass them to go to my swimming lessons at the baths. I have been told that whoever actually owned the property when they died thy left it to council to be made into a park. Council sold the land all but the small reserve that is there now and of course the rest is modern history. Can anyone verify this tale?

    January 19, 2015
  14. Jennyt I understand your comment may be correct. My memory is a bit vague but I recollect some comment John Ruffles made some time ago about Waverley Council again ripping off residents and ratepayers.

    January 19, 2015
  15. Marguerite #

    Hello fellow bondi devotees. The balconies by the late 1960’s/ 1970’s stood a lovely 1920’s house – owned by Mrs Buchanan. Perhaps next to the original balconies. She had an Italian boyfriend who was a friend of my fathers. Mrs Buchanan left the property to Waverley Council for an additional park. The story is correct. Instead by the late 70’s the current flats always an eye sore.

    September 15, 2017

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