It is 50 years today since I saw the Beatles. It was in Adelaide. I was a month shy of 14. It was the biggest day of my life. I remember walking from the train station to Centennial Hall by myself and having a small panic. Had I got the time right? The right date? What if I got there and it was all over?
Getting to that point, going to the concert, hadn’t been a simple matter of buying a ticket. It had been hard work.
To me and my best friend Dianne’s horror, the original Beatles Australian itinerary didn’t include Adelaide. So the first task was to get the Beatles and their management to change their mind. After the tour was announced in January, we frantically collected signatures for a petition, organised by DJ Big Bob Francis. Half of Adelaide was doing the same thing. 80,000 signatures were collected in a couple of weeks.
We were successful. Adelaide was added to the tour. The petition had swayed someone important. But, two days later, the news came that the Adelaide dates were off again. It was a matter of money. The owners of Centennial Hall were charging nearly 10 times the usual rental. Fortunately John Martins, Adelaide’s own department store, now defunct, were persuaded to come to the rescue and donated £12,000. We were triumphant. The Beatles were coming to Adelaide.
The next job was to save up for the tickets. We were going to buy tickets for the best seats, which were £1 17shillings. We cashed in bottles and earned 6d each for assembling electric jug elements.
The tickets went on sale on Monday 20 April. We were expecting people to start queuing on the Saturday, but when we finished school on the Friday, we were horrified to hear that people had already started to queue.
We were there at 7 am the next morning. Tickets were on sale in two places Allan’s Music Store and John Martins. We were in the Allan’s queue. Barbara and I took the day shift. I wasn’t allowed to queue overnight (never really forgave my parents for that). Fortunately, Dianne was able to take the night shift, and there must have been someone else with her.
The Saturday morning was uncomfortable. We were squashed to the side of the narrow footpath by Saturday morning shoppers, but once the shops closed at lunchtime, the queue shifted as people moved up into shop doorways and spread out over the footpath. We were outside Youngs shoe shop, off the footpath, undercover.
There were no iPods then, not even cassette tapes. We listened to transistor radios, 5AD in particular where Big Bob played back-to-back Beatles tracks. It was a big event in Adelaide. I can’t remember how far the queues stretched. The newspapers said there were 3000 people. (In Sydney there were a paltry 200 who didn’t start queuing till Sunday afternoon. Wimps.) Anyone who wasn’t in the queue was causing a traffic jam in Rundle Street as they drove by to gawp at us in disbelief.
Tickets went on sale early on Monday morning to allow people time to get to work and school. I was waiting eagerly as Dianne arrived just in time for the first bell, after next to no sleep, but triumphant. All tickets were sold out in a few hours, but we had ours. Row L. Just 12 rows from the front.
The Beatles frenzy that had been building in Adelaide for six months hit its peak the day they arrived. There were crowds along the roadside all the way from the airport into the city, 300, 000 people (total population of Adelaide: 600,000!). That crowd still holds some sort of world record. But, sadly, I wasn’t part of it.
Our head mistress, Miss Dewhurst (still hate her), had threatened anyone who didn’t turn up to school that day with expulsion. It was a common theme. Adelaide Girls High was just metres from the route. The girls there were locked in a courtyard. Dianne and I were at school, unable to concentrate on anything. Even the girls in our class who weren’t going to the concerts (and frankly, were rather square) were excited. Despite the chilly June weather, we opened the classroom windows so that we could scan the skies for their plane arriving.
I hadn’t got the day wrong. My friends were all there waiting outside Centennial Hall. The moment had arrived. Back then it was rare to see your idols moving. You heard them of course on the radio and endlessly played records. (I didn’t own any records by anyone else.) There were grainy grey glimpses of them on the news and the odd fleeting TV appearance (no VCRs to record them). The Beatles movies were yet to come. Most of the time you only saw them in still images in magazines, on the posters on your bedroom wall. But there they were walking out onto the stage, Paul, John and George, living and breathing.
The set was less than half an hour. John and Paul cracked the usual jokes, introduced us to the stand-in drummer (Ringo was in hospital with tonsillitis). Big Bob had been cajoling us for months not to scream through the songs, and most people didn’t. It could only happen in Adelaide, but it meant that we were among the few people who actually heard the Beatles perform. Heard the harmonies. Heard Paul singing Long Tall Sally. We saved up the screaming for the end of the songs. Ten songs. And then it was over.
But they were still in town for another day, which fortunately was a Saturday, so we spent all the next day sitting on the steps of Parliament House opposite the South Australian Hotel where they were staying. We were rewarded by a brief balcony appearance in the afternoon.
It was Sunday when they left. We stood out on Anzac Highway with the banners we’d painted. I caught a glimpse of John waving. And that was it. I had seen the Beatles.