Ducky Shincrackers

1940s-Swing-dancing

Margot White was five years old when she fell asleep on the stage of the Town Hall ballroom, in a little bed made up for her from a heap of blankets and a pillow.

“I remember waking up and I was behind the drummer and he winked at me,” she said.

“The whole orchestra was playing.” This startling way to emerge from a nap introduced Margot to a love of dancing and was also highly practical.

“There were no babysitters and I had no siblings to look after me,” said Margot.

“If Mum and Dad went anywhere, they took me with them.”

It was the 1930s, an era of big bands and big crowds in Broken Hill.

A time when hundreds of people would walk down Argent Street for late-night shopping, to enjoy the brass bands and to be seen.

The place to meet was at Martin’s Corner, a two storey clothing shop on the corner of Argent Street and Oxide Street, on what is now the site of the ANZ Bank. Always popular, it proved very useful during the 1940s for checking that seams were straight.

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“Martin’s Corner had big mirrors and, during wartime, the girls would wait there and check their hair and lipstick and seamed stockings,” said Margot.

“A lot of marriages came out of that corner.

“The girls would wait for the boys to take them to the pictures or to a dance.”

During wartime, Saturday afternoons were spent ‘at the pictures’ at the Ozone Theatre, where the Civic Centre is now located.

However, dances were a chance to dress up and try the latest dance crazes brought to Australia by ducky shincrackers, which was 1940s slang for ‘good dancers.’

Great excitement was created by an exuberant, acrobatic dance brought by American servicemen during World War II, called the Jitterbug.

Swing dance and ballroom dance moves were enjoyed at Trades Hall and the Fire Station, which is now the town library, but Town Hall and the Palais were the most popular venues for dancing in Broken Hill during World War II.

The Palais was situated at the Oxide Street roundabout, where Vines furniture shop is now, and was very popular on Saturday nights.

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“The floors were polished, the music was always live and there was no amplification needed,” said Margot.

“Sometimes the trumpet playing was so good, they’d all stop dancing and listen.”

 The Palais raised money for the war effort with its annual ‘Movie Ball,’ where the walls were adorned with pictures of Humphrey Bogart and other movie stars.

As soon as Margot was old enough to go dancing, she danced as much as she could, returning home in tired contentment.

“You’d come home in winter after a night of dancing and see if there were enough coals in the wood stove to make a piece of toast and to warm your feet at the stove.”

IMAGE: 1940s Swing dancing. PICTURE: Supplied

This article was first published on 25 September 2021.

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