Albury, New South Wales, 1975
It’s 1975 and I’m living in the ’70s.
I do feel a bit edgy and also a bit weird, but none of the schoolboys I know are growing a beard. Quite the opposite; weekdays at conservative Albury High are spent wrestling with Pythagoras, Latin verbs and the Merchant of Venice, but on weekends and all through that blazing Riverina summer, the Murray River is our hang-out; our special place to go.
We pedal to Noreuil Park on our tredlies, with towels and transistor radios tucked into our baskets and pre-compulsory-helmet hair flying in the wind. None of us know the park is named after a French village where Australians fought and died. For us it’s simply a refuge from parents.
After we arrange our towels in a line facing the river, we adjust our bikinis, slap on tanning lotion and check out the boys. Who’s here? Who isn’t? Who’s ‘going’ with whom this week?
We turn the trannies and cassette decks to full blast, listening to January, Fox on the Run and that fabulous Skyhooks album again and again. We sing lyrics that we don’t understand and feel wise to actually know where Carlton and Toorak are. This isn’t about sheriffs getting shot, or the night Chicago dies – hell, some of us have even been to Lygon Street!
We love the way Shirl sings risqué lyrics; you just like me cos I’m good in bed and we wait for the 6 o’clock news punchline at the end of Horror Movie, happy to be shocked right out of our brains. Shirley, Red, Greg, Freddie and Bongo are clever. Pity none of them are as cute as Daryl and Garth from Sherbet.
We intersperse singing and sunbaking with swimming. Every hour or so we step carefully along the bush path beside the river, watching for tiger snakes (which we see regularly, and which are surprisingly speedy during nesting season) and make our way to the Hume Highway’s Union Bridge that links Victoria and NSW. In the ’70s you can still climb the pylons and jump off.
We spend hours leaping. We wave to truckers miming for them to toot their horns. They do. Then we jump, down down into the cool of the Murray. We know how to avoid snags and bridge footings, and somehow we all survive. Once in the water we swim quickly across the current and grab hold of the pylon scaffolding so that we can climb up and repeat the process.
When we tire of climbing and jumping, we let the current drift us back to our towels and trannies, still keeping an eye out for snakes swimming in the river; supposedly they can’t strike in water, but we don’t want to test the theory.
Such warm, sunny memories… In 1975 Albury is a popular half-way stop for touring bands and some crackerjack musicians pass through, thrilling our little universe. Late March and Skyhooks are in town. They play in a strange boxy room at the Albury Civic Centre. It’s a dreadful venue, but the lights are low and we’re wearing shiny satin pants. The fabric catches the strobe light as we dance and squeal and check out the boys (who aren’t dancing or squealing). Smoking is allowed and we all puff, trying to look cool. Boys – Marlborough Red. Girls – Winfield Green. I have sensitive eyes and spend most of the night wiping mascara from my weeping face while trying to look hot. A doomed endeavour.
By the end of that summer of ’75, AC-DC’s High Voltage rock and roll will detonate our playlist. Pop songs are about to become edgier, but in the meantime down by the river at Noreuil Park we’re still trying to make sense of Shirl’s provocative lyrics. Just what is a Toorak cowboy anyway?