In my early adult life I didn’t have much time for the RSL. Like many of my fellow students at Monash University, I felt it seemed to glorify war. Throughout my adolescence it also appeared to be related to my father’s growing reliance on alcohol. However, this is a story from another perspective related to the RSL. It’s about the RSL role in my debut, and my learning the ‘tangoette’…. You know the music ….rum, pum, pum, pa; pa rumpa pum pa; rum, pum pum, pum, pa; pa rumpa pump pa, rum ….. ‘hernando’s hideaway’….’ole’!
In 1964 or perhaps it was 1965, the Clayton RSL committee decided the daughters of its members and war widows should have the opportunity to ‘make their debut’, to experience this ‘rite of passage’ which had not been possible for many during the depression and war years, but was back in vogue. A member and his wife were prize winning ballroom dancers and prepared to take on the challenge.
And so it was that my brother and I participated in the first of the new Clayton RSL’s debutante balls. The process of decision making and negotiating involved in finding a partner caused some anxiety–I eventually asked one of my brother’s friends. My brother was asked by a girl from our church youth group (who had an unrequited crush on him) to partner her, and so the debut became a family affair! Over the next months the choice of a dress was made (I truly don’t know how Mum afforded it); shoes layby’d to be paid out of wages from my Saturday job at a local shoe store; then …. a tiara chosen for … voila …. Princess Bev!
Training sessions began at the RSL and the Clayton Town Hall. I wasn’t a complete novice as I loved going to our local church dances, and when on holiday in Molyullah, the dance at the Molyullah Hall after the Molyulla Sports. I always looked forward to the barn dance (where I waited with baited breath for my crush of the moment to take me in his arms) and was happy to be asked for the romantic Pride of Erin (hopefully by this very same crush). But the tango-ette for my debut? This was something completely different! I had to swoop and kneel; then get up elegantly; twirl; needed to look dramatic – I can’t remember, I may have even had a held a red rose between my teeth!
Do you know, I can’t remember much about the debut evening itself. I know that mum was there in a blue dress; remember being presented; vaguely remember dancing the tangoette – it has all for many years been rather a blur. Even the photo of me taken with a tiara nestling on my teased hairdo, bouquet of flowers in hand, doesn’t bring back memories!
However, I do remember the evening as one with ‘good vibrations’.
What ever I’ve come to think of debutante balls, on reflection I value the efforts of our local RSL members in trying to create a sense of normalcy for us – a number of us had already lost our fathers--and the experience did stand me in good stead as I went on to enjoy university and other balls, 21st parties and wedding receptions.
However, I’d have to say – I have never ever danced the tangoette again! Nor have I ever again worn a tiara!