Sunday, March 8, 2015

A swingin’ summer: groovy Lorne

Of all the towns I’ve visited along the Great Ocean Road, Lorne has always struck me as the most similar to Melbourne. With its upmarket vibe, bustling main drag and manicured foreshore, it comes across like a well-heeled city suburb. Admittedly, I’ve never holidayed there, so my impressions could be way off the mark…

What I do know, however, is that during the 1950s and 1960s, Lorne was about as hip’n’happening as a Victorian holiday spot could be.
Come summer, every man and his dog descended upon Lorne: from surfers to beach-babes; beatniks and rock'n'rollers to families on holiday. Hell, the only folks missing were Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon!

Not only did Lorne have sensational surf and idyllic beaches…
Loungin' around on the sand at Lorne. Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
…it had a bohemian coffee house boasting one of the state’s first-ever cappuccino machines….
The Arab, Mountjoy Parade, Lorne. Photo: Trevor Lemke
…AND a jumping live music venue that hosted all the coolest Melbourne bands and hippest punters!
The Spinning Wheels in action at Lorne's Wild Colonial Club. Photo Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
Why so serious? An unsmiling quartet of Wild Colonial Club-goers, 1960s. Photo: Trevor Lemke
Wild Colonials on the dancefloor. Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)

 Arabs and Wild Colonials

It’s hard to imagine what the town’s residents must have thought when local brothers Graham, Robin and Alistair Smith opened their coffee house The Arab in 1956. After all, this wasn’t moody Greenwich Village or downtown Paris, it was the sun-drenched Australian coast. But somehow, it worked. In his poem, “The Arab”, Lorne poet Hayden Rickey reminisces:
This is where in ‘58
In a summertime of fun
We scattered cushions on the floor
Then sat upon our bum
This is where the action was
The coffee strong, the best
Where plans were hatched for conning birds
Then practised with much zest.
Those little devils.
Caffeine kicks at The Arab (which still exists today, incidentally). Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
By 1958, The Arab was so popular that the enterprising brothers decided to open a larger, live-music venue in an old hall down on the beach’s edge: The Wild Colonial Club. Starting out as a jazzer/beatnik haunt, it hit its rock’n’roll stride once surf culture took off in the early 60s.

Over the course of the decade, bands such as The Spinning Wheels, Max Merrit and the Meteors and The Loved Ones played to high-spirited crowds still buzzing from a day on the beach. (For more Lorne beach action, check out my post on Rennie Ellis’s immortal photos of the time)

Summer means fun: goin' off at the Wild Colonial Club. Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
And if the wild tunes weren’t enough, likely lads such as Hayden Rickey (he of the ‘conning birds’ remark) and surfer Murray Walding (a surfing memorabilia nut who waxes nostalgic about the era here), were never short of a foxy chick to twist, stomp and flirt the night away with...
Lorne lassie. Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
Far-out and fabulous! I want those earrings. Photo: Trevor Lemke (via Wild on the Beach)
Beach blanket bingo, baby! No doubt about it, Lorne was where it was at.


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  2. Thank you so much for this!!!! Robin Smith was my Grandfather who passed away in 2005. Uncle Graham has recently passed away and I've been trying to find out more about them and this time, this was the best record of it online yet. I cant be sure until i speak to her but the brunet in the middle of the four 60s babes looks an awful lot like my grandmother Helen Smith who had my father in 65 not long after getting married. So Sammy-lou thank you for sharing this.

    1. Hi Lucinda - wow, what a cool family history to have! I'm so glad you came across this post. Did your grandfather or Uncle Graham ever talk about their memories of The Arab? They must've had such fun! Do let me know if that's your grandmother in the photo. Thanks for getting in touch - it's wonderful to hear that my post got through to someone connected to this amazing time in Victorian history.

  3. Great to see this. Uncle Alistair Smith married one of the Arab bikini gals. My toddler summer years were spent at the Arab with their kids, my cousins, later years at the Abomb on Buller. Was talking about the Arab with Aunty M last night (she's got lots of stories). Got a few pics... somewhere. We put together a slide-show for Uncle Al's funeral wake (2010), which was attended by some of the bands that played the summers in Lorne and were billeted to stay with locals for the season so they didn't have to travel back and forth to Melbs (a tiring full day trip back then).

    1. Hello PJQ1000! I don't know whether you'll see my reply (given that I'm 19 months late) but thanks for your comment. What a wonderful family history! Oh, to have lived back then and experienced the Lorne scene...