Sydney Junior camp, December 1957, was held at Crosslands, or rather, on the opposite bank of Berowra Creek to Crosslands. Senior camp, January 1958, was an interstate affair held at Woori Yallock, Victoria, and incidentally was by far the best Betar camp I ever went to.

This story tells of the adventures that befell those intrepid Betarim, including yours truly, whilst traveling with the camp equipment to set up Junior camp at Crosslands.

At that time the Betar Maon was at 17 Albert St., Edgecliff. The grounds once belonged to a judge but at the time we were there consisted of an old mansion which held the Zionist offices and at the back contained a garage and stables. Above the garage and stables there was an office and a hayloft. All of this, typically for the State Zionist Council, was in a state of disrepair. Betar occupied the garage, office and hayloft. Habonim had the stables. Betar owned its own camp equipment which was stored in the hayloft under my charge as storeman.

Not far from the Maon, at the border of Edgecliff and Paddington, there was a furniture removal company and Henry Briggs ordered a furniture van from there to take the equipment to camp.

On the appointed day, Henry Briggs, Peter Wagner, Bob Sitsky and I arrived at the Maon ready to get the equipment down from the loft to place in the van. The big furniture van arrived and we proceeded to load it with camp equipment, including tents, stretchers, poles, cooking equipment and a marquee. Bob Sitsky had to leave as he had business elsewhere, so when the van was loaded, Henry and Peter got in the driver’s cabin with the driver and I got into the back with the equipment. And so we set off. There was no way I could communicate with the cabin and I had to pray that the equipment didn’t dislodge and hit me.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but driving must have been very thirsty work, for I swear that we stopped at every pub along the way, where the driver, swearing like a trooper, together with Henry and Peter (but not me), went in to relieve their thirst. Drink driving laws in those days were not so heavily policed, and anyway, the breathalyser had not been invented.

By mid afternoon we had passed the Galston Road turnoff where we were to turn into from the Pacific Highway. I knew we had missed it, but was powerless, from my position in the van, to alert the driver. It was not until we had nearly reached Berowra that the people in the cabin realised a mistake had been made, and we turned around and went back down the highway, and turned into the Gaston Road.

To make sure we were on the right road, we stopped at a house to ask directions. The owner confirmed that we were, but said that we would never make it in the van down to Galston Gorge where we were to go. “The van would never be able to negotiate the hairpin bends on the way,” he said. Nevertheless, we drove on.

The van must have heard, because soon after, it broke down. The driver went to the nearest house to ring for a replacement van (no mobiles in those days). And so we waited and waited. Shortly before dusk, a vehicle arrived. But was it a furniture van? No, it was a small tabletop truck. We couldn’t possibly fit all the camp equipment in the van on that. The driver got out a rope, tied it to the van and truck, and we proceeded to tow the van. Needless to say, after a short distance, the rope broke and we tried again. This was not much good either, and after a third try, that idea was abandoned.

There was only one thing we could do. We loaded as much equipment as we could onto the truck, together with our personal luggage. One of us, I think it was Peter, stayed with the van with one of the drivers, while Henry and I went with the other driver on the truck to Crosslands, opposite the campsite. Once there, we would offload the equipment from the truck, and the truck driver would return, pick up the other driver to go home, and leave Peter with the van, to guard it and the remaining equipment overnight. The truck would then return in the morning to pick up the remaining equipment and Peter, and take them to Crosslands. Presumably there would be a mechanic coming to fix the van, but that wasn’t our concern.

And so Henry and I and the driver, all of us in the cabin this time, proceeded in pitch darkness to Crosslands. They weren’t kidding about the hairpin bends! Many times we had to back up in order to negotiate those bends, all in pitch darkness, with only the headlights to guide us. One false move and we would have hurtled down a cliff. Baruch Hashem, we reached Crosslands safely and unloaded the truck.

And, oh joy! There, at Crosslands, was a scout camp with huts! And more joy! The huts had bunks! And what’s more, in one of the huts there were tins of food! There was no one at the camp so we had it to ourselves. We planned to take some of the tinned food and replace it later.

We were just about to start when we heard a shout from the river. There, in a row boat, was Ian Groden. Shortly after, Danny Rosing arrived in his car with some others, having come the long way, via Dural. And so, our happy little band, well fed, settled down to sleep in real bunks under our own blankets.

Ian’s story was no less adventurous. He was doing vacation work at the post office. Being a happy sort of fellow, he was singing “Be’arvot Hanegev” whilst he worked. He must have been singing a trifle loudly, because his boss took exception to it and fired him on the spot.

Having nothing better to do, he decided to come to prep camp. Not having a car, he took a train to Berowra, made his way to Berowra Waters, hired a row boat and began rowing to camp. It soon became dark, and Ian became lost amid the many dead ends in the creek. He eventually found his way and found us from the light of the lanterns which we had lit to light our own way.

The next morning everything came to order. The truck arrived with Peter and the rest of the equipment, we obtained row boats and a motor boat from somewhere and so we were able to transfer ourselves and the equipment on the other side of the creek, which at that point was something like a hundred meters across. We began pitching tents, putting up stretchers, digging the casbahs, putting up the marquee and all the other jobs necessary to set up camp, ready for the campers in a few days time. When we had finished, I went home with someone by car, for I did not stay at Junior camp. A couple of weeks later, I went to Central Station to catch the overnight train to Melbourne with other Betarim to attend Senior camp at Woori Yallock, but that’s another story.








Sid Agranoff's Recollections
1. Tune: Much Binding in the Marsh

There’s much, much, too much, too much,
Of movement up and downward in this Movement 1,
There’s much, much, too much, too much,
We can’t get worse, we’ve got to make improvement,
And here’s the choicefull moment now of putting this to use,
We hope you won’t reward us by your jeering and abuse,
We know we ain’t Carusos but we’ll try not to be bores,
For ours and ours and ours and yours.

Why are we here tonight,
With Clivey, Alfie, Klug 2 and Shakshakooker,
Here’s why we’re here tonight,
Not for Coffee-potting 3 or for Shnooker,
The reason why is very clear as you will all soon see,
For Alfie, Clive, and Moishe Klug will fly across the sea,
And if their arms get tired then they’ll use the Australian Crawl,
That’s the very reason why, that’s all.
2. Tune: Bachashai

Life presents a dismal picture,
Clive and Alfie had to go,
Golovesky 4 drew his pistol,
Put the bullets into fire,
Clive stood up and tried to argue,
Alfie quoted Ei-enstein,
But Relativity was useless,
Now they’re flying down the line.

(REPEAT FIRST TWO LINES AND FADE).5
3. Tune: Manyana

Now here’s to our Machoniks who we know can’t wait to go,
That I and you and he and she and we and you all know,
The doggy with his sausage in the kitchen took the rap,
And anyway the sausage was just a lot of crap.

REFRAIN

Bananas, bananas, bananas and laxettes make me sick 6. (2x)

Now on my right is Alfie, he’s the fastest in the land,
At walking, talking, singing, smoking, he’s just simply grand,
Admittedly his Dutch is sometimes double-double Dutch,
And Maths and Science he quotes too much, too much, too much, too much.

(REFRAIN)

Now on my left is Clive, they say he’s lightning on the draw,
He smokes a fag, draws in the smoke, then coughs and asks for more,
He’s well known for debating, even now you hear him talking,
The Z.Y.C 7 will laugh with glee when they find out he’s walking.

(REFRAIN).

4. Tune: Mac the Knife

In Australia, down in Sydney, there’s a Movement so they say,
Now it’s weaker, outlooks bleaker, for guess who has gone away.

Now there’s Kessler, swot in English, Languages and History,
Learned expressions from Goon sessions made him tops in oratory.

One’s a singer, real humdinger, he was famous for notes off key,
And his crooning needed tuning, we refer of course to van der P.
5. Tune: Bible Stories

Here’s a variation of an ancient bible story,
David sat for forty years and earned himself much glory,
But Kessler broke his record for all his sweat and tears,
The last edition of Haderech took him forty years.

Now Alfie was a scientist of ancient ill repute,
And Clive was always looking for subjects to dispute,
Then one day Mr Kessler fell down in a screaming heap,
He blew the fuse to hear the news that Alfie was asleep.

At the Kenes points of order were their speciality
They knew just when to shake their heads, to sleep, or call for tea,
Political manoeuvering, protection and corruption,
Points of interest, points of note and points of interruption
6. Tune: Chayalim Almonim

In a plane at Mascot sat a boy talking not,
And his name, it was Alfred van der Poorten,
Clive Kessler, the Wrestler, fought back a tear,
As he thought of that lost Australian beer.

But their sorrows declined when the coast was left behind,
Their smiles and laughter came back quick and hearty,
For the hostess with the freckles was named Sabrina Eccles,
And the pilot’s second name was Moriarty.

While we are the subject of notes, I am reminded of the word “Casbah”, which for the time I was in Betar at least, was used as a synonym for toilet. In later years, I suspect that the Hebrew word “Bet Shimush” gradually replaced it.

The origin of the word “Casbah” in this context is not well known. This was told me by Danny Rosing many years ago.

Apparently, at a Junior camp, probably in 1954, there was a chanich by the name of Lesley Peters. Whenever he wanted to go to the toilet, he would loudly exclaim “Come wiz me to ze Casbah” and then he went. From that time, “casbah” was the Betar name for toilet.

Although I never saw Lesley Peters in Betar, I was a friend of his through primary school, so I can attest that this story is very much in character.
End notes:

1. At the time Betar Sydney was going through a difficult period.

2. Moishe Klug was a semi mythical character frequently invoked at that time by B’nei Etzel and Bnei Kochav.

3. Coffeepot was the name of a word game we all played where a verb was chosen and substituted by the word “coffeepot”. The person chosen had to ask questions using the word “coffee pot” for the verb and from the answers, guess the verb. A typical question might be “Do you coffeepot in the morning?”

4. Chaim Golovesky, the Betar Shaliach at that time.

5. Refers to a song in the round sung ad nauseum at the time. It began: “A doggy stole a sausage from off the kitchen floor.”

6. “Everything makes me sick” was a favourite saying of Alf’s.

7. Zionist Youth Council.

In 1957, as a fund raising venture, Betar Machoz Sydney staged a revue at the Crystal Palace in George St. The Crystal Palace no longer exists, but it was situated roughly opposite to where the cinemas are now. In its day it was a fashionable theatre venue, but at the time of the revue it was in its declining years and was soon afterwards demolished.

The program was a very varied one, consisting of a number of skits and plays, a solo ballet performance and other items. In the last minute, it was announced that Larry Sitsky would play one or two piano pieces at the revue. He had only just arrived from a two year piano scholarship studying under Egon Petri at the San Francisco Conservatory.

Rehearsals at 17 Albert St. were in full swing, overseen by Mefaked Danny Rosing. Tickets were sold to parents and friends and the event was advertised in the Jewish News. There was much frenzied activity and preparations, but through all of this brouhaha I was an interested but uninvolved bystander. That is until, shortly before the revue was to take place, Danny informed me that I was to be operating the stage and house lights. I had never been back stage in a theatre before, let alone operated stage lighting. However, Danny set my mind at ease, telling me that I was sure to do a great job.

The day of the revue, a Sunday, arrived. By mid morning we had all arrived at the Crystal Palace, ready for the final (and only) dress rehearsal. I was taken back stage where the man in charge of the venue cursorily introduced me to the stage lighting board; he then left.

The board consisted of a number of rows of black plastic toggle switches, all clearly labeled, so I was quickly able to master them. There were also two brass switches that were unlabelled, and whose function was not explained to me. Since all the functions I needed to operate the stage and house lights were under the control of the black switches, I did not concern myself with the brass ones.

The dress rehearsal went under way, and I quickly got the hang of the switches and the required lighting sequences for the various items of the revue. Because Larry did not attend the rehearsal we skipped the part where he was to perform and continued on with the next item on the revue.

The evening came and the audience arrived; a full house. I dimmed the house lights and the revue commenced. All went well.

Shortly before Larry was to come on stage, someone, I forget who, came back stage and instructed me that when Larry began to play, I was to switch off all the switches. “All the switches?” “Yes, all of them.”

So Larry was introduced by Danny. He came on stage, announcing that he would play a piece by Busoni, whose work he had studied in San Francisco. He sat at the piano and began to play. As instructed, I switched off all the switches, including the two brass ones. There was no longer any light backstage except from somewhere outside the theatre coming through the roof. Larry was still playing so I was not concerned. A few minutes later, someone came backstage in an agitated state telling me for God’s sake to switch on the two brass switches. “They should never get switched off”, he said, “there are stage lights that should never go out!”

“Now you tell me!” I exclaimed. I switched the switches back on and the back stage lights came on. Larry continued playing, completed his piece, and left the stage to appreciative applause from the audience.

After the revue, a very angry Larry Sitsky demanded to know who had switched off the lights. “I specially brought a small table lamp from home. I placed it on a table at the side of the piano. It was connected to a plug which I was assured would always be on” (“Uh, oh - the brass switches”, I thought) “and just as I began to play, the lamp went out. I couldn’t see a thing! It was totally black! I tried to play by touch! I was frantic, searching for the right keys! Then the lamp went on again! Aargh!”

I don’t think Larry ever forgave me for that. Certainly, every time I saw him after that, he would bring the subject up. Fortunately, this was not often, because by 1959 he had won a scholarship to study under Egon Petri in San Francisco and on his return two years later  he moved to Brisbane to join the staff at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, and a few years later, to Canberra as Head of Keyboard Studies at the Canberra School of Music. He is still living there, at the peak of a highly distinguished musical career.

POST SCRIPT In 2011, I met Larry at a Betar reunion at Vernon Kronenberg’s place in Canberra. I am happy to report that Larry has finally forgiven me.






















 
 
 
 

The Machonik’s Farewell.
Larry Sitsky Performs at the Betar Revue.
On the Way to Prep Camp
.
The Fight for the Cup.

 


The spirit at one Senior camp was extraordinarily high. This was due in no small part to the intense rivalry engendered among us as we all vied to win the coveted Best Tent competition. We were judged not only on the morning tent inspection, but also on our behaviour at all camp activities. Nevertheless, it was at the morning tent inspection where the competition was at its fiercest.

The competition soon developed into a two horse race between our tent and that of one of the girls’ tents. Not only did we both strive to keep our respective tents especially neat and tidy and perform excellently at Tass (drill) but we added skits at the inspection to give that added oomph.

Our tent comprised Peter Wagner, Bob Sitsky, me and one or two others. We named ourselves “Ham’anyanim”, the interesting ones. The song we sang, accompanied by appropriate tass actions, went as follows:

M’anyanim yemina, m’anyanim smolla,
M’anyanim achora
M’anyanim yemina, m’anyanim smolla,
M’anyanim achora.
Smolla p’nei, kadima ts’ad
Echad, shtayim, shalosh, amod.
Achora p’nei, kadimah ts’ad
Echad, shtayim, shalosh, amod.
(Command) Smolla pnei!

This was repeated at every morning tent inspection, with various changes to the actions on a daily basis to keep it interesting.

The girls’ tent comprised Miriam Deston, Judy Kovendi, and the others I forget. Those involved will know and can fill me in. They called themselves “Bet Betulot”, the house of the virgins, although I am told on good authority that betulot really means young maidens. Their song went as follows:

Why is our tent the purest,
Untouched by human hands.
Why is our tent the purest,
From here the other sex is banned.
Human troubles never worry us,
We’re not human at all.
One thing we know is a certainty,
The cup shall hang on the wall.

The girls were erratic in their behaviour. One notable example was that on one occasion they were markedly late for evening Misdar. They made up for it the next evening by being at the Misdar ground well before anyone else, but the damage was done. They did very well on the misdar ground, though.

Not to be discouraged, their song changed the next morning. I only remember the second verse (to the tune of “Yesh lanu tayish”):

One Saturday tea time we happened to be late,
Now we’re so early, we were there before anyone ate.
They say we’re mad, but we’re not sad,
Nothing worries us.
Because we know, in spite of all,
We’re very good at Tass
Because we know, in spite of all,
We’re very good at Tass.

We won the cup. I really think it was the girls’ erratic behaviour that cost them the cup. For sheer ingenuity and brilliance, I would have awarded it to them, but it was all round behaviour that counted. The announcement of the winners was made before the end of camp, so on the next morning the girls delivered their master stroke.

Their song changed to the following:

Our defences are down,
We might as well surrender,
For the battle has been won.
We went into the fight like Betulot,
But we came out just like…
Our defences are down,
We might as well surrender,
For the battle has been won.
But we must confess that we like it,
For there’s nothing to be done.
Yes, we must confess that we like it,
Being Betulot just isn’t any fun.







When Clive Kessler and Alf van der Poorten were about to go on Machon a farewell party was held for them at the Kessler house in Bellevue Hill.

Four or five of us, including Peter Wagner and me, made up some songs and presented them at the farewell. Tommy Traurig accompanied on the piano. These are the words taken from a typewritten copy which I have kept all these years.

The numbered notes appear as end notes at the end of this article.
The Machonik’s Farewell
The Fight for the Cup

Larry Sitsky Performs at the Betar Revue
On the Way to Prep Camp
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© 2004 Sid Agranoff
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