I moved to Sydney when I was 16. It was like I was being pulled by a magnet to explore a future I had in my mind at school: to venture into the city, as a country boy, in the search for a music career.
I liked the whole variety of Sydney: the trams; the double-decker buses; people from all walks of life. There were about eight cinemas in the city. I’m a movie buff, so I had all these movies to go see. And I’m a big milkshake drinker, and there were milkshake bars everywhere. And hamburgers! So all of this was tripled and doubled and you-name-it, especially when you come from a town where you had one or two cinemas, and one or two milkbars.
La Perouse was right on Botany Bay. I seemed to arrive there at the right time, because there were enough musicians and entertainers in the suburbs of Sydney—not only in La Perouse, but across the whole city. There were lots of young, adventurous Aboriginal boys and girls there, and I fit in like a glove.
Around this time, I was in love with Marj: my girlfriend, then wife-to-be. I was drawn to everything about her: her nature; her looks; her attitude; and her affection for me. We hit it off together and it’s still happening today. We had a three-year courtship: boyfriend and girlfriend for 18 months, then we got engaged for another 18 months.
On her 21st birthday—a Monday—we got married on her birthday. I was 20, and she was a few months older than me: 21. As I look back through the years, it was clear we were destined to be a partnership for life. I told her we wouldn’t have a traditional honeymoon—that we would turn our whole life into one long honeymoon. That’s happening still today. I’m just an incurable romantic.
I was 21 when I became a father. I took our daughter everywhere I went, so she grew up backstage with Dad and Mum. So here I was: a married man, on the road, young, fit, energised and full of future dreams.
Before the 1960s, there was no teenage music. It was just kindergarten primary-school music, and adult music. There was no teenage music until a thing called rock ‘n’ roll appeared on the horizon, and we were at the right age to be a part of that boom.
My first commercial recording was on the old 78 vinyl, and my first song was ‘Mysteries of Life’. I liked it and I sang it, and it sold hundreds and hundreds of singles. ‘Royal Telephone’ came out in late 1963 and took off like wildfire in 1964. It became a number one single and my first royalty cheque was around £600. I didn’t know it was going to be that big at the time. It was astronomical to have a big hit like that. It kept selling. It became my signature tune.
There were times and moments where I did some things and though, ‘Gee, I’m glad I left the country to come to the city.’ I was still able to go to the country in my travelling shows, so I had the best of both worlds, and still do today. I’m ever grateful, because I realised at an early age that life is really what you make it. I still look at all these things that happened to me, and I read it as a boyhood dream come true. Because I dreamt about all these things happening. Daydreaming, that is.
When I’d hear myself on radio, I’d think, ‘Gee, I’d like to do a lot more.’ I was only going to do music for a while and go back to the country, but then the public were so warm and welcome that I thought, ‘Well I’ll stay a little longer.’ Six decades later, I’m still here. Now, I’m a little wiser. You have to know yourself, trust yourself, and even love yourself to a point. Be yourself and keep trudging on down that path, because we’re all here in life for a reason.