"I made friends for life, I had a wonderful time" : Hamilton
teenager during 1950s
An interview with Rob Comer
HAMILTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAMME
YOUTH CULTURE PROJECT
INTERVIEW WITH : Rob Comer
DATE : 11 January 1995
INTERVIEWER : Megan Peinell
ABSTRACT BY : Stef Clark
|Clothes||Recreation & Socialising|
|Household chores||Drivers licence|
|Courtship & Marriage||Hopes & Ambitions|
Click on a speaker icon to hear the interview.
|Tape 1 Side 1
||Tape 1 Side 2
Born in Braemar Hospital, Hamilton on 1 September 1941. Oldest of three children, youngest brother Grant, sister Lorraine. Father motor mechanic, mother housewife.
"A typical woman of that era, where she was dedicated to looking after the
children and looking after the house"
Father couldn't settle into family life after three years in the army during the War, and went to live in Putaruru, coming home for the occasional weekend and returning home for good in 1962 when Rob was 21.
Rob left school when he was 16 to earn money and was apprenticed as a motor mechanic to John Asplin & Sons.
Stayed for two years and left after developing severe dermatitis on his hands caused by diesel contamination. Went to Firestone Tyres as assistant storeman, followed by sales representative and then branch manager. Then head-hunted by rival tyre firm Goodyear in Hamilton.
Cars continuing passion in order rock `n roll, cars, girls. Remembers biking from Melville into town for films featuring Bill Haley and James Dean, affected Rob and friends. Had "duck's arse" haircuts, recalls smelling of bay rum and a barber named Peter near the Hollywood Milk Bar. Crewcuts came in from 1958. Were bodgies, wore bodgies clothes; lurex shirts and going to Hallensteins for a new jacket in the long draped style. Their threatening image Rob saw as "good value" they "dressed to impress". Occasional fights between Rob & Co and biker gangs whose members older than Rob (17) rode "brutish" bikes (Triumph, BSA) with aerials and flags. Crash helmets not worn. Got boots with hard toecaps from Hallensteins to wear with black leather jackets. Used to race down Victoria St (no traffic lights) with sparks flying from steel-studded boots.
Recreation & Socialising
Heard Presley on juke box - sixpence for single play, 3 for a shilling. Played songs over and over but more interested in Presley guitarist Scotty Moore. Went to Civic theatre for Love Me Tender, where things got out of hand and windows were smashed at theatre - headlines in local paper. Rob's great friend Vern tried to emulate Elvis and succeeded.
Bands to listen to were Cravats and Satellites. There was a teenage club run by the Lions where bands played on Sunday nights. Club eventually broken up by rival faction Frankton hostel boys. Clothes included black stovepipe trousers and black slip-on shoes.
Beer could be found for two pounds for 6 bottles from the Whatawhata pub.
Starlight Ballroom where dances held featuring Ivor (later Paul) Fisher were "magic". Girls didn't mind the boys' booze. Most people smoked. Rob tried it and didn't like it. The girls or widgies smoked too.
Rob didn't recall much promiscuity, although he recalled one occasion when sex was used as payment.
"Can I drive your car (early V8 Ford)? ..... seen as a fair exchange"
No sex education and no father to ask. Books from mother at about 16 but no discussion of these. No awareness of menstruation; discovered this in 5th form from accurate explanation from classmate. No sniggers.
No flush loos; had to empty outside bucket from loo in the garden by the lemon tree - involved digging hole for contents every two or three nights. Mowed lawns.
At 16 a man at last. Learned to drive at Asplins. No passenger seat in car for examining traffic cop who had to sit on a box. Test involved 5 minute circuit (Collingwood St for hill start) and 5 questions. First car was Model A roadster body with 1948 V8 motor. Rob had his first hot rod.
Interview finishes at 3:50.
Couldn't find Levis or white jacket. Bought black jacket with leopardskin patterned lining, white socks.
"I was ready to go..."
Friday night the big night. Pascoe's Corner Garden Place until 9 o'clock; 15-19 year olds all went there until they started going steady at about 19. At 9 o'clock the late session at one of the movie theatres. Preferred movies rock `n roll or car themes. Scorn for `Doris Day' movies at the Regent. Get home about 1.30 am and sleep late on Saturday morning.
The Peter Pan by the Embassy was the most popular when Rob was 14, changing to the Hollywood Milk Bar at 16-17. Cars and bikes and "posing" (aware of posing) hated by the "sporty types" despised because they had "short-back-and-sides" haircuts. Rob recalls 27 fights in one month (December) Other groups would gatecrash the Starlite ending in a fight.
American slang was cool but Rob was embarrassed by it. Surfing terms not used much because of James Dean image. Didn't read much. Remembers comics (Classic ), British Film Fun and Waikato Pix. The Waikato Winter Show was a big deal; involved most of a weekend and saving up about 10 shillings, but became "kids' thing" at about 15-16
Rob's mother liked going to the Dolly Varden with its "beautiful pies" but Rob found going there with his mum embarrassing. Adams Bruce shop a highlight for its ice cream and cakes. Rob regretful shop no longer there.
Avid listener; Goon Show, Take It From Here, Round the Horne and Randy Stone. Would try to tune in to Auckland stations for hit parades (ranking of pop songs). In 1960 arrival of TV. Didn't like jazz. Rock `n roll received little air time but movies increased its popularity. Teenage audiences received no recognition as a group.
1958 saw Johnny Devlin,
"He was just the bee's knees..."
Tells anecdotes about unfortunate incidents in picture theatre which led to banishment from theatre. Severe punishment because of large part movies played in teenage entertainment. Remembers first hamburger (cost 1/9d).
About 1958-59 bodgies began to disappear. Rob's group stayed together although some girls left to Rob's regret.
"Girls were a good part of my life, they were really lovely people"
Still saw them sometimes, but most left Hamilton.
Courtship & Marriage
Met wife (Margaret) in 1962 and saw her at parties (she was flatting) but at 21 became interested in surfing. Felt grown-up at 21. Went surfing around Australia, came home in 1966, married 1967. Two children, married 28 years.
Hopes & Ambitions
Teenage Rob wanted to be doctor but realised futility. Giving half wages to mum for support (see beginning side 1) No real ambitions, compares self to own children at same age.
Made lifelong friends, had a woinderful time, no regrets.
"It was lovely, it was neat. The music, cars, people..."