“Just singing, singing in the train”

The Perth Mirror reported, on 1 April 1922, of “Hit, Skits, and Sketches”, whatever that might mean, but in the process told the following story of fellow travellers on a train.

A young man in evening dress was sitting by the train window in company of two fair young women (‘tres chic, tres decollete”, whatever that might mean).  In the same carriage was a sweet, old-fashioned lady with two not-so-young, prim and grim women whom the narrator supposed were her spinster daughters — how unkind narrators can be. While the youth was in earnest converse with one of his pretty companions, the other took up her ukulele and began to tune the beast. Job done, she threw back her head and began to strum and sing “And when all is said and done, there is really only one, oh Margie, Margie it’s you.” (Not quite the ballad that I expected, but cute).

Someone suggested taking the hat around, but the spinsters would have frozen him, and the sweet old things was too shocked to move. Nevertheless, the songs continued for a station or two, and then the flappers and the young gent make their exit — dancing of the train and down the platform to the strains of a ukulele. No, we are told, this was not a story from Paris — who thought it was? — but down-town Milson’s Point station, Sydney.

What fun they had back in the day.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 8:04 am  Comments (1)  
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Walking from Melbourne to London, with ukelele in hand

In 1930, two young women (Gladys Turvey and Madge Salter) walked from Melbourne to Sydney hoping to find a free passage back to London. They had only 3 shillings and 11 pence, and a ukulele. Some adventure, said the Register Post of Adelaide on 18 December. They got to Sydney OK, but I haven’t yet learned if they got their free trip back home to London.

Gladys and Madge

 The Barrier Miner (16 December) said that the women hitch-hiked most of the way, doing day work on farms for a meal and a bed. The Register said they arrived in Sydney with 3/11 and uke, the Barrier said that they left Melbourne with 3/11 and a uke. So, if both papers are telling the truth, the women must have done sufficient work for their needs.

Published in: on October 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ukulele Ike in Australia, 1952

The Australian Women’s Weekly’s interview with Cliff Edwards was published on the 16th of January 1952. Mr Edwards confessed that his first uke was a mandolin stripped of four strings. He also let slip that he found performing hard on the nerves, but thought them necessary for show business success. And he has performed for important people in his day. Winston Churchill’s favourite tune by Cliff was “Singing in the Rain”, and ol’ FDR liked “Home on the Range”.

Ukulele Ike with his favourite hat (and uke)

Apparently, Ukulele Ike started his working life as a painter in a ship-yard, which he left for the more difficult work of vaudeville.

As for hobbies (why do they always ask?), the ukulele hotshot said he likes eating, sleeping, and reading Plato, Socrates and Pericles, and biographies — was he pulling her leg, or writing a song? But we’re told he spoke seriously. He’d lost interest in “murder and sex” novels and liked something solid instead.

He reckoned the old songs of the 20s and 30s were superior to the modern tunes, because the old ones had melody and they have legs — citing a few hit songs in 1952 that were written in 1917.

In 1952, Cliff was unmarried and “very, very, very happy”. He hoped to be in show business for many years yet.

For his Sydney trip, he performed at the Celebrity Club.

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm  Comments (13)  
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Have ukulele will travel… (a hitch-hiker’s guide)

The Argus (10 January 1939) caught up with Ms Betty Manning, a nurse from Auckland, who had spent the last year and a half hitch-hiking from Sydney to Cairns and back down to Melbourne. Her working ‘holiday’ included stints as a cotton-picker, waiter, kitchen staff, rodeo rider and musician — why a musician — she played ukulele. In fact, all she carried into Melbourne were two changes of clothing and her ukulele. She was heading next to Perth (a long walk that would have been), with plans to work there until she earned the fare to South Africa. Hope she got there safe.

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dame Nellie Melba and Ukulele Envy

The Argus of 6 March 1928 (page 16) noted that Dame Nellie Melba has offended the city of Sydney.

Sydney feels keenly Dame Nellie Melba’s inferential slight on this city and its beaches in her laudation of Honolulu and its attractions. It is thought that Dame Nellie Melba became mesmerised by the ukulele and the moonlight, for she speaks of the ukulele almost with reverence. That, however, would not matter a great deal. Sydney claims that in beaches and moonlight it is unsurpassed. Its people are peeved by the revelation that Melba surfed twice a day in Honolulu. There is no record of her having done so here once a day as a regular practice. Her determination to buy a bungalow home on Waikiki Beach is the greatest advertisement that Honolulu resort has had in recent years, and it will be fully availed of in the publicity of the clever people who boom the Hawaiian moon, the ukulele, the surfing beaches, and the volcanoes. Manly has yet to be heard from in connection with the transference of affection of Australia’s best known citizen. Probably a score of its residents are even now writing the newspaper on the subject. 

Wikipedia has failed to note Melba’s love of the ukulele — shocking omission.

[Update: The Sydney Morning Herald of 5 March 1928 (page 10) noted Dame Nellie’s return to Sydney after a seven week holiday in Honolulu. It reported that there “she had enjoyed one of her finest holidays”. (But no talk of the 67 year old surfing twice a day.)

Everyone in Honolulu was happy, she said, no long faces there. The SMH noted that “the eminent singer was greatly interested by the ukulele music. The playing of one of these orchestras, she said, had a fascination of its own.”]

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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