Scene nostalgia post

This is for Sirdan, Sailor Andy, and anyone else who may come this way who was around during those far-off days which are Oxford Street in the 80s and 90s of last century!

The Unicorn and the Swan Tits

On a Sunday in the late 80s the Unicorn would have a midday movie via their video system and VHS tapes! It was no doubt strictly against the rubric on the tapes about public performance, but the Unicorn did not charge. It was actually very popular. PK and I often went, and others. It was thus that I first saw “Empire of the Sun.”

Watch on YouTube

I had a memorable birthday party here also — 1989?

Also last Tuesday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” concerned Hinch! Very interesting actually, and included scenes in Masterton NZ where Sirdan now lives. I spoke about that yesterday morning in a phone call to Sirdan in Masterton.

It’s a nostalgic funny report. Do watch it on YouTube or here in the embedded version below.

Here is rare footage of a drag show at the Unicorn in 1986. It never reached the heights of fame the Albury and later the Imperial in Erskineville attained.

Watch on YouTube — quality so-so… But you will get the idea.

The Albury Hotel

There has been many a post here about the Albury. There was a time it was my virtual lounge room as in 1989 I was living opposite the Beauchamp — another place well known to Sirdan, PK and others — and thus a stone’s throw from the Albury. Indeed, if I stuck my head out my bedroom window at the right times I could hear the show…. Then in late 1989 I moved from there to PK’s in Paddington which was nearer the Unicorn.

This is the bar where Sirdan. Ian Smith, PK and others would most often meet — especially in the cocktail hour after work, or at weekends. Not there all that often for the shows. For that I personally much preferred the Piano Bar which was through the doors on the left at the end of this bar. But there was many a great chat happened here in those days.

Watch on YouTube

Watch on YouTube

Sylvana in the Piano Bar in the late 1980s

And in the main bar:

Watch on YouTube

Rather clever that, actually!

My meeting with the WW2 air ace and arms dealers

Mr Double Seven – Wing Commander Richard (‘Dick’) Cresswell DFC.

I alluded to this yesterday.

I met Wing Commander Cresswell — as he became — purely by chance one night at the Sydney Intercontinental Hotel in 1988 and had quite a long conversation with him; but that’s another story.

So here’s that other story.

But first some details from a PDF file of a podcast by RAAF NSW. — the Air Force Association.

20 April 1942 saw Cresswell, recently promoted to Squadron Leader, commanding the newly formed No. 77 Squadron at Pearce, Western Australia. The Squadron was flying P-40 Kittyhawks. At twenty-one, he was younger than most of his personnel. Initially responsible for the air defence of Perth, No. 77 Squadron transferred to Batchelor Airfield near Darwin in August, becoming the first RAAF fighter unit to be stationed in the North-Western Area. It moved to another of Darwin’s satellite airfields, Livingstone, in September. Cresswell led the squadron in the defence of Darwin against Japanese raiders and claimed its first aerial victory just after 5 a.m. on 23 November 1942, when he destroyed a Mitsubishi “Betty” bomber. It was the first “kill” for an Australian squadron over the mainland, and the first night victory over land.

In February 1943, No. 77 Squadron was transferred to Milne Bay in New Guinea. The Japanese attacked Milne Bay on 14 April, and Cresswell claimed one of four bombers (and a fighter) credited to No. 77 Squadron. The next month, No. 77 Squadron began island hopping, firstly to Goodenough Island.

He was wing leader of No. 81 (Fighter) Wing in New Guinea from May 1944 to March 1945, simultaneously commanding No. 77 Squadron for a second time between September and December 1944.

Cresswell arrived at Noemfoor on 26 September 1944 to be informed by No. 81 Wing’s new commander, Group Captain Gordon Steege, that he did not need a wing leader. Instead, Steege assigned Cresswell to command No. 77 Squadron, for the second time during the war. Cresswell questioned the decision through official channels, with the result that he retained the position of wing leader, as well as the command of No. 77 Squadron. The wing flew 1,125 sorties against Japanese buildings, stores and transport.

The Late Ken Wilkinson (431527) recalled his first encounter with Dick Cresswell:

Five raw N.C.O. Pilots joined the squadron at Noemfoor, Dutch New Guinea in September 1944 where the squadron had moved to from Manus Island.We were introduced to other pilots and after allocation of tents we were told that Wing Commander Cresswell the C.O. wanted us to report to him in his tent at 1300 hours. We duly arrived, he was sitting in a director style chair, dressed in non-regulation clothing and black high boots [not flying boots]. He said, ‘You have joined the best fighter squadron in the R.A.A.F., you have received the best training possible in a wartime situation and we have recently been equipped with the latest model Kittyhawk P40-N25 and N30, aircraft, so if any of you dare prang one of them, back home to your mother’s you will go’. A great welcome

My Uncle Neil Christison was involved in the Milne Bay attacks, and subsequently served on Morotai. In his own words:

During 1944 I was a member of an Airforce Signals Unit. In April of that year my signals unit did a landing in  Aitape, New Guinea. We were the communication unit for the  airfield construction squadron who repaired airstrips and built new ones.

As communications he was more than once in the first landing craft ashore and saw many horrors, which he never talked of to me. My mother told me about them.

And my father was in Port Moresby in 1945.

Watch on YouTube

Fast forward to 1988

I was teaching at Masada College, St Ives.

From a Masada staff photo 1988!

I was living in Darlinghurst 1988-9 and commuting to and from St Ives — too much in the end! Sometimes I would get off at Wynyard on a Friday and walk over to the Intercontinental and make my way to the Cortile Bar for a quiet sit and….

…over a Hennessy listen to the string quartet and nibble some snacks.

How could I afford such luxury? Well, connections….

At the time a former flatmate and great friend, Philip, was working the bar and the drink was on the house.

On one occasion my Wollongong friends also availed themselves of the experience…

Happened one night in 88 or 89 that the place was crowded and there was just one table left in one of those lovely side nooks. A group of men was heading for that table too so they invited me to join them. While they got on with business one of their number, an older man, took pity on me and engaged me in conversation. He reminisced about Kings Cross where for a while he had lived with his mother back in the 1930s. Then the War came up and I said my father was in the RAAF in New Guinea. I mentioned Kittyhawks.

“Oh yes, I used to fly them!”

Yes, it was Dick Cresswell!

My father was still alive at the time though in a nursing home in Burwood and not quite the man he had been — but when I mentioned to him that I had been talking to Dick Cresswell he remembered very well…

And that group? Turns out they were representatives of Short Brothers (famous for the wartime Sunderland flying boats) and they were here trying to persuade the Australian military to buy their missiles!

Shorts missile division, which evolved into Shorts Missile Systems (1993–2000, then sold), produced surface-to-air missiles.

Year of first use by a military in parentheses.

  • Seacat – shipboard short-range surface-to-air missile (1962)
  • Tigercat – land-based, trailer-mounted version of Seacat (1967)
  • Blowpipe – soldier portable (1975)
  • Javelin – soldier portable (post-Blowpipe, pre-Starburst)
  • Starburst – soldier portable (1989)
  • Starstreak – soldier portable (1997)

Dick Cresswell was there as a military consultant.

So that is how I had drinks with arms dealers and met a Wing Commander from the RAAF my father and uncle had served in! What are the chances of that happening, eh!