Ginger

Ginger Mallis, a unique Greek with an Easter Party trick 23 April 2014

Angelo Mallis was born different. He was a red-haired Greek in a foreign land where his countrymen were almost always dark.

Though his later years turned the red to grey, he carried the name Ginger all his life. And because there was an older, shorter uncle with the same name and of similar hue, our Angelo was Big Ginger and the uncle, Little Ginger.

And because Greeks living in Australia struggled with their English, Angelo the younger became Bigga Ginge.

CHICO MARX

He was tall and fit with a face not unlike Chico Marx but differed from the actor in that his nose was even bigger.

Small boys could abseil from beneath his eyes to the relative safety harness of his hairy nostrils; on bleak winter days individuals slalomed down the sides and landed in imaginary soft snow on his shoulders.

In these cold times when Bigga Ginge blew his nose, trains scheduled to leave on the hour would begin moving when they heard the horn sound of his nasal clearance.

His work uniform was charcoal pants, white collared shirt and navy cardigan, always the same, always immaculate and his cigarette was an occasional release from conversation which, until he lit up, was unceasing.

He had a gang of brothers and cousins who had played as kids, gone to the same schools and now gambled at the racecourse. They were called the ‘Easters’ or the ‘Bubbles’ by the xenophobic locals who had to label anyone who wasn’t Australian as something because they were different.

What his fellows Greeks away from the track thought of him was unclear. Most had come from the island of Kastellorizo and their post-war community was close. They became fishermen and miners who grew up to become exporters and company directors; bricklayers and plumbers who became construction bosses and hardware wholesalers. Yet Ginge and his boys were at the races three days a week, at the trots, the two up and Manilla tables at night. No time for board meetings and trade talks.

FLORIN: 1947 TWO SHILLINGS

They gambled and won and lost and took advantage of the welfare system and married and brought up children and they took their jobs seriously. They laughed hard and loud when they won and looked dark and serious when they lost and when they partied they laughed harder and louder than most. Bigga Ginge laughed harder and louder than all.

He had a famous party trick.

Once a year when the races shifted its focus to the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie, punters would gather at the town’s infamous brothel, Mona’s, and those who had never seen it would ask for Ginger to do his thing.

Now a two bob or two shilling piece had the diameter of a milk bottle top and when decimal currency came in the new 20 cent coin was of similar size. On both coins – sterling and decimal – Queen Elizabeth II was honoured on one side.

Though I never saw it in the flesh, Ginger was rumoured to be able to balance 10 of these on his erection and, even allowing for inflation and the exaggeration of tall tales, many attested as witnesses for the Crown.

When those of us who hadn’t experienced the performance had it explained to us in front of Ginger, he would smile disarmingly, proud of his manhood, and take a drag of his Craven A.

I have respected men with big noses ever since.

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