Tilt – Kate Lilley

Fonzies Fantasyland  at 31 Oxford St
(now a disappointing IGA)
opened in 1979, next door to Patches,
a few months after the Ghost Train fire
at Luna Park killed seven.
It was Alan Saffron’s brainchild:
Mr Sin’s only legitimate heir, later disinherited,
dreamed of a chain of Leisure Centres
to clean up the family name.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald
Henry Winkler himself endorsed the venture.
I was one of the original Fonzies girls,
the only natural blonde (Alan wanted blondes):
blue satin shorts, nude stockings,
making change and waiting tables.
Prior experience: none.
Unless winning a poetry competition
and playing Fire Power at Reggio’s counted.
The kitchen hands were students from East Sydney Tech.
They approached it like an art project:
kinky white nurse-style uniforms
accessorised with Dolly Parton wigs,
like something out of Richard Prince.
They perfected psychedelic ice cream sundaes
and gave out quarter tabs of acid, gratis.
They were cool: I looked up to them
and heeded their advice.
The hard men got together in the glassed-in office
(Cone of Silence).
Abe stopped by for a sandwich: ‘Keep it simple’.
When the red pay phone rang it was usually
Susie, Alan’s wife, checking in from Hawaii.
For a while it was happy days to the tune of
Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits Volumes I & II.
A silver stream flowed through my hands.
When I accidentally locked the till
one of the street kids who hung around
jumped the counter in a flash
and pulled out a wad of keys:
tools of the trade.
In the quiet early hours of the morning
punters lay on their backs tripping
in the rainbow neon tunnel.
Brooke Shields came to town for the premiere of Tilt
(between Pretty Baby and Blue Lagoon).
We rolled out the red carpet and made a guard of honour.
She was sweet, tired, five years younger than me.
The movie flopped and she ended up
in hospital with bronchitis.
Space Invaders had landed and the mood was introverted.
The art students were the first to go,
taking their joie and their LSD.
I was reprimanded for reading
and stayed too long on my break upstairs at Patches,
watching the drag show and drinking Bacardi.
I wore the wrong stockings and didn’t care:
the dark bit at the top showed below my shorts.
The junior manager I’d reported for sexual harassment
lectured me on ‘pride in appearance’.
The handwriting was on the wall and I was ready to go.
To show there were no hard feelings,
the boss handed me a scrap of paper.
‘If you’re ever in any trouble, call this number:
we look after our own.’
I thought of Juanita Nielsen,
last seen entering the Carousel Club in July 1975.
Two year later it was Fonzies’ turn to burn.
The chief suspect was Les Murphy,
youngest of the three Murphy brothers,
jailed for life in 1987
for the rape and murder of Anita Cobby,
nurse and sometime beauty queen.
According to the NCA report
Les was working at Fonzies at the time.
The evidence against him wasn’t followed up,
no charges were laid.
By then Alan was long gone
(see Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares for the LA sequel)
and the Green Bans were history.
Around that time, I went to a weird party
in an almost empty apartment at Victoria Point.
SoonHeatwave, starring Judy Davis
as ‘Kate Dean’, a Nielsen-style activist heroine,
would be showing at the Academy Twin
(3A Oxford St:
opened in 1974 with Polanski’s Macbeth,
closed for good in June 2010).