This is part of an occasional series where I recall my childhood and teen years spent in Mt Gambier. Part 1 is here. This is all part of a concerted effort to balance out what was a rather toxic family life, which I also write about. I figure these sorts of musings might also come in useful some day, when I decide to write my memoir. A big thank you goes out to my high school pal, Ben Lindner, for helping remember the names of places… I was always so close!
Roller skating at the Showgrounds
During my early teens, Saturday afternoons were spent at the Showgrounds Exhibition Hall rollerskating. The hall, which was closed to skaters during show week, was an almost perfect rink. The area was large: the floor old, scarred pine, high windows allowing in filtered light which bounced off the silver disco balls hanging from the ceiling. The canteen sold cokes and Chico rolls and hot dogs and mixed lollies.
The hall had a particular smell, one of dusty activity, wheel grease and old wood. The smell slapped you as soon as you walked through the doors, claiming your nostrils as its own. I rarely smell such a scent these days, but when I do, I am immediately transported back to that time. I can almost hear the whirr of hundreds of sets of wheels and the thumping beat of Ballroom Blitz ricocheting out around the hall.
We lined up in raggedy lines, pushing and shoving each other, elbows leveraging space, eager to get to the front because it meant you had the pick of the skates. And it was all about the skates. My favourites were the speed skates – soccer boots on wheels sans stoppers – which signalled your skating prowess to all and sundry. The speed skates went quickly, and it was a fate worse than death to be stuck with something clunky. Often relics were the only things that remained when the shelves were picked clean of the cool skates. Tired leather boots, laces frayed from wear, bolted on to a heavy steel plate, with big red stoppers parked under the toe, accompanied by four dirty, orange wheels, made wonky from overuse.
There was something incredibly freeing about skating that I loved; going round and round in circles to the beats of Abba, Sweet, Queen and the like was mesmerising, almost hypnotic. And the mix of party games, like The Limbo and the Monte Carlo, made it a fun experience. I think the first time I ever held hands with a boy was during the Monte Carlo, which involved skating with a partner. A board, divided into a quarters with a spinning arrow, was placed in the middle of the floor. When the music stopped, so did the skaters, and the spinner was spun and everyone who was in the quadrant that the arrow pointed to had to leave the floor. And so it went on until there was one couple left. It was all about luck. And for some unknown, lucky reason, I thanked my lucky stars that I was good at skating. I mixed balance and grace with enough risky, dangerous maneuvers to be half-way cool. And cool was the sweet, necessary currency of the 1970s.
The Starline Drive-in
Whenever I watch Grease, which is frequently repeated on TV ad infinitum, I am always drawn to the drive-in scene. You know the one: where wind of Rizzo’s (supposed pregnancy) catches like a grass fire; where Danny’s inept groping of Sandy’s right breast sees his man-bits – not to mention his ego – crushed by a slammed door; where he sings mournfully about being stranded at the drive-in, feeling like a fool, and wondering what they’d say at school. While the goings on at my local drive-in weren’t quite as dramatic (to my knowledge) the Starline figured prominently in my teen years.
The wonderful thing about being a teenager is that we deliciously combined risk with penny pinching. We all worked part-time jobs after school – me as an occasional babysitter for a favourite teacher or two, with steady work as a checkout chick at the local Woolworths – and we all wanted to stretch our dollars further. So why pay the Starline admittance fee, when there was a perfectly good car boot to hide in, or fence to climb over?
There was an art to hiding in a car boot, and equally, climbing a fence. The cars of the 1970s, thank goodness, were large, brutes of things: most of the boys drove Holden Monaros and GT Fords. The cars of the 1970s were all metallic paint and black, imposing spoilers and louvres, and shiny mag wheels and grumbling V8 engines and roomy, carpet-lined boots (perfect for smuggling in friends) and smooth, Formula One styled gear changes. The cars of the 1970s were the boys’ status symbols: homages to their careful spending and preening and posturing.
To be picked up from your house by one of those boys in one of those cars was both cause for concern (parents) and nervous excitement (mine). These feelings would escalate infinitely on both sides if the said car was a (God forbid) Sandman panel van (aka shaggin’ wagon) and said boy was blonde, surfy type. Triple the escalation if venue of destination was the Starline, because everyone knew that all manner of sexual experimentation took place among the lines of cars replete with hormonal teens listening to the movie through tinny speakers with the cinnamonny-greasy scent of donuts drifting through the warm night air.
The truth be told, there was not as much sexual experimentation that went on as everyone (parents) thought. But there was a lot of kissing and chatting and drinking cheap alcohol and car hopping. Which is why scaling the fence was such an attractive, money-saving proposition. There was always someone’s car you recognised, someone there you knew, someone who had room and would be happy to give you a ride home. Everyone knew where everyone lived; I was always worried that I would be dropped off with a departing screech of tyres and the smell of burned rubber and Black Sabbath banging from open windows. That kind of thing always incurred my mother’s wrath. And incurring my mother’s wrath was never a good thing.
Summer was always the best time to go. And it was always a Saturday night, after the beach, kind of activity. If you were lucky enough to be part of the panel van crowd, the van was backed up with the open doors facing the screen. Often the very thoughtful owner had a couple of bean-bags and a well-stocked bar he (it was always a he) was happy to share. Other car owners would drag deck chairs out of the boot (providing their boots didn’t contain people prior) and we’d all sit out, smoking cigarettes, sharing around Passion Pop or Green Ginger Wine or beer – or Bundy Rum for the hard core drinkers – and eating dried out hamburgers that had been sitting in the warmer for too long, or bags of greasy-salty chips and cinnamonny-sweet donuts. We’d watch our double feature; horror was the best for sneaking a cheeky kiss from a boy eager to protect his squeeze from the madness of Jack Nicholas in The Shining, or similar.
If we were lucky enough to be kissed at the drive-in, couples would often adjourn to Potter’s Point for some serious making out. Potter’s Point overlooked the lakes area and was a lovely, secluded spot for teenage love to blossom, as long as you didn’t mind sharing the area with other teenagers also intent on blossoming their particular brand of love. It wasn’t entirely out of the question for four of us (one boy and girl in the front, and another boy and girl in the back) to drive up to Potter’s Point and spend some time on all kinds of love blossoming…
You can read Things remembered fondly 1.0 here.