While not born in the Randwick area, Patrica Amphlett OAM (better known as Little Pattie) says that she well and truly feels like a local. Raised in Mascot and Eastlakes, Patricia spent every weekend at one of the Randwick beaches as a young teenager and she also studied regularly with girlfriends who lived in the area.
Life changed in 1963 when, at 14 years old, she went to a Stomp dance at Bronte Surf Club. A talent quest was held there that day and a talent scout was in the audience. By November that year, Little Pattie had released the debut single He's My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy and become a regular on the popular TV show Bandstand. Her career in music took her all over Australia and to Vietnam where she became known as an Australian Forces Sweetheart when she entertained the troops.
Patricia now lives on the Central Coast but comes back to the Randwick area regularly, this time as a music teacher to inspire a new lot of singers.
About this episode
In Episode 3, Patricia Amphlett OAM (Little Pattie) talks about her time spent sunbathing, singing and 'Stompin' at Maroubra' in the 1960s. She discusses her whirlwind entry into show business, her friendships with tough-boy Billy Thorpe and nice-boy John Farhnam, and she shares a long-held secret about that talent quest at Bronte Surf Club in 1963. Patricia also discusses the impact that her experience in Vietnam had on the way she thinks about war and reminisces on old teachers and school friends and the innocent life she left behind in Sydney's eastern suburbs.
Duration: 33min 22sec
Patricia Thelma 'Little Pattie' Amphlett. Accessed 27 May 2020. Australian War Memorial Collection.
Little Pattie fan club newsletter. Accessed 27 May 2020. Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
The Little Pattie Scrapbook. Published 6 September 2017, accessed 27 May 2020. Australian Music Museum Project.
Little Pattie and Chrissy Amphlett. Jenny Valentish. Published 21 October 2017, accessed 27 May 2020. Australian Music Museum Project.
RANDWICK LOCAL LEGENDS, EPISODE 3, PATRICIA AMPHLETT (LITTLE PATTIE)
Jillian Lewis: Hi, you're listening to local legends, the podcast that explores the history of Randwick City through the recollections of the locals who know and love the area. I'm Jillian Lewis and with me is Patricia Amphlett, who you might know as Little Pattie. Pattie rose to fame as a teenager in the 1960s with her debut single, “He's My Blonde Headed Stumpy Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy”. And Patricia is here today to talk to us about her life and recollections of the eastern suburbs.
Patricia Amphlett: That’s right, thank you. It's nice to be here. I love talking about this area, because it means a lot to me. You know, we grow up. I didn't actually live here, but I feel like I did because I spent all my studying time here with girlfriends who lived in the area when we're in high school, and certainly just about every weekend at one of the beaches, usually Bronte or Maroubra so, I feel like I'm well and truly local.
Jillian Lewis: So why don't we start with those basics. Where did you grow up?
Patricia Amphlett: I grew up in Mascot and then Eastlakes. So I considered that our local beach was Maroubra. But prior to that someone must have had a car. I think my brother's mates might have had cars and we went to Bronte before Maroubra but loved both beaches. Coogee was a bit too tame. We thought. Not enough surf.
Jillian Lewis: And so, what are your memories like of your childhood years and hanging out at the beach.
Patricia Amphlett: I have great memories of hanging out at the beach. They're pretty simple. They didn't last too long because I was too young to be allowed to go to the beach without my parents. So I could go to the beach on the condition that my older brother who was three years older, looked after me which is a bit of a fairy tale really because brothers don’t really like looking after the younger sisters ,but he said he looked after me and I said he did. But we didn't get up to any trouble.
He stayed with his mates and they surfed and went out on the boards and had the best time and we girls. It's very much girls and boys. We girls in our extremely small bikinis. little triangles. I'm saying we were 13 and 14 years old, so we weren't exactly, we weren't terribly attractive, I don't think, but we were wishing we were, and we were wishing that we were attractive enough for boys to come and say hello to us. It rarely happened.
Well, actually it did. They would come up. You'd be horrified at this. Especially if you're a feminist like I am. They used to come up and say what are you doing? Are you going to go to the shop for us and get us some lunch? And we did. Pathetic. Times have changed.
But just lying on the beach covered in a concoction of vinegar, no, coconut oil and vinegar that was supposedly going to make us lovely golden, tanned, young women. It didn't work, I usually had blisters. Maybe that kept the boys away, I don’t know. But covered and all that stuff and giggling for several hours, on Saturdays and Sundays. We thought we died and gone to heaven. simple, beautiful. We thought the food was great at the shops.
Jillian Lewis: What do you remember buying?
Patricia Amphlett: Chips, Coca cola. Hot chips, Coca Cola. If we had enough money, maybe a hamburger. But usually we didn't have. So Chips and Coca Cola, a staple diet.
Jillian Lewis: And tell us about the talent show you were in at Maroubra.
Patricia Amphlett: Oh gosh, actually it began at Bronte. And we were all at Maroubra one day. And we heard a rumour spread which turned out to be true that the very next day, which was Sunday, there was going to be a stomp dance, held at Bronte surf club. And at two o'clock, now I was just 14, and my brother of course had heard about it and I asked Mum that evening, if I could go, she said, “I don’t know have you done all your homework?” And I said, “Yeah”, which I had.
She said well “only if your brother looks after you” which ..I explained that myth. He looked after me kind of.
Somehow, I think, as I said, my brother's mates, we got to Bronte and indeed this stomp dance began, and it was the best. There was a live band, they were very loud. There were called The Statesmen. And they were wonderful. They played all the latest surf music, and we danced and the dance we danced was The Stomp.
I honestly don't remember knowing about The Stomp being in the United States. I am going to say that we created The Stomp. I really think we did. We began The Stomp and it was really good. We were just kids. No girlfriend, boyfriend stuff. We just wanted to move and dance to this live band and so that that's how The Stomp began. You didn't need a partner. Just got up and danced.
And that very first day, there was a man called Paul Graham, he was the entrepreneur that began the dance. And he announced on the microphone that there would be a talent quest. And, you know, so what, really? Except that it was a secret between my family and my best friend, Marilyn. That I'd actually been having piano lessons and singing lessons. I didn't tell my friends that, apart from her, because it was considered uncool. You know, no one wanted to be different. I just wanted to be like everybody else who didn't have lessons. And she told everybody. “Patricia can sing, she even has lessons.” So it was in a matter of seconds, that I had to decide whether to actually sing and I didn't want to, or whether to run away or somehow get out of it. You know, singing but, I chose the former, I'll sing it’s over and done with, that’s it.
And my friends literally carried me to the stage.
Jillian Lewis: You were nervous.
Patricia Amphlett: Nervous! I didn't want to know about it. I was very reluctant. Learning music was a lovely hobby, and I loved music, and I loved my lessons. I liked playing piano and I liked singing but, singing in public, oh no! I was rather shy. Anyway, I did sing and then …
Jillian Lewis: What did you sing?
Patricia Amphlett: I sang a song called “Easier said than done”. Which was the hit at the time by a group called The Essex and it went over really well. This, you know, thunderous applause and wow, but I wanted to get off, and they say more, more. And so, I sang a song called “Surfer Joe”, which is a horrible song, but they loved that too. And then I won the talent quest, but the reason I won the talent quest was because no one else entered. That's the truth.
So, so began my career. Little did I know, the next week, someone had alerted a talent scout at EMI Records, that there was this, you know, bit of a cute little kid that could sing. And she might even sing next week at Bronte Surf Club, and the talent scout arrived and he asked me if I wanted to audition at EMI Records and I can remember my answer so clearly, I politely said, “No, thank you. I'm going to be a doctor” and he went ah. And he came back for three weeks in a row. And finally, I told my parents and my singing teacher who was over the moon, she said, “Oh you should go and audition,” so I did.
And one day after school in my uniform, which was almost a local school, Sydney Girls High, brown and gold uniform, and then they offered me a contract which you know, my mum and dad were going, “a contract”. I had no idea what it meant. Nor did they but they sought advice during the week and within a few weeks, I had that first record out which was , “He’s My Blonde Headed Stompy Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy”, by which time by the way, Bronte was very short lived.
The powers that be that ran the surf club after two weeks, they said, “No more dances, you're ruining our floorboards of the Surf Club”, which may or may not have been true. But we were transported to back to Maroubra Surf Club, which was our beach and the beach we really loved and that talent scout followed me for several weeks there. And the other side of that record was “Stompin’ at Maroubra”. It might have been “Stompin’ At Bronte”.
Jillian Lewis: So it all happened very quickly, it sounds.
Patricia Amphlett: Very quickly. I stayed at school, but that was in November 1963. Yeah, aged 14 and in March. Early in the term I think, I'm not quite sure when in 1964. I… look things happened so quickly, I had a hit record climbing the charts, I was touring Australia, I was on TV just about every week. And it was mooted that it might be a good idea if I left school for a while, and followed this crazy little career that had begun, and come back to school again later. Well, I never went back to school, and my career never stopped. So …
Jillian Lewis: Now you find yourself at schools, teaching.
Patricia Amphlett: And now as well as performing, I teach in schools and I love every minute of it. I've been teaching at a place in this area called the Stars Talent School for many, many years. And I just love every minute of that. And I've done some teaching at Randwick Girls High. And I've, well just little classes at Randwick not on an ongoing way. I'd love to, but I'd never really had enough time. But I've taught at both state schools and private schools and love it all.
Jillian Lewis: Tell us a little bit about the beach culture down at Maroubra in the 60s. Especially during the Vietnam War. What were people... what was the mood like?
Patricia Amphlett: Do you know at age 14, I would have … I had kind of left the beach by the time I was 15 sadly, because I had a career and I couldn't go to the beach anymore, which saddened me and I lost track of, not deliberately, but as you do, I lost track of many of my close mates. And, you know, I had this new life.
But whilst I was there at the beach, the culture as I said, was very simple. The girls lie on the beach trying to get brown, hoping the boys would talk to them. And the boys rode the waves. Not much more than that happened. And I think we were probably quite innocent. We had heard that there was a bunch of boys called the Bra Boys, but I didn't know any of them. And we're all a bit too young really. But of course, I think that was generational too, that continued a couple of generations, maybe still exists, I don't know. But that was a very simple culture. Simple.
And what I still love about Maroubra is that when I go there, which isn't very often, but it doesn't change. You know, there's a lovely place to eat on the beach now, but there's still the same milk bars, the same surf sheds the same, It's I reckon that it's still a bit of a secret, Maroubra, you know, hasn't been too trendied up like the other beaches. I think it's lovely.
Jillian Lewis: And what about the live music thing at the time around here? Were you involved in them and you were performing?
Patricia Amphlett: Yeah, as a performer. Of course, I was involved in the live music, but there were other beach dances that began and I sang at those too and then Stomp dances were all over Sydney, you know in the city in Kings Cross, Whisky a Go Go, all those places, had Stomp dances. So, it was quiet a craze for not too long a time.
See I was too young to go to hotels, nor would I've really wanted to go to them, but I know from my brother and his mates that the Coogee Bay Hotel and possibly somewhere at Bronte and Bondi there were pubs that had live music but unless I was there performing I didn't go . I was too young.
Jillian Lewis: And what about your friendships as you grew older there in the music industry, I've heard about some connections with John Farnham and Billy Thorpe.
Patricia Amphlett: Surf City was in Kings Cross in William Street. And I made a lifelong friend. The first time I performed there, I would have been perhaps 14, maybe just 15 and my mother accompanied me, of course, to the gig, to the show. And I remember walking in and being sneaked, snuck backstage, and I remember seeing what I thought were thousands of people, probably several hundred people. And I got scared, you know, it's a big show. And one of my first big shows. My mum left me in the dressing room and then said, “I'll be waiting outside for you”.
And I had, I was pretty organised and professional even though I hadn't been around for very long, I knew that I needed to have all my music in order for the musicians, or certainly my song lists. And I needed to have a nice outfit. And so, I prepared, and then sat in a corner in the dressing room whilst the band was playing and they were very good. It was Billy Thorpe’s Aztecs, and Billy came in and introduced me to the musicians, hello, hello, hello , hello, gave my music out, and then they went on stage to set up for the show.
And I remember Billy Thorpe said, “Listen here, Amphlett”, he called me by my surname I don't know why, “What are you scared about?”
I said… and I wouldn't have even gotten an answer out and he said, “Listen love, all these people here to see you and they're gonna love you”.
And I'm going “Why would they love me? I don't know,” and he said, “Come on get on Amphlett, go out and get on top of those bastards they’ll Love you”, it was really fantastic.
I mean, I'd heard that language before, so the language didn't shock me but he's his aggressive affection. It’s the only way I can call it, he was being affectionate and helpful and supportive in a very aggressive way. And it made me straighten my back. And I did go out and win those bastards, you know.
And so, every time I saw him then, we were always such lovely, great friends and culminating in many, many years later, I think 2003, was the first big tour of a show called “Long Way to the Top”. Which was Thorpey, Billy's baby in a way. It was his idea that a whole lot of us silly old people would get together and unite and do a show. And he was on the show. So, it was just great to spend every day and every night in the company of those people, especially Billy who had been such a good mate and so supportive.
Jillian Lewis: And was their connection there with John Farnham as well?
Patricia Amphlett: He wasn't on that tour, but we’re still good mates. John and I are just, we’re the same age, we look alike. Like brother and sister really. And he's lovely. Last time I spoke to him was when he was on his horse. He breeds quarter horses, in country Victoria and loves it. He loves it as much as he loves performing. So, he's got a terrific outlet. He is a gorgeous man.
Jillian Lewis: And tell us a bit about, you performed in Vietnam?
Patricia Amphlett: I did. I was part of the second concert party that the Government of Australia sent to Vietnam.
Jillian Lewis: And how old were you at the time?
Patricia Amphlett: I was 17 at the time, and the youngest performer to go to Vietnam at the time.
Jillian Lewis: How did your parents feel about that?
Patricia Amphlett: My Mum, look, we didn't know much about Vietnam. It was far away. But it was also not talked about. Well, the graphic images and the truth about Vietnam had not reached our newspapers or our television. It was thought of as a bit of a conflict. It wasn't thought of in those days as serious as it actually was.
However, my father was totally against the idea of me going, a man from the Defence Department had phoned and my mum had taken the call. He went bananas. He didn't want me to go, you know, no girl of mine’s going. And he must have known more about Vietnam than we did.
And he said, “No, that's, that's actually a war and you're not going and it's a war that has nothing to do with Australia. It's not our war it’s somebody else's, we should mind our own business”.
And this mantra of his went on for a long while. Mum, meanwhile, thought differently, she thought it must be an honour for Patricia, me, to have been asked by the government to go and with great assurances of my safety, that I would be well looked after that I have three meals a day, plenty of sleep, that I'd be treated wonderfully, and I was, by the way, I was treated exceptionally well, as we all were.
And eventually my dad gave me his blessing and said, you can go but you've got to go into the Mitchell library and get some books about Vietnam, so that you know what it's like. And I did go to the library, but most books were about Indo- China, which is Vietnam, but there wasn't much I could read about Vietnam.
Increasingly, after my trip to Vietnam, which was kind of life changing, that's when it was at the end of 66 /67. I went in 1966 that the dreadful images of what was really going on in Vietnam, were on TV every day in our lounge room. And it was pretty awful. But my trip there, was, oh wow, changed my life, considerably. It made me think. I mean, I think I had a great upbringing in as much as I had parents who taught me to think of other people and not to be selfish. etc. But I was probably a typical young person and selfish, probably, but when I went there, I came back different.
One little thing really stuck in my mind. And it still does. Doesn't upset me anymore.
I used to say to my mother, not every day but often enough to annoy her or upset her. I was pretty studious at school. I loved school. And even when I left school, I loved reading and I loved writing. And I didn't have a desk you know. And I shared a room with my Nana, which, there were wonderful things about sharing with Nana, that was terrific. But it meant that I had no privacy to do what I wanted to do. “Mum when can I get a desk”? We can’t afford one. And this went on for a long time. And when I went to Vietnam, I saw every day, kids my age and younger, sitting in the gutter, doing their homework. And I never asked for a desk again, you know, so, little things like that changed me and made me realize that so what!
I didn't have a desk, but I had a pretty good life, you know. I never had to worry about much at all, whereas these kids were in the middle of a war and would no doubt some of them would go on to become their doctors, their lawyers, their leaders, despite their poverty and, their hardships. So yeah, I changed, and I also became a big pacifist.
I was really against war because I saw some awful things and saw the faces of the people who were going out to fight that night, the South Vietnamese along with our fabulous soldiers. And it just all clicked and then made sense to me what this war was about or not about. And I think we were fed a lot of garbage in Australia about the reasons we were in Vietnam. So, I did come back a different person, kind of grown up.
Jillian Lewis: How long were you there for?
Patricia Amphlett: Weeks, only weeks, and it had a profound effect on me. And yet the positives were very positive. Made me think, opened up my mind. Hopefully it opened up my heart and made, I made so many great friends. You know, Vietnam veterans and their families still. So, you know, unusual way to grow up. But it was good.
Jillian Lewis: And when you came back, what were you doing at the time then?
Patricia Amphlett: I went straight back to performing in Australia, and life went on.
Jillian Lewis: In the city and Eastern Suburbs as well?
Patricia Amphlett: In the Eastern Suburbs, it was quite a mecca for live performance. By that time in, in the 60s to the 70s all sorts of venues had opened all over the place. I was working all of the suburbs around here. And I don't know, I think the eastern suburbs people are party people. I was doing lots of private parties in this area. People celebrating anniversaries, birthday parties. They deliberately have surf parties at the beach. So, I kind of never left the area. Really.
Jillian Lewis: Lots of performing and stomping.
Patricia Amphlett: Performing, stomping, Yea. It was good though, because I could wear jeans and T shirts when I did that. I didn't have to dress up.
Jillian Lewis: Perfect. And what about going to school? Did you go in the area? I know you finished when you're 15. Did you have any influential teachers there?
Patricia Amphlett: I had Miss Bobroff was my music teacher. Miss Wayne, Doreen Wayne was my headmistress. And I loved her, and I liked Miss Moore. She scared me a bit. But I really liked her. Mrs. Sherman was my teacher and I love her, and I was scared of her too. You know how you're scared of them? And yet, with respect and, and it's, of course, we're all the same. Wasn't for several years that I realized what fantastic teachers they were, what great women they were. How they inspired us. And Mrs. Forsyth, Miss West, Mrs. Common, they inspired us and made us good women, I think, good young women.
Jillian Lewis: Do you still have a lot of music in the house?
Patricia Amphlett: Music from dawn till dusk and beyond. We have music all the time in our house, it's just our language really. And it's good because I was brought up with classical musical on piano and some contemporary and I sang mostly contemporary music during my lessons. And then I went on to sing a lot of rock and roll which I love still.
Then I thought I got a bit game and started singing some of my parents’ music from the 40s and earlier than that, and standards as we call them. And then once I met Lawrie (husband) and got to know the music that he had grown up with, not that he was old enough to grow up with older music, but he appreciated much older music that I ended up with a really broad love of music. So, yeah, music’s, it's the language.
Jillian Lewis: Talk to me about some the accomplishments that make you most proud. Little bragging, we need some bragging. People don't like to brag, but …
Patricia Amphlett: No, I don't like to brag either.
Jillian Lewis: Think about what you look back on and think…I'm guessing Vietnam.
Patricia Amphlett: Yeah. Vietnam. I don't brag about it because lots of people went to Vietnam, but I'm so pleased that I went there and have been back many times and I've taken groups of Vietnam veterans and their wives and families. I've hosted their tours. And I've loved that.
I've, what am I really? Oh yeah, I know what I'm really proud of, I went into a garden shop a nursery one day and I wanted to have yellow flowers in my garden. I looked at all the yellow flowers and there was a yellow ball type Dahlia, called the Little Pattie Dahlia. And I wanted to buy it, but I didn't want to go to the counter with the seeds and be made a fuss of. So, I went back later sort of a bit disguised, and bought some and I was, wow, a beautiful little yellow flower. What was the other one?
Jillian Lewis: Having a flower named after a pretty special, yeah. Lots of people would have Little Patties growing in their yard.
Patricia Amphlett: I don't know what I'm proud of, you know you get a buzz out of different things. I liked. Australia Post in 1998 released a series of stamps 12 stamps, and they called it early rock and roll years, I think. And I was the only female represented, which I thought was a bit unfair because there were many great, much better than me, female singers, but I was given the mantle of sort of representing them. And that felt good too.
But proud. Look, I get proud of some of my students, you know, when they do really well, and when they improve, and when they enjoy what they're doing, and watching them grow as people, not just as young performers. Yeah, I love to watch them grow up and be lovely.
Jillian Lewis: Times have changed. And that's something I did want to ask you about, what's your feeling about beach culture now versus back then?
Patricia Amphlett: I don't know much about beach culture. They're still doing all the same. I must say. Now armed with the knowledge about skin cancer, I'm pretty horrified when I see, I drive past a beach, and there are all these gorgeous young women wanting to get brown, just like I did, but I didn't know about all the bad things about the sun. But they still want to get brown, don’t they? They want to get a suntan and maybe they want a boy to come and say hello to them too.
Jillian Lewis: Probably. Probably. So, a lot of stuff happening.
Patricia Amphlett: In a nutshell probably nothing's changed. It's hot so you go to the beach. You giggle, you laugh, you gossip, buy some chips, and it's the best day ever. Away from your schoolbooks. And I loved school you know but, it was so carefree, innocent. Best times.
Jillian Lewis: Well, thank you for talking to us today. It's been a pleasure having you here.
Patricia Amphlett: My pleasure.
Jillian Lewis: And we really loved hearing all of your recollections of the beach time and really defined a little bit of you and the way you started out living in this area.