Between 1967 and 1971, 300,000 military personnel serving in Vietnam enjoyed a week’s rest and recuperation in Sydney, Australia. I was one of those young men, and this is my story.
In February 1970, I boarded a Qantas 707 from Cam Ranh Bay with 180 other GIs, on our 4,000-mile journey to Sydney. My fellow musketeers were a rambunctious bunch, hooting at the attractive “round-eye” stewardesses who, surprisingly, took no offense at their bawdy comments. Many of the troopers had been engaged in recent firefights, so names like Da Nang, Lang Vei and Phu Cat rolled off their tongues like poisoned spittle.
The majority of guys onboard were gung ho to launch a frontal assault on the nightclub scene at Kings Cross — a well-known sailor’s destination from Singapore to Woolloomooloo Bay.
I, too, was champing at the bit for female companionship, but I was also eager to explore the “Harbour City,” and take a night trip out to the “bushlands” to view the starry constellations. But after listening to a dozen ribald tales about this stimulating district, I abandoned the Southern Cross for Kings Cross. After all, this was party time!
However, on my first night there, I came upon a movie house showing “Alice’s Restaurant.” Not only was I a big Arlo Guthrie fan, but my brother Jimmy, currently stationed with the Army in Japan, had appeared for an “eye-blink” in the movie. Sitting in the front row, I squinted up at the wide screen, knowing that Jimmy would appear when Arlo was being “injected and inspected,” at the Whitehall Recruitment Center in New York. Sure enough, dressed in his olive-green uniform, my handsome brother brushes up against Arlo in a hallway. When I saw him, I leaped clear off my seat, the breath knocked out of me. Imagine, catching a glimpse of your brother 10,000 miles from home — on the silver screen, no less!
The following afternoon, I eagerly scouted out the pulsating hotspots at Kings Cross. While there, I learned that you couldn’t enter any of the top nightclubs without a proper sport coat and tie. Since I’d only packed casual civvies, I eagerly entered the first men’s shop I came to, but found their entire stock was of the floral, pop-art variety.
Believing that no other dress options were available in this exotic land Down Under — and too revved up to think otherwise — I was hastily outfitted with a canary-yellow shirt, psychedelic tie, duchess-green bellbottoms, lavender jacket and shiny inch-high platform shoes. When I looked in the shop’s mirror, it was the first time in my life that I truly wanted to shoot myself.
The next night, dressed like I’d just arrived from Pepperland on the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, I entered the world-famous Whisky a Go Go, only to discover that all my fellow Yanks were fashionably dressed. Yep, I had stupidly shopped in the wrong spot. Embarrassed to the nines, I slipped into a dark corner and watched my frisky mates dance with lovely Aussie women to such Motown hits as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” If not for my circus attire, I could’ve joined in the chase. But, no, not when I looked as flashy as Liberace ready to hit the Vegas stage.
Actually, I would have left the club on the spot if not for the tantalizing go-go girls who danced in suspended cages above the parquet floor, their tanned arms flailing by their sides like wind-up mechanical toy monkeys ascending a towering pole.
To my stuttering surprise, one such bewitching beauty was giving me the eye. Or was it I giving her the eye? Either way, she descended her lofty cage when the DJ spun the Bee Gees hit, “Massachusetts.” Taking the song as a good omen, I bravely asked this ravishing goddess for a dance. Well, she just glared at me as if I’d just escaped from Chuckletown State Hospital. Now, I knew nothing about the goings-on of my home state that night, but I can assure you that all my lights went out as I sadly watched her sashay away.
The agonizing flight back to Cam Ranh Bay was merciless, as every horndog around me was bragging about their multiple conquests Down Under. Some were even showing Polaroids of their girlfriends taken at Bondi Beach. Myself, I sat like a lump among these boastful cavaliers, with nothing to share but postcards of koalas and kangaroos.
Today, my souvenir boomerang that I purchased 51 years ago still hangs above my bedroom door.
As for my Whisky a Go Go garb, I wore it one last time in the early ‘80s to Chris Doyle’s annual Halloween costume party in Hancock.
Needless to say, I won top prize.