As the daughter of a police sergeant, going to my first Blue Light Disco was less about unwinding from a long week at my public primary school with a rousing round of line-dancing to Cotton-Eyed Joe, and more about seeing my dad’s friends and colleagues kitted out in their crisp, blue uniforms, adorned with badges, holsters and scowls. These men and women taught me to swim, dressed up as Santa Claus to give me presents at Christmas time and joined my family on the one camping trip we ever took together. But inside the walls of the Gympie Civic Centre, they were terrifying and in charge.
For years I’d watched as my two older sisters got ready to go to Blue Lights, and devoured their stories of slow-dancing with boys and drinking cans of Coke near the pool tables upon their return home at 8pm. They’d come home from school on Friday afternoons and I’d help my mum weave tiny plaits in their hair. On the drive to the Civic Centre they’d unravel the plaits so their hair was kinky, just like Hayley’s from Home and Away. They’d smear their faces with glitter make-up that was somehow deemed safe for children to use, and load up their wrists with plastic bangles. Because of our dad’s job, they were able to skip the line on the way in, like we did every year at the local show. Being a police officer’s kid might mean I still get nervous anxiety at the thought of breaking any rules – at age 24, I’m still too terrified of my dad finding out when I buy weed – but as a kid it sure had its perks.
Finally, in 1998, it was my time to shine under the grimy disco ball. I was finally old enough to step up and do the Macarena with everyone else.
This was my first Blue Light and I needed to look PERFECT. Unfortunately, as a chubby 8 year old in Gympie, my options were limited. My mum and I spent the previous weekend scouring the racks of the local op shops until I found what was, in retrospect, possibly the single greatest item of clothing I would ever own. It was made from a thick, stretch cotton and was faded black, due to too many spins on its previous owner’s Hills Hoist in the Queensland sun. It was a romper (or what we referred to then as “like overalls, except shorter and not denim”) with a halterneck top and above-the-knee culottes at the bottom. It was fucking dope and I most likely wore it with thongs on my feet. (See above re: Gympie.)
I was tagging along with my sister Shannon and her friends who, at 10 years old, were significantly cooler than I was. Before we went inside the Civic Centre, Shannon’s friends were singing that year’s most popular dance jam, Horny by Mousse T. feat. Hot ‘n’ Juicy. You remember that song, right? It’s the one with the chorus that goes, “I’m horny. Horny, horny, horny…So horny. I’m horny, horny, horny tonight.” I joined in the singalong because what 8 year old would pass up the chance to sing a song about being horny with a bunch of cool 10 year olds? My sister stopped singing and asked me if I knew what the word “horny” meant. I wasn’t 100% sure, but said I thought it meant you wanted to have sex. Shannon and her friends laughed at me and went inside, leaving me trailing behind and instilling in me a decade’s worth of fear and confusion about sex.
Like any self-respecting big sister, Shannon was embarrassed of my existence, a feeling that remained until we were in our early 20s. She knew she had to supervise me at the Disco, but she made it crystal clear she didn’t want to. And I don’t blame her: I was a giant loser. While she was having her first kiss with her boyfriend Karl – who, with his Nike swoosh earring and shaved-head-but-with-a-long-fringe hairstyle, was the collect boy in her class – I was singing along to Run DMC’s It’s Tricky with her friend Anna. I was obsessed with Anna and desperately wanted her to like me. She had older brothers and wore their baggy, hand-me-down clothes on her tiny frame. Anna was the first real tomboy I saw outside movies and she reminded me of Roberta from Now & Then. She breakdanced to It’s Tricky while I, mishearing the lyrics as being “It’s chicken, chicken, chicken”, did the chicken dance around her for the entire length of the song. I was so proud that I was holding my own with the older, cooler kids.
Anna’s resigned acceptance of me started the first in a lifetime of arguments Shannon and I had over “stealing” one another’s friends. The worst fight in this series would come 8 years later when, out of a combination of sisterly protectiveness and jealousy, she found out where I was spending the night getting high (for the second time ever) with what we now refer to as my “bad influence friends”. She and her best friend drove in laps outside the house, texting me awful and insulting things while I cried inside. She hated that she’d been the one to introduce me to those new friends, who took me under their wing and taught me how to inhale. For the first time in our entire lives, people she wanted to be friends with liked me more than they liked her. It got ugly.
But it never got physical, which is more than I can say for that night at the Gympie Civic Centre. After one too many laps around the dance floor with Anna, Shannon took me to the foyer and told me to find my own friends. She slapped me, I tried to hit her back and she kicked her legs at me, preventing me from getting close enough to retaliate (her signature move). We’d barely touched one another when a police officer-cum-chaperone barrelled up to us and pulled us apart. We kept yelling and kicking at one another until she silenced us by threatening to “call both of your parents”. For the first time in our lives until that point, a police officer was not familiar and friendly to us. This lady didn’t know our dad had the office out the back of the station next to the darkroom where he developed photos he took at crime scenes. To her, we were just a couple of dummies covered in glitter, trying to tear one another’s hair out, butterfly clips be damned.
We spent the final minutes of the Disco in a makeshift time-out, sitting as far apart as possible in the carpeted foyer. Anna, Karl and the rest of Gympie’s under-12 population skulled Fanta and slow-danced to AQUA’s Dr. Jones, as we silently and sullenly waited for our mum to arrive in the Toyota Tarago to take us home.
Note: This piece is from our Blue Light Disco zine. You can find details on how to buy the zine here.