My first part-time job was in the deli section of Coles in Balaclava. But by 1976, I was looking for something more exciting. When I heard that the new McDonalds in St Kilda was looking for casual staff, I immediately applied. My friend Sharmaine joined me in working there, and for a while it was fun.
One Saturday night, our shift finished at seven and it was already getting dark outside. We weren’t looking forward to walking home.
‘There’s no dance on tonight, is there?’ I asked.
‘None we can get a lift to. Everyone’s already gone out. This’ll be one boring Saturday night!’ Sharmaine said.
We were just about to cross the Esplanade when we heard a couple of guys call from an ancient two-tone Holden.
‘Where ya girls off to?’ the driver hollered.
Windows wound down, elbow leaning out the window, the driver looked us up and down. It wasn’t the most original pick up line, but our feet were sore and we were bored. A lift was appealing and we felt safe enough together. We casually walked over to the car and saw two young guys, probably only about two years older than we were. They were as nervous as alley cats hanging out in the wrong neighbourhood. They clearly didn’t come from St Kilda.
‘You girls doin’ anythin’ tonight? You wanna go out somewhere?’ the driver stammered as we approached. He had shoulder length mouse-brown hair and wore a checked flannel shirt. Not my type, I thought, but what was there to lose?
’Nothing planned so far,’ Sharmaine answered.
‘Why don’t you girls jump in and we’ll go for a ride. Wherever you want,’ he added quickly.
‘My dad won’t let me go out with boys unless he’s met them,’ I said. ‘But if you drive me home and say hello to him, I’m sure I can come.’
‘Sure, jump in. I’m Steve and this here is Glen.’
‘Hi,’ we said, giggling as we scrambled into the back seat.
We drove to my place first. I opened the door and invited the boys in.
‘Papa, this is my friend Steve,’ I said.
They shook hands. I was hoping Steve’s handshake was firm because my father judged a person’s character by their handshake. It looked as if he had passed muster.
‘We ran into these boys from school coming back from work,’ I lied.
’And we’d like to go to a dance. They’ll bring us back by midnight.’
‘Won’t you Steve? Just nod will ya, I just told him we were friends from way back,’ I said turning to Steve. He nodded dutifully.
‘Sharmaine’s dad already said she could go and he is very strict about who she goes out with. Please Papa.’
‘Not a stroke after midnight,’ he said. ‘I’ll wait up for you.’
‘You’re the best!’ I said and kissed him on the cheek.
This was one of the few advantages of having a father who could not speak English. I could pull the wool over his eyes.
We had persuaded one parent, now it was Mr Keogh’s turn. To my surprise, Sharmaine talked her dad around quite easily and we were ready for a night on the town.
‘Where d’ya wanna go?’ Glen asked. They were from the outer suburbs and completely out of their depth.
‘Let’s go to the Outpost Inn,’ I suggested.
It was my favourite place to go. The Outpost Inn was a basement folk venue at the top end of Collins Street. It was a cool place to hang out and listen to various folk singers. There were three or four windowless underground rooms, painted black with a small makeshift stage at one end and couches or cushions strewn around the room. There was always more than one artist performing and you could wander from room to room to listen to whoever took your fancy. Someone was always smoking a joint and the atmosphere was quite mellow. It was the coolest place to be on a Saturday night, if you were into that scene.
The Outpost Inn was run by a crazy Russian called Stefan. He was an imposing figure with a full beard and a shock of black hair. He had a striking resemblance to photos of Rasputin. I always felt safe because I knew Stefan could sort out any problem. He wasn’t the kind of person anyone would willingly take on. It seemed like a great place to take a couple of suburban boys.
Within the first twenty minutes we realised the boys had the completely wrong impression of the venue. It was clearly the first time they had witnessed an alternative scene.
‘Check out the black walls, Glen,’ said Steve, nudging him with his elbow.
‘Smell that will ya,’ was Glen’s reply. ‘You reckon it’s what I think it is? We’ve scored us some wild chicks, man. Which one do you want?’
Sharmaine and I glanced at one another. This had been a BAD idea.
‘Just going to the bathroom,’ Sharmaine said and pulled at my sleeve. We quickly made our way to the toilets out the back.
‘I don’t think this was a good idea,’ Sharmaine said. ‘They think we’re the kind of girls who will go all the way with them. I know that’s what they think. Glen keeps staring at my boobs.’
I had the same impression. ‘You know, we could just leave them here,’ I said, ‘C’mon, I know a back way out.’
And that’s what we did. We we left them standing there waiting for us to return. We fled like spooked cats, laughing until we cried, running all the way down Collins Street, without stopping. When we reached Swanston Street, we doubled over laughing, caught our breath, and waited for a number 67 tram to take us home safely.