1969 was a year of big changes for me. You might say it was my first venture into adulthood – I became an Aunty for the first time; I left school at not quite 15; moved from Penrith to live with my Aunty at Rozelle; and went job hunting on my first Monday in the big smoke (Sydney).
My first job interview was at McDowell’s department store. The personnel officer was Mrs O’Donnell, a lovely lady. I asked her if I could have a job in the “button department”, as my brothers girlfriend use to work there. She smiled and asked me my age and why I wanted to leave school so young. I replied with “My Mum left my Dad, I’m living with my Aunty…”. In fact, the poor lady got my life history and family woes in just a few minutes, you know those days when you really should stop talking, but you just keep rambling on, yep that was me!
There were no jobs at the time. She assured me when one was available she would contact me, but it “may not be in the button department… which is called haberdashery”. I didn’t really hold much hope of ever hearing from her again.
Undeterred, I headed to the big Coles variety store. I sat a Maths test, did some training that week, started work the following week and loved it! I worked on the electrical counter, selling light globes, batteries and various other things. I felt very grown up and important running my own counter, but my very favourite part of the job was hitting the bell on the cash register, holding the money notes in the air and yelling out CHECK! Yes, feeling adult but acting very young. My first pay was amazing, I felt so rich with six-dollars-something in my pocket.
I arrived home one afternoon to find a telegram from Mrs O’Donnell. She had a job for me, but not at McDowell’s – it was at their Mark Foy’s Piazza store. I wanted to remain at Coles, but my Aunty said that there would be better career prospects at Mark Foy’s so she and my mum decided that I would work there.
I started in ladies’ fashions, wrapping layby’s and running errands for the buyer. It was a good job, but my heart was still at Coles. Most of the floors at the Piazza store were closed except for the ground and first floors. Some other floors had workmen banging and clanging, but most were used for storage – a graveyard of old shop fittings from a time gone by. The staff canteen and lockers were on one of the higher floors, I regularly hopped out of the creaky old elevator on the wrong floor and found myself in a huge scary space. I imagined ghosts of shoppers past lurking there, I spent five or so scary minutes wandering around trying to find our canteen which was tucked away on a different empty floor. It was a terrifying experience for a 15 year old – it was like being lost in an abyss. The old Mark Foy’s is now the Downing Centre courthouse.
In 1969, a very special must-see event was happening at the Capitol Theatre – the premier of the Monkees movie “Head” – complete with bands playing and giveaways. The first 50 people to buy tickets received an inflatable Monkees pillow from the radio station 2UW, so my cousin and I arrived at the Capitol at 6am and were 3rd in line. Others soon arrived and were pushing in but silly me didn’t mind as we all were having fun singing songs and laughing and sharing our love of the Monkees.
I arrived at the premier that night in my clothes, bought from the In Shop in the Strand Arcade no less, which was the place to shop! Feeling very “groovy”. I excitedly headed over to the 2UW bloke to show my ticket and claim my pillow but was devastated to find out that my ticket wasn’t stamped. I was just about to cry, stamp my feet or do something, when a lovely girl I had met that morning handed me one, as she had been given two stuck together by mistake.
Waiting for the stall doors to open, I was approached by a good looking older boy who asked my cousin and I if we would help him carry their gear upstairs to set up for their gig. His other band members had gone missing. The band in question was called Imagination. So began my big teenage crush on Geoff, the drummer. Chatting with them after their set and daring to ask why the other three members weren’t around to help carry the gear earned me the nickname “Cheeky Girl”. I found out that Alex was their lead singer, Lyle and Neil were on lead and bass guitar respectively, and, of course, Geoff was on drums.
Settled in our seats just before the movie started, some guy from Go-Set magazine called Ian Meldrum 😊 was drawing out lucky seat numbers. The girl a few seats down from me was sitting in a lucky seat – such was my luck, as I had sat there first and moved up to an aisle seat! The Monkees movie Head was unfortunately very forgettable, unlike the rest of that night, but I still remain a fan of their music today.
I soon moved back home to Penrith and was enjoying hanging out with my friends again. There was a huge all day Pop Spectacular happening at Sydney Showground in July and one of the featured bands was Imagination, so off we all headed to Sydney. I remember Doug Parkinson In Focus singing “Dear Prudence”. Basically all the bands and singers who were anybody were performing there. 2UW were getting kids to record for their station promo. We had to say “Hi, my name is ____, and I listen to the new UW triple-one noughtable on your transistor portable.” Or something like that. I was so excited, although I never did hear my promo on the radio.
The bouncers hired for the event were ruthless. Girls were jumping over the fence to get to the bands, and were literally being pick up and tossed back over the fence, landing heavily on the ground. Some of the bands headed over to the fence to sign autographs and I spotted Alex and Geoff about 50 feet from me. I yelled their names so loud I nearly broke the sound barrier! They walk towards our group and I climbed on the fence to get closer when suddenly the big hand of a bouncer was pushing my face and nearly breaking my arm off. I heard one of the boys tell the thug bouncer to “Let her go now!”. I asked if they remembered me and their reply was “How could we forget you, Cheeky Girl?”
The Imagination were a Wollongong band who move to Sydney to get their big break. Three of the boys lived in Newport. Neil, who was married, lived in Mona Vale (I think, from memory). They signed with a record label who represented some big names in Australia, The Beatles were one, also The Easybeats and Billy Thorpe. Imagination released a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. I still have their single, 47 years later!
They had a regular gig at Moby Dick’s Whale Beach surf club. I was invited to their place at Newport, to which I did go for a few Saturday’s or Sunday’s over the following months. If the boys weren’t there I would hang with a really nice girl named Bonny who lived there. She was a year or so older than me, and was Lyle’s girlfriends she told me, although I was never really quite sure she was. I guess, for a little while I was a kind of groupie, but these boys were nothing but respectful to a starry-eyed 15 year old – they were always polite and welcoming. Alex was engaged to the lovely Jenny, and even said that I should come to their wedding, the following year.
He also said that I could ring him at the surf club before their gig about 6pm any Sunday, and he would let me know where the band (and also another Wollongong band called Tin Pan Alley_ were playing that week. Well, that was probably not the smartest thing to say to a teenager, as I rang him on quite a lot of Sundays. He always came to the phone and we’d have a chat until my money ran out or he had to start his gig. He was such a nice guy and always seemed happy to take my call. Looking back now, I probably annoyed the crap out of him. 😊
As is the fickle life of a teen, before 1969 had ended, my secret crush on Geoff the drummer started to wane and my attention moved to a boy closer to home. Besides that, Mum and Dad found out where I was going on those weekends and grounded me for life.
I lost contact with Imagination, but always remembered the patience and kindness they showed to a silly teenage girl, especially Alex. I doubt I would be remembered by them, but 47 years later, they certainly still have a page in my memory book.
When Stevie Wright died recently, it brought back memories of Imagination playing with the Easybeats at the Trocadero; me wanting to meet Little Stevie; and Alex’s words that Stevie Wright “wasn’t the type of person for me to hang around”. Looking back all these years later, I guess Stevie had his demons way back then, too.
Now comes a bit of twist in the story. After hearing of Stevie Wright’s death, I started wondering what happened to Imagination. I Googled them, as you do, and read an old article that said Imagination had split up in 1970. Lyle and Geoff still play together occasionally around the Illawarra, an interview just a few years back with Neil said he went into Christian music. As for Alex? Well, he married his beautiful Jenny and had four kids, but sadly divorced. When he was in the band he went by the surname Steele, which I knew wasn’t his real surname. I didn’t remember what his name actually was, though. Looking at old newspaper stories and photos on Google, it named the band members as Neil Porter, Geoff Foster, Lyle McLean and Alex Stefanovic aka (Steele).
It blew my mind realising all these years later I’ve been watching two of his sons most days for a number of years on TV. Yes, he is Karl and Peter Stefanovic’s Dad.
It most certainly is a small world! 😊