Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Sabrina In Australia

Adapted from an unpublished book found by Sir James C.

When the first announcement appeared in the "Herald" in August 1958, Sabrina was to star in the Tivoli Production of "Pleasures of Paris", based on the production of the same name which was then running at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London.

This young lady who had risen dramatically in the English press, must have "something" more than that "figure". A promotion plan.was organised with Keith Cheney , Managing Director of Cheney Motors, Melbourne to get a contra deal for a car for Sabrina for her season. He agreed, but not just an ordinary car - it was to be painted mauve with leopard skin seat covers. After recovering from the shock of one of their beautiful cars being made to look a freak, they agreed. Since Sabrina had her International Licence so that was fixed.

The publicity started, and invitations started coming from Parliament House, The Lord Mayor, Surf Clubs, Racing Clubs - and suddenly everyone. There was a Sabrina "Look-a-Like" contest with Foys Department Store.

The Producer, "Ginger" James , had the job of making sure Sabrina was going to live up to her reputation, not only as great media coverage but also as a performer. English comedians, Syd and Max Harrison , were in the strong supporting cast as well as Billy Baxter , and many top European acts. It was our own Horrie Dargie Quintet who were given the task of "backing" Sabrina in her act. Then the bright idea, a song about Australia and what better than "I Want to Cuddle a Koala". Backed by the Dargies, that conjured up lots of wonderful photos with live koalas.

Sabrina brought her Mum with her. She told Sabrina's story over and over again: how as a child, Sabrina contacted polio and for five years was in and out of hospital. Her father Walter , became an invalid after a heart condition. A story of triumph over tragedy, it all seemed too unreal.

The date of the opening of "Pleasures of Paris" was fixed, 9 December 1958 .

The Orchestra and the Horrie Dargie Quintet brushed up their act with Sabrina.

The story of, "I Want to Cuddle a Koala" was written by Ed Devereaux's wife, Irene , in London, and she had never then been to Australia but she had heard from Ed of the koalas. That song was to become Sabby's theme song that would stop the show each night as beautiful, curvy Sabby stood in front of the footlights and in her rather husky, sexy voice sang of the Australian bush and its animals.


Arrival - 28 November 1958

28 November 1958 - Sabrina lands in Sydney.

Bullet 28 November, 1958 (front page of Daily Mirror , Sydney)


Sabrina — the world's most famous bosom — flew into Sydney and laughed at reports that she had been "lost."
"What, me get lost? Don't be silly," she said with a glance at her famous statistic.

[Sabrina's mother, Mrs. Sykes, arrived in Sydney on Wednesday— the day her famous daughter was due. She said she didn't know where Sabrina was.]

As she stepped from the Pan-American air- liner, hundreds of goggle-eyed men pushed and jostled each other to get a glimpse of the 41-18-36 blond.

Photographers and newsreel and TV camera men struggled to get the best vantage point. The voluptuous actress stopped all work at the airport. Work­men downed-tools and stood on trucks, heavy equipment and fences to see her.

"Gosh it's hot," she said.

Sabrina arrives Sydney, Nov 1958

Flight 1303 was to touch down with their most publicised passenger - Sabrina.

Since Sabrina had gone to Rome a few days earlier her mother was to pick up Sabrina in Rome. but as the plane taxied on to the tarmac and the cheers went up from the crowd, and down the steps came a Sabrina's Mum, there was No Sabrina, and Mum did not know where she was.

When Mrs. Sykes' plane from London arrived in Rome, Sabrina was not there, so Mrs. Sykes came on her own. Mrs. Sykes drove away and left the airport. The Melbourne "Herald" ran front page "Sabrina Lost", and a later edition came with the headlines "Sabrina Found". She had stopped in at Hollywood!

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

Her agent phoned Pan Am and asked them to get her on a plane and to watch that she did not slip away again. She had six mink stoles in her luggage; her excess baggage bill was mounting, especially as she flew to the Tinsel City to sign a film contract. The next arrival date was fixed, 28 November 1958 and the media advised everyone. The procession was on again. The crowds turned up and once again waited for the arrival of this young lady who had captured the headlines throughout the world.

Although the police had been warned that wherever Sabrina appeared there had been riots, they just stood by and waited for her to arrive. Again the passengers left the plane and this time Sabrina had arrived.

She stood on the top of the steps. The cheers rang out, the photographers' flash bulbs started popping, Sabrina paused on the steps in her most provocative pose; she took a deep breath, she cooed hello to the crowds. She was wearing a low cut royal blue ankle length dress. Following her was an airline official carrying her three minks in a plastic bag.

At her press conference, Sabrina fluttered her eyelashes and talked of Hollywood and her recently signed contract to make two films a year, for $30,000 each. Then she stepped into her mauve car and with the "Sabrina" pennant flying the procession moved off towards Melbourne and down St. Kilda Road to the Chevron Hotel.

The Police shepherded her through the crowds. There were no riots here. When asked what she was going to do in the show she just said "it was a singing act", but no one seemed to worry about that part. You only remember Sabrina.

Sabrina arrived on 28 November 1958 at Essendon Airport, Melbourne, and it seemed the world's press was there to greet her. Her mauve car was there to whisk her away to the Chevron Hotel. There were mauve pennants with the wording "Sabrina" to fly from the car and permission was given for it to be on the tarmac. The Children's Hospital "Miss Summer Festival's" fifteen finalists were there to add to the welcome.

Crowds had gathered along the route to welcome Sabrina in her mauve car. A police escort, helped Sabrina's car, followed by six Vauxhalls (carrying the finalists of the 'Miss Summer Festival") followed by the Light Car Club cars, festooned with balloons and streamers.

As the procession wended its way towards Melbourne, Sabrina waved and blew kisses.

At the Chevron Hotel there were hundreds of people waiting and more press. Once again more photos. During her press conference at the airport a group of white gowned and masked University students had burst into the room and broke up the conference to confer on Sabrina the title, "Doctor of Physical Development". Sabrina seemed to enjoy this episode and of course the photographers had a field day taking pictures of the students and Sabrina.

At night, Sabrina could not get to sleep for the trams clanking along St. Kilda Road. Chevron Hotel was on the corner of Commercial and St. Kilda Road and trains went past the door of the Hotel and the tramways were digging up tramlines all night and.she said she would not stay there another night.

The next day, Saturday, she was to go to the Tivoli for a special rehearsal, so the producer could find out what Sabrina really did in the show. After all, she was the Star, and with all that publicity, the audience were expecting to be entertained by more than a sex symbol. A problem was that the Sabrina-crowds in the city outside the hotel and the Tivoli were blocking traffic so there was was no way to move Sabrina in a hurry.

Eventually she emerged in a flame red, high-collared dress. She wore her dresses longer than usual to hide the scars on her legs from her polio illness, but did that matter? No. She looked stunning and as she stepped into her Saba Mauve car (the colour specially named after her) she received a cheer from the crowd. The police were alerted to her departure and they were waiting to escort the car through the city streets to the Tivoli where Sabrina was rushed through the crowd to a relieved Producer. The police would not allow the car to park outside the Theatre as it was stopping traffic, so we had to take it around to the lane at the back of the Tivoli and put a guard on it. Already I could see that I had given myself a PR's nightmare.

The cast of "Pleasures of Paris" was as excited as anyone at meeting Sabrina and although never could one say she had a strong voice it was then seen that this artist, what she lacked in talent, would be made up for in her other "talents".

Sabrina socialising in Elwood, Melbourne (1959)

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes


Somewhere in Melbourne. Photos by Laurie Richards .

Sabrina Sabrina

Sabrina Sabrina

Thanks to Chris Keating for these great pictures of Sabrina in Melbourne, 1959.


Stirling Moss - 30 November 1958

British racing driver, Stirling Moss was in town for a car racing event around the Albert Park Circuit the following day [30 November 1958]. When the press asked Sabrina if she would be going she said "I will make a circuit in my car". That was quickly advertised. The car officials fixed the time and of course, Stirling was to be her co driver. I soon learned that Sabby had learnt about PR and needed no prompting. We managed to get to the circuit in time to make this special drive and Sabrina and Stirling Moss, were photographed in the car pits, and she stayed for an hour.

Sabrina and Stirling Moss 1958
Click the pic to see video of Sabrina at the Grand Prix with Stirling Moss

Sabrina and Stirling Moss 1958

The officials were glad when she did leave as the crowds were certainly not watching the races. That fabulous figure in the mauve car was more eye pleasing. I took her back to her Hotel and looked forward to the next day, Sunday, being a day of rest, but how wrong it was to be. The complaint about the noise of the trams had been told to the management who offered to move Sabby and her mother to rooms on the other side. I felt the matter was in hand but the quiet of my Sunday morning was interrupted with a call from the Hotel informing me that Sabrina and her mother had moved out of the Hotel about midnight on Saturday. They did not know where they had gone. I started ringing around and eventually found out that they had moved to the Savoy Private Hotel on the foreshore of Brighton, a £2 a day hotel.

When I arrived at the hotel I found Sabrina and her mother watching television in their double suite, quite unaware that we were worried. Of course it was not long before the press were on the doorstep and the next morning when Sabrina went for a walk along the beach, photographers were everywhere. The locals were loving all the fuss about their bayside suburb, and no trams to disturb the Sykes family.

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

A special guest at the Melbourne Christmas Party of "Australasian Post", Sabrina is photographed with Melbourne Herald and Australian Post Executives. Left to right: Keith Macpherson, Cedric Ingamells, Sabrina, E.F. Moyle, JC. Waters, Betty, Sabrina's Mother (Mrs. Sykes), John Mouchemore and Keith Newman.

As we all know in the world of promotion, the show goes on and one has to just bear the problems that come, with looking after artists, and in Sabrina's case publicity had come to her not by talent. I feel there is an insecurity about them that makes it harder to come to terms with adulation. We had a long way to go so my job was to make Sabrina feel happy. After a few days I found a luxury flat for them in Toorak. We then got down to the business of trying to cope with all the personal appearances. They came from all over Victoria.

First of all Sabrina had to get her permit to drive. This meant a test, so again the press were on our heels. I felt rather nervous as Sabrina went for her driving test. She proved to be a good driver and all was well. When we drove down Bourke Street we had a car full of press photographers following. Sabrina was posing for them and again we stopped the traffic. The mauve car and Sabrina were proving too much for the drivers who almost crashed when they saw this beautiful buxom girl at the wheel.

The police were always about when we appeared, and in fact I had an arrangement with the Town Hall police station to let them know when Sabrina was going to be anywhere in the city, in the car, or on foot. One day she had to go for a fitting in Flinders Lane. I used to advise the press what she was doing daily so the street was packed, people hanging from the top windows. She was due at 11 am. but by 12 noon the crowd were shouting "Where is she?" When someone came out of a building and said "She is not coming". Almost a riot, but it got headlines in the press. It was Sabrina fever.


Another occasion, Sabrina was driving her car through the city to the Tivoli and she ran out of petrol. She just fled on foot and told us where the car was when she got to the Theatre. By the time we sent someone around with a can of petrol the car was surrounded, the registration number had been taken and the police were standing by. One day we called in at a coffee lounge for a cup of coffee and when I looked out of the window I was horrified to see the street blocked with people, right up to the window. There was no way we were able to leave, so I rang the police station and down came two burly policemen who escorted us back to the theatre.

Sabrina really enjoyed this admiration, but for me. at times I wondered if we would get out unscathed. The night Sabrina made her first television appearance on Bert Newton's "Late Show" on Channel 7, the police had to be at the station. Bert was in his early days of television and at first was quite nervous but soon Sabrina put him at ease. She had a way with her, almost a simplicity, her tardiness was still her worst fault.


Sabrina was the guest of the Premier (Sir Henry Bolte) and members of his cabinet at a luncheon at Parliament House, Melbourne. She was met by Mr John Rossiter, M.L.A. for Brighton.

On the day she was invited to lunch at Parliament House I had to tell her it was earlier than planned. Mr. John Rossiter (Liberal Member for Brighton) invited Sabrina to lunch and to meet the Premier, Sir Henry Bolte. Then to the galleries of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly for a short period. She had been a temporary constituent in his electorate when she stayed at the Private Hotel in Middle Brighton.

Dressed in beige lace, Sabrina made a beautiful picture as she drove up to Parliament House in her mauve car. Crowds were there to see her welcomed on the steps by Mr. Rossiter who ushered her through the doors to meet the Premier and then to lunch with several members. When she met the Premier, Sir Henry Bolte, Arthur Rylah, The Chief Secretary, and Victoria's London Agent General Sir William Leggatt she had added more to her fan list.

She was then escorted into the Assembly Chambers and I doubt if the members thought much about politics while she remained in the gallery. As she left Parliament House Mr. Roberts Dunstan, Liberal MR presented her with a rose grown in his own garden, Sabrina had really won over Parliament House members that day in December, 1958.

There were many more clashes with the police and each day that I waited for Sabrina to arrive at the theatre, I dreaded what might happen. I am sure that the press and police had a direct line. Even the policemen who caught her on a minor traffic offence - making a U turn - were featured in the press. We were lunching one day at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in Spencer Street and to my horror we were approached by a parking attendant. Sabrina had left her car in a zoning area. More pictures and stories. When asked what the policemen were like who reprimanded her she had said "rather old", and so, as they were 28 and 29 she apologised. Invited them and their partners to see the show, more pictures. She certainly had the Midas touch with publicity. At times it was hard to keep up to where we were going and what would happen next.

5 December 1958 - The Age

Sabrina at Parliament

Several hundred people crowded the steps of Parliament House yesterday to see the arrival of visiting British stage and TV artist Sabrina.

She visited the House as the guest of Mr. Rosslter, M.L.A. (L.C.P., Brighton), in whose electorate she is staying.

Sabrina dined at the House with Mr. Rossiter and other L.C.P. members.

Later she met the Premier (Mr. Bolte), the Chief Secretary (Mr. Rylah) and the Victorian Agent-General in London (Sir William Leggatt) who is on leave in Victoria.

For five minutes, Sabrina sat In the Speaker's Gallery in the Legislative Assembly listening to a debate.

Notes: MLA = Member of the Legislative Assembly. LCP = Liberal/Country Party.

9 December 1958

"Pleasures of Paris" opened with a Gala performance. The foyer was decorated with a large wooden model of the Eiffel Tower which sprayed perfume in the air. The setting was all very Parisian. The publicity had been around Sabrina and now the audiences were to see what she could really do, except show off her voluptuous figure. Her stage costumes had been made by Melbourne's designer, Simon Shinberg's Company.

So the great moment arrived when Sabrina, flanked by the Horrie Dargie Quintet, sang her theme song "I Want to Cuddle a Koala", then "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", throwing fake jewellery into the audience. Sabrina was a success, her voice, not strong but, who cares. She was very professional and as one journalist was heard to say in the interval, "An extraordinary girl paid to purvey sex yet the pitch doesn't stick to her". "As friendly as a kitten", one staid editor told me. They were enamoured. It amazed me, but I knew it was there, for no matter how late we were for appointments, as soon as we arrived Sabrina gave of herself and all was forgiven.

As the "Puss in Boots" pantomime was on daily through the Christmas holidays it meant that Sabrina and I were to continue on our merry way trying to keep as many personal appearances as possible.


Point Leo Surf Club Carnival - 4 January 1959

Sabrina was a very good swimmer, having learnt to swim when she had polio, so we had invitations from almost every Surf Club and finally chose to visit the Point Leo Surf Club's Annual Carnival. We were collected by the Club Captain, Alan Forster, and on the way Sabrina said she would like fish and chips in a newspaper. All the way down the South Coast she munched on her fish and chips.

On arrival I took one look and prayed that the police had got my message and were there to protect us, but could not see any. There were more than 10,000 swimmers and spectators on the beach. As the car pulled in I really thought it would be turned over. We eventually managed to get into the Club House with the help of those burly lifesavers and outside we could hear the crowd chanting "We want Sabrina".

She had brought a one piece bathing costume to change into and I got into my costume and with the President we braved the crowd. She presented the John Marshall Memorial Surf Race Trophy to winner John Olsen (John Marshall had founded the Club).

Sabrina was then presented with a Club jumper (a bit small) and then she suggested she would go for a swim.

Sabrina - Norma Sykes

I of course, decided I had better go with her, so did thousands of surfers. Sabrina, being a strong swimmer was soon out beyond the waves. I stood there and just wondered if she would get back as the crowd of swimmers swam out to her. Twice I was knocked off my feet in trying to reach her and shouting for help which everyone thought was just a stunt.

Eventually she came out, as always, quite calm, and sat on the beach chatting to spectators while we just stood around getting our breath. Every move was being photographed and written about.

Sabrina - Point Leo Life Saving Club 1958

Sabrina visits the Point Leo Life Saving Club 1958.
Many thanks to the club for searching their archives for me.

Point Leo Surf Club would always remember the day Sabrina took over their beach. On our way home we called in at Liberal Member, Robert Dunstan's home for drinks. It was another day over for me with many more to come, just as hectic.

Sabrina at Point Leo Life Saving Club 1958

Sabrina at the Point Leo Life Saving Club in 1958, thanks to Brian Horwood

Read more about the Point Leo event - and watch the colour movie!

I believe that when the press runs a heading "She is Driving in the City", and everyone knows who it is, then you are a celebrity. Maybe not a Star. I rather reserve that for artists like Margot Fonteyn and Dave Brubeck. But that Saba Mauve car was to be the centre of attention every time Sabrina stepped into it. The photographers and press that went on her first trip through the City streets sat amazed as Sabrina broke traffic rules, smiled at the policemen and drove on. I wondered at the time if the car had been a wise idea but she soon mastered the road rules and all was well.


Woodend Races

I think one of the most hectic days I spent with Sabrina was when she decided she would like to go to a country race meeting. There was one at Woodend , about forty miles from Melbourne. It was arranged. Off we went with Mum in tow. As soon as Sabrina appeared on the racecourse, the whole crowd stopped in their tracks. Again the photographers had a field day.

Sabrina with Ron at Woodend

The committee had set up a hospitality tent for us and Mother was enjoying the hospitality so much she decided we would all have a final drink at the Woodend Hotel with some of the members of the committee. I had the usual worry of getting Sabrina back to the theatre on time. Mother was enjoying herself so much that eventually we had to just get her out, put her in the car, and drive like hell to the Tivoli. It was really a funny day.

6 January 1959

The Australian Antarctic research ship "Magga Dan" had the honour of having an Army duck christened "Sabrina" by the star herself, who visited the ship prior to the expedition leaving to take part in the official ceremony, in which the ministration of Wilke Island was handed over to Australia by America. An interesting fact was given us by members of the team that the coastline on which Wilke Island is situated was named Sabrina in 1839 by a Norwegian Sea Captain. Why it was named Sabrina made one member say that "he thought the coast had some outstanding physical features". Sabrina smashed a bottle of champagne over the duck and once more got the headlines.

[See 6 Jan 1959 in Sabrina's biography page]


Test Cricketers - 18 January 1959

The English Test Cricketers were in town. They were invited to the Theatre and when they invited Sabrina to attend a Test Match I hoped she would refuse. Ian Johnson, Secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club was also a bit dubious how the staid Members would take to Sabrina sitting with them. I assured him she would not have any press people with her. Arrangements were made for us to meet Jan at his office. We were late. We walked from the office to the ground. To my horror, Sabrina handed Ian her makeup case to carry. We were seated with Ian's wife and in a moment all eyes were on Sabrina. Even the cricketers on the field seemed to stop in their paces. When the tea adjournment came, she decided to have afternoon tea in the Members' room. Once more she was the centre of attention.

Sabrina with Sir Leonard Hutton 1959


Sabrinarina - 18 January 1959 with former Australian cricket captain , Ian Johnson , supported by England's Len Hutton , Walter Lindrum (left) world billiards champion and Morrie Fleming , President of Richmond FC - 18 Jan 1959

Upgraded 2022-05-17 from another source - Sabrina with former Australian cricket captain Ian Johnson , supported by England's Len Hutton , Walter Lindrum (left) world billiards champion and Morrie Fleming , President of Richmond FC

Sabrina being coached by former test players Ian Johnson and Sir Leonard Hutton. she was chosen to bowl the first ball in the International match in Melbourne in 1959. Walter Lindrum, world famous billardist [sic] and Maurie Fleming, President of Richmond Football Club join in the group.

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

After the tea break, we settled down again and out of the corner of my eye I saw a Herald photographer beckoning to me. I pretended not to notice, remembering what Ian Johnson had said about publicity, but Bert Rodda, one of my favourite photographers, was determined to get a photo for the late Herald edition. Sabby saw him. That was it. She called out to him. She posed, and that evening's Herald carried a front page photo of Sabrina and Mrs. Jan Johnson.

As we left, I breathed a sigh of relief that Sabrina's visit had not disrupted the Members Cricket day, and as Ian Johnson said goodbye, I feel he felt the same. Later that month Sabrina was asked to bowl the first ball in an international Cricket Match in aid of Red Cross. Sir Leonard Button's eleven against Ian Johnson's eleven, with famous test players of England, South Africa, Australia. Walter Lindrum and Herb Elliott were guests.

They all came to see Sabrina bowl that first ball. More photos and publicity. It seemed that all Australia wanted Sabrina at their events. About this time cynics were disbelieving that Sabrina's waist was 18 inches. She decided to challenge anyone who could come up with such a waist. With a city store we ran a competition and the entries poured in. Sabrina was to be measured in front of shoppers in the store. There were a few quite close measurements and for a while I thought we would be beaten. Not so Sabrina. She faced up to the crowds with the finalists and she came out a winner. There were of course, prizes for the finalists, I really felt at one stage we just may not make it.

Thanks to Geoff in 2023, we have three new photos of Sabby in Oz, on 18 January 1959.

Sabrina with cricketers Australia, 18 Jan 1959

Sabrina with cricketers Australia, 18 Jan 1959

Sabrina with cricketers Australia, 18 Jan 1959

As he said, it was a miracle that he found them on TROVE because they were not tagged with the name 'Sabrina'.


Wool Board - 24 January 1959 [Toolern Vale]

Later, Sabrina became rather more difficult. I did not altogether blame her, for she was the talk of Melbourne and Australia. The commercial side of promotion was just then rearing its head. Up to then contra deals consisted of giving a few items of their merchandise, but now money was hovering around Sabrina's mind. Her demands were sometimes not accepted by firms - after all, up to then, such commercialism had not been thought of.

One of the promotions that really brought tremendous Australian wide publicity was the Wool Board. Simon Shinberg of the Wool Board approached me for Sabrina to launch their summer weight wool weave, only 6 ounces a yard, which was going to be launched the following Autumn. The idea was for Sabrina to visit a sheep property, take a hand in shearing, riding, and lunch at the homestead.

All seemed straight forward till you had to have the job of organising Sabrina. She agreed on the condition that she got a full wardrobe of woollen frocks to take back to England. Off we drove in her mauve car, and once again we were late, but when Sabrina stepped out of the car in her spiky high heels, wearing one of the specially made woollen frocks, forgiveness reigned once more.

Sabrina wool dress Australia 1958

She smiled through all the demands of the press, shearing a sheep, riding a horse, walking through the bush, having Billy Tea. She was a photographer's dream, but behind the scenes I sweated as she kept rushing in and changing dresses. The Wool Board had never had their clothes so well promoted. It was a long time before the small township of Melton recovered from having Sabrina in their district.

Sabrina at Toolern Valley 1959, with horse and sheep

Sabrina promotes wool in century heat in the Toolern Vale, Victoria, 24 January 1959 .
Found in 2014

Watch the video!

15 January 1959

It was summer and a very hot one at that, but Sabrina always looked cool and with her beautiful English complexion she coped with the daily personal appearances, almost like royalty. Every morning I would brief the press to where she would be and the interest never waned, She was always appearing with personalities in their own right, and if nothing was doing that day the press would make suggestions, like what about getting Herb Elliott and Sabrina to run together, and so it went on.

Sabrina and Herb Elliot

(The original source of this pic said it's Ron Elliot,
but our Sir Nigel assures me it is Herb. Ed)

"Two well-known personalities - one British and the other Australian - spent the lunch-hour together in MELBOURNE today practising for a charity performance to be held on Sunday for the Red Cross Society. Champion miler HERB ELLIOTT....and his eye-watching time-keeper SABRINA. They'll both take part in Sunday's International Charity cricket match at St. Kilda Oval. While ELLIOTT did some routine lunch-hour training at Como Park today, most eyes were on SABRINA, dressed for the occasion in matador pants and white sweater. "


Healesville Sanctuary (Before 28 January 1959)

Sabrina Womens Weekly 28 Jan 1959 Healesville

On the cover of Women's Weekly, 28 January 1959 (click to read the article)
The Healesville Sanctuary "Cuddle A Koala" wish fulfilment".

When she said she would love to cuddle a live koala, see a platypus and not just sing about them. The Australian Women's Weekly arranged for Sabrina to visit the Healesville Sanctuary, and that great journalist, the late Freda Irving , was given the task of arranging the day.

As it was to be a long drive, it was important that we leave early so we could get Sabrina back in time for her evening show. Freda arrived in her car with photographer, Laurie Kimber . Freda lived in the country and her car was used to carry produce to market and when Sabrina saw it she said she would take her car and Laurie could drive it.

For this day in the country she was wearing a blue off the shoulder dress; over six stiffened petticoats, high splinter heeled sandals and long black eyelashes.

She carried a hat box with clothing changes, and the ever present makeup case. Freda gasped but so anxious to get on our way she agreed we would go in Sabrina's mauve car with the embossed S on door and pennant flying. Sabby's mother was with us. Freda had brought a hamper of goodies for lunch. That journey was to Freda and I, the most frustrating trip we had ever made.

We were over an hour late and Sabrina and car were recognised. People swarmed on to the road. She asked to stop the car to sign autographs. At Croydon, where Freda bought meat for the barbecue, there was a near riot. Children just came from everywhere. By this time Laurie was in a state of wondering if we would ever get to Healesville. Sabrina was loving it, and eventually like a child, she said she was hungry and wanted to eat.

Sabrina's picnic at Healesville in 1959

It was with a sigh of relief we drove through the gates of the Healseville Sanctuary to be greeted by the Director, Mr. Gasking, his wife and nine year old son, Richard. He had a fire burning, so the barbecue was soon on its way. To our surprise this tiny waisted girl ate a large T bone steak, two chops, three eggs, washed down by billy bea and three glasses of orange juice.

Sabrina and mum have billy tea at Healesville in 1959

Billy tea

Laurie was anxious to start photographing as we had a lot of organising with the animals. So on through the bush, to meet and cuddle a koala (a photo that made world press), pat a platypus and kiss a kangaroo.

Sabrina pats a platypus

Platypus patting

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

Koala cuddling

Sabrina as always fell in to a pose to Laurie's delight and the result was terrific pictures. Again Sabrina became a professional. When problems arose with the kangaroo, who was refusing her kiss (a male roo) she came up with the bright idea of putting a salted peanut in between her lips, and hey presto, it worked.

Sabrina kangaroo

After this it was onto Belgrave to meet Bill Onus and throw a boomerang and this she loved. It was a very happy and - for us - a very relieved feeling when we eventually got Sabrina back to the theatre with only ten minutes before curtain. They were almost sending out a search party, but that day in the bush made a front cover and coloured spread, and all Australia was able to enjoy the day "She Cuddled a Koala". That night at the end of her song, she excitedly told her audience her wonderful experiences of that day.


Polio patients - 28 February 1959
Margaret Reid Hospital, Mona Vale Road, St.Ives, N.S.W.

Sometimes I found Sabrina quite a tough young lady. She had suddenly been pushed into the limelight and "used". Then she would show a side that was really soft and kind. She said she would like to visit some polio patients, having had polio as a child and knowing she was one of the fortunate ones to live a normal life. A visit to the Fairfield Hospital was arranged and Horrie Dargie, himself a victim of polio, went out with Sabrina. No fuss, she just wanted to meet as many of the patients as possible and only allowed one photographer to be there to take a picture.

She met patients who had been in iron lungs for over four years; she chatted to them, gave them gifts, and signed autographs. It showed that other side of Sabrina. The public and media had made her what she was, and at twenty-two years old, she really did handle everything well; well, almost everything.

Sabrina visits a polio victim 1959

Sabrina visits polio victims - Margaret Reid Hospital 1959
Sabrina visits polio victims at the Margaret Reid Hospital, 28 Feb 1959

1 March 1959

Goes fishing with quiz game king, Bob Dyer.

Sabrina and Bob Dyer 1959

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes 29 March 1959 - Sabrina is mobbed at a hospital's charity fete .


Bendigo - date?

The Mutual Public Society asked Sabrina to compere the opening of their building project in Bendigo . Only a new Company, and backed by the Victorian Government, this Society was planning to build homes in country towns with local labour and materials. This Bendigo project required saturation publicity. Who else, but Sabrina to make that happen?

They had also arranged for the Minister for Lands (Mr. K. Turnbull) to officially declare open the first home of this scheme. It was to Sabrina they looked for the publicity. Now, of course, Sabrina could see that her appearances were worth money. She finally agreed to a sum of what I think at that time, was about $300, and also, wanted a suite reserved at the Hotel Shamrock. Her mother would be going and she must return early after the opening.

Finally, all this was arranged. Bendigo prepared for Sabrina's arrival. The Home project seemed second place. When I arrived to travel with her to Bendigo in the car provided by Mutual Public Society, Sabrina decided she wanted to take her mauve car and drive herself, so there we were running late as usual, with two cars.

With the pennant flying, Sabrina was loving every minute of it, waving and stopping at every spot to say hello. Eventually we got to Macedon for lunch.

During the lunch Sabrina said to me, "I want more money for this appearance. Unless I get another hundred pounds in cash, I will not proceed to Bendigo." I rang one of the Mutual Home people in Bendigo and told him what Sabrina wanted. But as we both thought of the alternative, we knew Sabrina would win, so when I told her, she decided to proceed to Bendigo. We were met by police escort at the entrance to the town. I do not believe even royalty has had such a welcome. It seemed all Bendigo was there to welcome this "Dumb Blonde". I brightened up a bit as I saw the crowd for I knew Sabrina would respond, despite the fact she was not in a very good mood.

We were escorted through the crowd into the Shamrock Hotel, which was strewn with banners hanging from the balcony, "Welcome Sabrina". The official party including the Minister, had arrived earlier and now here was Sabrina. She was taken to the suite, which in the early days of the Shamrock was used for Royalty and decided to make her first change of clothes for the day. Sabrina won all hearts and as she waved to the crowd from the balcony she was asked why she drove her car to Bendigo, her reply, "So you could see it for yourselves".

On to the opening of the Home project. I doubt if anyone heard what the Minister said, or wanted to look at the home. All eyes were on Sabrina. Crowds pushed, and fought just to touch her, and she revelled in it, signing autographs and the official party [was] completely ignored. We had our usual team of press people following us and when one bright person suggested that Sabrina should pan for gold at a nearby creek, Sabrina in her spiky heels went and walked along dusty roads, followed by a barrage of press people, and tried for her gold find. (She didn't get it.) One chap said to me (she has the gold in those hills of hers).

Back at the Shamrock the crowds still waited, and when I suggested we had better start for home, she said she had decided to stay overnight. We sent Mother home and in the morning Sabby, and a rather tired PR lass, wended our way back to Melbourne. I doubt if Bendigo will ever forget the day that Sabrina took over their City. I know I won't.


"Is it gold?" as Sabrina picked up a yellow coloured pebble during her Bendigo visit.

The heading the next day in "Bendigo Advertiser" read, "Sabrina and Minister drew Bendigo crowds". She had proved she was No. 1 and as everyone in Melbourne was saying, she had become a local landmark. Even Tattersall's major prize tickets were called "Sabrina or Bust'.


Bert Newton

Sabrina used to cause a disruption to Melbourne traffic so much that the police were used to being called out to handle the situation, but there was one occasion that they really felt the whole business had gone far enough. Sabrina was to make an appearance at Myers, in their Mural Hall, which had been booked out weeks before. Bert Newton , then making a name for himself, as a H.S.V. 7 personality was to compete the Fashion Parade, and interview Sabrina. It was agreed that she would be met at the front entrance in Bourke Street by the Directors of Myers and taken to the Mural Hall. All these plans on paper looked great. We still had not learned that once again, she would cause traffic jams.

She arrived at the entrance, late of course, and by then Bourke Street from Swanston to Elizabeth Street was completely jammed with people. The trams could not get through. As she stepped out of her car she was literally carried through the entrance; I, a little under 5 foot and weighing eight stone, was carried along with the crowd. It was a frightening experience. The Myer Directors and PR lady, Jean Carter, just disappeared into the crowd. Sabrina was really terrified. She was wearing all white with a white mink, a white toque hat, so, fortunately, she stood out and I managed to get to her.

We were swept on to an escalator while Bert Newton was keeping the crowd amused by describing her progress through the store. Merchandise was knocked over and I am sure that Myers must have lost a lot to shoplifters.

Sabrina and Bert Newton

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

Bert Newton interviews Sabrina during her appearance in the Myer Mural Hall when thousands blocked the surrounding city streets to see this artist's arrival and appearance.

We went through another entrance, then I saw a goods lift. I bundled Sabrina into it. Somehow we arrived at the Mural Hall floor and got through to the back of the stage, and I literally pushed Sabrina on to an exhausted Bert, she just stood and the whole of the audience cheered.

The Fashion Parade was good but nothing else mattered. Bert proceeded to interview her and, as ever, Sabrina had won another crowd and she was the star of the event. Outside the crowds were continuing to chant. It was now getting near 5 p.m. The traffic snarl was slowly getting worse. We had to go from Myers to a function given by a shoe company at a restaurant on the banks of the Yarra which meant we had to pass along Elizabeth Street and cross the bridge into St Kilda Road: not a difficult task for anyone but Sabrina.

I told the police and by then the traffic was beginning to be blocked almost right through to the Yarra bank and so once again a police escort. We managed to get out of Myers, cross the bridge to meet yet another crowd. Sabrina loved it, signing autographs all the way: waving to the crowd, and leaving the Myer Directors very happy, even if a bit battered. The press next day would carry their banner Well, Sabrina, would carry it for them.

Her Melbourne season over and she was going to Sydney. The Melbourne "Herald" took one of their rare steps. They asked her to say "goodbye" to their Melbourne readers by writing her impressions of her visit. With a photo of Sabrina at a typewriter, (she did not type, of course) Sabrina's last day in Melbourne was recorded on the front page of the "Herald". She praised Australia, liked our accent, our beaches, our men (though apart from a few escorts, Melbourne men had been shy to make her acquaintance). She said some day I will return.

Before she left she called at the Town Hall police station and thanked the police for their help during her stay in their city. They voted her a great sport. We found time to take a helicopter trip (quite unique in those days) to a Charity Function at Sir Reg Ansett's home. Another occasion, we went by chopper to a party with Evie Hayes in the hills of Melbourne.

Sabrina in Australia

Sabrina in Australia

There were many more occasions but as the "Herald" caption read "Goodbye Sabrina". She walked through a crowd of press, police, airport workers. She waved to us and said " I loved Melbourne, but oh, those trams".

As I look back today at the newspaper stories, photos and the list of engagements for this artist, I am amazed. They say that publicity is the stuff of which fame is built. Sabrina had, besides her magnificent figure, a certain glamour, almost a naivety; a girl next door appeal; sexy, not really, but a freshness. This promotion was beyond our wildest dreams. Once I got Sabrina in front of the cameras it was over to her.


Sydney - date?

And so onto Sydney, and more of the same thing, but somehow I felt that as Melbourne had had her first, Sydney was not going overboard like they did in the City in the South, but, they had not counted on Sabrina's appeal.

The police were there to meet her. She made the headlines, but it was not quite the same. I did not go over with her, but from what I heard she was not as co-operative, maybe tired, who could blame her? On one occasion the heading read "Sabrina put on a poor show". This was High Society, attended by many of Sydney's top socialites. In a way, I can understand her feelings. She knew she was only invited for the news value, and as such she went, talked a little and refused to sit at the official table .

[Read Sabrina's account of this in Aust Post 1960 ]

The Sydney press were not that kind to her and waited for any opportunity for her to make headlines. Not in the way it had all happened in Melbourne. Maybe that magic had gone. Sabrina was probably tired and just wanted to get home. She had crowded into the three months in Melbourne more than a lifetime of functions for most people. I still marvel that this young girl had proved in a short time, that we all like a fantasy world to read about. Her promotion had taught me that whenever I could, I would try and bring to the public through the media a bit of magic of theatre and its people. Sometimes a bit exaggerated, but does that matter if you're bringing joy to the people.


Jack Davey

When Sabrina was appearing at the Sydney Tivoli Theatre in "Pleasures of Paris', Jack Davey asked her to be a guest on his popular morning show on 2GB. Jack, number 1 in the world of Radio and a great showman, recorded his show "live" from his luxury penthouse at Point Piper. Jack had heard of Sabrina's lateness at appointments, so decided the only way to ensure she was "on cue" at the right time was to invite Sabby and her mother to stay with him the night before the radio interview.

When Sabrina arrived at his apartment she was, as usual, followed by swarms of photographers and much to Jack Davey's delight, she spent a lot of time posing in her bikini at the swimming pool, and even swimming a few laps.

Jack woke her at 7.30 am, with a glass of orange juice and then started his programme. A few minutes before Sabrina was due to go on the radio, he checked with her and to his horror she was sound asleep. Just when he despaired she would be "on air" on time, in walked Sabrina, a sleepy girl.

History recorded it was one of Jack's best interviews. Sabrina swapped wisecracks with Davey with surprising skill and commendable composure and from the moment she whispered into the mike, "Hello, I am so tired. It is the middle of the night:' Sabrina had chalked up another winner with the public.

After she left, Jack Davey pinned over the bed, "Sabrina Slept Here". The paper quoted her as being just like the girl next door.

[Jack Davey died on 14 October 1959 and Sabrina attended his funeral - and Sabrina was furious when the press photographed her during Davey's funeral service ]


Perth - June-July 1959

Sabrina in a Perth wine cellar

Sabrina in Australia, posing prettily on a barrel of wine in a Perth (WA) wine cellar. Published June 1960. Source.

17 June 1959 - Perth, Western Australia

Sabrina is assaulted onstage by a fan in Perth . As reported in the Saskatoon Star (Phoenix)

Preferred Force To Persuasion
PERTH, Australia (Reuters)— British actress - singer Sabrina purred "persuade me" to a man she invited up from the audience to join her on stage Tuesday night — but the volunteer performer chose a more direct approach.
He grabbed the busty singer and tried to kiss her. Sabrina tried to push him away but tripped up in her form-fitting red dress and toppled to the floor. The man continued to embrace her as she struggled to get to her feet.
She finally got up and wiggled off stage, her lipstick smeared and her blonde hair mussed. The man returned to his front - row seat.
Sabrina came back later for her finale, still with one shoe missing and obviously upset by the incident.

In Australia Post , Sabrina is reported to have said of the incident:

"This night I had hardly got the words out over the microphone asking for a man to come up on to the stage to help me out, when a dark young man [Michael] leaped out of his seat, rushed down the theatre aisle and up on to the stage.
As soon as I started my song I had a feeling that tonight was going to be different.
Suddenly, he took a step forward and kissed me full on the lips – with an audience of 1500 watching.
The slinky, very low-cut tight fitting evening dress that I was wearing was definitely not made for this sort of thing.
I did not dare to struggle too hard in case I came out of the dress altogether. At any moment I felt the audience were going to be able to see for themselves that my bust owed nothing to artifice.
I was furious when I picked up a newspaper the following day.
In big black type there was an interview with the man who had kissed me!
Dragging my reluctant manager with me, I took a taxi to his business address.
I was so angry that I stepped forward and gave him a stinging right hand slap on the face.
Honor was satisfied. I swept out feeling a different woman."
[ See another report of this Sabrina episode ]

14 September, 1959 - Queensland

September 14, 1959. Brisbane, QLD. Movie actress Sabrina being met by fans after she arrives at Eagle Farm airport

Brisbane, QLD.

Movie actress Sabrina being met by fans after she arrives at Eagle Farm airport

15 September, 1959 - Queensland

Brisbane, Queensland. Movie actress Sabrina with a kangaroo in Queens St.

September 15, 1959. Brisbane, QLD. Movie actress Sabrina with a kangaroo in Queens St in the city

At times, I could have gladly walked away from her, but then she would do something that just made me forgive her, for all her faults.

How many people did Sabrina leave in Australia feeling that reading about her, sometimes meeting her, hearing of her furs and her mauve car, had brought a touch of glamour into their otherwise very tidy and sometimes boring lives. That is the way I have always tried to look at this rather exhausting three months.

Sabrina went back to England and as often happens here in Australia, we never heard of her again. Her dreams of becoming a great film star may have come true and somewhere, she is now happy and contented, sometimes remembering the period of her life when "Sabrina will be here" stopped the traffic. I hope so.

14 November 1959 - The Toledo Blade (Ohio, USA) reported:

Sabrina - Norma Ann Sykes

Sabrina and manager Ray Bolwell at Mascot leaving for USA, 19 Nov 59

Sabrina then headed for New Zealand

This great Sabrinastuff was kindly provided by Sir James C.

Colour photos of the Healesville trip added 13 May 2009 from the 'Canberra Scrapbook' purchase.

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