Last week Leone left us in the middle of a dance in the Old Hall which is where we pick up her recollections of Mallacoota before TV and mains electricity.
The Jolly Miller was another popular dance for . meeting and mixing. At a given time, the music would stop, couples dancing together would break up, the men going around in a circle one way, the females would go Conga style in an inner circle in the opposite direction. As you filed around trying to look nonchalant, you would be hoping and praying that you’d get a partner. The music would stop and all the good looking boys waltzed off with the good looking girls. Your hopes would fade and you did not care if some 10 year-old lad or some aged grandfather partnered you, as long as you didn’t have the humiliation of being left standing, to slink back to your seat. The Monte Carlo was a favourite with the MC spinning a knife or sometimes a bottle in the middle of the floor to divide the couples, gradually eliminating them until there was only one couple left; the winner. Spot dances had us all trying to determine where the spot would be but with so many shadows cast from the Tilley lamps, it was a pretty wild guess.
Popularity of the lasses would be seen in the Tap Dance with the attractive ones changing partners many times. If your uncle, your Dad, your young brother (for those who had them) dared approach, you would glare menacingly at them; you’d kill for less!
In those years we danced to those wonderful old tunes, Daisy, If You were the Only Girl in the World, Moonlight and Roses, Sail Along Silvery Moon, Red Sails in the Sunset, K. K. K. Katy, Cuckoo Waltz, Three 0′ Clock in the Morning, Play to me Gypsy, Rollout the Barrel, Roses of Picardy, so many beautiful melodies, some symbolic of the preceding Great War. Smoke Gets in your Eyes, down through the decades became a perennial favourite.
During the evening the floor was sprinkled with saW-dust impregnated with kerosene, I guess to settle the dust. The men and boys would sweep it off with wide brooms before sprinkling candle wax over it, to give it new life. The boys would show off pulling each other up and down on the slippery surface and sliding on the seats of their pants, whilst the girls attempting to get into the act, made little runs, gliding sideways and usually landing on their bottoms.
Of all the dances, the Lancers was the piece de resistance of the evening. The MC of the evening, Mr Tom Dorron who was the Local Honorary Fishing Inspector, always called this popular dance. He had the most wonderful booming voice which could be heard far and wide. It was not until years later that I learnt that the fishermen welcomed the dance, yet some of them quietly left the HaiL… you see the Top Lake was closed for part of the year and distant fields being greenest, it was too good an opportunity to miss whilst everyone, particularly the inspector was occupied! The music would commence, the partners bow to each other and the frenzy would start. We kids watched as the dancers flashed past like whirlwinds. When the men with a lady in between, linked arms forming a circle, the tempo would quicken and the ladies would be literally lifted off the floor with the pace. Their legs out straight displayed a wonderful array of lacy undergarments. In winter it was long legged bloomers, stockings and garters in full view and we, particularly the boys would laugh uproariously, til suddenly it was YOUR Mother flying horizontally around and you would be acutely embarrassed. Sometimes the momentum became just too much for the dancers and they would fall in a squealing heap arms and legs everywhere, like a collapsed Rugby scrum.
The two toilets were out the back, the ladies in direct line with the fire boiling up the buckets of water for supper and sometimes when coming out of the lighted Hall into the dark, you would be momentarily blinded and many a stocking was snagged and a leg scratched from running into the branches of firewood. There were other hazards too, like the two lasses who tired of waiting in the queue and hearing the sound of the music for the next dance starting, decided to go ‘around the back’. Too late they remembered the clump of stinging nettles that grew there!!
Another story I remember was about Les ‘Chippy’ Greer’s dog which used to ‘nose’ out all the full bottles of beer the men had hidden around the Hall, then present them to Les. It wasn’t that Les had trained him to ‘forget the empty ones’ it just got a better grip on the tops of the full ones.
Supper was a sure way of getting the men inside and they would arrive as helpers were filing past with the cups, milk, sugar and tea; followed by the sandwiches and cakes. All through the years, human nature being what it is, there were those who contributed food and those who ate it! One such person was noted for scoffing down his own and everyone else share. One night the ladies handed him down a plate of sandwiches, the filling, pieces of linoleum; as he chewed away he remarked that “it was good corn beef, but a bit tough.” The women’s uncontrollable laughter, soon enlightened him.
My childhood memories are always of Albert Greer who was still playing the piano after I had grown up and married. Many a night when the dance seemed to be going flat and jaded people would be about to go home, someone would take a message up to Albert. Suddenly he would be there chuckling away in the most jovial mood. Blue eyes twinkling. he would seat himself at the piano, back straight, arms stretched way out in front and commence playing. Coats would come off and everyone would be back on the floor; There was no one who could vamp a tune out of that old piano like he did.
New Year’s Eve dances were the event of the year with everyone cramming into the Old Hall. Visitors were always amazed at these celebrations thinking at first that we had all gone mad; then happily joining in the fun. Everyone came home for Christmas and the New Year. Friends and families reunited, tourists who holidayed here each year, many later becoming residents, all were like one big happy family on New Year’s Eve night. Small indifferences were forgotten, everyone loved everyone as we sang, laughed, danced and kissed to the sound of bursting balloons, whistles and sky rockets. Joining hands forming many circles we sang ‘Au Ide Lang Syne’ with such gusto, the little Old Hall seemed to be bouncing off it’s stumps.
In the early 1930s the Hall was unlined til Mrs Bolton, Hotel owner organised the womenfolk to ‘run’ dances to help pay for the installation of lining. The finished result not only made the Hall look better but made it much warmer for winter functions.
So many of my memories involve that wonderful building; school concerts and Christmas Tree nights. Later when my children were attending these functions I recall a very jovial and inebriated Santa Claus one Christmas Tree night who was hell bent on kissing all the mothers. It wasn’t the children who were squealing but the Mums as Santa. long arms out stretched, chased them around and around the Hall.
We never had a Mechanics Institute like most towns, ours was the Old Hall, a vital part of our community. It was where Crown Land Auctions were held, Church Services, Weddings, school (whilst it was moved to the present site in 1936) Red Cross and CWA were formed in the 1950s, Euchre Nights for School Fund raising and it was where we went to vote at State and Federal Election time. I always remember when I was about 10 years old and I rode my bike there with Dad’s lunch as he was aReturning Officer, I apologised because I thought I was a bit late and he said ,”Well we will have to get you a watch so you will always know the time.” It duly arrived a beautiful chrome watch, chosen from a selection in Angus & Cootes Jewellery catalogue and cost 35/-($3.50).
When the SS Saros was sunk at Cape Everard (now renamed Point Hicks) on Christmas Day 1937, it was sold in Melbourne on January 5th, 1938 to the “Mallacoota Syndicate.” Messrs, D Allan, Hugh Brady, CV Robertson, and HP Bolton who brought the salvaged cargo back to Mallacoota and it was auctioned at the Old Hall. I can still see that collection of items, particularly the bolts of thick woollen material which I remember Mrs Allan and our Mother cut into rugs, cutting the edges of two ends with scissors to form a two inch fringe. Those rugs lasted for years.
With the demise of the Old Hall we acquired a new one but it was too big and cold to create the same atmosphere of warmth and togetherness. nor create memories as the old one did. Perhaps the Mud Brick may do this so the young people who use it today will at some stage of their lives look back with fond memories of it, too.