I have tapped out a few lines (phew!) to share my Cloudland memories …
The Gordon Clan have a long association with Cloudland Ballroom. Around 1947, my Mother, as a single woman in her early 20’s, visited there of a Saturday night with a group of friends and her siblings. Her family lived at Newmarket, so they used to catch the train to Bowen Hills and make the ‘climb’ on foot to that magical arch overlooking Bowen Hills.
She recalls enjoyable ballroom dancing, lively progression dances, and a feeling of pure joy as she danced her way around and through a long list of prospective beaus – such was the order of the day in those times.
This all ceased after she married, and children were on the scene, but this is where the association then picked up again. We, Gordon children attended the Geebung State Primary School and there was a ‘Fancy Dress Ball’ held at Cloudland each year.
Such excitement it was, learning ballroom dancing at school, wracking our brains to think of an economical means of a costume to wear. We were a working-class family of four children, and my Father would not allow my Mother to work, so money was tight. But my Mother was an imaginative seamstress (still is!) and our costumes took on all array of fancy and prizewinning.
I recall my first costume in 1964 when I was in Grade 1 – I was an Indian squaw and wore a straight shift made from a hessian bag adorned with painted patterns and with appropriate fraying around the hem for fringing. We collected a few feathers from a neighbour’s chook pen down the road and painted them with watercolours, attached them to a bright piece of braid, tied my hair in plaits and away I went, as proud as could be. I recall seeing some of my friends wearing delightful costumes hired from a professional costume supplier (Queen of Hearts, Snow White, etc.) but it was me in my hessian bag who won the prize – economical innovation was the winning theme.
My Mother still chuckles also about the year my older brother went as a convict. She had cut up worn white sheets (as they were in those days), dyed some of the material black, and proceeded to make long trousers and long-sleeved shirt, with the panelling rotating horizontally from black to white. She claims it was no effort to keep track of his movements in the ballroom on the night – she just kept looking for the unmistakable black and white striped barber’s pole!
On the night of the school ball, there was great excitement, which then turned into trepidation as the family car (EH Holden) valiantly attempted to tear up the steep hill with two adults and four children crammed inside – getting out and walking was NOT an option in my Father’s world. We always made it of course, but then there was the shadowy and uneven climb from the carpark to the glamorous entrance and sweeping staircase – oh my, how we gawked.
I do recall vague recollections of my elder brother having to attend Cloudland to sit for senior examinations and entrance into the Queensland Institute of Technology – that seemed such a strange use of my magical wonderland.
Skip several years between the end of primary school until I started work, and I found myself returning to Cloudland once again. A friend and I had been keenly learning to dance ballroom dancing, jiving and various other styles for the era at Orchard’s Dance Studio in Fortitude Valley, and we were ever keen to try out our style ‘up in the clouds’.
So from 1974 for a few magical years, my friend and I attended most Saturday nights at Cloudland, tapping and jiving away to ‘Sounds of Seven’ and ‘Seasons of the Witch’ – for the most part and they were our favourite bands. I thought I was a princess up there, and so enjoyed the progression dances where I flatly refused to get up unless I was asked by a male partner. This rendered that you had to get pushy and protect your female status, or another female posing in the male partner role would try some jazzy steps to swiftly swap places with you and leave you in the male role, while they flounced ahead towards the bevvy of male prospects. (These were lethal and competitive times!)
And all the while, we would be sashaying around the dance floor, building up a sweat and a thirst, which could only be quenched with strictly cordial and no other offerings! (This would be so unacceptable these days.)
They were such happy, carefree times – would love to go back!
I don’t recall when the dancing ceased at Cloudland, but times move on and needs change, but it was the biggest shock when we all woke up to the news that the Dean Brothers had torn Cloudland down. The Joh era was a dark and gloomy time for most of us, but that’s history for you, and the many other beautiful heritage buildings we lost in the mighty battle for the dollar …
Like so many treasures, as time goes by, photos fade as do memories, so whatever treasures you have, from whatever era, in whatever condition, especially memories, please don’t let them be lost. You are the story of Australian Dance History.