NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOUR
Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
The BeeGees Page
The Man Who Sacked the BeeGees
While running the successful breakfast restaurant "Murph the Surfs" on the ocean front at Manly in the early 80s, my ex-wife and former business partner Godzilla many times taunted me over my claim I once sacked the BeeGees a lifetime before. At least she taunted me as often as I boasted about it. I told her a robber I disturbed hiding in the premises after the security guard left, came at me wielding a machete and I ducked and let him by and she didn't believe that either. So where was I? Its all about belief, isn't it?
To this day I couldn't tell which BeeGee was which. It didn't help my credibility to say one (which one?) was taller than the other two and I didn't know the fourth one at all because he was too young to work for me. The 'mitts' was a dreadfully wet and uncomfortable part of the line to work in and unlike most casuals, the BeeGees used to stick it out for the whole of the shift. Their willingness to accept such vile conditions could have been a pointer to the determination they were to show in their endeavours to come, but people find it hard to believe they would ever have worked like that.
My BeeGees Story Vindicated at Last
One day an acquaintance of Godzilla's from her schooldays came and sat with her in the restaurant. Her friend's new husband, whom my wife and I had not yet met, was going to drop in and join us over a cup of coffee shortly. This chap was a long-distance runner these days, his wife said and he was always out running, which is why we hadn't yet come face to face with him. It eventuated he was one of those road-running fanatics who did the Sydney to Melbourne endurance events with blokes like Cliff Young. Today it bothers me I can't remember his name, although it came to me that day, twenty years almost from our last meeting. He was a migrant to Australia and his face is before me now, yet not even his given name will come to mind. When he arrived, hardly breathless after slogging fifteen kilometres, I recognised him as a former fellow worker at Automagic when I was managing it in the mid 60s. Trying to contain my mounting excitement, I asked,
"I know you. You used to work at the carwash, didn't you...?" and he agreed. I couldn't help myself, "...and do you remember the day I sacked one of the BeeGees?" With enormous import to my credibility, he replied spontaneously "Yes, I do. And all of them walked out on you!"
Awkward But Interesting Site For a Carwash
Squeezed at the end of the block before Mona Road between Lodge 44 and Carla Zampatti's signature fashion venture begun in 1965 on the corner, the carwash was the ugly duckling of Edgecliff, the noisy and brash business in the midst of quality homes and stylish enterprises. The New South Head Road location on the rise up to Edgecliff in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, was centrally located opposite Glenmore Road and within easy reach of the city through William Street buses while the Bondi and Randwick casuals could come in through Ocean Street. The main road frontage carried six lanes freely since the trams had gone and the ready vehicular access for customers in such a prominent spot helped pull in spur-of-the-moment traffic for a quick wash.
First three-minute carwash in Australia, Edgecliff was an awkward site to build upon. Shallow, it was too lacking in depth to have a straight line conveyor as did the other washes operated subsequently by Automagic. Edgecliff had to have a turntable at the Mona Lane-side rear of the premises to point cars on to the start of the crooked conveyor line. The owners did not make that mistake again. Punt Road Melbourne, the second venture, was built as a straight line while I was still in the Simpson Desert. I was hired and came out to open the third wash at Artarmon in 1964 and it too, was a conventional straight liner. On the Pacific Highway near the Epping Road turnoff, the Artarmon business struggled for patronage and became an early casualty. When it closed I transferred to Edgecliff. Brisbane opened a year later.
With concern for proper water conservation and compared to the wasteful practices of many of the "hand wash 'n capuccino" upstarts of today, Automagic responsibly installed expensive recycling tanks at each location and in return, saved some small bikkies on water bills. Of course, the Municipal Councils insisted on recycling back then whereas now, in an environment that makes it an offence for private owners to wash their cars, these cowboy small business operators can run precious water down the drains with impunity while they eke out a scratchy living for what is not much more than a handful of dollars daily for their labour, in the name of enterprise. Not only is it wasteful, handwashing is brutally inefficient.
Fourpence a Gallon Discount Off the Carwash Price
It was possible to get oil checked and added while drivers waited and to fill up on TOTAL petrol, for Automagic had committed to be a reseller of the French Oil Company brand at all outlets and with up to fifty cars in the drive at any time, there were good volumes of fuel sold on busy days. The principals, Vic Davis, a Sydney accountant and managing director and Gail Harbour, his offsider, instituted possibly the first use of discounting at the pump when they offered fourpence a gallon off the price of the wash. Gail, a laidback Yank who drove a flashy '63 pink Cadillac convertible, suffered the ignominy of a complete respray when he parked under the Harbour Bridge during routine painting. Could it have been that Paul Hogan was on strength with a brush that day?
Automagic signage confronting passersby spruiked the challenge of a three-minute carwash. The boast was most often met comfortably once a car was hooked up and conveyed along the line, but at busy times with a full forecourt of four lanes there could easily be a 20min delay for cars to get to the vacuums. After cleanliness, the essence of the business was speed - and the ability of customers to overlook every step of the process was a necessary ingredient, splashed and steamed-up as they may have become from getting too close to the action. From the elevated walkway, drivers got a birds-eye view of the efficacy or otherwise of the workers on the floor, some of the men enveloped in wet weather gear and others trimmed down to basics and able to work dry on the guns, still other employees working away on the interior of the cars on windows yet all under the close scrutiny of the car owners until it was handed over to them out front by the manager. For the customers looking on, it was fun and almost hands-on and if the wash wasn't good enough, they got a re-run, courtesy of the manager.
Celebrities and Kickbacks Galore
Close by Kings Cross and the racecourse and beaches, the carwash was frequented by a broad cross-section of upwardly-moving personae. Having the car washed was a popular pastime of criminals, policemen and sportspeople such as footballers, jockeys, cricketers, TV and radio hosts, newsmen and all manner of personalities from all walks of life and a mandatory stop for professional drivers, those in cabs and hire cars at the wheel most of their day, every day, they all came in to the wash. It was a first-rate time-saver when a clean vehicle was called for and became a sought-after social exchange for people prepared to travel long distances and play 'spot the celebrity.'
I first met fellow petrol station proprietor 'Gelignite' Jack Murray out front at the end of the line when I ushered him to his car one day. We often were to recall outback experiences, Jack having plenty to say about his Redex Trial adventures. He shared with me a sense of awe that the two stands of rock-hard waddy trees which he happened upon in his travels as well, were to be found growing on opposite sides of the Simpson Desert yet nowhere else in the world.
Automagic partner Gail Harbour loved the punt and patronised the jockeys when he could; his favourite was George Moore and sticking to his rides, Gail was rewarded when George booted home four winners one day at Randwick. Touts and urgers and SP bookies were all the same to Gail and when Perce Galea arrived in his cream Pontiac Parisienne with the bold figurine of Eskimo Prince in Perce's racing colours atop the bonnet, Gail was usually somewhere in the reception area to collar him for a tip. 1964 was good for Perce and punters following him, because that year he won the Golden Slipper with the 'Prince.
The neighbouring business, Lodge 44, was owned by Abe Saffron. He was a regular at the wash, too. As part of the deal for the occasional lunch in the motel restaurant he had me pick up his white Ford Galaxie reg. no ABE111 and run it through for him. Abe always paid the full freight and was generous to the staff in return for a good job. I settled for the lunches although rooms were on offer, with hot, running wenches. Such was the reputation of Lodge 44.
The BeeGees Worked the 'Mitts' in Wetsuits
Automagic Edgecliff did well, washing up to a thousand cars one memorable day, however the better-designed washes regularly topped that mark on their busy days, once they got a go-on. The 'wash was a place you'd meet your opposite on neutral ground, like the Channel 7 newsreader catching up with his Channel 9 counterpart and for proud owners to be seen getting magnificent motor cars washed or dealers getting bombs spruced up for sale at the popular rooftop detailing facility, accessed through Mona Lane. Sid Chambers, perhaps enthused by our success, opened up his Whale Carwash on the Pacific Highway at St. Leonards shortly after and did handsomely and perhaps still does, thriving in his other location on Military Road, having outlasted Automagic.
Known only to a few of their fellow carwash employees on the line, it was the fabulous BeeGees, recording by now and scoring odd-TV appearances and doing fairly modest gigs around Sydney of a night, who were now splashing on the suds by day, most days. I counted the trio, who were rumoured to have a band - name unknown to me, among the reliable casuals. I rated their performances on a different scale to that used by their pop music fans. My appreciation of their skills was confined to their agreeable habit in fronting up most weekday mornings, looking for hours. The BeeGees would take on the worst jobs in the place. Invariably I had them working the mitts, the wettest, lousiest place to work in the whole wash and they put up with those conditions better than most others did.
The Incidental Sacking of the BeeGees
In the overcast and rainy times when the lot emptied rapidly, the permanent staff of about ten in number became bored with nothing to do except maintenance and painting jobs. When they began playfully snapping towels at one another was the usual indicator of spare time on the line and too much labour. Time to crank down the line speed and drop the headcount. On that 1965-6 summer day as business slowed I minimised the wage bill accordingly by putting off some workers. Casuals were the first I laid off and the purpose was to retain the permanents if possible because they were on the payroll anyway.
The better plan was always to stand down the workers with mates on the line first and observe any unintended fallout before continuing the layoffs. It was risky to let friends work together. This day I'd left the Gibbs boys until last - another tactical error. Only one man was destined to go from the three men in the mitts. As I motioned to him amid the torrent of spray and the clamour of plant-noise and they saw I'd settled on the one to layoff, the other two Gibbs' immediately snatched it as well, all three tearing off their thick rubber coveralls and shedding their heavy gumboots to beat a retreat. There was no turning back on my decision as they promptly made themselves scarce. No bundying off, either. They were out of there.
That First BeeGees Tour to England
They didn't return on pay day. I didn't know it at the time but my three decamped casuals had better things to do.
On my day off soon afterwards, I was in Park Street Sydney and on the left side kerb around from Elizabeth Street on the block where the new T&G towers stood, I came upon the familiar VW Kombi van I knew to belong to the three young blokes. It was emblazoned with hand-written legends such as "BGs first tour of England". I knew then that all was OK. They were ready to tour anyway and although I gave them the sack I wasn't the catalyst for them leaving town. Sometimes I get to wonder, do the BeeGees reminisce about their carwash days like I do?
||Try the "with Malice a'Forecourt?" link and read what they did|
|Alive in the
||Thommo's Desert Report||The BeeGees Page|
|Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner||The Kid From Towra Point|
|Bulldozing a Desert||Trans National Causeway|
|Signwriter for the Simpson||The Long Haul|
|Simpson Desert Birdlife||French Line Circa 1979|
EMAIL THE EDITOR