My life with ABBA.
My life with ABBA began in 1975.
At that time my household consisted of my Mum (Lynette), two older sisters (Donna - 12 and Shirelle - 11), a younger sister (Belinda - 4) and myself (Roxanne - 6). We lived on the Central Coast in New South Wales.
There was always music playing in our house. Mum was very much into music - she had a wonderful variety of records which we could put on the record player at any time. She also bought us our own records – and never complained about us playing them over and over – she liked the 70’s music as much as we did. If it wasn’t records, it was the radio – and we watched every music program on TV.
From the time I was a toddler I loved music – and always had my favourite songs. Music was an emotional experience for me. The songs I loved as a child still touch my heart when I hear them now. I became quite attached to songs when I was little – but not necessarily to the artists – until ABBA.
Our first experience of ABBA was seeing the ‘Mamma Mia’ film clip on TV. It was after dinner and as was common, we were all sitting together in the lounge room watching a music program. There was silence in the room as we watched in fascination. But as soon as the song finished, the discussion started. I remember everyone talking about this new group who were different to every other group at the time. I remember talking about the outfits the girls were wearing – and the blonde one’s figure when she turned side on. I remember the conversation about the choreography – whether it was deliberate or accidental that the girl’s did the same movements. I do recall that only one of my older sister’s thought it was accidental. I remember the speculation about who they were – and hoping to see the clip again soon.
I remember that from that moment, I was smitten.
We just couldn’t get enough of ABBA – and were thrilled every time a new song was shown – which as most Australians will remember, was quite a few in the following months. We were very surprised to find out they were from Sweden – and that English was not their first language. We delighted in the fact that they were two couples. Needless to say, everything about ABBA was fascinating to us.
By the time ABBA were coming to Australia for the TV Special in 1976, I can say in all honesty that I was obsessed. Mum had already bought the LP’s which we played constantly – and we already knew the lyrics. ‘The Best Of ABBA’ Bandstand Special was the most enthralling show I had ever seen – knowing that ABBA were actually in Australia was beyond exciting and the show itself was magical.
With every repeat of the program on TV, my younger sister and I learned more and more of the choreography and staging of the show. By the end of 1976, Belinda and I were putting on ABBA shows for Donna and Shirelle and their friends – at their request usually ! It was during this time that Mum bought me the Bugs Bunny amplifier with carrot microphone for performing these shows. Thus started my love of karaoke !
It was not long after the Bandstand Special that Donna and Shirelle took Belinda and I to an under 18’s disco at the newly constructed Shopping Centre in our town. At the disco, the DJ played ‘Ring Ring’ – to which Belinda and I did the appropriate choreography of course. The DJ was apparently very pleased and amused by this and told us to come up on the stage where he presented us both with a copy of the ‘Dancing Queen’ single which had just been released in Australia. Thrilled does not cover how I felt – not only did we receive recognition for our little show, but we were given an amazing gift – a new ABBA record – with a picture cover ! The first picture cover single to be released in Australia. It was so beautiful – and a moment in time that I will never forget. I still have my single – with my name clearly written in the frame area around the ABBA image. Ah, life was good.
The production of ABBA memorabilia in Australia went into overdrive in 1976, as did the collecting. I find it hard to put into words just how wonderful it was to be able to get so many things with so many new images of ABBA. Before the memorabilia, all we had was LP’s, a couple of picture cover singles, and the photos printed in magazines and newspapers. Now we had everything you could imagine. The bubblegum cards were by far my favourite – so many pictures of ABBA – including images of them performing in some unknown far away place. I thought the pictures were so exotic - how I wished to see those performances ! Not to mention the fact that on the reverse, the cards made two amazing posters – both from their trip to Australia – there was nothing better than those cards to me. The fold –out poster books were also a delight – beautiful pictures and such large posters ! Those poster books were duly cut up and pasted all over my bedroom walls of course – as everyone was probably doing back then - and I think many of us still cringe at that particular memory.
Mum was obviously quite indulgent with this love of ABBA – the piles of bubblegum cards alone that I carried with me through the years were an indication of that. I do remember Mum wearing her ABBA T-shirt though – I think it definitely helped that she loved them too.
But there was something even bigger than all of this to come – with the announcement of an Australian Concert Tour in 1977. I am not sure who was more excited – Mum, or us kids !
There was never any question about us going to the concert. To not go would have been unthinkable – no matter the cost or effort involved for my Mum. The moment those tickets went on sale in October 1976, Mum was on the phone ordering 5 tickets. And the countdown to March 1977 began.
ABBA in person – no words to describe the feeling at the thought of that.
None of us had any idea of what we were about to experience – could never have imagined what it would be like. We had never been to a Live concert before – not us kids anyway – and Australia had never staged anything of this scale before. We were about to be a part of the most astounding and crazy Tour to ever happen in this country !
There were many preparations required for the trip to Sydney for the concert. Travelling by train from the Central Coast to Sydney in 1977 was an experience in itself – and as the train schedule was quite different back then, it meant staying in Sydney overnight as there were no trains late at night to get back home. Luckily we had an Aunty who lived in Sydney and plans were made to go there after the show.
Mum knew in advance that we would have to be at the Showground in Sydney very early in the morning to ensure a good spot in the line. So, a full day outside the venue plus an overnight stay with four young daughters meant packing a suitcase with clothes and food. The night before, everything was ready. Bag packed, alarms set, taxi ordered for the morning – and everyone to bed early – although I doubt some of us got much sleep – more exciting than Christmas !
We were up at 4am on the morning of the concert – and on our way to see ABBA.
We arrived at the Sydney Showground at around 7am and already the line was quite long. It was obvious some people had camped overnight. Everyone was calm, friendly, orderly. We took our position in the line and there we sat all day – enjoying the novelty of this whole thing.
As the day passed, the crowd swelled to huge proportions. The thrill of the wait was almost too much to bear – the buzz in the air was electric.
As it drew nearer to the time for the roller doors to open into the showground, people started to ready themselves. Everyone was standing now, and moving forward towards the doors – we were not too far back from those doors now. Still, everything was calm and orderly – with the excitement building more every second.
However, just before 5pm, bus loads of people arrived and were let out of the buses right at the doors at the front of the line. Those who had been camped and waiting in line all day were suddenly not so calm anymore.
The crowd surged towards the doors. The excitement became panic for those at the front – as they were now being crushed against the roller doors. People started calling out for everyone to stop pushing – there were many children among the crowd ! But it was too late – the push from behind was constant.
Mum , Donna and Shirelle did what they could to protect myself and Belinda from the crushing crowd. They made a kind of circle around us, holding people back. Mum showed no fear, nor did Donna or Shirelle, so we felt no fear. We simply felt the adrenalin building in anticipation of getting into the Showground – hopefully getting good seats – and of seeing ABBA. I can feel it now !
By the time those roller doors started to open, you could barely breathe – it was all too much for some. Mum recognised what was going happen as the doors went up. There was too much pressure from behind and if you were not fast enough, you would be knocked down. So she told us “When the doors go up, RUN!”
And that is what we did.
Mum and Shirelle had Belinda between them, and Donna took my hand. As Donna ran, my feet did not touch the ground. We then all had to stop again to go through the turnstiles where we handed in our tickets – then we were running again – me flying along behind Donna.
We reached the lawn seating area and continued to run – all the way to the front rows. We made it into the second row ! But we were there alone – the other 3 hadn’t caught up yet. So Donna laid along the seats to save them – no one else was getting those seats !
Not too long later Mum, Shirelle and Belinda joined us and we settled in for the next 3 or so hours – happily eating the food Mum had packed, and staring at that huge stage. Were ABBA really going to be right there in front of us ?
It finally started to get dark – and the wind and rain started – it poured down.
Did we care ? Absolutely not – it was time !!
Lights flashed on the stage – music boomed out of the massive speakers either side of the stage – and suddenly, there was ABBA, right in front of us ! Pure magic.
I think I was lost in a trance from that moment – and Mum herself says she felt the beaming smile on her face immediately – and it never left her face for the whole show.
I remember standing on the seats so we could see over the adults standing in front of us. Mum decided that was not good enough so moved us all around to the front row where we stood right behind the line of Police who were supposed to be guarding the stage but couldn’t take their eyes off ABBA. I was standing on the beloved suitcase to try to see over the Police – and a Police Officer lifted Belinda on to his shoulders for the rest of the show. She had the best view !
We saw Frida fall – face down flat on the stage – and were horrified at how much rain was pouring in on that stage and the equipment. We saw Frida raise herself up on to one knee and spread her arms sideways as if to say “I’m ok”. What a magnificent woman – so professional.
That rain ! It did stop for a short time – and everyone got covered in bugs – including ABBA – then it started again. We didn’t care.
The music was so loud – ABBA were so wonderful. Nothing could have spoiled it for us.
After the show, we arrived at my Aunty’s, soaking wet but still buzzing from the whole experience. She was terribly worried about us being wet and cold – and was trying to stop us from talking and get into a warm bath. But we were still too hyped and couldn’t have cared less about a bath. My Mum told her, “We don’t care about being wet – we just saw ABBA ! We would have stood up to our waists in mud to see ABBA.”
To this day, we still feel the same.
There is no doubt that ABBA mania existed in Australia in the 70’s – it was certainly alive and well in my own family. Over the years, the mania has settled – but the love affair has never ended.
All these years later I am an ABBA collector because I still get that thrill from seeing items with ABBA on them – and to be surrounded by ABBA gives me pleasure on an emotional level. Listening to and watching ABBA evokes something much deeper – that deep emotional connection created way back in 1975.
My name is Roxanne Dickson, nee Hodgson, I am 48 years old, I am Australian, and I am an ABBA Fanatic.