Leopard-skin bikini

The past fascinates me. I could spend hours looking at old photographs, wondering what life was like, what was going on the head of the person captured in that moment. Did they think the same way as me, or were their thoughts dictated by the time? Do we only think the way we think because of the way we’ve been brought up, what surrounds us and how life is in contemporary society?

The photograph I chose for my blog banner was taken in Scarborough, Western Australia, in February, 1956. The 16 year old girl in the leopard print bikini, pictured in the centre of the dance floor, is Patricia Grey. On the Chronicle Scarborough website, she tells her story behind the photograph and how The Snake Pit was the place to be in those heady days of rock and roll. The story of Patricia Grey inspired me so much I had to set part of my book in this time and this place.

The new wave of popular culture in the 1950s rebelled directly against the desire for stability after the Second World War. Youth donned leather jackets and studded belts, greased their hair, hung around in milk bars causing trouble, and they listened to rock and roll. Bodgies and Widgies roamed the streets, breaking the law and being violent. Or so the contemporary newspapers lead us to believe.

But what interested me the most was: was the young girl photographed at the Snake Pit really a part of this rebellion? And if so, and to what extent? Did she consciously choose to represent the ideologies of the time, or was she simply a young girl enjoying herself, with her own dreams, perhaps insecurities, a family waiting for her at home, homework and / or boyfriend troubles; perhaps she was was merely wondering in this moment what she was going to have for dinner? How much of what what was going through her head, at the time the photo was taken, could the average person today relate to? And how much was rooted in the past?

The crux of the matter, however, is that this girl had a story. We all have a story and it doesn’t matter what time we live in, we are all alike to some extent. 

When my grandad died some years ago, I was devastated; not only at his passing, but also because the stories of his life disappeared with him. Yes, family members and friends that were close to him had heard these stories many times but, once he was gone, the memories could never be related the same way. And when these same family members and friends eventually die, unless we have related the stories to someone else, the stories will cease to exist completely. And it made me so sad; it still does. From something… to nothing.

I can see the attraction in writing memoirs, although I would much rather explore the concept of recording the past in other ways. Hence my book and its themes of history, storytelling and uncovering what’s been forgotten. I’ve also set my book in a place I used to live. This is partly because the area is familiar and therefore easier to write about, but also because I have considerably enjoyed researching the history of Scarborough and how it used to be.

CS_TOUR_011 

I’ve discovered places no longer standing, like Scarborough’s Luna Park; I’ve learnt about the development of Scarborough beach from coastal bushland to seaside town; I’ve realised some of the places I’ve stood in, were there long before I was born. It turns out a takeaway kebab shop I’ve frequented, called Peters by the Sea, was actually built in 1954 and has oodles of history. They used to sell fish and chips for just a shilling.

I intend to continue this topic and write a series of blog posts on the history of my local area or areas of interest to me. We will explore the past a little and find out what has been before us. Let me know in the comments if you also find this interesting, and please share with me any of your own discoveries of the past  🙂

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4 thoughts on “Leopard-skin bikini

  1. Nice article, though I had to look up Bodgies and Widgies – they weren’t called that in England. I also enjoy finding out about the past then writing about it. Recent reviewers of my novel have said it has a good feel of the 1930s so I must be getting something right.

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    • Yes, they were Rockers and Mods in England, I believe. I was born and grew up in England and my dad was a rocker 🙂 Maybe that’s from where the fascination grew.
      The 1930s are another enthralling era. I will most definitely have to look up your novel.

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  2. Hello Eleanor.

    Everyone has a story.

    I realize now I have had a fortunate life as the outsider I got to hear many stories from some of my customers and friends, some all ready to spin a yarn or two.

    A few years ago was doing some work in area called Mount Pleasant. And customer Collin was an old work mate of mine many years ago. If you think I could talk under water I had nothing on he. I had definitely had met my match. Colin was an ex car sales man and could spin a yarn or two. Of course we talked about the old days when we worked in the Copper smelter together and things about the local history of Mount Pleasant that used to be an old coal mining village. “Have you heard the story of Margagrief?” he quizzed me. I was perplexed I had never heard the story? With a sly smile Colin said “Come for a little stroll down the road with me?” That I did all curious at my friends candid actions. He had baited me hook line line and sinker and I was the fish.

    We had walked about 200 meters or so down the road where he stopped and pointed at an old Federation house. You know the type that could of been mom and pops house with a bull nose balcony around weather board and chimney sticking through the red tin roof? Somewhat faded with time and with the odd lichen dotted here and there, the roof molded itself around the house with a protective loving care. The picket fence that was once painted white now faded to the color of the gumtrees nearby. The garden somewhat now over grown that was once a mighty garden of colour and life. And large red flame tree with its red leaves Slightly aged with time supporting a swing from its mighty branch. Aged and matured through time but still told a story even by one look, that indeed it was a once had been a very Happy house.

    Colin studied my face as I surveyed the scene trying to read my thoughts. I spied the for sale sign up realizing the house was a deceased estate all lonely and forlorn awaiting its new owner to breathe life and love back into the grand old house. I looked at the house and realized it did not have a street number, but a name given a clue to its age and origins? In big letters of a somewhat faded name plate spelt the Word “Margagrief” Strange name is it not?

    I turned to my old friend silently wanting for him as I have known him a long time as he was preparing me for a yarn. He knew I was hooked I had to know the story? He sucked in air as we leaned against the gate. You Know what ” Margareif ” stands for? I nodded saying I did not know. “Its short for Margaret’s grief.” Colin smiled. Margaret was once a nurse sent for specialist Burns training in London in the late 1930’s. This was her parents House. She was there during the dark days of WW2 and experienced the blitz where she worked with burns victims from the extensive Bombing of London by the Nazis. She was a Young women far from home by herself only 19 in one of biggest wars in history unable to return to her family as all shipping was in war mode.

    Being young and alone in such uncertain times she being a beautiful young women in her day took a friendship with a young RAF pilot who was a Polish refugee who fled Poland in 1939. The relationship blossomed into a romance. They were the talk of ballroom as they were a magnetic couple. They very first day she gazed her eyes on Jack a handsome dashing young man of day with laughing blue eyes she knew she was in love. Love blossomed among the horror madness and death, like a rose rising among the ashes. She wrote extensive letters to her worried parents at home telling them she was all right. For her and Jack to be in each others arms was an escape for the unfolding horrors of war. She told him of her home and life in Australia and dreamed of having house with garden a swings for kids and life of thier own away from this madness. He had told her he rather be with no one but her and will get through this and whatever happens he will find her…..such prophetic words indeed.

    The cruel fate of war was upon them and saw them no different from all the others living in such violent times. On their last night together. Jack had to return to Bomber command and before returning home after a dance as they strolled through a city park he got down on one knee and proposed with a ring to his sweet Margaret. She was overjoyed with emotion as her Jack the one she truly loved and idolized had proposed to her, the country girl from Australia. How vividly she wrote to her parents of Jack and how much she loved him and he her. It was a spark that kept both of them going through all of this insanity there is future out there somewhere.

    Destiny however dealt the lovers a cruel blow. Jack was in Bomber Shot down over Northern Germany and was listed as MIA. Meaning missing in Action. Margaret was heart broken as her love of her life had been torn form her and no one even came close to her Jack. For her not knowing if Jack was alive or dead became an obsession as she tried endlessly to get information. The war Came and went and Margaret her heart broken returned to Australia amid the VE day celebrations as a sad lonely figure, a rose tainted with the loss of the love of her life. Jack was MIA just like the many other thousands of missing people of carnage of war.

    Her family saw her, thankful she had survived the war and had done many important things in London as nurse. She was now a very accomplished Nurse and still a beauty with charm grace. But the eyes betrayed her poise and no one of many suitors in Australia ever came close to her Jack. He was alive she told herself and friends who silently did not know how to end this obsession of hers? For Jack who was most likely killed in action and no body never found. Many tried to set her up on various dates but to her they was not her Jack and Jack would one day come for her.

    The years went on and potential males suitors tried and tried to no avail and eventually they became less and less. As time passed Margaret’s parents one by one passed away and she inherited the old farmhouse. Renaming the house in bitter disillusionment Margaret’s grief and shortening it to “Margagrief “. Now living alone with the memories that had obsessed her over the best years of her life. She the lonely old lady with her hair going silver with age created beautiful gardens. Just how her and Jack would of done. She in her older age still referred to him like if he was still alive. The locals all knew of sorts, the story of Margaret and took pity on the kindly elderly lady. The local kids all called her aunty as she always had sweets for them and she very well liked and respected by locals. Most of them had grown up around her had always referred to her as aunty.

    But with her Jolly demure the sadness in her eyes always betrayed her grief. And the obsessive belief he was alive and one day he would find her. No one ever believed it as so many years had passed and nothing no matter how much she tried to find out through commonwealth graves commission or other sources nothing, Just apiece of paper saying MIA stated blankly back at her as cruel as any tyrants dagger. But perhaps this sentimental obession and love stirred the cruel hand of fate?

    On December 26 1991 Margaret got the best Christmas present of her life. The Soviet Union broke up. In the chaos of the break up an elderly Polish man who had been trying to escape the Iron Curtain to the west several times, eventually ended up in a Russian Gulag in Siberia for 50 years was released. And yes you guess it! It was Jack. With his hair thin and silver and care worn, but the laughing blue eyes was still there. And Jack still carried a faded old picture of him and his beloved Margaret that had carried him through hell and back. It turned out he was captured by the Germans as a Prisoner of war who was latter captured by the Soviets and Starlin got rid of thousands of Polish officers and soldiers either having them executed or sent to work camps. Those who escaped work camps was sent to Gulags. Jack made several desperate attempts to escape the Iron curtain and was eventual sent to Gulag deeper into Siberia as a dissident.

    Any now nearly 50 years later he strolled through the Gate of “Margagrief” I loved to have given anything to have seen the expression of margaret’s face as she gazed on Jacks laughing Blue eyes. What a magic moment that must of been? . The story is almost legendary now among the locals who knew the always smiling white-headed elderly couple potting away among the flowers waving to passer-byes, living the twilight years together just as love intended.

    It still brings a tear to the eye and I choke a little in sentiment as I pass by the now empty house and thinking of them now gone…. passed away into history and their story of “Margagrief”

    Kanacki

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    • What a beautiful, moving story. Thank you for sharing it with me. Love is certainly one of those things that brings everyone together in common sentiment, no matter what time in which they lived.

      Like

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