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Sharpies: The Early Years, 1967-1969

“WHEN THE PURPLE HEARTS FIRST CAME DOWN TO MELBOURNE IN 1967, WE WERE A LONG-HAIRED BLUES BAND. WE STARTED PLAYING AT THE CIRCLE BALLROOM IN PRESTON AND I STARTED NOTICING THESE STRANGE PEOPLE. I’D NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THEM AND THEIR DISTINCT STYLE! THEY HAD SHORT HAIR AND WORE BAGGY TROUSERS AND CARDIGANS; THE GIRLS WORE KNEE-LENGTH PLEATED SKIRTS, TWIN SETS AND PEARLS.” –LOBBY LOYDE

IN EARLY 1968, WHEN I WAS A 16-YEAR-OLD “MOD” WORKING AT THE MELBOURNE GPO (POST OFFICE), I BECAME MATES WITH A YOUNG LOUT FROM PRESTON. HE HAD SHORT HAIR AND ATTITUDE! ONE LUNCHTIME, HE ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO COME OVER TO THE “SEVEN LITTLE TAILORS” SHOP ON ELIZABETH STREET. HE WAS GETTING SOME “FLAGS” MADE.

“FLAGS?” I THOUGHT. “WHAT THE HELL!”

WHEN WE GOT THERE, I FOUND OUT THAT “FLAGS” WERE A NECESSARY ITEM OF CLOTHING WORN BY A MELBOURNE-BASED GANG SUBCULTURE CALLED “SHARPIES”. THEY WERE TROUSERS–BAGGY TROUSERS–MADE OF WOOLEN MATERIAL IN “HOUNDSTOOTH” OR CHECK DESIGN WITH DULL COLOURS AND REAR POCKET FLAPS. I WAS INTRIGUED. I WANTED TO KNOW MORE!

MY NEW MATE INFORMED ME THAT ALONG WITH FLAGS, THEY WORE ITALIAN FINE KNIT CARDIGANS AND JUMPERS MADE BY COMPANIES LIKE “VENITO”, NO STRIPES, JUST PLAIN COLOURS USUALLY MAROON OR BOTTLE GREEN. MODS WERE STARTING TO SOUNDS A BIT “OLD HAT” NOW. I WAS HOOKED! ITALIAN LEATHER SHOES, CHISEL TOE, CUBAN HEEL, WERE THE OTHER REQUIRED ITEMS OF CLOTHING AND A “CRESTKNIT” POLO SHIRT TO TOP IT OFF! SHARPIE GIRLS WERE CALLED “BRUSH” AND WORE FAIRLY DRAB OUTFITS COMPARED TO THE BOYS: TWIN SETS, PLAINT SKIRTS, FLAT SHOES, ETC.

A FEW MONTHS LATER, I WENT TO A DANCE ON FLINDERS LANE CALLED “TRAFFIK” TO SEE “THE LOVED ONES”. AND WHO WERE HANGING AROUND OUTSIDE, LEANING ON LOWERED “HD” AND “EH” HOLDENS WITH “TASMAN” MAGS? SHARPIES! I LATER FOUND OUT THAT MOST DANCES HAD “SHARPIE BANS” SO THEY WOULD STAY OUT THE FRONT “PICKING” THE LONG HAIRS OR TRYING TO CHAT UP SOME MOD “CHICKS”. FUN!

A FEW WEEKS LATER, I WENT WITH A FEW MATES TO GLENFERRIE OVAL TO SEE THE HAWKS PLAY AND THE SHARPIES WERE EVERYWHERE! DRESSED TO IMPRESS! 3/4-LENGTH WOOLEN COATS, FLAGS, SOME WITH “PORK PIE” HATS, ALL WITH ATTITUDE! IT WAS MORE ENTERTAINING WATCHING THE CROWD THAN WATCHING THE GAME! THIS WAS HOME GROWN, NOT TEDDY BOYS, MODS OR HIPPIES, ETC. THIS WAS MELBOURNE–FANTASTIC!

AS IT TURNED OUT, NOT LONG DOWN THE TRACK, I BECAME A SHARP MYSELF AT THE END OF WHAT I CALL “PHASE ONE” OF THE SHARPIE REIGN. I GOT A PAIR OF FLAGS MADE BY “MAURICE THE TAILOR” IN CAMBERWELL, GREY “VENITO” V-NECK JUMPER, A PAIR OF “CHISELS” FROM “CUSMANOS” IN COLLINGWOOD, NAVY BLUE TRENCH COAT, AND OF COURSE: SHARPIE BRUSH! AN ORIGINAL MELBOURNE YOUTH CULTURE, AND I WAS PROUD TO BE PART OF IT. LATER CAME THE STAGGERS JEANS, STRIPPED CARDIGANS, HAIR TAILS, ETC. BUT FOR ME, I WAS GLAD TO BE INVOLVED AND HAVE WITNESSED THE “FIRST PHASE OF SHARP”–1967 TO 1969, A PERIOD WHICH NOT MANY PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF!

Chris O’ Halloran