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“Hi, I’m Denise Young and I’d like to read to you from a memoir I wrote that was published in Meanjin, about the coming of television to Australia in the fifties when I was a child and especially how it brought Johnny O’Keefe, the host of Six O’Clock Rock.
Dinner time became a rush for us kids to bolt our food and get back to the TV in time, as the chimes of Big Ben counted down the hours while two people jived in silhouette. And then, at six o’clock precisely, Johnny would magically be there, pushing away Big Ben and stale Olde England with his opening howl ‘Come on everybody, let’s rock!’ and I’d be off, rocking away with him, spilling the lemonade from the big parfait glass in my hand that I pretended was champagne.
Johnny wore a suit with a fake leopard skin velvet collar that his mum made for him. It was apparently bright green or red but we could only imagine that in our black-and-white screen universe. We were told too that his shoes were red and gold, fringed with leather and studded with fake emeralds. He was way over the top, just the way we liked it. The adults would pop their disapproving heads in every so often, leaving my grandmother sitting alone at the table ruminating about her latest pudding failure. ‘It’s a sod,’ she’d always mutter. From what she could hear of Johnny, she said he sounded like a white cockatoo, all squawk and shriek.
There was a lot of pent up resentment in that house that we kids could feel but not understand. ‘There’s a draught, Lel!’ was another of my grandmother’s refrains, addressed in this instance to her only son, Leslie, and representing just one small part of the tyranny that had kept him at home with her for most of his adult life. My mother had managed to escape, though she was still drawn back constantly to nurse my grandmother, who for twenty years was in a state of permanent unwellness. The weekend opening hours of the chemist were always on display in her lounge room so she might never be without the possibility of medication or barley sugar.
It was a pity because she had a lot of life trapped somewhere in her big frame. I sensed it when we were alone occasionally and a huge hearty laugh would shake its way out of her, as if escaping from her control. Then, as she slowly slopped up an invalid’s lunch of crumbed brains from a metal cup or ate sugared mashed bananas from a saucer, she would tell me about her childhood days at a country school where she was the best at everything, from needlework to spelling and arithmetic but headed only for domestic work or a slow drawling country husband.”
ABOUT DENISE YOUNG:
Denise Young was born in Sydney and now lives in Thirroul on the NSW South Coast. She’s a graduate of Sydney and Flinders Universities and was a teacher, actress and theatre director before beginning to write. Her first novel The Last Ride was published in 2004, after winning a Varuna/HarperCollins Award in 2003. It was made into a film in 2009.
“Since the HarperCollins Award I’ve been many times to Varuna, most recently for two weeks in August on a NSW Litlink Fellowship where I was working on a new novel called Solomon’s Judgement.” Denise Young
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