Bex and the Pit Bull
This is a photograph of my aunt Beccy ( aka Bex...‘I might have a Bex and a lay down’, from an ad for headache powders in the 60’s) and her lover of 23 years, Patty (Pity or Pit Bull).
I took it in their ‘hot house’ in Coonabarabran, well, technically I took it from outside. I wasn’t really allowed inside when they were ‘entertaining’, especially not with a camera. Originally the photo had their whole bodies in, but Bex wouldn’t have a bar of it. ”Yer not puttin’ me in one of yer stupid exhibitions, Suss!” ( my nickname is Suss. Suss Spence. Get it? We all have nick names in our mob.) So I compromised and cut their heads off. They haven’t said anything yet, so, fingers crossed ....
I really never knew Bex was Beccy till my 21st, when Uncle Bugger (Neil...long story) talked about her in his speech. ‘I’ll never forget Suss’s face when he worked out Beccy was battin’ for the other team. She saunters into Edward St one Chrissie, ’76 maybe, with this looker on her arm...all shy..., and she goes, ‘family, this is.. someone or other, can’t remember her name,...my new root.’ Suss looked like he’d been hit with polo mallet!’
Hmmm, it was a bit of a shock, on many levels, but I was young and I built a bridge pretty quick. The hot house took a bit more getting used to. Still does.
I should explain, the hot house is a place where ladies ‘mingle’. That’s how Bex puts it.
You’d never know it was anything special, to look at it. 1960’s fibro 2 bedroom bungalow, flat corrugated (filthy) fibro roof, mail box (complete with sleeping Mexican motif), oil spattered concrete drive and cracked front path. Standard issue Australian, blue collar dream home. On one side is Clarrie Horwitz, retired station guard and acclaimed piss artist, and Ted and Hazel Farrer on the other.(they breed and show Shi h Tzu’s) My old man reckons if Coona was a dog it would’ve been put down yonks ago . “Put it out of it misery!” He’d say that though, he got out of there and down to Sydney way back before I was born. Hated it. “Bex can have it.” He always sighs when he says that, but it never puts me off going. 7 hours and I’m there, getting a back breaker of a hug from the girls, standing in that funny hallway . It’s such a jolt. From the deep, plain suburbia all around, into their world. It’s like a film. I was in the Price Is Right audience once, and it reminds me of that, all concrete and blank walls on one side, and showbiz and glamour on the other.
I love it, all that shiny wallpaper and those little coloured lights around the doors and windows. What with the sparkly chandeliers and all the ladies dressed up, well, it’s another world. I know everyone says that, but this really is. Not that I get to see the ladies much, truth be told.
Whenever I visit, I try to hang around till night, but Bex and Patty are always real keen on getting me out of there, quick smart. ‘Let’s go see what the boys are up to,’ they say, which is really code for,’ let’s get the straighty outta here and down the pub, pronto’ as they hassle me up the drive and outta there.
But I have seen the ladies once or twice, from the pub verandah, all coming home, late, from the hot house. Clusters of them, all big hair and coloured dresses down to their sandals, giggling, swaying down Station St, past the Imperial. Blokes’ll whistle, but they’ll be out-of-towners. Anyone from Coona knows whistling at this lot’ll get you precisely nowhere. Old Reg Gannon shakes his head slowly and says the same thing every time, ‘useless as lips on a chicken.’
I usually stay at the Jack O’ Clubs Motel out on the highway. Patty works there and gets me a room practically for nicks. As I say, seeing the two of them at night’s pretty much impossible, but during the day, no probs. Our routine usually goes like this.
(Around) 1pm – tap gently on the bedroom window (the one with the faded Hare Krishna ‘Smile’ sticker)
1.30 – Bex comes out, usually looking like she’s been dug up (Uncle Bugger’s expression) and gets a ciggie into her. I do usually have to wait for half an hour, it’s true, but I’ve learnt to be patient. I bring the newspaper nowadays)
2pm – Drive in her Monaro over to the “the Ace”, pick up Patty and then hit the bowlo for lunch, an eye opener and a flutter on “the machines.” (nb: Usually Patty bitches for at least the first half hour about how she’s the one that has to get up and work, make the money, blah bla. It’s painful. Bex and I usually sneak eye rolls. )
3.30- Drop Patty back at work, pick up party stuff from Coles (sausage rolls, party pies, fancy dips (French Onion), then grog from the Royal (heaps of Bacardi and VB,..not much else) then the ‘frick up’ (frock pick up... get it?) which means collecting the party gear from Mr Aldo’s dry cleaners. NB: This fascinates me. Those dresses always look so bright and colourful in the daylight, even under that thin plastic stuff. I imagine all sorts of things in those few minutes it takes from the shop to the car. Nothing too kinky, just, I dunno, exotic ladies smoking menthol cigs, sipping cocktails, talking about Europe, and that. We studied the Great Gatsby at school. I imagine the hot house is like that.
4.30 – Sit out the back of the hot house (if it isn’t crazy hot weather, which it is a lot) and have a cool one with Bex while she does stuff; usually brushing her wig(s), sewing busted seams or doing her toenails. I got a great pic of her once brushing a blue wig using Plug’s head as a mannequin. Plug’s their stupid bitsa, famous for drinking champagne. He loves it.
5.30 – She sends me off with a kiss and a ‘see ya later when yer notta so straighta.” She does it with an Italian accent. I don’t know why. It’s pretty dumb, but she likes it.
So I trundle off. Sometimes a few of the girls will be arriving as I’m leaving. The keen ones. They always remind me of birds, those South American ones. Ornate. They shimmy by, all strong perfume and jangly bracelets and I smile and say hi, they say hi back , but not much chit chat, they’re just straight inside. Bees to honey.
‘What do you all do in there?’ I asked Bex once a long time ago, pointing back to the house as she walked me out one day. Know what she did?
She just smiled slow, gave me a pinch on the arse and said, ‘Holidays, darl. Everyone’s just... on holidays.’