By MICK ROBERTS ©
The bodgies certainly brought a little colour and flare into places like Corrimal during the early 1950s.
The Corrimal milk bars were the place for young people to be seen in the 1950s. To be one of the ‘cool’ crowd it was a must for the women to be a ‘widgie’ and a bloke had a much better chance with the other sex as a ‘bodgie’.
Basically, like today, it meant hanging around the right places and wearing the right clothes. But unlike today, the fashions and culture was much different.
Widgies wore short hair, tight sweaters and jeans. An essential part of the widgies ‘uniform’ was a chiffon scarf around the neck and brightly coloured sunglasses. Full flared skirts, with rope peticoates underneath, were commonly worn by young women.
The guys’ gear included suede shoes, brightly coloured shirts and big shouldered jackets, stove-peg tight fitting pants, and luminous socks.
The blokes’ clothing was set-off with a thick layer of hair cream, usually with long side levers and a kiss curl at the front. There was one bloke – although some suggest he probably had a penchant for bright clothes rather then being a bodgie – who was known to wear a bright red suit around Corrimal at the time.
Bodgies and widgies refer to a youth subculture that existed in Australia and was similar to the rocker culture in the UK or Greaser culture in the United States. The sub-culture emerged with the heavy American military presence in Australia during the war.
The Melbourne Age suggested in a story in 1983 that the word bodgie arose around the Darlinghurst just after the end of World War II, when rationing had caused a black market in American-made cloth.
Talking Australia, a blog dedicated to the origins of Australian English, suggests widgies was an abbreviation of wigeon meaning a girl or female teenager. Apparently the term is used to describe ducks and likely means ‘wiggle.’
The first bodgie gang was the ‘Woolloomooloo Yanks’ who congregated in Cathedral Street Woolloomooloo. By 1948, about 200 bodgies were regularly frequenting Kings Cross milk bars. Soon, bodgie gangs formed at other locations, including Wollongong.
Like in Kings Cross, Illawarra’s bodgies hung-out at milk bars in the various shopping centres. In Corrimal they made the dining booths at the now-gone Tackery’s Cafe, which traded on the western side of the Princes Highway, about half a dozen doors north of Railway Street, their home.
On 1 February 1951 the Sydney Morning Herald wrote on its front page:
What with “bodgies” growing their hair long and getting around in satin shirts, and “wedgies” cutting their hair short and wearing jeans, confusion seems to be arising about the sex of some Australian adolescents..
Being a bodgie also meant having a hotted-up car, or a motor bike. The bodgies loved to show off their cars through the middle of the Corrimal shopping centre over the weekends during the early to mid 1950s. The shopping centre would congest with Ford Zephers, Consuls, Customs, Austins snd Morris Minors. They usually were parked along the Prince’s Highway, or in Campbell’s Service Station, opposite Corrimal Memorial Park.
The Bodgies’ cars were usually decorated with their girls’ scarves, or foxtails, that proudly flew from radio aerials.
The Illawarra Daily Mercury’s gossip column by “Insider” reported on March 5 1951 that Woonona had a bodgie gang, and interestingly reveals a couple of its members:
THE BODGIES are really active. The Woonona Bodgies’ Club, formed mainly from employees at the Bellambi Brick. Yards, had a day out at National Park yesterday. Heard that ‘Nigger’ Young and ‘Quilly’ Colven bought a truck especially for the club’s use.
The Bodgies and Widgies became a bit of an ongoing topic for the Mercury gossip columnist over the following months. In June 1951 the columnist wrote:
BODGIES AND WEEGIES again gathered at the Soldiers’ Hall last night for the jazz concert. A friend of mine had a look in and said it was just like the last one. “The bodgies’ clothes were perhaps a little more outlandish, and the crowd was slightly larger.
Insider reported again in August 1951 that a Sydney shop was selling leopard skin swimming trunks “complete with tails, for bodgies brave enough to venture near the water next summer.” He reported again in September 1951:
AND THEN, there was the bodgey character across from whom I had the ill-fortune to sit in a Chinese cafe yesterday. This fugitive from a missing link museum ate his rice with inexpert chopsticks and then began a Gene Krupa drumming act with the Oriental implements. Stony glares would not dissuade him nor would pointed remarks about man’s “glassy essence like an angry ape”. The kind of cretin that’s given all bodgies a bad name.
Besides newspaper columnists like ‘Insider’, others were not confortable with the newly arrived Bidgies and Widgies. Other Wollongong youths soon clashed with the new kids on the block the South Coast revealed in the following story in May 1951:
Car Thieves Kept Police Busy
Brawling hoodlums and car thieves kept a full squad of Division 19 police bus during last night’s Greater Wollongong Mardi Gras. Six arrests were made. The arrests were for drunkenness, offensive behaviour and assault. One man was charged with assaulting three policemen. He will appear in the Wollongong Court today. Sporadic brawling occurred throughout the city. A number of fights were occasioned by a rumour which spread during the day that certain people were “out to get the Bodgies”. Police were on the lookout for gang fights between Bodgies and the hoodlum element, but no serious altercation took place.
By December, Insider predicted that “a declaration last week that bodgies and widgies are anti-social beings, has threatened the cult with extinction”.
They have had the mud of Sydney slung at them since Judge Neild condemned them in Parramatta Quarter Sessions last week, after he had sentenced one to 12 months imprisonment. Greater Wollongong has its share of them, too, but, our court reporters have yet to see one paraded. Unfortunately, they cannot say the same thing of the leather-jacketed speed demons.
As the northern Illawarra was emerged from the drab and miserable war years, the 1950s would have been the dawn of an exciting era for a young eager generation, known as Bodgies and Widgies. However, by the 1960s the fad had died and was replaced with a whole new young generation, with their own fashions and culture.
Social media comments
Jude Nicholson: “That was my era. I had the rope petticoat and used to spend Saturday afternoon ironing the huge skirts. My late husband Ken had Brothel Creepers and the Brylcreem and stovepipe trousers as well. He died 2 years ago, but we would have been married 63 years ago this year.”
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2016
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