1963. Bob Menzies was skewering Labor over its “36 faceless men” to win his final term in power, Britain was consumed by the Profumo scandal and the counter-culture revolution that ushered in the age of the hippy was gathering steam in America.
But in White Gum Valley they just wanted some old-fashioned fun.
A group of dance enthusiasts led by Colin Crompton organised well-known Perth “caller” Don Shadforth to teach them the moves they had begun to see on Westerns being broadcast on their new-fangled TVs.
The classes were so successful they formed the White Gum Valley Square Dance Club—WA’s first. It became the epicentre of the dance form in WA; its members were the first to represent the state over east, the annual pilgrimage to Busselton morphed into the state convention and its local newsletter became the “official paper” of the state society.
Recently, president Joyce Harrison and husband Tony organised the club’s 50th anniversary, eschewing the usual HQ in Sullivan Hall beside Booyeembara Park to pack out the Hilton Progress Hall with 90 couples.
Mr Harrison says it was an unprecedented turnout, as square dancing’s popularity is again waning.
“It’s difficult to get the youngsters,” he admits.
The pair have been members for 35 years and are life members.
“Back in ‘78 we were not doing anything particular in the evening and I was in my van going to a job when something came on the radio about a square dancing contest with Bruce Gillett and I thought we would give it a try,” Mr Harrison says.
The memory still tickles his wife’s funny bone.
“I nearly fell over because he doesn’t dance—or he didn’t back then,” she laughs.
Dodgy hips keep Mr Harrison off the dance floor more than he’d like, but his wife’s still going strong.
Square dancing dates back to 17th century France, but it was really a global mix bought together as the wagons rolled west across America. Dancing around the fire at day’s end was difficult when every culture had a different step, so the job was given to someone to “call” the dances and keep everyone in line.
The first callers were the wagon trains’ loudmouths, but these days they’re required to have a sophisticated voice and a quick mind.
Don Gauci has been calling for 25 years and works the White Gum Valley and other clubs.
“It helps if you have a good voice; you’ve got to be a good singer and you need to know the choreography front to back—as well as good looks,” he laughs.
by STEVE GRANT