Monday, July 19, 2010

Zondrae's (1965-1967)

Zondrae in 1966
Some may say that to suggest the Wollongong music scene would not have existed without Zondrae King is overly romanticising history. After all, local music scenes are like any other network, in that they adapt to the ever-shifting set of connections as people come and go. No one could dispute, however, that without Zondrae King the scene would not have flourished like it did in the sixties, and thus preparing a base from which the scene could develop its own identity.

The Wollongong music scene is forever indebted to Zondrae whose dedication to local youth culture in the sixties was unprecedented, made even more remarkable by her relative youth and gender as the scene was - and by and large still is - male dominated.

Zondrae's out front. Zondrae is on far right
The fact that after 40+ years since Zondrae first appeared on the scene there is still a shortage of venues catering to all age audiences highlights both local councils’ (Wollongong & Shellharbour) failure to take art and youth culture seriously. Outside the tokenistic youth centres, local youth have very few options in terms of playing or listening to music they can identify with and call their own. And once youth becomes young adulthood, the bars are still sidelining original music in favour of cover bands and the culture-killing pokies.

Born to an Italian immigrant father and a Wollongong born-and-bred mother, Zondrae Della Bona was raised beneath the smoke stacks of Port Kembla in a happy, albeit strict Catholic household. Zondrae shared a bond with her father, Giovanni ‘Jack’ Della Bona, that was more like a father/son relationship and fondly recalls helping Jack in the back shed and fetching tools and other building items from the local hardware store in a time when children could walk the street in relative safety. Jack built the family home from scratch, mostly unaided, and as a true reflection of the times when things were built to last, the house still stands.

Dianne "Bubbles" Downes at Zondrae's
Port Kembla in the fifties and sixties underwent a major demographic shift as waves of migrants, predominantly from the UK, Macedonia, and Italy arrived answering a call to remedy a local labour shortage. The unprecedented growth resulted in a boom in the local economy and photos of the era show Wentworth St alive with activity; a marked contrast to the shell of a town that it is today.

Zondrae's mother, Elsie Patricia ‘Red’ Della Bona was a noted seamstress and regularly put her skills to use for school theatre productions where Zondrae featured prominently. Today, Zondrae self- deprecatingly puts her stage appearances down her mother’s dressmaking abilities more so than her own talent. Later, Red worked at the Open Hearth Hotel in Warrawong.

Her mother "ruled the household with an ironfist", and though the family would attend Italian dances on the weekend, it was well established that neither Zondrae or her sister were allowed to have boyfriends before they turned 21, and then the boys were required to be Italian.

The Twilights with Zondrae
Returning from the wharf where he worked one evening in 1962, Jack brought with him a transistor he had purchased from a foreign sailor. In the same way that the internet opens up new worlds to today's youth, the radio provided a gateway to the music that was coming from America and the UK. Slipping the modern technology under her pillow each night, Zondrae would tune into 2UW and listen to the latest sounds of The Beatles and other Mersey Beat bands.

An average scholar, Zondrae was naturally creative, and soon took to Carneby Street fashions, designing her own clothes and cutting her own hair. Her first job after leaving school, however, was less than creative; an office junior at a Wollongong travel agency. On her break one day, Zondrae stumbled upon The Bamboo Room located upstairs in the Globe Arcade. A small coffee shop, The Bamboo Room was frequented by Mods who Zondrae soon fell in with.

Tom Thompson remembers the Bamboo Room in his memoir Living in the 60's: "In Wollongong, no afternoon was complete without a visit to the Bamboo coffee lounge where you could 'catch some music'. This would inevitably be sixteen-year-old angst, played wistfully by a Bob Dylan clone and dubbed 'folk'. Between songs we all had meaningful conversations about the state of the world or why we were in Vietnam."

The Mystic Eyes on stage at Zondrae's
Mod culture arrived in Australia in 1964 – the same year The Beatles also visited our shores. Centred on art, fashion and music, the male Mod tended to don frilly shirts, pointy shoes and long hair, while the female would wear skirts above the knee and cut their hair short - quite risque at the time. Described in the Australasian Post issue of 9 July 1964, Mods were “the latest overtone to the rebellious voice of teenage Youth shouting against the precepts of ordered society.”(Cockington, James, Long Way to the Top, 114-115)

Zondrae presenting a prize to 'in-gear' winners
In the preceding year Rockers fought battles with Surfies on the beaches up and down the east coast, the most famous one being the Battle of Manly where, as legend has it, police turned around ferries full of Rockers in an attempt to stop the violence. (Cockington, James, Long Way to the Top, 102-103) In much the same way, tensions between Mods and Rockers would also be splashed across the media, as each fought for their “rebellious voice” to be heard.

Locally, the Mods’ lamented the lack of venues in the area catering to their musical tastes. The Catholic crowd had their ballroom dances at the Southern Cross Hall, the surfies had the Thirroul Stomp and the Pioneer Hall where The Tornadoes were the in-house act, and the older crowd had music in the hotels. But the Mods - most of which were under legal drinking age - had nowhere to call their own outside the Bamboo Room.

Though a relatively young 19 year old, Zondrae was not one to shy away from a challenge, and hatched a plan whereby she would find a venue large enough to offer her peers a place for dancing. Playing on her mothers' unfulfilled dream of running her own business, Zondrae took every opportunity to sell the idea to Red in an attempt to convince her to help see it to fruition.

Already friends with members of The Sunseekers, Zondrae was aware that the band would sometimes hold their own dances in a hall on Burelli St, and would make a tidy sum each night. Zondrae convinced Red to drive to some of the Sunseeker shows, park out front and count the paying customers. Such tactics would now be called 'market research' - back then, however, it was simple youthful exuberance. Once Zondrae persuaded Red, she then began working on a wealthy aunt who could provide the required finances and become a silent partner.

Finally, in December 1965, Wollongong Council granted an interim licence for the operation of a 'discotheque sound lounge' to operate at 259 Keira St Wollongong. A full licence was issued in August the following year. The club would be known appropriately as Zondrae's, and would earn its place in history as being one of the few local venues specifically catering for youth and actively encouraging the development of art, fashion and music.

The tree in the empty lot next door was a regular hang-out
For opening night, Zondrae made the risky move of giving away 200 double-passes – risky because the venue was only licenced for 250 people. The move was successful, and, as an alcohol-free venue, soon became known as a safe and friendly space for the areas’ youth to socialise. Zondrae took her role seriously, and actively pursued opportunities to promote her venue, often making her way into the 2WL studios and even landing a weekly column (Zeen) in the South Coast Times dedicated to the local scene.

The success of Zondrae’s, spurred on by the talent of local performers such as The Marksmen, Earl’s Court and The Executives made the venue attractive for Sydney and interstate bands, and it wasn’t long before The Twilights, The Loved Ones, The Creatures and The Missing Links all graced Zondrae’s stage. A regular feature of Zondrae's was the 'in-gear' competition where the best dressed couples would be awarded for their fashion efforts.

South Coast Times regularly featured photos of activities at Zondrae'
Zondrae’s was more than just a live venue though, operating as a coffee lounge, a games venue and a general 'hang-out' for the local youth. Some forty years later people still nostalgically recall the venues' impact. For two such people, Zondrae’s was where they met and fell in love. Yvonne Brann arrived in Wollongong from Scotland in 1966, and within the first two weeks was invited to Zondrae's where she met her future husband, George Blanch. Yvonne felt at home almost immediately and recalls  that she "practically lived there every day that I wasn't working. It was where the cool crowd went, the ones who listened to the best music".

Apart from anything else, Zondrae's was welcoming and accepting, unlike the main competition at Pioneer Hall. Yvonne recalls being refused entry at Pioneer Hall due to her 'witches britches' (knee-length pants), and staff measuring the distance between couples as they danced, lest they touch and defile each other. Needless to say  "the crowd from Zondrae's and the Pioneer Hall crowd didn't really get along."

Night out at Zondrae's. Note The Mystic Eyes kick-drum.
Yvonne remembers the go-go dances on Saturday nights, and the 'Midnight til Dawn' dances, but one of her best memories is when she went to see Ways and Means with boyfriend George. Yvonne encouraged George to join the band on-stage to sing 'House of the Rising Sun'. So impressed by George's performance were the band, that they sacked their singer that night so George could join. The band would later change their name to Grow Your Own, and become regular performers at Zondrae's.

Romance wasn’t limited to its patrons though. Zondrae herself also met and fell in love with her future husband. Wayne King had been a ‘minder’ for The Executives who Zondrae had booked. A week following the Executives show, Wayne returned and invited Zondrae for a coffee. The two have been inseparable ever since.

Despite the success of Zondrae’s, longevity was proving a hurdle, as operation costs were high. Zondrae was faced with the ever-present problem of charging enough at the door to cover her costs, but not charging too much that people didn’t come. Zondrae experimented with the format to keep things fresh and to lower overheads by also running ‘audition’ nights where local performers would play for free in exchange for the experience and opportunity to hone their skills.

The ad that ran in South Coast Times for most of 1966
The courtship of Zondrae and Wayne however was causing problems in the mother/daughter relationship. For starters Wayne was not Italian and Zondrae was not yet 21, just two factors which clearly upset Red’s plans for her daughter. Despite supporting Zondrae in her business venture, and even managing some of the young bands that came through the doors, Red could be unpredictable and turned dramatically when Wayne sought permission to ask for Zondrae’s hand in marriage. Given the ultimatum of separating from Wayne or leaving the house, Zondrae naturally chose the latter. Six weeks later, on 29 September 1967, Zondrae and Wayne married. Sadly Zondrae was never able to re-establish the relationship she once had with her mother. But perhaps most tragic of all is that Red never met her grandchildren before her death in 1981. In a testament to the true bonds of love, however, Zondrae and Wayne are still happily married and after spending some time away from the region, have returned to Wollongong.

The breakdown in Zondrae and Red’s relationship coincided with the financial difficulties Zondrae’s was facing, and by August 1967, the venue was facing closure. Zondrae had little to do with the venue once she had eloped, and Red quickly handed the management to George Rossall who ran the venue as My Place for a brief period.

Erle Montaigue (Earl's Court) with Zondrae in 1989
Following the family breakdown Zondrae and Wayne connected with Ivan Dayman who operated Cloudland in Brisbane. Dayman had taken a lease out on the old Northern Bowl in Bellambi, ripped out the bowling lanes and put in a dance-floor. Dayman was looking for an experienced venue operator to live on-site and manage the new venture, when the newly-wedded Kings answered the advertisement. Zondrae and Wayne would run the new venue, Wonderland, without the assistance, or interference, of Red.

Such were the strong memories of the venue that in 1989 over 100 people, some from as far as Melbourne and Rockhampton, returned to Wollongong for a Zondrae’s reunion.

Cockington, James, Long Way to the Top, ABC Books 2001
Thompson, Tom, Living in the 60's pg 62, Kangaroo Press 1986
South Coast Times 1965-1967

Appreciations to those who willingly and enthusiastically shared their memories of Zondrae's, especially Gary Vickery, Erle Montaigue, Yvonne Blanch, Tom Thompson and of course, Zondrae herself.


  1. Wow, this is amazing. I have been passionate about wollongomg Rock and Roll for nearly 30 years and I did not know Zondrae's story. When I was involved with developing and working at the Wollongong Youth Centre (which was by no way tokenistic during my tenure - 1993 and 1997), for me the music aspect was all about giving the kids that were being rejected everywhere else a place to hang and feel safe, to feel special and connect with like minded souls. It was also very much about encouraging local, original rock and roll - the good shit - not the mediocrity that surrounded us, giving kids access to a stage, giving crowds access to cool original music etc .. I now see that Zondrae was doing exactly the same thing almost 20 years earlier all on her own. I would love to meet you Zondrae, your story is inspiring.

    1. Good times were had by us all...Moose

  2. No-one could ever accuse your efforts as being tokenistic, Dave. However, the feebly funded youth and community centres throughout our region (and beyond) cannot afford to properly pay their staff, let alone develop programs to encourage participatory culture (ie: music). Also, the failure of the councils' to plan for youth-oriented venues outside council-run youth centres means that any program designed to plug the gap is at the mercy of those that hold the purse-strings.

    I know Zondrae was looking into becoming a 'living book' at the library. Perhaps you could borrow her some time.

  3. To Dave Curley. Dave, my son Adam King has been in bands playing in the nineties, you may recall.
    The most successful being Thumper who won the Uni Band comp one year. Dan Dubowski, who was in the bands with him, is married to my daughter. from Zondrae.

  4. I used to travel down from Sydney every weekend in 1966 just to be at Zondraes

    Billy Boyle

  5. We had some pretty wild nights at Zondraes. That's me on the left playing soccer, can't tremember my number now.

    Regards Keith


  7. This is a brilliant site. Many thanks for the sensationally good research and photos. You deserve a Ph.D for all this work!

  8. This was a great article ... thanks for writing it

  9. Wow this really brings back memories for me. I remember Earls Court well I also shared a house in Evans Street with George and Yvonne. My first experience of Bowie was at Zondraes. Mnay happy and safe times were had. I later went to Wonderland and travelled all the way from the cultural wasteland that was Warilla to catch great bands. Got pissed off once when a boatload of yanks arrived and danced with the girls. Richard Eberhard

  10. This article really brings back fond memories of my mis spent youth. I used to share a house with George and Yvonne in Evans Street and Earl Dalby was also a good friend for a while until everyone went their own way. Zondraes was a great place to feel safe from the surfies and rockers. My first experience of Bowie (Space Oddity) the love that was shared by all who needed a different place to hang.

  11. Hello there!

    I’m putting together an eBook on Aussie 60s bands. I have original articles and interviews with the Black Diamonds, Throb, Missing Links and Creatures among other legends. I’m wanting to do a page on the Zondrae’s venue, as it was such a legendary place throughout 1966 with so many of the best Aussie bands appearing there. I was wondering if I could use the colour photo of Zondrae herself standing outside the venue back in the day?

    1. Hi Peter - this is really a question for Zondrae. Please email me at so i can put you in touch with her.