I was in primary school at Bondi Beach when the war started in 1939. At about the same time, the school founded its flute and drum band—all boys. The first Captain of the Band was Don Burrows, who became a master jazz musician.
Every Friday morning, the boys’ school marched around the playground to the beat of the band, in class groups, 3rd to 6th. Meanwhile, the teachers were judging the best class marching group, which was awarded the honour of leading the school, after lunch, along the promenade to Bondi Baths for swimming lessons.
The girls were not included; they were sequestered on the top floor and taught by women teachers only. They were the untouchables. The effect of this seclusion was to heighten our appetites for fraternisation. Before long, over the weekends and coming and going, to and from school, we discovered something of fundamental importance: what the boys are out after, the girls are out after too!
The teacher I remember best was Dougie Hogg. He was a bald, First World War veteran and foundation member of the Bondi Icebergs. More importantly, he was the sports master. You had to learn to swim before you could take part in any other sport—beginners: 25-yards, juniors: 33-yards, seniors: 55-yards and more. Then you could take part in the Life Saving Awards program.
In the winter, there was inter-school rugby league—lightweights: 4st 7lbs, middle weights: 5st 7lbs, heavyweights: 6st 7lbs. Dougie was an Easts supporter. Their forwards pack boasted Ray Stehr, the Pearse brothers and Andy Norvall. While in the backs, there was Dave Brown—the point scoring wizard. It was not surprising that Easts won the 1940 Premiership, defeating Canterbury–Bankstown. It was the first game I ever saw. Dave Brown, with his bald head covered by leather headgear, looked the spitting image of our teacher Dougie Hogg.
Sport wasn’t Doug’s only interest. He was the best English teacher I ever had. He inspired a love of the Australian Ballads, especially Banjo Paterson. His recitations of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ were legendary, as were his readings of Henry Lawson’s short stories, such as; ‘The Loaded Dog’, ‘The Drover’s Wife’ and ‘The Union Buries Its Dead’. We all had to learn by heart ‘A Sunburnt Country’, by Dorothea Mackellar. He championed the underdog and loved his country—especially Bondi. Once, in explaining the word ‘hinterland’, he referred to Sydney, New South Wales and Australia, as Bondi’s hinterland!
Our schooling during the war was a constant. But, the beach underwent changes, when Japan entered the war, after Pearl Harbour. The two concrete piers that dominated the beach were demolished. Barbed wire replaced them, all along the foreshore. At first, the sun shining on the silver wire gave the impression of a tinsel decorated Xmas Beach. But, before long, rust covered the barbed-wire, revealing its more sinister purpose.
Barbed wire fencing, 1942. Source: Waverley Library.
While Darwin and Sydney Harbour were threatened by the Japanese, Bondi also received some minor attention; firstly by reconnaissance aircraft and secondly by off-shore shelling from a submarine. The shells landed near the corner of O’Brien Street and Old South Head Road. Little damage was done, but the location was only a block away from Wellington Street, where Dougie Hogg lived with his ageing mother.
The Japanese episode was a slight irritation, compared to the other invasion—the Yanks. On leave and cashed-up, the brash American soldiers and sailors headed for Bondi. They were big spenders and in their smart uniforms and ‘Popeye’ hats, it was like ‘Anchors Aweigh’ had hit town. Our elder sisters, even some of our teenage girlfriends, found them irresistible.
We boys got some kind of revenge from a cheeky limerick that was current:
To Bondi in wartime came Yanks,
As boys we watched all of their pranks.
One night on the grass, I trod on an arse,
And the girl from next door whispered thanks.
It is over 60 years since I lived in Bondi, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all I have written. Memory in any case is always selective and I have a predisposition for myth over reality. However, there is a significant truth behind all this—you can take the boy out of Bondi, but you can’t take Bondi out of the boy!