Moruya and District Historical Society travels back to the 1960s with Shirley Jurmann in her continuing Time Machine series.
We next visit the 1960s – but what is going on? The whole main street is blocked off and there are people everywhere, on the footpaths and spilling onto the road. Has there been some kind of a catastrophe? No, it is only the annual Moruya Mardi Gras.
We don’t quite understand what this is, but the locals fill us in. There will be a procession of decorated floats, bands, marching girls, bullock teams and various clubs.
We wait a while and the procession of floats begins to move down the main street. There is a girl in a bikini sitting on the bonnet of a car. Most shocking of all is Lady Godiva, riding side-saddle with a long wig to preserve her modesty.
Later we learn that the “Lady” is Lauris Green, a well-known and skilled local horsewoman. She is working at the Monarch hotel and her boss Russ Martin asked her to do it. She felt she could not decline as he was her boss.
There is a hospital float with nurses and doctors doing a mock operation, pulling strings of sausages out of the poor ‘patient’s’ stomach.
The Surf Club is there with their surf reel. Now a camel, of all things, comes along, ridden by an ‘Arab’ and led by another. The camel has a problem – it has severe diarrhoea and the band following behind is suffering the consequences.
We later learn that the Arabs (Michel and John Nader) were advised by its owner to make friends with it by feeding it milk coffee biscuits. Apparently the Nader boys were too enthusiastic and fed it six packets of biscuits and this upset the camel’s digestive system.
There is a float with a wedding party on board. The female roles are being taken by men while the male roles are played by local ladies. We are amused to hear about one ‘woozy’ boy who declined the flower girl’s role, as no way was he getting rigged up in girl’s clothes. Possibly he thought he might catch ‘girl germs’.
We see a pretty woman sitting in a tent on top of a pole. We are told that she is 28-year-old Edite McHugh, wife of a local solicitor, mother of six children, the oldest being only seven. She has been up there since yesterday afternoon and has enjoyed the peace and solitude.
She has a special telephone rigged up so she can call businesses at Batemans Bay, Bodalla and Narooma to remind them that the Mardi Gras is on. She hoped to lose weight while up the pole with no treats to tempt her but locals keep bringing delicious food and passing it up to her.
There is plenty to entertain us after the procession passes including, gold panning, sheep shearing demonstrations, a fishing contest, billycart derby, egg catching contest, a display of firefighting equipment, stalls selling all sorts of things, go-go dancing, a tug-o-war competition against bullock teams and a greasy pole walking competition. The favourite for this competition is Junior McHugh, the husband of the lady up the pole.
A town clock is unveiled as a tribute to Olive Clarke, recognising her over 40 years of service to the town.
We see about seventy men roaming around with long beards. After the judging is over there will be another competition for the smoothest shave to remove these beards. It is rumoured that many of the men have declined to take part in this section as the shaving is supposed to be done with a shearer’s blade or a broad axe.
Some are tempted by the fact that a beautiful girl in a bikini will rub her face against the newly shaved to judge the smoothness of the shave. However it turned out that regular shaving equipment was used.
At night there is a fireworks display which we watch from the top verandah of the Adelaide Hotel. It is at this hotel we spend the night.
Next day, we get a chance to look at the main street now that it’s clear of the Mardi Gras activities.
We are very disappointed to see some of the changes which have taken place since we last visited in the 1940s. The beautiful old Emmott residence has gone, along with the store. These buildings gave the street character but have been pulled down in the name of progress. A new modern store takes the place of them.
Further down the street more old buildings have been removed and replaced with modern structures. Across the street the attractive granite building of the old Bank of NSW has been spoilt by the verandahs being enclosed with fibro and now occupied by doctors’ surgeries.
There is a new National Bank with residence, quite a nice building. We are pleased that the newsagency and residence are still intact and the Adelaide and Monarch hotels are still the same. The Courthouse still stands on the corner of Vulcan and Queen Streets. The old Amusu Hall is now Emmotts Furniture Department, managed by Brian Turnbull.
We hear that the Central School has been divided into two departments, the primary and secondary now called the Intermediate High. From about 1955 Moruya pupils no longer have to go away to do their Leaving Certificate – today’s HSC. Apparently a new separate full High School is planned on the hill behind the showground.
Across the bridge the charming old Criterion Hotel, with its wrought iron verandahs overlooking the river, has also been pulled down and replaced with a single-storey concrete block building.
We take a trip up Queen Street, into Page Street and then into Campbell Street. The timber building of the old Kildare Hotel is still there and is now the residence of the McIntosh family.
The old Orion Theatre has been replaced by the Fiesta Cinema. The Fiesta is well back from the street as it was built behind the Orion which was then pulled down when the new one was completed.
A grocery store is still there as is the old Club House Hotel, made of unusual white bricks.
Ilma Walter lives in the old Walter home and shop and can often be seen sitting in the doorway, chatting to passersby. She is a stalwart of the Church of England and will be seen at most services in that church. She leads the singing with her powerful voice.
The old timber hotel on the corner of Queen and Page streets has gone and been replaced by the Holiday Haven Hotel Motel. It has a strange striped appearance, alternate strips of red brick and cement render. It was explained to us that the bricks had sat on the site for a long time before being used and many were damaged. In order to use them the damaged ones were covered with cement render.
Filmer’s shop is still there in the timber two-storey building, but the bakery no longer bakes bread.
There is a new RSL Memorial Hall in Page Street, much in demand for balls, weddings, school socials and other social activities. The Mechanics Institute is still there, used for smaller functions and as a supper room for bigger events in the new hall.
Moving into Campbell Street, we find the Post Office still on the corner although we are told that a new one is planned in a more convenient location. The old Merlyn home of the Emmotts and their first store is gone. The two storey terrace houses are still there, now occupied by Mrs Gibson and the Warren families, although it is rumoured that they might be pulled down to make way for new Council Chambers. Many locals are fighting against this.
We hope it does not occur as it would be such a shame to lose these wonderful old buildings.
The granite building of the Examiner Office with the granite residence next door is still there.
Turning into Vulcan Street we find a new BP Garage. The road south now turns east here instead of going down to the Pink Gates before turning. Ron Chesher has built a new supermarket. Garney Chewing’s corner shop is still there with Mylott’s bakery across the street still producing delicious cakes, pies and bread.
Time to get back to our Time Machine. Our next visit in our time machine is in 2050. Ah ha! If only we could! What changes would we see? Who knows? Hopefully people are more aware of the importance of preserving our past.
Whatever happens I am sure Moruya will remain a very special place for anyone who was born there, or through living or visiting, has come to love it. It seems to have an atmosphere with just a bit more than your average tourist coastal town, it gets in your blood.