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a bright future in retailing

Everybody likes a drink.

The trouble started at the door to the Bondi milk-bar, no, the trouble ceased at the door to the Bondi milk-bar.

The trouble ceased when the two of them had punished me enough for rudely calling them on after they had pushed my equally soused friend out of their way. He foolishly had tried to enter the door at the same time as they. Then he breathed on them. Any other time and I would have pushed Billy away too – he was not good on the drink, very sloppy.

They were sober.

Now here’s a lesson learnt late for the love of a big night; stay alert enough to recognise that the two lads in front of you are only sober tonight because they are rostered to play A grade Rugby League tomorrow for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters. That’s why everybody else is stepping out of their way and giving them great big ‘ g’day matey howyezgoinorrite?  ‘ smiles.

Meet Bunny Reilly, and his best little mate on the night ‘ Flea ‘ Hitchens

– From the left – Igor, Hitman, The Axe, Wicked, Hitman, Knuckles, Cement, Rambo, Campo – and Bunny with his hair done. Such a lovely smile.

Flea, he was a little bloke, just turned around and knocked me down. One minute I’m up there eye to eye with the world, then I’m having a little sleep on the pavement. Good of Flea to try to wake me up before someone tripped over the body though, a couple of solid practice place kicks in the head and throat were just the ticket.

Somebody got me home.

9 am start the next morning in the menswear department of Grace Brothers city store, ‘ The Young Men’s Shop. ‘ A very toey little enclave with Ronnie Urquhart running the floor. Special day coming up with the first shipment of white levis on the shelves. Come to work looking sharp Ronnie had said.

This was 1961. Sharp meant a narrow tie and a clean suit, polished shoes, white shirt. A little hair oil. Brylcreem, a little dab will do ya.

Smokin’ look eh?  

The first problem was how to get my face unstuck from the pillow without pulling away all the scabs. Then the eye test; which one still worked. The tooth test, everybody there?  Then the hangover stood up and waved at me, waved a big red flag at me. Lots of drums in the background. Marched right in.

One large cut to forehead. Now bleeding.

One large bruise to cheek.

One eye completely closed, blackened and closed. Crusted up.

One lip split. Crusted.

No blood on any knuckles, never laid a glove on him.

One heavy abrasion to the throat – ergo, nil voce.

7 am.

So its off to work we go without waking the good parents who of course do wake up and Dad bless him sticks his head out of the bedroom window just as I’m slipping down the side of the house and being a veteran of three successful years of shooting at the Japanese during WW2 and seventeen long years rearing me could only say ‘ What the fuck have YOU been up to ? ‘

He very rarely swore. All I could do was squint up at him and point to my throat. Probably put him off his morning golf game.

Mother took it a little harder, I was after all a handsome lad with wavy hair clear eyes and a bright future in retailing. This of course was all behind me now. As a matter of consideration it has always been a mystery to me why women don’t understand these things. Then again I have a brother who has lived for 60 years and has yet to incite anyone to violence.

Her eyes filled with tears and she held both of her hands to her face, she could not speak. Just as well, I couldn’t reply.

The 45 minute bus ride into the city was a fearful journey, then the furtive walk through the city streets to the employee entrance, the oily smirk on Eddie the Timekeepers face as he clocked me in, how the secretaries flinched away from me in the lift. Even Stephanie. Another love lost.

Ronnie was sensible enough, one quick look and he pushed me into the stockroom for the day, got me a cup of tea. Shook his head at the damage and smiled. He’d been a bit of a rogue in his day as well. In ten minutes the word had been passed around and if I had a shilling for everyone who called by for a quick look at the damage I could have afforded a taxi ride home.

Years later I watched Flea and his wife walk into the hotel where I worked. The Bloodhouse. They sat themselves down in the saloon and looked up for some table service. Flea a little on the flabby side now, more like a blue-bottle, schooner man. Wife a brandy lime an soda.

I wandered over to say hullo after they had their drinks delivered and reminded him that there was an debt outstanding. He looked away and pretended not to know me.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love your stories and the way you tell them. Do you tell your stories verbally too? Or do you prefer writing them down?

    July 3, 2011
    • hopeless with the telling – different words come out when it’s in writing – something to do with the subconciousness retrieving words given a little more time.

      July 4, 2011
  2. Rusty Steele #

    That’s a beauty of a story there Peter. A real gem.

    July 4, 2011
  3. Your poor mother . . .

    July 4, 2011
  4. I love this one – poor Mum – been there done that a couple of times. 🙂

    July 5, 2011
  5. Jeez mate – how many beatings is that now?

    July 5, 2011
  6. just a few bear – and more coming – I had a disturbed childhood but I’m still beautiful – the poms gave me an a-grade thrashing in earl’s court one night – and next up is a graphic account of how a little lady dealt with a problem in gibraltar –

    July 5, 2011
  7. Buccaneer #

    Pete, Damn the sixties were different all right.

    Nowadays you would be on youtube and in court milking the guy for the dollar.

    Well, most would be.

    July 6, 2011
    • smokes had cork filters, long necks for four bob, cops kicked arses, everybody wore desert boots, you had to melt your wax to soften it, wetsuit on after babypowder, bondi was better than maroubra, girls said NO!

      .. you had to be there bucco

      July 6, 2011
  8. Graeme #

    Nice recollection of a “brush with fame” 🙂

    Your mention of Bondi and milkbar and 1961 prompts me to ask if you recall the one I have linked to, shown as it was in 1959. Note the swan-engraved mirrors, the diamond-shaped ends to the booths and the sign reading “Bondi Recreation Club” on the side wall. I reckon we can see the beach through the side window in one shot.

    I’m not very familiar with Bondi, but I’m told on good authority that is isn’t Bates.

    I’d love to know the name of it and where it was situated.

    August 17, 2011
    • howarya graeme – I remember that place, it was in hall street and it was across the road from the milk bar we used. I forget the names but I remember the juke-box and the view in pic 2

      asamatteroffact it was the place where the baby-bikers gathered (bodgies) and it was from there that the great non-battle of the bodgies / surfers came about in the ’60s – we all crossed the road to the park one saturday night and called each other nasty names, chucked a couple of rocks, threw a few punches – just being lads.

      It was next down hall street from the Kings Theatre – here

      August 18, 2011
      • Tash Szokolay #

        On the corner of Campbell Pde and Roscoe St, across the road from Kings Theatre?

        January 31, 2013
  9. Karen #

    White Levis. Gee Pete, you really were there at the beginning of it all.

    August 21, 2011
    • I was a Master of Fashion K, the boss asked me whether they would sell and of course I said no way – later that week a yank surfed Bondi tied onto his board by the ankle – how we scoffed –

      August 21, 2011
  10. Terry O'Connell. #

    You’ve taken a little licence with the time line Pete. There were no Levis of any stripe in 1961 or very few. The only ones that I saw up in Paddo (the Paddo boys were, somewhat, the style kings of the day) came from sources on the wharves or from merchant seamen relatives. There always seemed to be, however, a brisk market in what was available at that level but there was nothing at Grace Brothers. White pants back then would have, doubtlessly, earned one a beating in the inner city, for being a “lair”. In 1966 I sustained a flogging with motor cycle chains from a couple of Redfern fellas in white suits. No doubt they felt confident enough to get away with that level of fashion statement and, anyway Mick Jagger was, by then, showing the way ahead.

    Additionally, Bunny was not graded with Easts in 1961. His fame was wide in junior league circles but he was probably playing with Maroubra at that time. !966, the year that Easts lost every game, was most likely his debut year in grade.

    The Flea never was graded with Easts. I played D grade with him in 1961 with the infamous Paddington Colts. We were shit footballers but terrifying losers as many an unfortunate “winner” learned down at Queens Park after a game (it was a long and often fraught way to the exit gates).
    Paddo Colt.

    November 3, 2013
  11. .. you want to settle this outside mate? – at least I got the attitudes right, you blokes hit very fucking hard.

    November 3, 2013
  12. Wayne Yates #

    Fancy that Pete,
    Flea King hit me from behind at the Bondi Royal while talking to a girl who was actually his girlfriend .
    Knocked me out cold.
    Came to with a bloody lip and to find out that Billy Berry stepped in and knocked Flea out.
    He was a wholesale butcher for many years around the East.

    February 13, 2021
    • There was another mad bastard at Bondi. Red-faced, pug nosed, wanting some mayhem. Cornered me once in a pub run by Bob Duncan, Uncle Bob. My brother in law. Big bloke was Bob, lovely big hard ready knuckles.

      February 13, 2021

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