The Lab, the Slab, and Other Things: Rocky Horror Before The Picture Show


Reg Livermore (right) in the 1974 Sydney production of The Rocky Horror Show.

Rocky Horror, the musical stage show and the film it spawned, are so ubiquitous that it’s difficult to imagine a time when it was unknown and nobody had any idea what to expect.

But so it was in the Australia of early 1974. The original live production had opened in London a year before, and the film that we now know so well wouldn’t come into being until later in 1974 and premiere pretty much unheralded and unloved late the following year.

It was great when it all began, as Little Nell sang in both the London production and the film, but nobody was yet a Frankie fan. They would be, they most certainly would be. The world would be eternally transfixed by the most famous sweet transvestite ever created, and by Tim Curry, the actor who would forever be associated with the role.

But at that moment in time, in early 1974, the universe was stumm. Australians were preoccupied with other things. While youth revolt and social progressiveness had local matrons clutching their pearls, Australia was still a largely quiet and well-behaved corner of the British Commonwealth.

Heart-warming family shows, such as The Waltons (and, later in 1974, Little House On The Prairie) dominated television ratings, and the biggest radio hits came from Perry Como, Tony Orlando, and The Carpenters. We could hear music but we couldn’t see it just yet; Countdown and Sounds wouldn’t start airing until late in 1974.

Tim Curry will forever be known as Dr Frank N. Furter

There were, however, glitches in the matrix, disquieting early indicators of where society was heading. Number 96, with its nightly serving of nudity, sex and drugs, was the highest rating local television show. The Rolling Stones were in the music charts and Suzie Quatro was having the first of many hits. Queen arrived at the Sunbury rock festival for its debut Australian performance, and was booed off the stage. And the socially progressive Labor Party under Gough Whitlam was in charge of the country after decades of conservative political leadership (but that would soon crumble).

If you lived in Sydney, and scoured the local newspapers and magazines, and maybe had a few friends in the arts, you may have been aware that a new musical would soon be opening. But the name, The Rocky Horror Show, offered very few clues. And in the early 1970s, with four televisions channels, a handful of newspapers and no internet, that was about all you could find out.

It wasn’t The King And I or West Side Story. It wasn’t your maiden auntie’s musical. About all anybody knew is that this Rocky Horror thing was being produced by Harry M. Miller, who had become quite the local celebrity by mounting Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Whereas, Harry had parked his previous hits in some of the largest theatres then available in Sydney – Hair at the Metro in Potts Point, and JC at the Capitol Theatre, edging Chinatown – the venue for this new musical was, to say the least, unconventional.

It was a small, grungy, rat-ridden 1940s-era former cinema called the New Arts. It was mid-way up Glebe Point Rd, in the very middle of where very few people ever went voluntarily and certainly not at night.

The first hints of what would be Rocky Horror emerged via newspaper ads.

So The Rocky Horror Show was something of a mystery. Newspaper editors scrambled for answers, sending forth entreaties to UK correspondents for more information.

I have a clipping from one Sydney newspaper but no way of identifying which. I’m leaning towards the Sunday Mirror, the weekend edition of a Sydney afternoon newspaper fashioned on the UK’s News Of The World. It didn’t quite have a Page 3 girl on every page but its editorial tone implied such. Prurient is probably the best word to describe it, with its breathless coverage of salacious divorce cases and sex trials.

The article appeared in the weeks before the premiere of the Sydney production in April 1974. Reporting from London, journalist Graham Bicknell opined The Rocky Horror Show “…is certain to rock the wowsers of Sydney’s theatre scene.”

It was, he continued, “…complete with nudity and simulated sex acts (some natural, some not)…” He called up comparisons with Alice Cooper, saying “The stock-in-trade…is blatant shock and this show, as the title suggests, has plenty in store.” Still, he noted, “It’s high-camp teetering near the edge but never quite reaching vulgarity.”

The general tone, as well as a few details, eluded Bicknell, who may have downed a few too many pints of warm lager before the show. He identified the main character as Frank-N-Further, and backgrounded him as “…a David Bowie in silk stockings, black suspenders and corset.”

Tim Curry in the LA production.

By now, it’s easy to imagine the grand dames of theatre-going tossing their newspapers aside in alarm. And reaching for the telephone to book tickets.

The article featured photos of Philip Sayer, who took on the London role when Tim Curry  transferred to Los Angeles production. Sayer, and the subsequent actors who rotated through Rocky on the London stage at various theatres, are now all pretty much forgotten and it’s near impossible to find their presence on-line.

But from Bicknell’s article, it appears the raw sexuality that Curry engendered in the role, went with him to sunnier climes. Sayer looks more like ZaSu Pitts than Joan Crawford.

In the meantime, preparations continued for the Sydney production. The cast was virtually a who’s who of Australian theatre and entertainment. Kate Fitzpatrick played Magenta while Arthur Dignam took on The Narrator. Other cast members included Maureen Elkner as Columbia, Jane Harders (Janet), John Paramor (Brad), Sal Sharah (Riff-Raff), David Cameron (Eddie/Dr Scott), and Graham Matters (Rocky).

But the star of the show was Reg Livermore as Frank. Those of us who saw that production in the 18 months it ran within the art-directed demolition site that was the New Arts Cinema at Glebe, experienced something very special. I was one of those, returning numerous times.

Frank assesses his latest creation (Kim Milford).

I’d been intrigued enough by the print ads that began to appear, in mainstream newspapers as well as whatever indie and youth press existed at the time; Honi Soit, the student newspaper of the University of Sydney, which itself knew a thing or two about scandalising uptight Sydney society, offered up discounted tickets of just $AU2.00 (regular tickets were $AU3.80 to $AU$4.50).

The tag-line for Rocky Horror: “A transvestite science-fiction rock’n’roll B-movie award-winning musical” was intriguing. Especially for a teenager fresh from the sleepy suburbs who had only recently discovered what life could offer in the big, bad city.

It would be another 18 months before The Rocky Horror Picture Show started in Sydney (in December 1975; a very slow roll-out for a film that had quickly been written off as a huge flop by the studio. It had premiered in the UK in August and the US in September) so nobody in Australia knew of Tim Curry or had any prior references to draw on.

So Reg Livermore blew audiences away, so incandescent was his characterisation. What we didn’t know is that Reg was also very much in the dark about the role and its predecessor.

As recounted in his autobiography, Reg Livermore – Chapters and Chances: “Nobody knew anything much about the show; reading the script didn’t help, and the scant information dribbling our way only added to the intriguing sense of bamboozlement.”

The Rocky Horror Show at LA’s famed Roxy in 1974.

Reg already came with a considerable recognition from previous roles. In 1970, he’d taken over the character of Berger from Keith Glass in the Sydney production of Hair. Two years later, he took on Herod when Jesus Christ Superstar transferred from Sydney to Melbourne. It was a very small part, barely more than one song, yet Reg insisted the part be expanded which still only took the amount of time he spent on stage each night to just nine minutes.

Reg became good friends with JC’s director, Jim Sharman. Sometime later, Sharman approached Reg about a new musical. Sharman had directed the London production of Rocky Horror and played Reg the soundtrack.

This new project was certainly a world, or rather a universe or two, away from JC. He immediately signed on and rehearsals began. Sharman purposely kept his cast in the dark on the matter of characterisations, instead allowing them to find their own paths.

Tim Curry, unbeknownst to anybody in Australia, had drawn on Joan Crawford as an inspiration for Frank N. Furter. Reg went the full Grand Guignol, calling up an entirely different old-time screen queen – Bette Davis. But this was the Bette Davis of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane rather than Dark Victory.

It wouldn’t be the first time he would channel Bette; later, for his inaugural one-man show, The Betty Blokk Buster Follies, Betty was also very much Bette Davis but this time as an Nazi prison warden.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Once Reg settled on a suitable role model: “…it quickly opened the right doors, filling out the performance in ways that had been eluding me. It was the licence to kill; it gave me the walk, the strut, the stance, the voice, the delivery, and I think in the end I took the venerable Miss Davis where even she hadn’t dared go.”

In Reg’s Chapters and Chances, he wrote: “The role of Frank is obviously a gift for the right actor. I took it with both hands and shook the life out of it.”

Previews began and word soon spread that Rocky Horror was unlike anything ever seen before on an Australian stage. The word started to get out.

The final preview started at 9pm, Friday 19 April, 1974, with the official opening following at midnight. Reg owned the show immediately and the rest of the cast weren’t too far behind. The sonorous Arthur Dignam was perfect as the narrator, Kate Fitzpatrick and Maureen Elkner shone as the sexy, conspiratorial alien handmaidens, Sal Sharah (who was on the cusp of gaining national attention for a series of television ads for Uncle Sam deodorant) was suitably creepy, and Graham Matters, who Reg had appeared with in Hair, nailed Frank’s “latest obsession”.

The auditorium was festooned with plastic sheeting, scaffolding and a long runway down one side, giving the impression that bulldozers would soon begin demolishing the theatre. The actors clambered up, down, across and though the audience at breakneck speed. It was a gruelling schedule with most nights having sessions at 7.15pm and 9.30pm.

For the first few months, Reg played Frank exactly as the script demanded. Once he’d settled in, the ad-libbing began. Initially, it was just bits and pieces, then became increasingly lengthy and bizarre.

Although I have no idea how many times I saw Rocky Horror on its initial Sydney run (if you lived through the 1970s and can’t remember much about it, you really WERE there), Reg’s serpentine, Byzantine meanderings were one of the true delights. What Frank said and did often changed from performance to performance, and the audience was never quite sure what would happen next.

The Sydney season ended after 18 months, closing October 4, 1975. Reg had bowed out, burnt out if truth be known, after nine months, and Frank N. Furter was henceforth portrayed by Trevor Kent, Andrew Sharp and Max Phipps. It wasn’t the same. Eric Dare, who owned the New Arts Cinema and leased it to Harry M. Miller for Rocky (as well as being an investor in the show), then bankrolled Reg in a one-man show at another rundown movie palace he owned, The Bijou at Balmain.

The Betty Blokk Buster Follies opened on Wednesday April 16, 1975, while Rocky Horror continued at the New Arts. Reg wrote a series of characters, backgrounded their foibles and largely ad-libbed them to life. The show was seeded through with songs by Lou Reed, Elton John, Paul Williams, Charles Aznavour, Billy Joel, Leo Sayer and others. The soundtrack double album went gangbusters.

Betty was the first of Reg’s one-man shows, continuing on with Wonder Woman, Sacred Cow and Firing Squad. Most ran at Eric Dare’s Bijou.

Rocky Horror went Hollywood with the addition of Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick.

Meanwhile, Rocky Horror transferred to Melbourne and the venerable Regent Theatre, opening Friday 24 October 1975. Max Phipps was Frank. Sal Sharah and Graham Matters were the only original cast members to make the trek south. It was another great hit, running in Melbourne for 17 months until closing Saturday May 28 1977.

Rocky looked to be part of the Australian national theatrical landscape for some time to come. Then the unthinkable happened.

Adelaide happened. Rocky opened in August 1977 but the response from the fair burghers of the City of Churches was far less than enthusiastic. It closed two months later.

Let’s dwell on this a moment. South Australia, home to the Truro serial killings, the Snowtown murders, the Family – a well-connected cabal responsible for the kidnapping, abuse and murder of teenage boys – the local police known to have bashed gay men before throwing them, often dead, into the Torrens, the disappearance of the Beaumont children, and various gangs of local teenagers who regularly broke into the Adelaide Zoo to massacre the animals.

Salmon Rushdie, someone who recognised darkness better than many, called Adelaide: “…the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel or horror film.”

Adelaide, the City of Churches, didn’t warm to depictions of degenerate sex and violence on stage. In real life, however, it was a different matter.

But Australia wasn’t quite finished with Rocky Horror just yet. The first regional production of Rocky occurred in 1978 in Wagga Wagga. And within a few years, it was back in the capital cities. The 1981 Sydney revival saw Daniel Albineri played Frank for the first (though not the last) time. It was also the beginning of a trend for the Narrator role to a revolving door for local celebrities; the 1981 revival featured Stuart Wagstaff, Molly Meldrum and Noel Ferrier. Subsequent revivals have seen such narrators as Gordon Chater, Bernard King and Kamahl.

By the mid-1970s, though, the cat was well and truly out of the bag as far as Tim Curry was concerned. Australia had been shielded from Curry’s career-making characterisation of Frank N. Furter with the exception of the London cast recording.

Jim Sharman was there from Day One. He directed the inaugural production of Rocky Horror in London, assembling a cast that included Curry, Patricia Quinn, and Little Nell. New Zealander Richard O’Brien, who wrote Rocky Horror, played Riff Raff.

The Rocky Horror Show opened small, in a 60-seater studio space above London’s Royal Court Theatre in Sloan Square. It ran there in June-July 1973 before word of mouth and skyrocketing ticket sales necessitated a larger venue. In August 1973, it moved to a 230-seat disused cinema in the Kings Road, Chelsea. Then, in November, it moved a few streets away to the 500-seat Kings Road Theatre, where it played for five years. In April 1979, it moved to its final London home, the Comedy Theatre in the West End.

Curry would become the definitive Frank N. Furter although that would be a little way into the future. He left the London production during the Kings Road Theatre residency. He was replaced by Philip Sayer, who would be referenced to Australian theatre goers via the Sunday Mirror newspaper article, published in the run-up to the opening of the Sydney production.

Curry transferred to the Los Angeles production that opened in March 1974 at the famed Roxy nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Record company executive Lou Adler had taken in a performance in London in the winter of 1973 and immediately signed on to produce an American production.

It opened Thursday March 21 1974 (three weeks before the Sydney production) with Meat Loaf as Eddie and Kim Milford as Rocky. It ran for nine months and attracted celebrities and movie stars backstage after every almost performance. Meat Loaf recalled meeting Elvis one night.

Adler obtained funding for a film adaptation and, in October 1974, Curry returned to the UK to commence filming. He starred alongside Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Richard O’Brien, and Meat Loaf with Jim Sharman again directing.

Curry then went back to the US. On March 10, 1975, Curry opened at the Belasco Theatre in New York City. Rocky Horror had finally made it to Broadway after being a runaway West End hit. Yet something went wrong and it’s difficult to know just where. It closed on 5 April after just 45 performances. New York City and Adelaide. What to make of such indifference?

Perhaps Rocky’s appeal was over-estimated. The stately Belasco Theatre, erected in 1907 and boasting Tiffany lighting, seated just over one thousand people. It was obviously a tough ask filling the seats each night. Maybe it needed a smaller, more intimate venue.

As confronting as it was bombing on the Great White Way, another shock was in store a few months later. The Rocky Horror Picture Show premiered in the UK on Thursday 14 August 1975 to almost universal critical disdain and miserable box office. The studio, which admittedly hadn’t known what to do with the movie, failed to promote it.

It opened in the US on September 26 to similar reaction. Australia had to wait three months. It premiered in Sydney at the Ascot Theatre on 19 December. It did better than in many markets, showing for almost a month and closing on January 15 1976.

And although it was initially written off by the studio as a flop, we now know The Rocky Horror Picture Show to be one of the most screened films of all time. Somewhere in the world, it’s still showing and audiences are just as enthusiastic and committed as they ever were.

As much as I loved the Sydney production, I love the movie even more. I must have seen it hundreds of times. Curry is the ultimate Frank, a sweet transvestite of unparalleled excellence.

The big surprise, certainly for Sydney audiences who knew Reg Livermore’s Frank so well, was in confronting Tim Curry’s interpretation.

That surprise extended even to Reg himself.

As he noted in Chapters And Chances: “Some years after I quit the show, I finally succumbed and saw the movie version; I was shocked and surprised to observe how beautiful Tim Curry was. Nobody ever told me Frank N. Furter was supposed to be attractive; I went out of my way to make myself as grotesque as possible.”

Different strokes, as it were, for different aliens. Regardless, Rocky Horror continues to dazzle and its appeal cuts across generations who will always be ready to do the Time Warp. Again. And again. And again.

Postscript: Inevitably, Frank N. Furter became a favourite subject for fancy dress parties.

Photos courtesy of the Glenn A. Baker Archives

Sharp As A Razor: Sidney Patrick Kelly Becomes A Poster Boy For Gangster Chic


Siddy Kelly mug shot 1924 (courtesy Police and Justice Museum, Sydney)

Even by the standards of Sydney crime figures of the first half of the 20th century, Sidney Patrick Kelly was particularly vicious. A member of the so-called “razor gangs” that terrorised the inner suburbs of Australia’s largest city, Siddy (as he was known), slashed, shot and bashed his way through his many enemies and, occasionally, even his friends. And that was just the men. For women who fell victim to his short, volcanic temper, he arranged even harsher retribution.

Readers of Larry Writer’s Razor volume may vaguely recall him although he was, at best, a peripheral character. So, too, within the highly-romanticised mini-series that inevitably resulted, screening as Underbelly: Razor in 2011.

Siddy Kelly was an associate of Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine, Nellie Cameron, Guido Calletti, and even infamous Melbourne gangster, Squizzy Taylor.

Standing just 160cm, he always had something to prove and even much bigger men moved, and spoke, carefully in his presence. Early in his career, he was a cocaine dealer and police informer; gradually, he gained a fearsome reputation as an enforcer.

NSW Police of the period

What he lacked in stature, he compensated for with a mercurial unpredictability. Siddy ran with a bunch of equally tough, though much larger, friends. Amongst them was his elder brother, Tom.

They were a fine pair, the Kelly brothers though Siddy seemed to have a slight edge on Tom in the cruelty stakes. The gang muscled their way through the Sydney underworld, restraining Siddy’s targets while he ceremoniously unfolded his straight razor and deeply sliced a face or, if negotiations had progressed beyond all resolve, a throat.

As a boy, he worked as a jockey and remained fascinated by horseracing throughout his life. He owned racehorses but was caught out with batteries under the saddles of some of his mounts and banned from the sport. Later, he operated illegal baccarat dens.

At the peak of his activities during the 1940s, his share of the profits amounted to around £1,000 a night (about $72,000 in today’s dollars) In comparison, the average weekly wage in 1946 was £6/9/11 (6 pounds, 9 shillings and 11 pence – somewhere around $470 in current terms).

Likely lads at Central Police Station, Sydney

In 1947, Kelly and his wife, Theller Omega, known as Poppy, moved to grander surroundings. A two-storey mansion at 2 Martin Road, Centennial Park, adjacent to the parklands and within sight of the Sydney Showgrounds, was purchased for £8,500 (about $615,000 in today’s dollars).

Located on a 1948 square metre block and including extensive gardens, the house had been built around 1919 in the then-fashionable Inter War Free Classical style. It was designed by the prestigious Sydney architectural firm of Burcham Clamp and Mackellar.

At the time of Kelly’s purchase, the mansion was known as Babington. Later, and perhaps as a result of its notoriety, it was renamed Stanton Hall.

A gangster moving into the silvertail suburb of Centennial Park was notable enough to attract significant press coverage. Kelly didn’t shy away from the limelight. One newspaper quoted him as saying: “I have had a pretty busy life. I figured it was about time my wife and I had a slice of reasonable comfort in a home where we will not be cramped.

Melbourne gangster Squizzy Taylor

“I have always wanted a place where I could put up my friends and guests, and I have always wanted gardens, lawns and fishponds,” he continued. “The place is a good investment, and I have always said that nothing is too good for the Kellys.”

He continued to make money hand over clenched fist, primarily via his baccarat operations or gambling on horse races. Yet, a huge fortune and glamourous home could not inoculate Kelly from the vagaries of fate.

On the evening of Wednesday 1 September 1948, Siddy Kelly complained of not feeling well. The next morning, brother Tom went to his room to check on him but found him dead. An attending doctor listed his cause of death as heart failure. He was just 49 years old.

Dozens of journalists camped outside his home. One newspaper dryly noted he was “a well known figure among the exotic elements of Kings Cross”.

Journalists gather outside Babington during Siddy Kelly’s funeral

His funeral was held at Botany Cemetery. It was a private ceremony, attended by no more than 50 mourners including Poppy. Press coverage mentioned the floral tributes, estimated at £300, that adorned the casket as it made its way from his Centennial Park home.

Of all the mysteries associated with Siddy Kelly (principally, how a man with so many enemies had managed to stay alive so long), one final mystery was about to kick into high gear.

On his death, Kelly was said to have squirrelled away between £50,000 and £100,000 ($3.5 – $7 million in today’s dollars). Keep in mind, Kelly’s five-bedroom mansion on the best street in the suburb had cost less than £10,000. A police source was quoted as saying: “He was a man who never gave money away.”

On rumours that some of the money had been buried in Centennial Park, gangs of crims armed with shovels and flashlights spent weeks digging indiscriminately throughout the extensive parklands, all to no avail.

The real Nellie Cameron

Sensing a windfall, the Taxation Office descended but were perplexed to find that the gross value of the estate barely grazed £8,800 ($637,000 today). Net worth was just £2,768 (just north of $200,000 today). It didn’t help that Siddy’s long-time solicitor, Harold Joseph Price, had earlier in 1948 been sentenced to 12 years in jail for misappropriating clients’ funds.

Although Price had stolen some £34,000 ($2.5 million today) from a number of accounts under his care, the general consensus – in the underworld and elsewhere – was that he wouldn’t have been so stupid as to steal from Kelly himself. The money was out there, it was felt, but nobody knew just where. And it was never found, despite the best efforts of the police, the tax office and Sydney’s criminal elite.

Babington, later known as Stanton Hall, today remains largely in its original state, though undoubted refurbished many times since. It was last traded in 1976 for $90,000 and is today estimated to be worth in excess of $10 million.

What happened to Siddy Kelly’s fortune will probably never be known. As to Poppy Kelly, that is also somewhat of a mystery although just a few years later she was briefly listed as living in much humbler surroundings in nearby Randwick. There is only one mention I’ve found so far on an electoral roll for Poppy. That’s not to say there’s aren’t others; I just haven’t found them yet.

The glamourous Nellie Cameron of Underbelly: Razor

However, if Siddie had stashed away a substantial amount of money, maybe – for whatever reason – he hadn’t got around to telling his wife about it. How long she remained in Babington remains a mystery as well.

But a visit to Kelly’s grave deepens the mystery somewhat. What was formerly known as Botany Cemetery is now the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Gardens. Close to the shores of Botany Bay and today encompassed by heavy industry and maritime and port facilities, it opened in 1888. The area was traditionally sandhills which, even today proves challenging to excavating graves.

I was hoping to find that Poppy shared her husband’s grave (by which I could then confirm her name) but that wasn’t the case. Kelly’s grave was in an older part of the Roman Catholic section and, unusually, the burials along this particular row occurred by date, beginning in early September 1948 and running until late in the month. It was the only row I could find where this occurred.

The headstone was also of interest. Probate was granted on Siddy’s estate in the first week of November 1948, by which time the word had well and truly circulated about the dire state of his finances. It was just eight weeks after his funeral and probably about the time a headstone was ready to adorn his grave.

Siddy Kelly’s headstone at Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Sydney

Yet the granite headstone misspells Kelly’s name. It reads Sydney Patrick Kelly. Could this have been Poppy extracting an enduring revenge for her husband’s failure to provide for her?

Maybe another clue lies in the Biblical quote included on the headstone.

“God forgive them for they know not what they do.”

I was first drawn to the story of Sidney Patrick Kelly back in early 1989. At that time, I was working away at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, most likely researching one of my books; from the date, it was Sand On The Gumshoe: A Century Of Australian Crime Writing, published later that year.

Jim Devine, husband of Tilly Devine

All the books I worked on during that decade (and into the next) necessitated extensive research at the Mitchell Library so it was very much a home away from home. In fact, I’d been a regular there since 1979, when I started writing for various encyclopedias published for Rupert Murdoch.

Before the universal prolificity of computers and the internet, historical research was libraries and card catalogues. In the process of looking for one thing, I often found something else equally or even more interesting. In this case, it was an article on Siddy Kelly published in People, an Australian news and general interest magazine from 1955.

I have no idea what I was initially searching for. It may have been something about Arthur Upfield, creator of Bony, the indigenous Australian detective. Or Carter Brown, the pen name of Alan Geoffrey Yates, credited with almost 300 pulp crime novels and novellas from the mid-1950s on. Or maybe even Berkeley Mather, English-born but Australian-educated, a now-almost-forgotten creator of eloquent spy thrillers who also co-wrote the script to Dr No, the first official James Bond movie, and did uncredited rewrites on From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

Difficult to know but somehow I stumbled across this People article on Sidney Patrick Kelly and thought it’d be interesting to follow up at a later date. So, risking a hernia, I lugged the bound quarto volume of People magazines to the Mitchell Library’s copying department (self-service photocopy machines being some years in the future).

Sydney crime scene photo of the 1920s (courtesy Sydney Living Museums)

At a later date, I received from the copying service photographic negatives of the relevant three pages (can’t recall why it would have been photographed and not photocopied), which went into my desk drawer, survived several home relocations and various major and minor life changes, until I dug the negs out last week and determined it was about time I did something about the article.

Only took 33 years. Pretty good, considering.

However, there is a coda to Siddy Kelly’s story. The opening photograph of Sidney Patrick Kelly, with his blue-steel gaze and snappy attire, comes from the collection of the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney. It is part of an archive encompassing more than 100,000 mug shots, crime scene and related photographs from the NSW Police Department.

Included are some 2,5000 “special photographs” taken of prisoners at Central Police Station, Sydney, between 1910-25. These photos are remarkable, shot on large-format glass negatives. The subjects were allowed to pose as they wished in quite informal settings, totally unlike traditional institutionalised mug shots.

The mean streets of midnight Sydney

This photograph of Kelly was taken on 25 June 1924 and appeared in the NSW Police Gazette. It was captioned “Illicit drug trader. Drives his own car, and dresses well. Associates with criminal and prostitutes.”

Museum curator Peter Doyle (a crime writer of note, although he arrived too late on the scene to be included in Sand On The Gumshoe), collated some of these highly atmospheric photos for publications under the titles City Of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948 (2005) and Crooks Like Us (2009).

The books were an outstanding success in Australia, deservedly so, although their influence extended even further. In 2011, the Justice and Police Museum was approached by the corporate head office of Ralph Lauren in New York. They wanted to licence images from the collection, notably the “special photographs”, to be enlarged to wall-size murals for display in their New York City and London flagship stores.

Crime is never as glamourous as it appears on television

The Siddy Kelly photo at the beginning of this blog was one of the photographs selected. It’s interesting that a man as essentially evil as Sidney Patrick Kelly would continue to exert an influence on popular culture so long after his death.

Befitting the modern era, Kelly had become a commodity. A sharp dresser with the promise of danger in his level gaze, he was now the personification of edgy fashion. Perhaps it would have amused him. Certainly his acquaintances would have had a laugh.

I See The Stars Crashing Down: David Bowie, Jeff Duff and the Rare Breed of Musical Chameleons


 

Early January marks the birthdays of some of my favourite performers. Both Elvis and Bowie were born on 8 January, David Johansen, Jimmy Page and Scott Walker on the 9th, Rod Stewart and Donald Fagan on the 10th, along with a whole stack of others sprinkled through the month such as Sam Cooke, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, Mick Taylor, Clarence Carter, Greedy Smith, Michael Hutchence, Johnny O’Keefe, and Doc Neeson.

 

Which is my way of dragging out one of the Bowie archive photos from my collection. This one dates from the China Girl video shoot in Sydney and is date stamped (12 September 1983) on the back. Bowie, who also shot the music video for Let’s Dance in Australia during the same period, is shown with Geeling Ng; a New Zealand actress, Ng was working as a waitress at one of my favourite hang-outs of the time, Dean’s in Kellett St, Kings Cross, when Bowie first met her.

 

Bowie and Ng made the China Girl video, romance bloomed (as it did for many of Bowie’s co-stars), and eventually Ng returned to New Zealand where she became something of a media celebrity. Although there’s no photographer credit on this, it was most likely shot by Patrick Jones.

 

Jeff Duff in concert, wearing a suit from his London days.

 

Bowie owned a Sydney apartment close to the Cross, in Elizabeth Bay’s historic Kincoppal building, and would spend several months at a time there. He only sold it after his marriage to Iman in the early 1990s and the realisation that a bachelor pad on the other side of the world was somewhat redundant for a married man.

 

Jeff Duff, the Australian entertainer, who fronted the jazz-rock band Kush before beginning a long and artistically diverse solo career, had known Bowie in the late 1970s. Duff had relocated to London where he terrified and energised the music scene. His notoriety attracted other artists who were comfortable on the very edge of society’s expectations and Bowie was certainly one of them.

 

Fast forward to the early 80s and Duff and Bowie became neighbours, with Jeff living next door to Kincoppal. They’d frequently run into each other in the neighbourhood and members of Tin Machine, Bowie’s band at the time (their second album was recorded at EMI’s 301 Studios in 1989), would turn up for Duff’s performances around Sydney.

 

Jeff Duff and friend in the green room at Sydney’s Camelot Lounge

 

Given Duff’s eclectic musical tastes, and immense talent, it’s no real surprise that he’s become well known these days for his Bowie tribute shows. He’s even played the Sydney Opera House a few times. He’s also mounted shows dedicated to Lou Reed as well as Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers.

 

But it’s Bowie that Jeff has become most celebrated for; he even conducted a thematically impressive experiment in mixing the styles of Bowie and Frank Sinatra. There’s some physical similarities between Jeff and Bowie, and his interpretation of the songs are well worth experiencing.

 

I’m lucky that, owing to Jeff being a friend of a friend, I’ve had a few opportunities to not only see Jeff in concert but spend time with him as well. An erudite gentleman (a description that, sadly, is much under-utilised these days) with an innate elegance, Jeff has a quick wit leavened with a refreshing self-deprecation, a world away from the onanism generally shown by those in showbusiness.

 

The author at the Camelot Lounge

 

Bowie life and musical career has been extensively charted and dissected, Jeff Duff much less so. His memoir, This Will Explain Everything (Melbourne Book, 2016), is highly recommended and you end up with the realisation that his contribution to music, and Australian culture in general, is most under-appreciated and unrecognised.

 

Fittingly, the book is dedicated to Bowie.

 

© Words and Photos David Latta 2020

Soundtrack To The Seventies: Disco, AOR And Associated Musical Musings On A 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car


 

 

 

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Happy Birthday!!! Sonny Corleone (no, the other one) turns 40.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking Mario Puzo’s ill-fated member of the fictional crime family but my 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car. So the first issue to address is…..why the hell Sonny Corleone?

He’s (and here I’m referring to the car) that’s kinda guy. A loveable lug. Powerful as much as powerfully built, dependable and loyal. Protective of all who come in contact with him but sensitive enough to show a girl a good time (at a wedding, no less). Got it? Good.

 

 

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On Thursday 15 June 1978, Sonny Corleone was welcomed to the world, rolling off the Ford assembly line in Wixom, MI, to the cheers of hundreds of assembled factory workers. There was portent in the air; they knew this was something special, despite this plant having largely concentrated on Lincolns since it opened in 1957 (and it was a Town Car that was the last off the assembly line when the facility closed in 2007).

In reality, the Lincoln was shipped off to Rotman Lincoln-Mercury, a dealership in Maquokta, Iowa, about 300 kilometres west of Chicago. But I like to think that Sonny had a parallel existence in some other reality, cruising the streets of New York City as a treasured member of a prestige limousine service. His dayswould be blocked out by stockbrokers and other Wall Street types, pre-generational Masters of the Universe, hoovering up lines of cocaine as they shuttled around town. The nights were blocked out with celebrities, models, disco dollies and more executive types who, depending on their proclivities, travelled from high-end restaurants to Studio 54, Plato’s Retreat or any of a number of bath houses where cleanliness was not a prerequisite.

 

 

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If you were wondering just what these passengers might have been listening to within Sonny’s encompassing velvet confines, here’s just such a list. OK, maybe it’s more what I was and would have been listening to during the same period but same same.

In terms of music, 1978 is one of my favourite years, just as the 1970s is one of my favourite decades. It falls within the Golden Era of disco, rich with lush orchestrations, before the 80s ushered in synthesizers. So we’ll start the list with the most obvious:

 

1/ The Tramps – Disco Inferno: Although initially released in 1976 (when it reached Number One on the Billboard Dance charts), it became an even bigger hit in 1978 with a 10 minute 54 second version via the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. This time around, it made the mainstream charts, reaching Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Coincidentally, I’ve previously noted that I want this song played at my funeral. I anticipate a cremation. Burn, baby, burn.

2/ Bee Gees – How Deep Is Your Love: Again from the biggest movie of 1977-78. It’s difficult to choose just one Bee Gees song off this amazing double album; maybe More Than A Woman, although it wasn’t released as a single, or Night Fever but I’ll stick with this sensuous ballad. Interestingly, Saturday Night Fever is one of only six albums to reach sales of more 40 million. Even more interestingly, it may be one of my favourite soundtracks but it’s not necessarily my favourite disco movie; that honour would go to Thank God It’s Friday.

3/ Donna Summer – Last Dance: Speaking of which, Donna Summer was a HUGE part of my disco years; her first Casablanca single, Love To Love You Baby was in 1975, when it really started, disco-wide, for both Donna and myself. Last Dance was off the Thank God It’s Friday soundtrack, a truly great song, and historically notable for being the only disco song to ever win an Academy Award (Yes, I hear you say, Xanadu was robbed!!!!).

4/ John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air: As much as I was huge Countdown fan (as indeed anyone of a certain age was in Australia), I never saw the 30 April 1978 live broadcast of John Paul Young singing Love Is In The Air. I worked Thursdays to Sundays at an inner city Sydney disco so I didn’t see the first televised performance (or, at least, its most celebrated) but it was impossible to miss this Vanda & Young-penned musical juggernaut, either when it was demolishing music charts around the world (Top 5 through much of Europe, Number 3 in Australia and topped Billboard US’s Adult Contemporary Charts) or since then. I love it still.

5/ Village People – Macho Man: 1978 was the year of two of the Village People’s biggest hits – Macho Man and Y.M.C.A., but it’s the later that stands out. Number One around the world, except for the US where Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy blocked it from the top spot. As the song surged up the charts, things became more heated than a bunch of Village People fans in a YMCA sauna when the organisation threatened to sue for breach of copyright. Things were “settled” out of court and the YMCA later officiallydeclared it a “positive statement” about the YMCA. In recent times, co-writer (with VP producer and Svengali, Jacques Morelli) and lead singer, Victor Willis, won his long-running legal battle to have his copyrights restored to him; a consequence is that Willis is now touring with a reconstructed VP without any of the other surviving original group members.

6/ Rod Stewart – Do Ya Think I’m Sexy: Speaking of which, this marks Rockin’ Rod crossing to the dark side, cashing in on disco, as his traditional fans accused him. To anyone who frequented discos or nightclubs (or anywhere really, in the late 70s), it struck a chord in describing the machinations behind the boy-meets-girl scenario and what goes down (no pun intended, no, really) afterwards.

7/ Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights: While I missed the clip on Countdown (like many Australian hits, it was due largely to exposure from this one program), I would have seen it on Donnie Sutherland’s Sounds show (wherever I woke up on Saturday mornings). Like everything else on my list, I love it still although I’m no great fan of Kate’s other work. Honourable mention to another version that populates my iPod playlist; from the UK’s Puppini Sisters, which presents the song as the Andrews Sisters would interpret it.

8/ Bob Welch – Ebony Eyes: Just to prove I’m not entirely disco obsessed, here’s some West Coast rock. On the back of a splendid video clip, it was a much bigger hit in Australia than the US (heeeelloooooo again, Countdown). Welch is probably best known for his time with Fleetwood Mac (part of the ninth line-up along with Mick Fleetwood and the McVies); he left the band in 1974, to be replaced by Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. The rest, as they say in showbiz, is history. He then formed the under-rated Paris, then followed with a couple of solo albums. The first, French Kiss, from which Ebony Eyes is from, shipped platinum, the others consistently fewer. I still play French Kiss, and the Paris albums, and none of Bob’s Mac work. Go figure.

9/ Dragon – Are You Old Enough: Technically, I could include April Sun In Cuba on this list, although it was released in 1977; that was off the Running Free album which was still yielding singles into the following year. But I’ll side-step the inevitable whinges and choose Are You Old Enough instead. Typical boppy, poppy sunshine rock, I’ll always associate the late 70s Dragon output with lazy summer days, which stretched into lazy spring, summer and autumn months working on my tan at Tamarama or Lady Bay beaches. Dragon was Marc Hunter as much as he was the very essence of the late 70s sunshine lifestyle and he died way too young. Despite their best efforts, I just can’t warm to Dragon without Marc (just as the Doors and INXS could never replicate the magic after losing their lead singers)..

10/ Bruce Springsteen – Because The Night: This choice will court some controversy but demonstrates how rich our legacy of old music has become over the intervening years, repackaging classic albums with bonus and archival material being the norm these days. Strictly speaking, the only version of Because The Night that Sonny would have known in 1978 would be the Patti Smith version; early drafts of this song were written by The Boss and recorded during June and July of 1977, for the Darkness At The Edge Of Town sessions. Bruce wasn’t entirely satisfied with what he had (although the melody and chorus were constants) and it was eventually dropped. Smith, who was recording at an adjoining studio, completed the song and recorded it; it became her biggest US chart hit. According to the exhaustive www.springsteenlyrics.com, the official studio version that Bruce recorded for Darkness had Smith’s lyrics, while alternate versions digressed quite sharply in attempting to imprint his blue collar ethos. He started playing it live, with his own lyrics, during the Darkness tour. It was included on Live! 1975-85 (1986) but the alternate version released in The Promise (2010), which collected Darkness session tracks, has Smith’s lyrics. So maybe we should just stick with Patti Smith.

11/ Andy Gibb – Shadow Dancing: In truth, it should be I Just Want To Be Your Everything (my favourite Andy Gibb track) but that came out in 1977. Gibb, younger brother of Barry, Robin and Maurice, renowned collectively as the Bee Gees, had a fitful early careerwhich didn’t take off until the mid-70s when Robert Stigwood, at that time his brothers’ manager, also took on Andy. The Bee Gees’ involvement in his debut album, from playing to providing songs, worked the right kind of magic. Two Number One singles, including Everything, resulted. In April 1978, the second album, Shadow Dancing, was released with the single of the same name also going to Number One. His tragic death at the age of 30 tinges these recordings with such sadness. Let’s remember him as he was.

12/ Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band – Old Time Rock And Roll: Right through the 1970s, it seemed as if most of the music America wanted to listen to was coming out of a virtually unknown part of northern Alabama called Sheffield. Four sessions musicians, known collectively as the Swampers, left employment at the renowned Fame Studios (which had been churning out R&B hits since the 1960s) nearby and set up their own facility, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. While R&B continued to be an important revenue stream, they also extended into mainstream artists such as the Rolling Stones (tracks from Exile On Main Street), Cher, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan. Detroit rocker Bob Seger recorded a number of tracks there including one of his most enduring, Old Time Rock and Roll. While Bob’s Silver Bullet Band is credited on the album, the track itself was originally a demo produced and played on by the Swampers themselves for a co-write from George Jackson and Thomas E Jones III. While Bob tried recording the song with both the Bullet and the Swampers, he wasn’t happy with the result; in the end, he laid his own vocals over the top of the demo. And although Bob amended some of the original lyrics, he saw it more as filler than serious chart potential and passed on a song writing co-credit; royalties flow straight back to Muscle Shoals. Bet Bob is still kicking himself.

 

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13/ Steely Dan – Deacon Blues: We unquestioningly accept the rock’n’roll aesthetic; slim, jaded, impossibly attractive young gods, prowling the manicured meadows from centuries-old English manor houses to their stages via green rooms where magnums of French champagne and supermodel groupies await to be plucked from their respective receptacles. Walter and Donald were not rock gods. They looked pretty much the way you’d expect anybody called Walter and Donald would look in the 1970s. Except dorkier. And, please understand, I mean that in the nicest possible way. Like they were on top of calculus and were just marking time until the Atari was invented. Which, as Atari was founded in 1972 and Steely Dan stopped touring in 1974, is maybe a little closer to the truth than anybody suspected. So, as for the perks of being rock stars, when it comes to Steely Dan, the mind enters boggling territory. What would a Steelie Dan groupie even look like? Perhaps it’s best not to know. Whatever, Steely Dan were an integral part of the sound of a generation and that generation was mine. Do It Again, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Reelin’ In The Years, Hey Nineteen. I didn’t understand the lyrics then and still don’t. But the sound is unmistakable. Thus Deacon Blues, coming close towards the end of their chart successes, gets my 1978 nod.

With these, and so many other great songs of the 70s, Sonny cotinues – 40 years later, to rumble the bitumen, turning heads and drawing crowds wherever he goes.

Happy Birthday, Sonny. And many more to come.

© David Latta 2018

Rat Rods, Rocket Sleds and Land Yachts: Atomic Age Detroit Metal Shines At Newcastle Museum


Some people don’t get it. And, most likely, never will. Some do. Of those who get it, a few will never move beyond it. They embrace it in all its forms. The rest are spectators, no matter how inflamed their interests, they’ll never cross that great divide, turn fantasy to reality, embrace the actuality.

Although this applies to collectors in general, it’s especially so for those whose main interest is cars. Most people out there are content (happy may be stretching it) with their late model Fords or Toyotas, even with the current trend towards the bland homogeneity, that has rendered all cars pretty much the same, the choice narrowed to a handful of designs and a handful of colours. Good luck finding your car in a shopping centre car park.

Yet there are those of us who want more than mere transport. Prestige, perhaps, individuality, certainly, a statement of style or their love of design excellence or nostalgia. These people really enjoy driving. It’s a pleasure for them. An adventure.

 

I love old cars, in particular the American variety of the 1950s to 1970s. I’ll leave it up to qualified experts to explain my preferences. Certainly, my last three cars fell within that grouping – a 1968 Ford Galaxie, a 1963 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and a 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car.

I had the Cadillac for almost 20 years and it’s appeared in previous posts, as much for its fascinating back story as the collective joys of owning and driving a classic car.

 

For those not familiar with the backstory, check out:

https://davidlatta.org/2011/08/29/a-classic-link-to-old-time-las-vegas-the-dunes-frederic-apcar-and-the-casino-de-paris/

https://davidlatta.org/2011/08/30/say-hello-to-my-little-friend-the-joy-of-a-classic-car/

 

The Cadillac has long been America’s mainstream luxury car, an aspiration noted lyrically in so much of the country’s music (especially blues and early R&B songs) and pop culture. I never doubted I’d be a Cadillac owner forever.

But it was not to be and, instead, I found myself switching alliances (perhaps a little too easily). My Caddy was what is now termed a survivor. Although mechanically excellent, the original Silver Mist paintwork needed a respray and the red leather interior (an expensive option, along with the bucket seats, in its day) also required extensive attention. I was looking at big bucks for the quality finish it deserved.

Then the engine blew a cylinder. It took me ages to mull over the options (limited as they were – fix or not) and it was probably more the case that I didn’t want to make the hard decision. What I didn’t want to face was the possibility of the Caddy ending up in a wrecking yard. In the meantime, I needed something to drive.

 

As I started shopping around, I ruled out another Caddy as they were priced beyond what I wanted to pay. In what turned out to be a timely combination of dumb luck and divine intervention, I found a beautiful midnight blue 1978 Lincoln Continental Town Car. It’s the default limousine used extensively in the United States for airport transfers, while it’s substantial bulk and moderate retro stylings gave it something of the flavour of a Mafia staff car.

The price was right, ridiculously so, and everything else checked out so I flew to Adelaide for an inspection. It was in immaculate condition; it’d been purchased from a deceased estate in Maquoketa, Iowa, brought to Australia, complianced and fully registered in South Australia just two years before.

Maquoketa is some 200 kilometres west of Chicago but the pristine undercarriage revealed the previous owner to be extremely fastidious; bless him, he was exactly the sort of person people like me dream of buying a second-hand car from. There was nothing to indicate the Lincoln had ever poked its shiny chrome beyond the shelter of its garage between late autumn and early spring in its entire existence. In fact, throughout the car, there was very little indication of the almost 40 years since it had rolled off the assembly line in Wixom, Michigan.

 

On the leisurely drive back to Sydney I became acquainted with the Lincoln’s left-hand drive (not as difficult or confronting as initially expected) and the rapid response of the 460 cubic-inch (around 7.5 litre) engine.

It didn’t take me long to come to terms with the idea that I should keep the Lincoln and sell the Cadillac. Still, it did take a while to finally list it on eBay, expecting a fairly low selling price considering its condition. But, once listed, the magic manifested. The opening bid landed almost immediately and, ultimately, 14 bidders duelled like wine-soaked Musketeers; it eventually realised just a little over what I’d paid for it some 20 years before (and, incidentally, more than I paid for the Lincoln). Try that with a late-model Toyota.

It’s little wonder, then, that I seek out car museums whenever I’m in the United States. Give me the opportunity to tour the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, or the America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, and I’m in like a shot.

 

I have no more understanding of the intricacies of the internal combustion engine than I would the opening chapter of Quantum Physics For Dummies, so the technicalities matter little (that’s where a good mechanic is essential); it’s the excess, the unashamed kitsch, that gets me far more than any technical appreciation.

And it’s not just Americans who still treasure the more outrageous examples of their automotive heritage. I have taken tours of Paris in classic Cadillacs and seen a fleet of 1950s and 1960s American cars on a club run through rural Finland.

Australians also have a similar fascination which is how I came to discover Lost In The 50s, a private collection at an industrial area in Newcastle, New South Wales.

 

Open just one day a month, it’s the culmination of more than 30 years of collecting American cars and pop culture memorabilia of the 1950s and 60s by businessman Glen Jennings and his family. Lost In The 50s is devoted to the Atomic Age (a sub-strata of the so-called Golden Age of US automobile design, pegged between 1948 and 1973).

It was a time when the post-war economic boom fuelled the rapid rise in US consumer culture and influenced car companies to produce ever more ostentatious designs. Immensely powerful engines, vast surfaces of brightly-hued steel panelling offset by bulky chrome flourishes and all the mod-cons consumers never knew they needed but soon came to expect (and then some – under-dash record players, anyone?).

All packaged in enormous designs that recalled missiles, rocket ships and the gleaming futurism of 1950s Hollywood science-fiction movies. The aim wasn’t so much to get from Point A to Point B but to do it in the most style and comfort.

 

The space race, honed razor sharp by the Cold War, dominated the skies while Detroit car manufacturers mimicked their own ever-skyward quest for dominance. In feverishly competing to make their products as attractive as possible to American consumers, there also occurred an inevitable competition between brands. And the late 1950s to mid-1960s saw the rise of jaw-droppingly audacious automotive design, as shamelessly brightly-coloured as metallic peacocks, the likes of which had never been seen before.

There was a staggering range of choice to entice consumers. The major automobile companies – Ford, General Motors and Chrysler – along with a handful of smaller independents, including AMC and Studebaker, fought to differentiate their products. And each of these also had an array of brands.

Ford had, amongst others, such brands as the Lincoln, Mercury, Fairlane, Galaxie, and Mustang (best not mention the Edsel), while GM boasted the Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Chrysler’s included the Valiant, Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Imperial and New Yorker.

 

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1966 George Barris-designed Batmobile.

 

 

Many of these are represented in the Lost In The 50s collection. It ranges across family sedans, pick-up trucks, hot rods and a couple of notable movie cars. The most instantly recognisable is the 1966 Batmobile, from the Adam West television series. Adapted from a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept vehicle by legendary US custom car creator, George Barris, an  original and three replicas were created for filming.

 

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1966 George Barris-designed Batmobile.

 

All are now in private ownership. Barris’ original, designated the #1 – which remained in his personal collection – was auctioned for the first time in 2015, fetching $US4.6 million. However, there’s a thriving industry producing driveable replicas, fibreglass bodies often mounted on Lincoln Town Cars chassis. I’ve lost count of the number I’ve seen at motor museums around the world and the one at Lost In The 50s is a prime example.

 

1950 Buick Roadmaster Fastback Coupe

 

My pick from this smaller section of the museum is the pearl grey 1950 Buick Roadmaster Fastback Coupe. The front grille, with a rictus of chromed malevolence, looks like something out of a Stephen King novel (small wonder as a 1953 Buick Roadmaster was the supernatural lynchpin of King’s From A Buick 8).

But it’s the central hall of the museum that holds the most glittering of prizes and it’s here that the truly wonderful over-the-top 50s and 60s cars are in evidence. Here’s my personal favourites:

 

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1958 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe

 

1958 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe in two-tone green with a continental kit. The Pontiac was one of General Motor’s earliest brands, beginning in 1926, and soon became one of the favourites of American consumers. The Bonneville emerged initially in 1957 as the luxury convertible edition of the Pontiac Star Chief. The following year, the Bonneville became a stand-alone model.

 

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1958 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe

 

The 1958 was available as a two-door hardtop or convertible. The base price was $US3,481 (against an average income of $US5,100 per annum) for a V-8 370 cubic inch, 255hp engine with a Carter four-barrel carburettor. Options went all the way up to a 330hp with triple Rochester twin-barrel carburettors.

 

 

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1958 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe

 

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1958 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe

 

 

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1958 Oldsmobile Model 98

 

 

1958 Oldsmobile Model 98 4 door sedan in cherry red. Until 2004, when the company was shuttered, the Oldsmobile was America’s oldest operating car company, dating back to 1897 when Ransom E. Olds started manufacturing in Lansing, Michigan. General Motors purchased the company in 1908.

By the late 1950s, the Oldsmobile was powered by an 8-cylinder Rocket V-8 engine (it first appeared in the 1949 models) and was the first post-war overhead-valve V-8 engine. The Oldsmobile was one of the fastest American cars of its time, capable of 0-60mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit more than 12 seconds and an absolute top speed of 97mph (156 km/h). In 1949 and 50, 88s won more than half the NASCAR Grand National Races. General Motors had the OHV V-8 market pretty much to itself for several years.

The 1958 Oldsmobile had an option of a J-2 Golden Rocket with three two-barrel carburettors. Revolutionary as the Rocket 88 engine was to General Motors and the automotive industry in general, it also played an indirect role in the development of rock’n’roll.

 

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1958 Oldsmobile Model 98

 

A paean to speed and power (and ipso facto sex), “Rocket 88” was a song written by Jackie Brenston in 1951 at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, MS. Brenston was saxophonist with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm band. The song was recorded by the Kings at the recently-opened Memphis Recording Service studios in early March 1951 but released as Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. Brenston sang vocals while the sax breaks were by 17-year-old Raymond Hill.

In the petri dish of American culture that was slowly but surely fermenting gospel, rhythm and blues, and country music during that decade, black and white influences travelling parallel tracks, many music historians identify Rocket 88 as the first rock’n’roll song. It’s passionately argued for and against but within that Memphis studio was recorded one of the first, if not the penultimate, song in the development of modern music by people who would also play their own important roles.

In 1956, a precocious 16-year-old by the name of Anna Mae Bullock, first sang with the Kings of Rhythm and soon became a regular member of the band. She started dating Raymond Hill and they eventually had a baby; when the relationship floundered, she began dating Ike Turner. In 1960, she adopted the stage name of Tina Turner when Ike formed the Ike And Tina Turner Revue.

 

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1958 Oldsmobile Model 98

 

But the most enduring of rock’n’roll’s fickle flourishes of fate involved the Memphis Recording Studio. It was opened in 1950 by Sam Phillips who, two years later, inaugurated his own label, Sun Records, there. For the first few years, Phillips concentrated on emerging  black musicians such as B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf although he was intrigued by the possibilities inherent in finding a white singer who could convincingly handle black music.

In July 1954, a nineteen-year-old blonde blue-eyed Memphis local, Elvis Presley, recorded a number of tracks, of which “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, became the first of five releases on the Sun label. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

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1958 Oldsmobile Model 98

 

1961 Chrysler Imperial Coupe

 

1961 Chrysler Imperial Coupe two-door in ice blue. The Imperial was Chrysler’s luxury brand from 1955 until the mid-70s and it was to Chrysler what Cadillac was to General Motors or Lincoln to Ford. As beautiful as this car is externally, some of its more notable refinements are inside.

Although dash-mounted push button transmissions were available in a handful of American cars, only Chrysler maintained it for any great length of time. The two-speed PowerFlite transmission was available in all Chryslers from 1954 to 1961, with the three-speed TorqueFlite appearing in 1956. Push buttons disappeared at the end of the 1964 model year.

 

1961 Chrysler Imperial Coupe

 

The oblong steering wheel and seeming lack of steering column is another stylish Space Age design feature. The tyre-shaped hump on the trunk is known as the FliteSweep Deck Lid and was an option on 1957-61 models. In 1961, it cost $US55.45 extra.

At 227.1 inches (5.76 metres) long, it was the longest non-limousine car on the market.

 

1961 Chrysler Imperial Coupe

 

 

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

 

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser gold two-tone with continental kit. This is one car that polarised the market back in the day and continues to bedevil collectors today. Is it amazing design innovation or just amazingly kitsch?

The flagship of Ford’s Mercury division, the Turnpike Cruisers (which included a convertible option) were only available for the 1957-58 model years and didn’t exactly set the market afire; only 17,000 were sold in 1957, for example.

 

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

 

This is despite some entertaining innovations including the Breezeway power rear window, the Seat-O-Matic automatic adjusting seat, and a push-button transmission known as the Multi-Drive Keyboard Control, which lent the vehicle severe sci-fi street cred. A 383 cubic inch 330hp Marauder V-8 was standard under the hood, with a 430 cubic inch optional upgrade available. Zero to 60mph in well under ten seconds.

The Continental Kit, which extends the rear bumper and mounts the spare tyre externally, was perhaps the ultimate in flash. Despite all the bells and whistles, the Turnpike Cruiser was short-lived, with 6,407 produced in 1958. It didn’t help that the US was in the midst of a recession at this time and, when consumers had fuel economy at the top of their shopping lists, a shiny aircraft carrier on wheels seemed an unnecessary indulgence.

 

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

 

Its rarity these days, however, along with a renewed appreciation makes it highly prized.

The electric retractable rear window, a somewhat dubious innovation, was maintain by Ford for some time, possibly hoping the marketplace would eventually respond. Mercury revived the Breezeway in 1963-66 in its Monterey, Montclair and Park Lane models; within the Lost In The 50s collection is a beautiful black 1960 Lincoln Continental Sedan with a Breezeway back window.

 

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

 

 

It’s easy to spend the entire day at Lost In The 50s. Members and friends of the Jennings family act as docents, answering questions and generally acting as proud hosts of an extraordinary collection. Car clubs often set up in the forecourt along with food trucks. Check out their website for upcoming opening dates. Purchasing tickets well in advance is recommended.

https://www.lostinthe50s.com.au

 

 

 

 

Smoke On The Water: New Year’s Eve 2012 On Sydney Harbour


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For once, I’ll be relatively succinct. I’ve spent a couple of New Year’s Eves shoulder-to-shoulder with the hordes cramming the shores of Sydney Harbour and vowed never to do it again. In 2012, it was a case of “never say never”.

It must be said there are many better uses for $5 million than sending it high into the air where it explodes noisily in bright colours. But nobody asks me. So each year, NYE dutifully rolls around and more than one million Sydneysiders and visitors stake out their places around the edges of the Harbour at first light and wait through the day for darkness to fall and the bread and circuses to begin.

There are two rounds of fireworks – at 9pm, ostensibly for families, and midnight. Seven fireworks barges are anchored along the harbor with other pyrotechnic units on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and several office buildings at Circular Quay.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and crwods at East Circular Quay
Sydney Harbour Bridge and crowds at East Circular Quay

For the more sensible, the television coverage, beamed around the world, offers a distinctly better vantage point. What it lacks is the sweaty, crowded, intoxicating bonhomie of sharing the moment with countless others, oohing and aahing as the explosions rattle the bones and the night sky is stitched with light. They probably said the same thing about the Western Front.

The A-listers party at the Sydney Opera House, amongst celebrities, politicians and the beautiful and connected. At Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Botanic Gardens, a canapés’ throw away, ordinary folk do exactly the same thing but without the French champagne or, in fact, any alcohol of any kind.

The police had closed off Circular Quay and The Rocks by early afternoon, when it was deemed to have reached capacity, and BYO alcohol was not allowed in although hotels, restaurants and numerous food stalls were operating.

Cheek-to-cheek revellers
Cheek-to-cheek revellers

While Northern Hemisphere celebrations can be distinctly frosty, in Australia – if the weather is right – it’s balmy and still. NYE 2012 was just such a night. It had been a hot sunny day, a showpiece of summer, and by 9pm it was still about 21 degrees Celcius.

I would never have entertained the thought of doing it again except for a friend’s kind invitation to spend it on the 15th floor of her mother’s East Circular Quay apartment, which as can be seen from the accompanying photographs had spectacular views from the CBD and Circular Quay to the Bridge and up the Harbour as far as South Head.

Traversing the police road closures was quick and highly efficient and an official pass allowed a picnic basket crammed with champagne to proceed unmolested. Travel into the city was easy by train; and out again just as painless. It was the perfect demonstration of crowd control, how to disperse countless thousands of people quickly and without drama. Police, check-point security, public transport workers, everybody that could have been pissed off that they had to work such a major public holiday weren’t and those who could be expected to have attitude didn’t. At least as far as I could see, NYE in the Sydney CBD was one big love-in, brimming over with good humour and respect.

Blue-lit AMP Building with crwods along Cahill Expressway
Blue-lit AMP Building with crowds along Cahill Expressway

Sometimes, human nature can be a surprising thing. Consider the magnitude and you have the makings of a very special event.

Enjoy the photos. Oh, and Happy New Year.

Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display

Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display

Sydney Harbour Bridge get its own pyrotechnic display
Sydney Harbour Bridge gets its own pyrotechnic display

Sydney Harbour Bridge In Blue
Sydney Harbour Bridge In Blue

The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove

The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove

The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove
The Sydney Opera House and Farm Cove

Words and photos © David Latta

Sometimes A Schnitzel Is More Than Just A Schnitzel: Essen Restaurant And The Schnitzilla Challenge


There are many people who say there’s a time and place for fried food. And there’s the rest of us who exclaim “anytime and anyplace!”. For those in the latter category, a trip to Essen, a restaurant specialising in northern European cuisine, is a must. It’s located on Broadway close to Sydney’s CBD.

My love of this kind of food started in the early 1970s with regular visits to Una’s in Kings Cross. Una’s has always been dependable; great breakfasts and especially great schnitzels including the jaeger schnitzel (with mushroom sauce). When original owner Maggie sold out (and later opened a namesake operation just across from the El Alamein Fountain), the new owners branched out with a couple of satellite Una’s. One was on Broadway, sandwiched between the University of Sydney and UTS. That was seven years ago; a couple of years later, the partnership that took over Una’s split and this branch became Essen.

It’s been as dependable as the original Una’s; great jaeger schnitzel (in a choice of pork, veal or chicken) and superb slow-roasted pork knuckle with bread dumpling and sauerkraut. Essen is also notable for its excellent beers and ciders including a malty dark Dreher Bak beer from Budapest (a brewery better known for its export Pilsner Urquell). Essen on Broadway is especially good for those of us for whom Kings Cross has lost its charm.

The Contenders Await The Challenge

As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that Essen’s schnitzels are comparable to my all-time favourite, the legendary Figlmüller in Vienna, Austria. It’s here that the humble wiener schnitzel has been elevated to an art form. Figlmüller opened on Wollzeile, a short walk from St Stephen’s Cathedral, in 1905. I’d often reflect on the famous (and infamous) personalities who may have found their fried version of heaven within these walls – Freud (who undoubtedly would have suggested that a schnitzel is sometimes just a schnitzel); an unsuccessful painter of watercolours who just missed out on being named Schicklgruber; and Orson Welles, legendary lover of food in prodigious amounts who filmed The Third Man in the streets nearby

Figlmüller’s claim to eternal fame lies in a single piece of pork tenderloin, pounded into wafer-thin submission, crumbed and fried. At around 30cm in diameter, it smothers the plate on which it is served. It was always the first place I’d eat whenever I arrived in Vienna and the memories stay with me today.

When it comes to food, as with so many things, I claim observance to Dirty Harry’s creed that “a man’s just gotta know his limitations” and so it was at a recent media launch for Essen’s Schnitzilla challenge. I was on hand to watch a bunch of overly-ambitious journalists and media types attempt something no-one else had been able to achieve – defeating a man-made mountain of schnitzel.

Disbelief Sets In

The Schnitzilla is Essen’s newest menu item. Inspired by the Man v. Food television program, it encompasses a 3.5kg platter of chicken schnitzel, side dishes such as roesti and cabbage salad, and jaeger sauce. The idea is that if the dish is consumed within 45 minutes, the diner gets a limited-edition “I Got Schnit-Faced At Essen” T-shirt (presumably Size XXXL).

In the first month of the Schnitzilla, 70 diners tried but none reached the goal; the best performance was leaving 1.2kg. They get to take the leftovers home, where they will undoubtedly be recreating their challenge for the next few days.

There were more than enough contenders at the media launch. They took their places, their optimism as bright and eager as little bunny rabbits. But the Schnitzilla was the headlights on the highway. All were flattened by the juggernaut of fried meat. The best performing diner left 1.39kg.

Craig Donarski At Battle Stations

Human nature is such that we always believe we can conquer the impossible, tackling Everest or visiting Ikea on weekends being the most notable examples. So the Schnitzilla will continue to seduce thrill-seekers but it appears unlikely any will ever succeed.

On the other hand, the Schnitzilla –  at $49 – can be seen as outstanding value. It roughly equates to about four or five servings so do your best but don’t overdo it; the leftovers will feed a large family or 27 Russian supermodels.

Essen

133-135 Broadway

Ultimo, NSW, Australia

Tel: 612 9211 3805

The Schnitzel Will Always Win

Words and photos © David Latta

Adventures In Bread Pudding: An Easter-Themed Hot Cross Bun Bread Pudding


If you have a sweet tooth, like I do, Easter is heaven. While Christmas is traditionally savoury, with its emphasis on a wide variety of roast animals, Easter is all about chocolate and hot cross buns (spiritual considerations aside, of course).

Well known in Australia and the United Kingdom, hot cross buns might not be as traditional a fare in the United States so I’ll fall back on Wikipedia and describe them as sweet buns spiced with cinnamon and containing raisins, currants or mixed fruit. I have them toasted with marmalade jam which only points out just how recklessly I red-line my sweet zone. The traditional buns have been supplemented in recent years by such variations as chocolate chip, white chocolate and cranberry and even non-fruit (presumably washed down with a weak decaf non-dairy lattè with Equal).

This Easter, I was a little more careful than usual (maintaining my 20 kilogram weight loss from last year) but couldn’t entirely neglect my chocolate and hot cross bun habit. But once the Easter festival drags on and you’ve served them fresh, toasted, over easy, on horseback and every other which way, what else is there to do?

Try them in a bread pudding, of course. This recipe uses the traditional New Orleans-style Bread Pudding found in the Silver Palate Cookbook (Doubleday, 1981). The original recipe calls for one loaf of stale French bread or baguette but works equally well with ordinary stale sliced white bread or even brioche. Just about any bread or bakery item is fair game although maybe Cinnabon is going a bit far. There’s also a whisky sauce that comes with the original recipe but it’s your call as to whether it would be too much with the compounded richness of the hot cross buns. I say – you’ve gone this far, why not!

Oh, and before I forget, like all desserts, a scoop or two of ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.

Ingredients:

8 Hot Cross Buns

3 ½ cups milk

160 grams butter, softened

7 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 cup icing sugar

4 tablespoons whiskey

For the PUDDING, in a large mixing bowl, tear buns into small pieces. Pour milk over and let stand for one hour.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a baking dish (ceramic or Pyrex is fine – dimensions of about 30cm x 18cm x 7cm).

In another bowl, beat 6 eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. Stir this into bread mixture.

Pour into baking dish, place on the middle rack of the oven and bake until browned and set. It should take about 70 minutes. It’s better if it’s moist in the middle. Cool to room temperature.

For the WHISKEY SAUCE, blend the softened butter with the icing sugar in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot. Remove from heat. Beat remaining egg well and whisk it into sugar mixture. Remove pan from base and continue beating until sauce has cooled to room temperature. Add whisky to taste.

To serve, preheat griller. Cut pudding into squares and transfer to a heatproof serving dish. Spoon whiskey sauce over the pudding and place under the griller until bubbling.

Words and photo © David Latta

Age Shall Not Weary Her: Suzi Quatro Bathes In Rock’n’Roll’s Fountain Of Youth


In an upmarket suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, former juvenile delinquent and lead singer of hit 50s all-girl rock’n’roll band The Suedes, Leather Tuscadero – younger sister of Pinkie, one of the few of Fonzie’s girlfriends ever to have a name or any semblance of longevity – is not in any mood for growing old gracefully. After her initial rush to stardom was derailed in the early 60s by the British Invasion and spending some time in the musical wilderness, her career was revived with a long-running musical theatre in Branson, Missouri, before being discovered by a new generation of music lovers via MTV Unplugged. One of the first inductees (and the first woman) into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and a series of chart-topping albums produced by Rick Rubin, Leather Tuscadero’s current smash is an album of duets with Tony Bennett.

In a parallel universe, someone who still looks a lot like the Leather Tuscadero of long ago is rocking out on stage at the Enmore Theatre in inner-city Sydney. Suzi Quatro tells the cheering capacity audience that she has just turned 60 and it’s obvious she has quite the same disregard for entering what many others would consider life’s twilight years.

Tight-fitting leather molded to a petite frame and wielding a low-slung bass guitar, Suzi has whipped the crowd into a fervor that recalls a full-throated old-time tent revival meeting. Britain, Europe and Australia provided her greatest successes over the years and there’s an even bigger roar when she mentions this is most likely her 25th tour of the country. Her fans have never had to wait too long to worship at the altar of Suzie Quatro but their enthusiasm make it clear they never tire of her presence.

I must admit that, initially, I wasn’t one of the converted. I was a teenager when she had her first hits – Can The Can, 48 Crash and Daytona Demon in 1973 and Devil Gate Drive in 1974  – and well aware, as anyone of my generation would be, of her music. But it was a friend who talked me into attending the concert, on this early spring evening, with the added lure of meeting her afterwards.

From the moment she burst on stage, it was obvious that this was going to be much more than just another dip in the warm waters of nostalgia. Susan Kay Quatro was born in 1950 in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was a jazz musician who not only openly nurtured the emerging talents of Suzi and her siblings but taught them enduring lessons in professionalism.

She was discovered by legendary UK music identity Mickie Most and relocated to England where she formed a partnership with songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (responsible amongst so many other things for such touchstones of our generation as The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz, Smokie’s Living Next Door To Alice, Racey’s Some Girls, Toni Basil’s Mickey and Exile’s I Want To Kiss You All Over).

Can The Can, 48 Crash, Daytona Demon, Devil Gate Drive, and, in 1979, Stumblin’ In, were the results of that collaboration. Although American success eluded her (with the exception of Stumblin’ In), Suzi appeared on the hit television show Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero in 1977-79 after producer Garry Marshall noticed a Suzi Quatro poster on his daughter’s wall. She continued her acting roles in such shows as Minder, Absolutely Fabulous and Midsomer Murders.

Fifty million records later, Suzi is in Australia for a 21-date tour that takes in the usual capital cities plus such regional spots as Toowoomba, Deniliquin and Narrabri. In the crowded auditorium, the vast majority of the audience match her age and, in some cases, possibly even exceed it. But, for two hours, they’re catapulted back to their youth, clapping wildly, cheering, waving their hands above their hands like kids at a Countdown taping. The long years, with their successes and failures, the optimism and inevitable appointments, the loves and lost loves, trials and disappointments, have evaporated and their hearts soar into one unified whole.

Backstage, it’s obvious that her two-hour performance has been punishing, yet she’s kind and gracious to a total stranger, taking the time to chat and discuss her career before slipping away for a well-earned rest. Upstairs, the Enmore Theatre is empty. The roadies are dismantling equipment in preparation for the move to the next venue. Her satisfied fans, smiles planted firmly in place, have filtered out into the slightly chilly night. They may not consider what the private Suzi Quatro is like; there are far too many stories of musicians as self-appointed gods and conscienceless monsters. For many of the fans, the music is more than enough.

One newly transformed fan, however, can allay such apprehensions. Like them, Can The Can, 48 Crash and Devil Gate Drive helped to colour the soundtrack of his teenage self with a vibrant permanence that does not fade with time. It’s gratifying to report that Suzi is just as warm and friendly as she appears on stage.

During the concert, she’d reported that her father continued gigging until the age of 89; retirement, she intimates, is far from her mind. As evidence, she played songs from her latest album, In The Spotlight, marking a return to working with Mike Chapman; time will probably judge the song, Spotlight, to be one of her best. She’ll continue touring with the same passion and commitment as long as her fans demand it and, most likely, I’ll be one of them. Her father would be proud and, even for a sweet little rock’n’roller entering her sixth decade, that’s probably pretty important.

Words © David Latta

Photos courtesy of the Glenn A. Baker Archives

Lost In Transliteration


The first time it happened to me, it was quite amusing. But it continued, in varying ways, and years down the track it was sadly apparent that many Americans don’t have a clue about the outside world. And as much as we Australians think we’re internationally renowned, the sad truth is we’re often mistaken for other nations.

On the first night of my very first visit to the United States, I was staying at the Hyatt at Los Angeles Airport (now the Four Points by Sheraton). In the coffee shop, a waitress remarked on my “cute” accent and asked where I was from. When I replied “Australia”, she immediately became excited. “That’s such a coincidence”, she replied in awe. “My favourite movie is the Sound of Music.”

By the time I’d fashioned a reply about kangaroos being in short supply as they continually fell to their deaths from the Alps, she was long gone.

Years later, in New Orleans, my wife and I were browsing a department store when, in the perfume department, we were served by a well-dressed and presumably well-educated young man who remarked on our accents and asked where we were from. When we said “Australia”, he started telling us how much he enjoyed our country on a recent visit, how beautiful it was and how friendly the people were.

We asked which city he enjoyed the most. He hesitated for a moment, staring into the middle distance to summon his thoughts while adjusting the impeccably-arranged double Windsor knot of his tie. Then he looked me straight in the eye and without, I surmised, any hint of irony, said, “Salzburg”. Not wanting to be rude, I wandered off to an adjoining department before I started choking from laughter.

In a mid-town deli in New York, we were seated next to an elderly local couple who, it seemed, had been avidly listening to our conversation. As our desserts arrived, the woman leaned across to us and asked whether we were enjoying our stay. So ensued a long chat. After several minutes, she remarked to her companion, sotto voce, so that barely half the room could hear, “They speak very good English, don’t they?”

We played it as straight as we could without spilling our beverages. As we were preparing to leave, there was one more question that our friend was obviously burning to ask. “When you’re at home in your own country,” she asked, wide-eyed and completely innocent, “do you wear clothes like we do?”

Later, of course, far too late to make any difference, I came up with the perfect rejoinder. If I had been more quick-witted, I would have replied, “If I’m going somewhere special, I’ll wear an Armani jacket over my lap-lap.”

A regular visitor to the United States will know that, despite their vast news-gathering ambitions, most Americans only know other countries from wars and natural disasters. There’s so much happening within their own borders, even 24-hour news channels like CNN have difficulty keeping up.

Instead, it seems, Americans gather their world-view from the movies. This wasn’t a bad thing when Crocodile Dundee was current. Australians, they might have surmised, were sturdy outdoor types who wrestled crocodiles for entertainment. Later, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert confused things entirely: did Australian men dress crocodiles in women’s clothes before wrestling them or did they themselves don frocks before wading into the nearest billabong in search of reptilian adventure?

As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that the Australia-Austria confusion is something of a two-way strasse. In the old town district of Salzburg, I once came across a souvenir stand that sold T-shirts emblazoned with the outline of a kangaroo, much like the old Qantas logo, within a circle with a diagonal slash across it. Austria, the T-shirt warned, We Don’t Have Kangaroos.

I can only wonder whether the occasional American tourist passes up the Sound of Music tour and instead spends his time searching for Steve Irwin.

Words and photos © David Latta

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