Bodgies, Widgies, Steam Trains, and Stiff Petticoats

By Lindsey-Jane, 70. Adelaide, SA

Way back in the ’50s, we had FJ Holden cars, doctors who paid house calls, and postmen who actually delivered twice a day (and what’s more, blew a whistle to announce their arrival!) Remember these things? Do you also remember women wearing hats and gloves to church or even to go shopping — especially in the city? Shoes and bags that fashion decreed had to match, and the kind of dresses that young girls today are clamouring for? My daughter went through a ’50s-inspired look a few years back and she looked absolutely gorgeous!  You can imagine that after seeing her wear goth garb for a couple of years, I was ecstatic with this glamorous vintage look.

Bodgies and Widgies

My Mum used to say, “Look out for bodgies and widgies and don’t speak to them.” I actually remember her saying that. She also told me that they used to hang around in a deserted train tunnel in the Adelaide Hills, where, as it happens, mushrooms also used to be grown commercially. Mum and I would catch the steam train home from the city sometimes and you’d be able to see the old tunnel as you emerged from the new. I was fascinated by the thought that in the tunnel were lots of naughty bodgies and widgies, wearing their black duffle coats, smoking, and picking all the mushrooms. Today, as I look back, I’m quite sure they weren’t busy mushroom picking — more like drinking alcohol, and well … other stuff.

Recently, I went online to find out a bit more information about bodgies and widgies, as my memory of them is a bit hazy. I discovered that they were a subculture that developed in Australia and New Zealand in the ’50s, much like the Greaser groups in the US and UK. They were inspired by James Dean and adopted his surly, antisocial attitude. They drank, smoked, wore lots of black and played rock ‘n’ roll music and probably liked anything else that was considered dodgy and rebellious in this era. Some rode motorbikes, too, and roared around the suburbs on them, upsetting the neighbourhoods.

Steam Trains

Steam trains operated in South Australia until, I think, the late ’50s and possibly even the early ’60s. As a small child I was terrified of them and would hide behind my Mum’s back and hang on for dear life. I was convinced somehow that they were going to get me and they looked so intimidating; huge solid black engines puffing and hissing out hot steam and soot. The interiors were very attractive and had tall leather seats with beautifully polished woodwork, including the overhead luggage racks. You could open windows, but on more than one occasion I got soot specks in my eyes, which, of course I hated. There’s no doubt that the steam trains had loads of character, but when they stopped running, a few were kept for special tours. Some years ago, my husband and I and two children moved into a house alongside part of the hills railway line. We’re still there. On Sunday mornings, the SteamRanger train choofed past en-route to Victor Harbor, a popular beach-side town about fifty miles south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu peninsula. The tourists on board looked to be having a whale of a time and would wave happily to those who came out of their houses to watch SteamRanger pass. At night, when the train returned to Adelaide, you could hear the whistle blowing from several kilometres upline and the pungent smell of coal drifted into the chilly autumn/winter air. The train was only able to operate during the cooler months (usually after the first rains) due to the risk of a spark setting off a fire in the dry summer grasses. We always wanted to take this trip, but it was expensive and time passed and we missed our chance. However, a shorter SteamRanger trip was available from Victor Harbor to Goolwa, near South Australia’s Murray River mouth. We’ve taken the kids along on that ride on a number of occasions and great fun it is, too — particularly when you catch sight of the sea at Victor Harbor.

Stiff Petticoats 

Lindsey-Jane holding her book Here, There and Everywhere: Memoirs of an Air Hostess at a book launch at Mitcham library. “A day to truly remember,” she says.

Who owned a stiff petticoat? They were all the rage in the late ’50s and possibly early ’60s, too. Many of them were so pretty that girls could almost have worn them without a dress over the top. One of today’s trends has underwear as outerwear, but back in the ’50s this would have been scandalous. I was ecstatic when, in one of my Christmas stockings, I found a gorgeous stiff petticoat, with lacy frills and pink ribbons. I think I went to put it on immediately and paraded in front of my mirror.

There was also competition amongst little girls, at parties or the theatre, as to whose dress ‘stuck out’ the most and therefore who had the best stiff petticoat. My cousins and I used to lift our skirts up in order to fluff up our petticoats until we were reprimanded by our mums.

Another chapter in my Hands Up — Who Remembers the Fifties? will come soon.

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1 year ago

Lovely nostalgic piece, you took me back to the 70’s with the bodgies and widgies. I came to Adelaide in 1970 at 15 years old from the U.K. where I think our mods and rockers were a similar sub culture. Little old Adelaide has certainly changed a bit since then. Look forward to your next chapter.

Lindsey-Jane Doley
1 year ago

Thank you so much Lesley-Anne for taking the time to read my ‘Bodgies, Widgees…’ article and for your kind comment. Yes, we had Mods and Rockers here too, and I always identified as ‘Mod’, not that I would have been involved in any brawls, but I liked the Mod style in fashion eg Mary Quant and an Australian designer Prue Acton. I notice that you live on our Fleurieu Peninsula, which is such a beautiful part of SA. Once again, thank you and it’s nice to meet you on-line.