When Box Hill Was A Village

 

Teenage Parties

 

When I was a boy growing up in Box Hill most of my activities centred around activities with other boys in Box Hill. But from the age of 13 everything centred around girls.

 

Everything I then did had to have girls involved somehow and there were no highlights greater than the never ending series of parties.

These were magnificent social occasions and all of our youth groups, Christian Endeavour, clubs and sporting activities always had plenty of socials. We had camps at the church camp sites in the Dandenongs, particularly at Monbulk, and five or six weekends a year we would spend in the mist enshrouded hills hiking and singing and enjoying each others company. Sometimes we would have house parties over the weekend at Dr. Kemp’s Tremont holiday house. We would crowd into the house, sleep on the floor, on the sofas, on the verandah or anywhere there was room, cook breakfast together and have more hiking and activities.

 

We had a club called the Knights of St. Paul. These clubs, scattered all over Melbourne, always made a great feature of their birthday with what was called a Kappa Banquet. Twenty or thirty clubs would gather together for the biggest feast you have ever seen with plenty of social activities, games and fun. With thirty or so clubs and each celebrating their birthdays once a year, there was plenty of opportunity for mixing beyond the local church group.

There were two rules in all of our activities.

 

First, there was no alcohol. As I reflect back on those teenage years I cannot remember anyone deliberately flouting that convention. We had good times without alcohol, no one got hangovers, there was no problem with drunken drivers afterwards, and everybody had an even better time because we had nobody making a fool of themselves or embarrassing others by their drunken behaviour.

Second, there was to be no dancing. This, however, was observed in the breach rather than in its keeping. While officially we were not allowed to have dancing on our church properties we were allowed to have plenty of folk games. That term “folk games” was the loophole for us all. The church elders were pleased that there was no dancing on the property and all the young people were pleased because they were allowed to have their folk games. There was a fine line of distinction between folk games and dancing but I never found where it was.

 

We always had plenty of other games which today’s generation would think were tame. In house groups after church of a Sunday night, in mid week group activities, at camps and at all other places where we could get together we had these series of games such as “Pass The Parcel”. This involved a large parcel being passed around a circle until the music stopped. Then the person had to remove a layer of wrapping and do whatever the little label inside said. The little label indicated that you had to give the parcel to another person who had these particular qualities the most kissable, the most huggable, the worst bad breath, and so on. They often had instructions about proposing to the girl you would like to marry and this often gave us a good opportunity to pass on a hint to some girl who, up to that moment, had been resisting all advances, or else to declare openly to the rest of the group what your intentions really were.

 

There was another game where we would pass round a girl from knee to knee and another one which was an adaptation of “Postman’s Knock” where the two lucky couples would race from the room for a secret and private embrace whilst the rest speculated what was happening. Then there were always the competition games where teams would have to pass Lifesavers down an alternating row of boys and girls by toothpicks held between the teeth without using hands, or alternate rows of boys and girls passing an orange down the row which was held under the chin without any hands being used. Or, even more ridiculous, when we used to pass blown up balloons between our knees without hands being used. They were always fairly athletic competitions, suitable for a contortionist.

 

But what the young people of today do not realize was that all of those games, while observed publicly and surrounded with laughter and fun, involved a heavy dose of the element CBC which stood for “Close Bodily Contact”. That was the secret ingredient in all of our games. If the Elders only knew what you could do with plenty of Close Bodily Contact, they would have banned the games and set us all dancing!

 

The teenagers who grew up in Box Hill fitted into a group of stereotypes. We did have a few on the edge of our teenage world who were beginning to describe themselves as bodgies and widgies with crepe soled shoes, hair long and combed back laced plenty of Brylcreem, exaggerated movements and loud mouths. But as a percentage of the teenage population this group was always absolutely insignificant.

 

Most of us fitted into typical teenage stereotypes of that era. The girls were giggly, silly, always running around and calling out to each other, passing secrets, spending excessive amounts of time applying their make up, plucking their eyebrows and wearing their most attractive clothes. As all of us wore school uniforms all of the time, and the uniform for girls included gloves, thick stockings and hats, and the uniform for boys up to 17 years of age consisted of suits, ties and caps the hours out of school uniform were devoted to showing off the finest and the best of clothing.

 

The boys always had a macho appearance, boisterous, noisy, shouting, hitting one another, boasting of activities, lying a great deal about conquests and achievements, and generally preening themselves and promoting themselves in front of the group of girls.

At our parties we usually started at opposite ends of the hall with the girls near the kitchen end and the boys lounging around the doorway entry. But after a few mixing games and the Close Bodily Contact started working, all of that separation was forgotten. Even the few wallflowers and boys on the fringe of the group would be involved and drawn into the activities. No one seemed to mind that we did everything together nor that we had some people included in the group who were a bit slow, or who did not fit gracefully in the pairing off process.

 

One Christmas Party in the house of Roberta Finn will always remain in my memory. We had all the usual things early in the night such as games and competitions and lots of singing around the piano accompanied by Mr. Robert Finn on his piano accordion and Mrs. Finn on the piano. There was a passing around of photographs taken of every body present while they were under the age of two and much giggling and squawking as people tried to guess who was who. As the night wore on and it was time for us to leave, the boys announced they had one final activity for the girls for which they had prepared for some weeks.

 

I must admit to taking some leadership part in this but for a long time we had wanted to really make an impression upon the girls and we decided to do it at Roberta Finn’s party.

 

You see Roberta Finn lived in Pendle Street which was just opposite the entrance to the Box Hill cemetery. The cemetery gates were always locked at sunset with a huge chain and padlock but some of us knew another way of getting into the cemetery through a side fence. We decided to give the girls a fright in the centre of the cemetery close to midnight.

 

Just as it was time to leave Roberta Finn’s the boys all insisted that we go on a hike around the streets and Mr. and Mrs. Finn, knowing it was close to Christmas and faced with a great deal of enthusiasm from the boys, agreed. We would often end up an evening party with a mystery hike. Sometimes we would hike together out into the streets until we came to the corner of a cross road, then tossed a coin heads we went in one direction and tails took us in another direction. Sometimes we had a chalk chase with someone going out ahead making chalk marks on the footpath leading us on a very circuitous route.

 

This night we indicated we were going on a blind walk. All the girls had to be blindfolded and walk along with one hand on the shoulder of the girl in front. The boys would lead them both in the front, along the side and in the rear. We promised that we would not make them walk through water, into ditches or into paddocks. A few more promises were extracted from the boys by the distrusting girls which included such things as “no walking through cattle dung” and “no water of any kind anywhere”. We readily agreed to this as we had a blind hike that was different to anything we had done before.

 

We led the girls blindfolded up the street, across Whitehorse Road and then round and round in circles so that they would lose any sense of direction. This process was certainly not quiet! The girls all called out and shrieked comments, but the boys persisted in leading the long line of blindfolded girls up a side alley. Then carefully, one after the other, we went through the side fence into the dark surrounds of the Box Hill cemetery.

 

The girls had no idea where they were being taken but trustingly followed the girl in front and she followed the leaders. We marched at a fairly brisk pace right into the heart of the cemetery. There was not a light to be seen and the moon shone on all the white tombstones. One of the fellows had been through the cemetery earlier in the night and picked out a spot where the grave digger had an open grave ready for the next day’s funeral. We carefully formed the girls in a large circle around the open grave still with their blindfolds on.

 

Then we asked them to identify certain things which were passed from hand to hand. These brought shrieks from each girl who touched them. One was a rubber glove filled with cold water and tied at the end which felt like a cold and clammy human hand. Then we passed some uncooked long thin sausages around, still joined at the ends in one continuous line and they could have been, to the blindfolded girls, very easily some fresh intestines from some poor person. After several such items we then sang them a song. We had specially written it for the occasion and all the boys has rehearsed the words to the tune of “I am so glad that Jesus loves me”.

 

I am so glad that this grave holds me,
I can breathe easy and I can still see;
A few feet of earth and my life now is done,
A cold bed of stone with room just for one.
A stone at my head, a stone at my feet,
A rich juicy meal for earth worms to eat,
Rank grass o’er head and damp clay around,
I’m rotting so slowly in this holy ground.

 

My eyeballs are empty, my bones in a muddle,
My hair is all matted, my stomach’s a puddle,
There’s earth in my teeth and clay on my chin,
This is the worst state I have been in.
A stone at my head, a stone at my feet,
A rich juicy meal for earth worms to eat,
Rank grass o’er head and damp clay around,
I’m rotting so slowly in this holy ground.

 

I’m really quite naked, as the day I was born,
My clothing has rotted, my socks are all torn,
My brain is quite vacant, my mind is a blank,
I’m no picture of health, with you I’ll be frank.
A stone at my head, a stone at my feet,
A rich juicy meal for earth worms to eat,
Rank grass o’er head and damp clay around,
I’m rotting so slowly in this holy ground.

 

At the conclusion of the song at a given signal, the boys quietly backed away some distance on tiptoes. Not a word was said. We just melted into the darkness.

 

The girls just stood there, blindfolded, waiting for the next instruction but nothing happened. Nothing was said.

 

Eventually Wendy Bell, whom we called “Ding Dong”, could stand it no longer and she lifted up the bottom of her blindfold. All she could see was the open grave and the marble headstone at the end. And when she remembered what she had just been holding in her hands, all cold and clammy, she shrieked at the top of her voice. That instantly unnerved every other girl who pulled down her blindfold and then joined in the shrieking. Of course all of the boys had hidden 50 or more yards away behind other gravestones and there was not a boy to be seen. The girls continued to shriek and huddled together in real fear. In the moonlight the open grave, the cold hand, the long intestines, the white gravestone in the moonlight and all of this in the centre of a vast, empty cemetery was enough to strike fear into the heart of any girl.

 

They wanted to run but they did not know in which direction they should run. Eventually someone realised a good way out and started to run. At this point some of the boys who had brought with them some white sheets, rose up from behind the gravestones making ghost noises. That really put wings on the feet of the girls. They ran down the main path of the cemetery towards the big iron gates as fast as they could only to find the gates securely locked with a big chain and padlock but that did not stop those girls. Those gates had been designed to keep men out but the girls went up and over the top as quick as a wink.

 

The boys were roaring with laughter, slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other on a marvellous hike at midnight. We could not stop laughing and talking about it as we walked on our way up to Roberta Finn’s. Only Mrs. Finn was at home and she had the countenance of a battle axe. Mr. Finn had got their big car out, crammed it full of girls and he was driving them all home at that moment. Mrs. Finn was disgusted, shocked, dismayed, angry all at once. We boys were kicked out of the property smartly and told to go on our way home. There was no further Close Bodily Contact that night!

 

I remember all of us had very cold relationships that Christmas and it took a long time before we were able to re establish the trust of the girls.

 

I had a great deal to think about that late night as I walked home up Devon Street, opposite the cow paddock, to No.55 Birdwood Street, Box Hill, a great city which was then only a village, where the adults were kind and the children grew up responsibly.

 

GORDON MOYES