A more romantic time when ballroom was king

WHEN Joan Gauldie was growing up weekends were spent at ballroom dances where the more skirts a woman's dress had, the more glamourous her outfit.   

For four years Joan learned ballroom dancing and showed off her skills at Cloudland, a beautiful hall in Bowen Hills, with a famous timber sprung dance floor.   

The first challenge, after making the dress, was for Joan to overcome her two left feet.   

It didn't take long and in no time she was competing in the Pacific Ballroom Championships at Cloudland.   

But Joan says she was never as talented as one of her friends whose jive routine often stopped the crowd.  

Eventually a section of the hall, decorated with magnificent archways and balconies, was roped off in front of the stage so people could watch the pair perform.   

"It was a lovely time, but then every decade has their good times and fashions," Joan said.   

"We thought it was lovely to wear skirts, and many skirts, but then my sister - who is ten years younger than me - used to wear hot pants out to dances.   

"We thought it was strange these girls didn't want to get dressed up anymore and just went out in these tiny hot pants."

Joan Gauldie
Joan Gauldie Rob Williams

 Joan made all her dresses herself including one white princess style dress with a couple of subtle 'alterations'.   

"I was going to a dance and went out on Saturday morning to buy the fabric," Joan said.   

"I was flat chested in those days, so I decided to stuff my bra with cotton wool.   

"When my husband, who was still my boyfriend at the time, arrived and saw me he said, 'you look really nice tonight. I don't know what it is, but you look really nice'.  

"I thought to myself, yes it's the cotton wool!"  

Joan met her husband Denis at Cloudland.

He was one of the teachers there and although it wasn't love at first sight, he definitely grew on her.   

At first she didn't think much of him, but by the time she turned 18, Joan thought Denis was "crash hot". 

Joan Gauldie and her husband Denis. They met ballroom dancing at Cloudland.
Joan Gauldie and her husband Denis. They met ballroom dancing at Cloudland.

They went on a date to the movies and eventually decided to get married.   

Proposals weren't the dramatic event they are now, but Denis showed he was a gentleman by asking Joan's father for permission first.  

One day Denis arrived to pick Joan up.

He raced up the stairs, asked, then raced back down the stairs to wait in the car - if he was trying to keep it a surprise, things didn't go according to plan.  

"I was getting ready to go out to a movie. I wasn't quite ready yet and came out of my room thinking Denis was still out there," Joan said.  

"I walked out and said to my father, 'where's Denis?'   

"My father said; 'the strangest thing has just happened, he's just come and asked for your hand in marriage, but then he's raced off back downstairs'." 

Inside Cloudland Ballroom at Bowen Hills, 1940.
Inside Cloudland Ballroom at Bowen Hills, 1940. Brisbane City Council archives

Joan was born in 1936 inside her family's home at Enoggera under the watchful eye of a midwife.   

In that era, before the Royal Women's Hospital was built, it was normal to have children at home, Joan says.  

She was just a child when the Second World War broke out and although there were trenches built around the school grounds, she never really understood why.   

When the sirens went off, the children practised what to do in an attack. They followed the teachers out into the trenches where they crouched down, banned from standing up.   

"For us it was a bit of a game," Joan said.  

"We weren't scared because there weren't planes flying over us dropping bombs. We were children and didn't really understand the war."  

As a young adult Joan thought to try nursing, but 12 months through her training it became clear surgical nursing wasn't for her.  

"I nearly passed out at the first sight of blood. I tried a few times but ended up doing other things," she said.  

Joan eventually returned to nursing, but to look after the elderly - a job she considers a privilege.   

Now she spends her days relaxing and doing crafts at Milford Grange Retirement Village.   

For a woman who thrived in the romantic era of courting, beautiful handmade dresses and glamorous dances today's music scene is a little too loud for Joan.   

Joan is a Lady Gaga fan because
Joan is a Lady Gaga fan because "she has clear diction". Contributed

But there are a few artists who can count her as a fan; Adele and Lady Gaga.   

"The bands are just noisy and really loud. You can't hear the singers and you can't hear the words.  

"But when you get Adele on the stage it's just beautiful. Lady Gaga is another one who has very clear diction and I was quite surprised when I heard her with Tony Bennett."  

Joan's husband Denis died in the 1970s, but they had four children and now Joan has ten grandchildren.   

She moved to Ipswich to be closer to her daughter at Bellbird Park and says she loves the feeling of being in the country while living in a city.   

So after 80 years on this earth, what is Joan's best piece of advice?   

"Do the best you can. That's all anyone can expect of you."  

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