I said quite a while ago I'd been reading old books. Not so much reading them as wallowing in them. Some are old but new to me, some old even to me, but nonetheless I've been enjoying them. Part of the charm is in their very age. Many writers essay the historical but there is something about the, to me, historical, written by someone to whom it was not history. Hence the charm of, for examples, Dickens[^] or Gissing[^]. The last author in particular impresses me with the way he describes the London of the 1880's (like I'd know if it was accurate or not!). You can find a selection of his work at Project Gutenberg (or just click on the link over there --> under Literature).
But the book that sparked this particular wander down memory lane is 'A bunch of Ratbags' written by one William Dick. I've not managed to find a single link through Google that says anything about Mr Dick. I was impressed, however, by the filtering that Google apply; I half expected a plethora of links of a non-worksafe nature but was pleasantly surprised.
This is one of those books that's old to me; I first read it in 1968 when a teacher at Footscray Tech intimated that it might interest me. He was right. The charm was (and is) that it was written by a Footscray boy and the places he writes about are in and around Footscray. To be sure he disguised the name, calling it Goodway. I'm not sure why he changed it; perhaps he was writing a little too close to the time (it details his life from the late 1940's until the early 1960's and it was published in 1965).
But I know, from the descriptions, most of the places he wrote about; the house he lived in was at Errol Street, since demolished as part of the rebuilding of Mt Mistake[^] (the space is now occupied by an onramp to the Princess Highway). The Star theatre in his book is what was once the Trocadero on Barkly Street; the Gold was the Grand in Paisley Street. Interestingly enough he doesn't mention the La Scala in Leeds street but perhaps it wasn't there in the mid 1950's. It was certainly there in 1962 though not of much interest to us at the time; they ran Italian movies.
My friends and I used to go to the Saturday Arvo matinee at the Grand in 1963/64 - we preferred the movie at the Grand but the Troc had Tom and Jerry Cartoons in the first half so we'd buy our tickets at the Troc, sit through the first half and sneak in the backdoor to the Grand for the main feature. We thought ourselves clever young bastards but in later years I've suspected a shared management!
I think I've established that I know the milieu though I do confess I resorted to the Melways[^] online to be certain. (They obviously don't want people doing detail links).
I went to the same school and I have to say that, going by the description of life at Footscray Tech in the early 1950's I'm glad I wasn't there then! I probably wouldn't have survived the experience. It had a reputation as a 'tough' school in the 60's but I certainly didn't experience the gang life he describes.
He describes how he aspired to, and eventually made it, to the status of Bodgie[^]. I can just remember Bodgies at the end of the 1950's; sitting on a tram with my Grandmother and Mum and seeing these old people (remember I was five or six) dressed so differently, and with such strange haircuts. (How interesting that one of the things we judge people by is their hair). The other thing I remember is that they left us alone though I seem to remember my Grandmother being apprehensive.
But the thing that got us interested in reading this book in 1968 was the forbidden subject of sex! In a time when PersianKitty is a click of a URL away that seems quaint but it was certainly so in Australia, the 'summer of love' notwithstanding. We were so censored that when that silly song 'Snoopy and the Red Baron' was on the top 40 they'd bleep the word 'bloody' because it was a swear word in Australia! Indeed, as recently as 1972 the vice squad raided a prominent Melbourne Department Store (Myers) because they'd displayed a copy of Michaelangelo's David in the window!
And then this book was placed in our hands. It's pretty tame stuff these days but back then any literature that even hinted at the mystery of girls was avidly consumed. As an accomplished reader I was called upon to read the 'dirty' passages out loud. I vividly recall walking down Nicholson Street, away from the school and toward Footscray shopping centre, the book in my hands, reading it out loud to a half dozen or so schoolmates. Even more vivid, the feeling of embarassment when we encountered a group of young ladies from the Footscray Girls School and my friends insisted I keep reading, out loud!
Well, sequestered in a boys only school, what did I know of girls? How was I to know that they were every bit as interested in the opposite sex as we were? I had much to learn!
It was quite fun learning.