Chrissy Amphlett was born on 25th October 1959. This is her dog, Holiday, who is immortalised, along with Chrissy’s famous school uniform and Divinyls amplifier, at Amphlett Lane in Melbourne. (Picture: Copyright Charley Drayton/Chrissy Amphlett).
The school uniform she is remembered by was not her only look (see below, in this photograph by Tony Mott for On the Street magazine) but it was her most famous wardrobe branding, helping break Divinyls internationally.
Amphlett Lane, off Little Bourke Street, near Spring Street and Exhibition Street, Melbourne, is where Chrissy Amphlett walked from the stage door of The Princess Theatre, where she starred in the hit musical Boy From Oz.
The Divinyls are also recorded in gig guides as having played a double-bill with Joan Jett at The Palace Theatre, Bourke Street, which is at the back of Amphlett Lane. Both stage doors are steps away from each other.
Chrissy’s husband Charley Drayton, drummer for Cold Chisel, remembers her here, at the opening, along with her cousin Patricia ‘Little Pattie’ Amphlett and members of her family.
One of the last messages Chrissy ever left for her fans was on social media, where she mentions Holiday (below). “My little dog Holiday lays on the end of the bed when I am not feeling great and doesn’t leave my side.”
Amphlett Lane is a permanent tribute to Chrissy Amphlett along with her music – and a campaign for breast cancer awareness, I Touch Myself which Chrissy gave her blessing to, before she passed. She is also remembered in the ARIA Hall of Fame along with one of her most famous songs, Science Fiction. Happy Birthday Chrissy Amphlett!
Jenny Valentish talks exclusively to ARIA Hall of Fame inductee – Patricia Amphlett, Chrissy’s cousin.
In the glamorous surrounds of Sydney’s QT hotel, Patricia Amphlett settles into a houndstooth armchair to summarise her life’s greatest hits into my dictaphone. Then she leaps up to mount a sofa and watch the Palestinians’ protest march pass by on Market Street.
“Wonderful,” she says, beckoning me over for a good view out of the window. Beneath us, the parade furls around onto George Street, bookended by police on horseback.
“They had so many women leading the march last week,” she says in approval; then patiently explains to a curious tourist what the purpose is of holding such a protest in Australia. Patricia has a way of speaking that’s both measured in pace and passionate in language, quite similar to her cousin Chrissy.
We first met when the campaign began for a Chrissy Amphlett laneway. Patricia toured potential laneways with Jessica Adams and Chrissy’s husband Charley Drayton and I. She enlightened us on what obstacles we may run into through the approval process, in the way that only someone who has recently been awarded a lifetime membership of the Labor Party can.
Pictured: the last stage of a search for a laneway for Chrissy begins with Jenny Valentish, Charley Drayton and Patricia’s husband, Lawrie Thompson
And now we’re here to reminisce on some key points in her career, and talk about what wonderful memorabilia she has stashed away at home that she can contribute to the digital Australian Music Museum – such as a photograph of the ‘It’s Time’ T-shirt she wore during the Gough Whitlam campaign, or the high-heeled Charles Jourdan sneakers that she’d worn on stage during the late-’60s.
Let’s go back to that first decade of Little Pattie’s career. Unusually for an era in which cover versions were king, her earliest material with EMI – ‘He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy’ and ‘Stompin at Maroubra’ – was written specifically for the fourteen-year-old, capitalising on her cute blonde bangs and surfie wardrobe. But I wonder if she was actually as acquainted with a surfboard as the Beach Boys were – i.e., with the exception of Dennis Wilson, not at all.
“I did attempt to ride a surfboard or two, but when you’re fourteen and you live near the beach, the two main reasons for going to the beach were boys and getting a sun tan,” she admits. “I don’t think I was successful in either of those wishes. As much as we lay there and giggled in our tiny triangle bikinis, the only time the boys came with us was when they were hungry. They’d rock up and say, ‘Any youse girls going to the shops?’”
These days a teenage act signed to a major record company might expect to be groomed and marketed within an inch of their lives, but Patricia remembers having to be much more of a self-starter than that.
“The executives and producers at EMI were fantastic towards me,” she acknowledges first. “Money wasn’t an issue and they protected me; I know that recording companies aren’t as supportive these days and the cost is carried by the performers and musicians. But there was no team as such. When I think of Chrissy, she had quite an entourage around her on occasions. I’m not sure I would have liked that.
“I think we were all genuine pioneers of the pop industry, thrown in at the deep end,” she says of her peers, such as Lynne Randell, Noeleen Batley, Marcie Jones and Betty McQuade. “We learned our craft as we went along. I had singing lessons and piano lessons, but that was all my training.”
While the moniker Little Pattie suggests an artist of inconsequential importance, she has disproved this time and time again by aligning herself with causes. In 1972 she spearheaded Gough Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign (and is still a board member of the Whitlam Institute – part of the University of Western Sydney).
“My family would sit around and talk about politics, though it’s still considered fairly impolite to do so in public” she laughs. “My parents were Labor people and for what I thought were very good reasons. In 1972 it felt like the pendulum had swung and Labor could win the election. Gough Whitlam was charismatic and a man of integrity. People who had some overseas experiences, perhaps in Europe or America, felt that Australia was in the doldrums and culturally very starchy. It was time for a change.”
Jingle writers at an advertising company were employed to write the famous ‘It’s Time’ track, with some 50 household names filmed for the commercial. “We were sick of Australia going backwards,” Patricia says of the sentiment that united them.
In 1976, Little Pattie went off to Vietnam to entertain the troops – and she still counts them as her faithful fans – and friends – appearing at a Vietnam Veteran’s Day concert in Brisbane recently on August 18th.
“They’re my heroes really,” she says. “I think they’re under-recognised and misunderstood, because that particular war we had to learn quite a bit from in terms of how to treat soldiers when they come home. These days you’re offered counselling and treated very differently. The public felt as though we’d ‘lost’ the Vietnam War, which was an incredibly unpopular war anyway, and so our troops didn’t come back as heroes. But the government sent them there.”
Patricia carried on this tradition by playing to troops in Iraq in both 2005 and 2006. Not many recording artists could say they’ve stayed in one of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, but then not many artists stay the distance when it comes to their beliefs.
“Going to Vietnam changed me as a person in a positive way, because until I was seventeen, I was spoon fed,” she says. “None of us had to do much deep thinking about things and we accept everything around us. Going to a war zone and seeing such horrible things, and seeing soldiers just a little younger than I, wondering why they’re there, it shaped the way I am today, to a great degree.”
In 1986, Patricia married Lawrie Thompson, then the drummer with the Channel Nine orchestra and band. They met when she appeared on daytime television. “People would say, ‘Oh, you both married drummers,’” she laughs, referring to Chrissy’s husband (and former Divinyls drummer) Charley Drayton. “And Chrissy would say, ‘Yes, but mine’s black.’ She was outrageous.”
YouTube Video: Chrissy Inducts Little Pattie – ‘Aria Hall Of Fame’ 2009
While it’s little known, Patricia and Lawrie were leading a double life in Quorrobolong on the edge of the Hunter Valley. They both completed a class in animal husbandry at tech (Patricia topped the class) and then bred Murray grey cattle, learning how to farm as they went along. After ten years they gave up the farm when Lawrie got an enviable gig drumming in Sydney six nights a week. “We never quite became hardened farmers – we had to ear tag them, of course, but on the tags we put the names of jazz musicians and rock musicians instead of farmers.”
It was about bloody time, when Patricia Amphlett was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 – by none other than Chrissy Amphlett. “She was a lot sicker than she said she was,” Patricia says sadly. “She was so brave and beautiful to do that.”
In her speech, Chrissy says of Pattie, “She was my hero when Mum would gather us around to watch Bandstand. Tricia was a super star in the ’60s, which was a tough call. She was determined to survive and succeed, and she’s done just that.”
Chrissy shared with the audience Patricia’s work with Vietnam veteran amputees: “She’d take a delegation of them to Vietnam and they’d sit in front of the Vietcong amputees and try and forgive each other. She’d sit at the end of the table, and two former enemies were brought together by Little Pattie – this 4’10” woman in her high heels and battle gear, sitting weeping alongside these burly men, also weeping.”
The icing on the cake was a “lovely letter” from Gough Whitlam, offering his congratulations.
Patricia continues to be a high achiever, managing to fit in performing, music teaching (Nikki Webster is a past student) being president of the MEAA, board member of the National Film and Sound Archive; a trustee of the Jessie Street Trust and a patron of Forces Entertainment.
At exactly ten years Chrissy’s senior, Patricia says she gave the Divinyls singer advice when she asked for it, “but she didn’t need it really. I didn’t realise I was a pioneer in my era, but she was the best pioneer, because she made it de rigeur for women to front a band and be equal, if not superior, to men. Before she came along… no matter how many hit records I had, I never topped a bill, because it was a bloke’s business. It’s quite amazing that female performers are as supportive of our male colleagues as we are.”
The idea of a laneway in Chrissy’s honour is one that Patricia feels strongly about. “I thought: of course! Why not? It’s a given. Most of my family is from Melbourne so I was aware of all the lanes named after famous people. I will be eternally grateful to all the people involved in this wonderful campaign and I think we’ll all cry when it happens,” she says. “Chrissy would get off on it big time. So often, I say, ‘Why isn’t she here?’ She’d love the I Touch Myself project and she’d love the laneway. She’d probably say to me, ‘That’s my lane!’ and be childlike with her love for it. She’d walk up and down it, probably incognito, sussing out who was walking along her lane and who was looking at her name.”
The campaigns around Australia, saving Australian music venues from demolition are part of an ongoing mission to preserve ‘living museum spaces’ which once gone – are gone forever. The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street, Melbourne (above) attracted over 30,000 people to its Save the Palace Facebook page. All ages and generations turned up to chalk protests about the destruction of the venue. In its place, developers plan a high-rise hotel.
Through petitions, crowdfunded legal battles, rallies and more, Australians are pushing back against the demolition of music venues in favour of high-rise inner-city apartments where once stood a ‘local’ with its own local bands. Pictured below – Australia music fans at The Esplanade (The Espy) in St. Kilda in the summer of 2016.
Relaunching the Espy
The Espy, or Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda, is an Australian institution, and in Melbourne – which many argue is the musical capital of the nation – it has become a symbol of everything musicians and music fans want to save. From the ceiling down. Locals celebrated the return of this sprawling venue, ripe for recreation. Heritage issues in Australia go beyond the bricks-and-mortar historic value of a venue, many argue. We’re talking about memories. Cultural and social living history. The Espy has been a Melbourne institution for generations.
Andrew Street and Sarah Taylor on Venue Destruction
“The march toward transforming all of our nation’s cities into a Jenga-block landscape of apartment buildings has a lot of unexpected costs. They change airflow of our streets and recirculate car exhausts. They put massive localised strain onto sewerage systems. And they destroy rock’n’roll.” Andrew Street, The Sydney Morning Herald.
Andrew Street is just one of many writers, academics, historians and music lovers around the country who have argued for the priceless investment in people and music – as opposed to the pricey (and polluting) cost of ‘Jenga’ development. Sarah Taylor is another.
In the 1990s, Sydney was entering a well-documented decennium horribilis. By the late 1990s even the unofficial home-town booster band, The Whitlams, was singing (sadly) about their hometown more than in it. Speaking on radio in 1997, lead singer Tim Freedman commented that Melbourne had ‘a bigger sense of community, in pubs and being part of a crowd’, while inner-city Sydney had been ‘scattered to the wind’ … In addition, a variety of contemporary accounts point to a negative feeling in Sydney live music in the 1990s, depicting the city as a tough place to get a gig or find a friend…”
The Corkman Hotel Melbourne
The Corkman pub in Carlton, Melbourne became a symbol of the battle between developers and music fans when it was turned into asbestos dust after an illegal and shameful wrecking operation.
A long-standing home for Irish music in Victoria, The Corkman was also the occasional home of Ned Kelly’s judge and the local legal community – and a classic example of a piece of Melbourne history which has been trashed for apartments.
It is hoped, as the banners around the site proclaim, that The Corkman will rise again. The pink netting over the emergency fences erected to protect the asbestos-riddled, illegally-demolished pub remains – while in Victoria, a legal battle is set to be fought that will hopefully start a serious approach to the preservation of Australian history – and the conservation of the musician and music-lover’s natural habitat; the Great Australian Pub.
Saved! The Landsdowne Hotel, Sydney
After years of uncertainty, The Lansdowne Hotel – home to generations of Sydney University students and their favourite bands – is coming back. (Images: Pinterest, Twitter, Rock Brat, ABC).
Resurrecting The Lansdowne in Sydney
The Lansdowne is an Australian hotel worth preserving and resurrecting. Steve Pavlovic, a Sydney promoter who would book Nirvana for an Australian tour – before Nevermind hit the charts – famously began his career as manager at The Lansdowne, on Sydney’s Broadway
The Living End, Mudhoney, Hard-Ons, Died Pretty, Go-Betweens and You Am I all played the art deco Lansdowne, built in the 1920s, designed by prominent local architect Sidney Warden. Its state heritage listing describes it as a “prominent landmark”. Other pubs around Australia have not been so lucky and have met the bulldozers, ending memories – and sometimes, musicians’ careers.
The State Heritage listed Lansdowne had a history – like the ill-fated Corkman and Palace – of being much more than a music venue. At times it was an occasional haunt of the Sydney Push, a group of young left-wing intellectuals that began congregating in the 1940s.
Without The Lansdowne – there would have been no Half A Cow. Swirl played at an open mic night at the Lansdowne Hotel, and attracted the attention of Nic Dalton, founder of Half a Cow label (who was mixing all the bands that night). They were part of the “new breed” of Sydney bands that came in the wake of the success of Ratcat and The Hummingbirds.
You Am I and The Landsdowne
Why did Australia have such a healthy music industry as recently as the early 1990’s? Partly because musicians and their fans could afford to rent shared houses within stumbling distance of great pubs, with empty stages.
Tim Rogers – It was pretty fortuitous that you (Andy) just lived up the road, actually. Talking about the soundtrack to a house, Mudhoney were a massive band for us when I was in that Sheppard Street. Andy: And Bleach was huge. Tim: That was a big one, my brother Jaimie loved it – he used to live there, and he’d either wanna be Andy’s best mate or suddenly have a turn like us Rogers boys are known to do… it happened all the time. Andy: I remember he chucked everyone out once! I lived up the road, about 300 metres just on the left, and there was the Lansdowne, the Phoenician… all these great venues that had music happening. Everyone was living around here then; Annandale was far out in those days. You’d go to a pub here and they’d be people you know; you’d go to the Lansdowne or the Phoenician and there’d be people you know.
You Am I released their first EP Snake Tide at the Lansdowne Hotel on 3rd June 1991.
The Palace Theatre – It’s Not Over Yet
The Palace Theatre, Melbourne, is still boarded up, ready for demolition, years after the first protests to save her, began. Kate Ceberano is among many performers to have headlined at the venue, who has spoken out about the loss of heritage architecture. Patricia Amphlett, whose cousin Chrissy has a lane named after her, ending at the stage doors of The Palace, has also made a public statement. What’s next? Who knows. But as the campaigners behind Save the Palace say “It’s not over yet!”
“What a tragedy to have to lose such an iconic building with memories that can never be replaced. It’s too easy to demolish and simply put something up in its place, but you can never replace the investment that has been made in that space. Every note, every ounce of sweat produced on that stage all forgotten…. “like tears in the rain”! I’d like to think that Melbourne is a city that knows why it invests in its arts and culture…. Why stop at its heritage architecture, especially a building steeped in so much history?”
Every great city of the world has great theatres. Like the Lyceum Theatre in London, The Palace has been an opera house, and a venue for rock bands – including Divinyls, featuring my cousin Chrissy Amphlett – and some great theatre. Like the Lyceum in London, The Palace has also gone through many incarnations. Unlike the Lyceum, sadly, it is not a listed building. As a member of the ARIA Hall of Fame together with Chrissy, I would like to note the number of other ARIA inductees who have performed at The Palace. Perhaps most importantly, The Palace has always been there for the people of Melbourne and the people of Australia as an icon spanning the generations. For the sake of generations past, present and future we should preserve it for music, art and theatre – which it has housed since 1912.
Patricia Amphlett OAM:
National President of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and former Vice President of Actors’ Equity. Member of the ARIA Hall of Fame.
The Pop Into Randwick exhibition in Sydney has put the career of Little Pattie back in the spotlight in Australia.
Little Pattie – Patricia Amphlett – has inspired generations of loyal fans in Australia and collector and friend Robyn Fagan has kindly lent photographs of her fan scrapbook to AMMP.
The Amphlett Beat Goes On
On 27 August 2009, Patricia, known professionally as Little Pattie, was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame alongside Kev Carmody, The Dingoes, Mental As Anything and John Paul Young by Chrissy Amphlett, her cousin.
The family beat goes on and the late, great Chrissy Amphlett has lent her name and face to tributes in Geelong, where she grew up – and in Melbourne. In the ACT another Amphlett Lane twist – Amphlett Street in the suburb of Moncrieff – also keeps the Amphlett beat going.
Patricia Amphlett Fan Collections Historians and curators often turn to fans for their collections. Someone who has been a lifelong fan, particularly of Little Pattie, is Robyn Fagan. Robyn runs Patricia’s Facebook page. She has some rare memorabilia too (below) which she passed onto AMMP including a wonderful photo-booth moment in time.
Beyond the Little Pattie Scrapbook
How did Robyn’s fandom and friendship begin?
Robyn – ‘I was 13 years old at the end of 1964 when Little Pattie’s record He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy/Stompin’ at Maroubra began getting lots of airplay on Sydney radio stations. It became the first record that I ever bought and I played both sides constantly.
One day I heard the DJ say that it was by ’15 year old Sydney schoolgirl Little Pattie and I was gobsmacked that, not only someone from Sydney but someone who was only a little older than me, could be singing on the radio.
It immediately became my mission to find out all about her and I remember raiding all the old newspapers and magazines in my parent’s garage to see what I could find. And there began the first of many scrapbooks of photos and stories that I have collected about Pattie over the last 50 years.”
The Birthday Party
In April 1964 I saw Pattie in person for the first time at Sydney Stadium and then at several store appearances and fetes. I started sending her fan mail and sometimes included newspaper clippings about the Beatles and Judy Garland because I knew they were her favourite singers.
Later that year she wrote back thanking me, gave me her address and said to visit any time I was nearby. Early in 1965 I plucked up enough courage to make the hour and a half trip by two buses and a train to make the visit, not even expecting her to be home. She greeted me with a big hug when I told her who I was. That was the beginning of many social outings together – and meeting up at her gigs – and we have remained close friends to this day.
I invited Pattie to my 16th birthday party. My friends didn’t believe me when I told them she was coming so they were surprised when she walked through my door and even more surprised at how friendly and down-to-earth she was for someone so well-known.
Running the Little Pattie Fan Club
I took over her fan club in 1966 which I ran until 1973. There were over 300 members from all over Australia, many of whom wrote regular letters asking questions about Pattie, wanting her autograph and so on. The members were sent a membership card when they joined and I sent out a newsletter every month or two with all the latest news, upcoming shows and photographs.
We held picnics every few months which Pattie attended. One of the fan club newsletters is in the Powerhouse Museum archives and has been on public display in two of their exhibitions as an example of a typical fan club newsletter of the time.
From Scrapbooks to Social Media
A few years ago I decided to start a fan page for Pattie on Facebook and regularly post photographs, news and gigs. There are currently 3,580 followers and I get a lot of messages from fans and old friends wanting to get in touch with her and media wanting to interview her, as it’s the only way most people know of getting in touch with her. It kind of feels like the old days of running the fan club all over again, but in a different format to back when I had to handwrite or type replies and post everything out by mail. It’s so much easier these days with the joys of modern technology.
The Many Moods of Little Pattie
My most precious single is Pattie’s first release as it was the first record I ever bought as a teenager and led to what has become a lifelong friendship. My favourite album is her first, ‘The Many Moods of Little Pattie’, probably for the same reasons and also because I still remember how cool it was to be one of the few kids in my crowd to own this and listen to Pattie singing many different types of music. This album is very rare and hardly ever seen for sale.
Vietnam and Patricia Amphlett
The most rare singles I have are Pattie’s three Japanese releases from 1966/67, two of which she sings in Japanese and one a re-release of one of her Aussie hits. These were recorded in Japan when she and Col Joye visited after their tour of Vietnam. I also have the extremely rare red acetate prototype versions of these singles that Pattie gave me. I have every single, EP, LP & CD that Pattie has ever released.
Photographs copyright Robyn Fagan. Photograph of Patricia and Chrissy on Pinterest. Photograph of Patricia in Vietnam from the Arts Centre, Melbourne – Jessica Adams.