A new photo from the Powerhouse Museum every day
David Mist shot this photograph whilst gathering images for his 1969 publication, Sydney: a book of photographs.
The late 1960s was a boom time for nightlife in Sydney’s Kings Cross when the Vietnam War brought many American servicemen to Sydney on R&R. Looking at a photograph like this can tell us something about history, but to hear from someone who was actually there adds immeasurably to the evocation of a time and a place.
“Those were heady days,” recalls Sharney Cord, speaking to me of her time as a young dancer at the Whisky à go go in 1969. Sharney is the second go-go dancer from the left in the photograph. She is wearing a one piece costume that she made herself, and recalls painstakingly hand-sewing the sequins into place.
Sharney discovered this photograph on the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection database about a year ago and it brought back many good memories of the time she spent working at the ‘Whisky’. Trained professionally as a dancer, Sharney found that most of the work available at the time was in go-go, so when she was offered a job at the club, she decided to give it a try.
One of the strongest recollections Sharney has is of the club’s brightly coloured interior, with its red carpet in the foyer, gold curtains along the wall behind the dancers and bold black and silver wallpaper in the area where the bands played. Sharney remarked at how this was unfortunately lost in a black and white image but she was nevertheless excited to see the photograph and plans to show it to her grandchildren, guessing that it will be a big surprise for them to learn of the wild days her youth.
Ironically, one of the most colourful periods in history was often photographed in black and white. Colour film was expensive in the late 1960s and photographer David Mist explains that the publication for which the photograph was produced was commissioned as a black and white production:
At that time only if you were sure the image was going to be used in that form would you shoot colour – How times have changed
Sharney Cord also remembers many international and local celebrites who visited the Whisky à go go:
The resident band was the Levi Smith’s Clefs, Barrie McAskill was the lead singer and boyfriend of Monica [the dancer in the foreground of the photograph]. Howard Duff and Dennis Cole from U.S tv series Felony Squad came to the club. Cole was married to Jaclyn Smith of Charlie’s Angels fame. Warren Mitchell and his wife Connie [visited] … on many occasions. The very handsome Phil Avalon was a regular…..Hell of a nice guy!! He gave Mel Gibson his first film role in Summer City. Sean Connery was a guest of … owner John Harrigan,….It took me a while to realize it was Sean Connery aka James Bond. He didn’t have his toupee on. Tom Jones also popped in a couple of times. Other regulars [were] Johnny O’Keefe, actor Bruce Barry and numerous socialites. Then we had the colourful characters [like] George Freeman, Abe Saffron & son Allen, Lennie McPherson, Stan Smith. The list goes on and on…
Sharney kindly sent a link to a YouTube clip in which Denise Drysdale, who also performed at the Whisky, talks about her experience as a go-go dancer. The clip shows archival footage of go-go dancing in the 1960s, and even includes a grab from John Harrigan, who Sharney describes as the “best boss and a kind gentleman,” explaining the meaning of the then new word, ‘discothèque’ to a curious young reporter.
For more on the history of Kings Cross, including footage shot inside the Whisky à go go in the 1960s, see the ABC Sidetracks website.
Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian with thanks to Sharney Cord
Photography by David Mist
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