By Terry Jenkings
Built in the 1920s, The Balconies faced north, toward Ben Buckler, perched above the south end of the beach, where it was cooled by the nor-east, sea breeze. Had it been built at the north end of the beach, exposed to southerlies, it would not have lasted long. By the 1950s, the place had become seedy and run down.
The rooms overlooking the beach housed society’s outcasts. It was locally known that many of the occupants were newly released from gaol. They would spend their days drinking long necks and abusing passers-by or making lewd comments to attractive women. This didn’t seem to bother the locals, who would just walk to the other side of Notts Avenue and let the clowns have their fun, dressed in their uniform of work pants and chesty bond singlets.
Above the derelict rooms was a tea house, which later became The Java Indonesian restaurant. This glassed café seemed to be lopsided, but was popular for its spicy delights, which were foreign to many locals. The views were also spectacular, but not really appreciated, as the windows were covered in salt spray.
Standing next to The Java, facing Campbell Parade, was an insignificant and not all that inviting milk-bar. It serviced people waiting for trams and, later, buses, which were housed at North Bondi. The milk-bar was typical of the times, in that it sold drinks, ice-creams, lollies and the like. The floors were lino and a long counter separated the owner from the customer.
The proprietor in the 1950s was known simply as Jack. His last name was too difficult to pronounce, as was the case with many of the shop keepers who moved into Bondi at that time. Jack was tall with black hair brushed back and held in place with Brylcreem. He always smiled to those waiting for transport and stood erect behind his counter in his white shirt and, in winter, grey cardigan. His constant smile revealed some gold fillings and his greeting was in broken English, but always pleasant. There was something different about Jack because, on close inspection, it was obvious he had been well built in his youth and had the shoulders of a rugby league player, who had perhaps retired a decade earlier. It was said that Jack lived in Francis Street with his wife and daughter, having moved to Australia after the war. His pride and joy was his business and his attractive young daughter, who was originally named Bella, but changed her name to Betty so as to be more Aussie.
One lazy afternoon, two of the outcasts from The Balconies thought they could supplement their financial position by going into Jack’s shop and affecting an old fashion “stand over”. They walked through the entrance and demanded Jack empty his till and give them the cash, or else they would give him a mother of a hiding. The story goes that the smile went off Jack’s face when he understood what they were up to and he suddenly became mean. Jack hurdled his counter and kicked the first guy in the groin, which dropped him. The second guy felt Jack’s massive hand around his throat as Jack lifted him off the ground and above his head. Jack then proceeded to kick the idiot on the ground, holding his groin, along the lino floor to the shop entrance and out onto the footpath. The choking fool was then thrown on top of his crying mate as Jack let out some words of advice. “Come back to my shop and I will kill you.”. They fumbled their way down Campbell Parade, never to be seen again. Jack then turned to the onlookers, smiled and adjusted his cardigan, then returned to his place behind the counter. Not a hair on his head was messed up.
Word spread like wild fire and it became local knowledge that Jack was in fact a war hero. He had been a leader in the European Resistance and operated behind Nazi lines for some years before migrating to Australia with his family.
It is not known what happened to Jack and his family following the demolition of The Balconies, but there was never another attempted “standover“. Passers-by would always return his cheery wave and everyone just pitied any bloke in the future that did the wrong thing by Jack’s daughter.