The Balconies by Peter Bowes
HOOD COLLECTION 1939
This melancholy ruin, shuttered dark and slowly rotting from the foundations to the roof, hard cooked by the northerly sun, and miserably tenanted by parolees and men without hope.
This festering building with its filthy kitchens and sagging corridors, and air of irretrievable loss, with its small and windowless rooms all stinking with the must of the dozens of rats living in the walls. This last place, with its night noises of violence and fright, this End.
The upstairs café, blinded by stained curtains and unswept for years, offered only laminated tables, hard chairs and the thick dead air musk of cockroach decay.
The Americans came in 1959 and used the room for scenes from the film of Ray Lawler’s play Summer of the 17th Doll. A droll production that did no favours for the proprietors.
In summer men would congregate on the upper balconies overlooking the sea to drink away the hot afternoon hours and leer at the women making their way down the hill to Bondi Baths.
Dusk would see them toppling up against the frail railings in a drunken and roistering camaraderie, and dawn saw the shattered litter of broken beer bottles that they had tossed onto the roadway during the night.
Some places needed to be torn down
The public phone at the corner didn’t require any pennies if a boy could shout loud enough into the receiver to let his mum know he had just missed the bus home and was it ok if he could stay down the beach for just another hour because the waves were so good please mum thanks won’t be late goodbye.
The railing behind the phone booth was where schoolboys congregated in the morning to discuss their options, to either continue to school, or just slip down the hill to the beach for the day – there were always plenty of spare boards in the shed.
The railing was also a crawl spot for lone men passing by in cars and vans, who slowed as they passed the loitering boys, thinking that they were not noticed. Some were fathers looking for their truant sons; others were seeking a different comfort.
So hard to resist the welcome breath of a summer north-easter, and the allure of that bone white arc of Bondi.