Ashes Dreaming

by Barry Nicholls

Chapter One: The beginning the 1970s


The year is 1975 or thereaboust. Life is full of big smiles sunburnt faces, freckles and crooked teeth. Television is transforming from black and white to colour. Suddenly studio sets and sporting fields are alive with a rainbow of colours. Sprinklers click away each morning, a chorus of lawnmowers chug every weekend, almost ending like a symphony around noon. It’s older people who go to church and dress up for the occasion. Holdens, Fords, Mini Minors and Volkswagens turn every corner while meat pies and kangaroos are national symbols. Kids ride bikes without wearing helmets and have the freedom to go where they like as long as they are home by tea. Dogs run randomly without leashes while cricketers bat without helmets. This indeed was a different time.


Cricket is king of the summer sports. The Australian team is in a state of flux moving from the dreary but solid leadership of Lawry to the exciting Chappell era when anything seemed possible and was. Cricketers wear moustaches, open shirts and play with an aggressive attitude epitomizing the new win at all costs approach. It is survival of the fittest and the meanest. Enormous crowds bring large amounts of beer in eskies into the ground as part of a time honoured right of abusing opposition players and umpires. Streakers are seen as a bit of fun in the late afternoon and you might consider the notion yourself- if you were just in better shape.


Primary aged kids are outside as much as possible often seen riding dragster bikes. Shorts and T shirts, and Dunlop volley sandshoes are the summer uniform.  Hats and sunscreen remain untouched in the bathroom cupboard. Big clunky K mart thongs are standard holiday footwear. The only worry is if the plastic V entry into the thong gets displaced. Louis the Fly is on television. Chewing on gum means you are cool not a loser. It is strange, even unsociable if your parents don’t smoke with you in an intimate space, like the car or house. Most adult males wear sideburns unless they are in the army. Wearing a seatbelt is something you might do on a long distance car trip, although probably not at all. Drink driving without care is commonplace among older brothers, sisters, uncles and parents. In country Australia it’s almost rude not too.  Tattoos are for sailors and seen as a working class symbol. Either that or it indicates your part of the growing hippie parade who wear their hair extra long.  Vietnam is a war not a country and people protest about it waving banners. Tracy is a cyclone and not a girl’s name.


Music from Aussie bands like Spectrum, Daddy Cool and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs spill out of AM transistor radios across the country. The sound bounces through the speaker holes in a tinny way that becomes more distorted the louder the volume. The only challenge is making sure you have enough batteries to listen to it while sun-baking on the back lawn; the transistor is after all portable. Life is all about the chart stoppers Casey Casen top 40 on 5KA’s where glam rock, slick pop and horrible sentimental ballads were in.  Eagles, ABBA, Meatloaf, and Supertramp take your pick.  Record stores are fashionable meeting places with a hint of cool, a bit like today’s cafes. We play records made from Vinyl, both 45s and 33s on large wooden record players in lounge rooms or if you are lucky bedrooms. There is something special about a record cover and the feeling of slipping the vinyl out of its sleeve for the first time.  A scratch on one of your siblings’ records means you are ostracized for a month. Newspapers are the main source of news. You can buy a different paper in the morning to that in the afternoon.   Current affairs on commercial television has some journalistic credibility.


Media is accessible mainly at first grab .If you missed a show that was it. There are no VCRs to record.  Pay TV is an anachronism. The Brady Bunch courtesy of the lovely brown haired big eyed Marcia causes more pubescent erections than any other television star. No one cares about Jan or the annoying little curly haired girl with the lisp.  We care even less about Greg Brady and his good looks.

Blokes drink beer from long neck bottles, wine more often is sold in flasks and a drink called a martini is served with an olive on a stick. Open necked shirts and mini-skirts are everyday fashion items. Walk down the beach and you’ll see a beach ball bouncing along, as well as cloth umbrellas with a beer or cigarette advert on it. Wallpaper is common place in house holds often in bright colours. When you go to the bank you line up to see the friendly people at the teller and even engage in a bit of casual chit chat. A envelope full of cash doesn’t mean dodgy business, it’s how people are paid. The bank manager wears a suit and is a respected bloke who knows your name.


For me the 1970s were all about collecting. It begins with those little plastic creatures found at the bottom of cereal packets and are called Kingly Critters.  There is nothing quite like the excitement of finding the small dumpy one with the upside down head and black hat.  There are footy and cricket cards, marbles, yoyos, Charlie Brown bottle tops and whatever else is suddenly fashionable to collect and put in your room. Billiard and table tennis tables pop up in middle class homes sprouting like mini bars in spare rooms with framed sporting posters on the wall. Nike was a no name and it is just whether you bought Adidas or Puma. Tracksuits are as prime clothing and not something just to get around in on a Sunday morning or weekday attire for dole bludgers.


Sweden means ABBA. We all love Agnetha and wonder at her beautiful bottom that she wiggles it vibrantly on stage. The colour brown is popular in the clothing range as is orange when it came to interior design.  Fruit on the dinner table is often plastic. America is far enough away to not be all invasive.  We speak Aussie slang (not American) and phones are attached to walls in our house.  Drive Ins are the place your brother takes his girlfriend while a movie about a shark is scaring a generation off the beach. Yo-yos are popular every few years when that bloke from America representing Coca Cola comes to school and perform tricks like walk the dog.


As a kid you have the option of playing two sports, Footy and cricket. Soccer is for Wogs or people who live at Elizabeth. Tennis is for those with tennis courts and rugby looks like a thugs game best played on the east coast.  Swimming ? Well that’s only at the Olympics. Little athletics was for kids who couldn’t play footy or cricket,and girls who could run and jump.


It’s a given we play footy in the winter. The VFL is the main competition although in South Australia we look upon is at a slightly cantankerous older brother who beats us up each year if he is kind enough to allow a contest.  The local SANFL is the big winter sports in town and crowds of more that 50,000 go to the grand final each September.


We all love cricket and even adults speak about it in reverential tones. It’s on the television, in the papers and in summer dominates not just the ABC but some commercial radio stations as well.  Aussie cricketers are men to be admired. They parade around with their shirts open with big chests full of hair. They walk with a swagger and when they aren’t playing they are getting around in flared pants and dark sunglasses. The Australian cricket team is led by Ian Chappell was on the verge of something special. Australia’s new fast bowling heroes Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson are wild, bad and a bit mad.  Cricket is exciting. Playing for Australia seems just a matter of waiting until I grow up and most importantly Australia is on the verge of winning back the ashes. It’s the 1970s.



  1. Skip of Skipton says

    Excellent. Great nostalgia trip. The zenith of modern civilisation the ’70s. To think we traded it in for the fear driven politically correct nanny-state. Bad luck kiddies.

  2. Dear Barry,

    can’t wait for Chapter 2+. Like Skip, you bought it all back, and it’s made me think of a shop I found today in De Graves at Flinders Street Station, that had the Fosters Lager tray my parents used to have at that time, and how often we’ve said, wished I had kept this or that because it would be worth a fortune: pink hotpants or purple jeans, poofs to put your feet up in front of the TV, Paul Hogan on the current affairs program, big hair. Loved Daddy Cool and rocked and rolled to it at the school social. Big platform shoes too, and they’re back.

    Thanks Barry. Just keep writing.


  3. Peter Baulderstone says

    Great recollections, Barry. The carefree ”as long as you are home by tea” era. And we did have ‘tea’ in the evenings. Dinner was a later invention. We also drank tea. Coffee (instant only) was an exotic invention of Yanks and Wogs.
    The drinking was genuinely scary. 6 King Browns of Southwark – was a bare pass mark. Most aimed for the carton – and as you correctly pointed out – still drove home. 4 stubbies and I fall asleep these days.
    5KA (for Kintore Avenue – its original site) and 5AD (for Advertiser) dominated the airwaves. I remember Barry Bissel did late nights on 5KA, and you could stagger from the Post Office pie cart down Franklin Street to the station’s front door. You could press the intercom buzzer and talk to the DJ during songs. I remember getting him to play Jim Croce’s “Operator” and Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” – I was always a maudlin drunk.
    In later years I found it bizarre that the independent rebel voices of the 60’s (Big Bob Francis) and 70’s (Leon Byner) became the redneck ‘shock jocks’ of the 90’s. Anything for an audience I guess. If you can’t give them bread; give them circuses.
    The struggling SA cricket team of the 60’s (Favell and Dansie – when Sobers was not here to collect Coca Cola’s $1 a run and $10 a wicket) gave way to the glory years of the 70’s. Ian and Greg; the incomparable Barry Richards (the best I have seen); Ashley Mallet; TJ’s twirlers; the underrated swing of Jeff Hammond. Salad days.
    Everyone knew that KFC was actually rabbit. The bones were a give away, and that spicey thick batter was only there to disguise it. Mixed grills and schnitzels were the go. I reckon wine was in thick glass flagons, until Coolibah casks gradually displaced them. “Cold Duck” replaced “Barossa Pearl” for a fancy night out.
    Dunstan and Whitlam inspired our better selves. We looked beyond our narrow anglicised horizons. And food was the vector for change. Greeks showed us their kalamari and yiros – not just flake and chips. Fetta cheese and biting kalamatas. Suddenly olive oil was not just what mum forced on you in medicinal amounts to coat an upset stomach.
    Ian Chappel said the best curries came from Bradford not India, and the hottest from the Ceylon Hut just off Hindley Street. Then the second wave of ‘boat people’ from IndoChina gave us Vietnamese, Thai and Chong Liew with Neddie’s fusion of local produce and Asian technique. (The first wave of ‘boat people’ were 18th and 19th century Poms. The abo’s had to find their own way on foot across the land bridge to Gondwanaland).
    There were good things lost – and found. Nike and Play Station and MTV colonised us more than the British ever had. Oil shocks and a floating dollar taught us to work hard, so we can play even harder.
    And resources and wealth are our natural birthright – for at least one more generation.

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