Girls, music and embroidered jeans. The summer of 1968 when we cut loose.

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Barely more than an hour down the track we met up. A hired caravan and tent awaited us at the Number 1 camping park in the seaside town of Warrnambool.

Freedom was ours.

Freedom was ours.Credit:Tourist Development Authority of Victoria

It was, of course, a fair way short of San Francisco, where, we were pretty sure, the centre of a new world existed, and where everyone knew that if you were going, you’d best wear flowers in your hair.

You didn’t see a lot of flowers in blokes’ hair in Warrnambool and district. Truth was, what became known as the ’60s in America wouldn’t happen, really, until the ’70s in Australia.

But having read about hippies – free love! – and listened to the music, we were determined to take a crack at becoming pioneers in this first summer of our independence.

The Number 1 park, a stretch of lawn between hedges, had benefits beyond the most obvious, which was that our families weren’t around.

The Beatles in 1968 (from left): Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

The Beatles in 1968 (from left): Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.Credit:AP

The beach, the essential ingredient of any summer, was right behind the hedges and a dune.

The Lady Bay Hotel – long gone now, but bands played there those days and no one asked whether you were old enough to buy a drink – was a stroll in one direction.

The Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club was a saunter the opposite way, where better-known bands thundered at night and furtive types hung in the shadows, offering “bennies” and “purple haze” that were possibly diet pills pilfered from bathroom cabinets, or maybe dyed aspirin.


Whatever, we went along with the sham. If you were going to be a pioneer bush hippy, you had to look the part, even if you were faking it.

Most importantly, the number 1 park was teeming with girls. They’d walk by on their way to the beach or the Lady Bay Hotel or the surf club, or they were actually staying at the park.

The very day we checked in to our caravan, a family from Melbourne set up camp right across the lawn. Mother, father …

Daughter. And she’d brought a friend. They wore braids in their hair. And flowers.

Thank you, Krishna, we breathed.

We cranked up the record player. Don’t Pass Me By bounced across the lawn. Dear Prudence begged its way between tents, imploring “won’t you come out to play”.

The girls tossed their hair and set off towards the surf club. While My Guitar Gently Weeps followed them. Our ambition was not so easily crushed.

We introduced ourselves to the parents and offered to help hoist their tents. The old boy turned out to be Irish-born and formerly a Dublin policeman. We brought beers. The girls returned and disappeared into their tent. The old boy smiled knowingly and hoisted his beer.

One of us, probably Jack, the arty one, hit on the idea of displaying our sensitive natures.


There was a bit of a thing that year for adding embroidery to your jeans. Very Haight-Ashbury.

Soon we could be seen sitting cross-legged on the grass outside our caravan wielding needles and multi-coloured thread, self-consciously embroidering our flares.

The record player belted out Rocky Racoon, possibly because we felt in need of a suitably sardonic soundtrack concerning manliness to hint at our underlying sophistication.

The girls covered their mouths with their hands and hurried out of sight. Howls of mirth issued beyond the hedge.

We loaded Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay on the record player and purposefully put away our embroidery.

Soon we could be seen sitting cross-legged on the grass outside our caravan wielding needles and multi-coloured thread, self-consciously embroidering our flares.

Soon we learned something about the pecking order of cool.

Doug Parkinson, a chubby rock singer with an afro and a voice big enough to bring down a storm cloud, was – with his band In Focus – the headline act at the surf club. Pretty soon he’d pinch Dear Prudence from The Beatles and turn it into a hit of his own. It took a while for us to forgive him.

Parkinson and his band spent their days in the camping park near the surf club lolling beneath an open-sided, carpeted tent that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Bedouin encampment. We didn’t need to be told you’d need a special invitation to even approach.

Within were the girls from Number 1 caravan park, hanging on every word uttered by the singer, serving drinks to the band, gaily smoking cigarettes and twirling the braid in their hair.

We knew then where we stood.


We mooched away to the Lady Bay Hotel and began ordering compensation for our humiliation, starting from the top shelf and moving south.

Some time later I awoke in a nearby amusement park, lying nauseous and thump-headed in an earthen pit beneath trampolines which had been laid flush with the ground. My mates had disappeared. I never did work out how or why I’d fallen through the springs, or how I managed to escape.


It seemed time to seek advice.

A former Dublin policeman could surely offer wisdom, even if it was the middle of the night.

I toppled through the wall of one of the tents set up for his family. He sat me in a camp chair and plied me with black coffee and sandwiches, though I couldn’t keep anything down.

“The problem,” this generous fellow explained when I was conscious enough to listen, “Is you’re trying too hard. I’ve been watching you. You’ve got to learn to take things easy. Everything will turn out all right.”

He was packed up and gone the next day with his wife and his unreachable daughter and her friend.

We four fine young idiots tramped over the dune and offered ourselves to the healing waters of the sea. And as I floated, headache easing, I reflected on the Irishman’s words.

“You’re trying too hard.”

Precisely. We knew something was happening but we didn’t quite know what it was.

What we knew for certain, however, was that the best of times, unspecified, were always just up the road, so close you could almost taste it.

We got the record player screaming Back in the USSR and the carefree silliness of Obla Di Obla Da and headed back up to the surf club.

We were 17. We’d cut loose. Freedom was ours.

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