Who is the dancing man?

The war has been over for nearly 60 years, but the battle for Elizabeth Street rages on.

The wife of a recently retired Sydney barrister demanded yesterday that the Royal Australian Mint apologise for naming the “dancing man” on a new $1 coin as Ern Hill, a former electrical fitter, rather than her husband, Frank McAlary, QC.

Information distributed by the mint to numismatic dealers says the coin, to be released next year, replicates the famous image of “the ‘dancing man’ Ern Hill, in Elizabeth Street, Sydney taken on the 15th August 1945” as he celebrated the news of the end of World War II.

“They have made a dreadful, dreadful mistake,” Patricia McAlary said yesterday, adding that her husband was definitely the dancing man. Asked if she wanted the mint to issue a correction, she said: “Obviously I would, and an apology as well.”

When she learnt the mint was naming Mr Hill, “I was upset for my children and grandchildren.”

Mr McAlary, positive that he was the dancing man, backed his wife’s call, but seemed less annoyed. “If she wants the mint to apologise, I want the mint to apologise. I am not silly enough to disagree with my wife on such an inconsequential matter. She is upset and I think the children are upset. I think everyone is more upset than I am.”

Mr Hill, of Westmead, stuck by his claim. “I worked in town as an electrical fitter,” he said.

“It was about mid-morning when the boss came down and said, ‘It’s all over.’ They shut up shop.”

After changing clothes he had dashed into the city, spotting a camera crew on a truck.

“The camera came along and I did a bit of a jump around.”

Mr Hill, then 17, said he had a reputation as a dancer.

“We used to dance three, four, five nights a week.”

He said that when the debate over the photograph first arose a decade ago, 11 people claimed to be the dancing man, but most were quickly eliminated. He said it was because his claim was widely accepted that he was granted “a reserved seat, among the distinguished guests” at the Town Hall to watch the 1995 parade marking the 50th anniversary of peace.

But another QC, Chester Porter, said yesterday that he and a former Compensation Court judge, Barry Egan, had seen Mr McAlary being filmed dancing.

“There are two other living witnesses,” Mr Porter said. “We were fellow students. Frank was dancing on the street … The cameraman said, ‘That looks pretty good, son. Would you mind doing it again?’

“To have for eyewitnesses two Queen’s Counsels and a judge is not bad evidence.”

A mint spokeswoman, Vivienne Thom, said it assumed Mr Hill was the dancing man after seeing his name on the picture’s caption on the online photo database Newspix.

“We took that at face value,” she said. “We’d send out a correction to the dealers if it was proved to be incorrect.”

The coin bears no name.

Famous pirouette of peace stepping up to a war dance

After 50 years and under heavy pressure from friends and colleagues, Mr Frank McAlary, QC, has “come out” to say he was “the dancing man” whose pirouettes captured the joy of Australians on VP Day, 1945.

Mr McAlary’s emergence yesterday puts him at the centre of one of Australia’s most fascinating cases of mistaken identity.

Although there is a clear similarity between Mr McAlary, photographs of him in his youth and the dancer in the old newsreel film, the dancer’s identity remains in dispute.

Another claimant, Mr Patrick Blackall, has taken advice from a QC and is seeking scientific evidence to prove his case.

Yet another claim has been made on behalf of the late Mr Ken Carn, deputy director of rural manpower in NSW at the end of the war.

Mr Jim Daley, of Wagga Wagga, who worked with Mr Carn, said: “I’ve no doubt it was him. His family never doubted it.”

Mr Ern Hill, first nominated as the dancing man and used by media for the Australia Remembers series, said: “If someone can prove categorically that he is the dancing man, I would be happy to bow out.”

Mr Hill said he had never claimed categorically to be the dancer but was in Elizabeth Street at the time, danced in clothes that looked like those of the dancer and, according to family and friends, looked like him. He would stick to his story.

Mr Blackall has made statutory declarations and hired a PR consultant, Ms Barbara Joss, to present his case, as well as seeking advice from the Australian Museum’s search and discovery unit, Detective Sergeant Roger Johnson, of the Crime Support Unit’s physical evidence section, and Mr John Tuckfield, QC.

Sergeant Johnson told the Herald it would be possible, but difficult, to identify the dancer from the original film. Mr Blackall will try to borrow the film from the National Film and Sound Archives.

Mr Tuckfield, who, among other activities, “observed sailors and soldiers making love behind trees in Hyde Park” on that famous day, said Mr Blackall’s story was consistent with his (Tuckfield’s) recollection of the day, although Mr McAlary also resembled the dancer.

Ms Rebecca Keenan, of Film World, which represents Cinesound-Movietone Productions, said Mr Blackall and Mr McAlary both somehow looked like the dancer.

The two men attended Christian Brothers College, Rose Bay. Mr Blackall, 63, was still at school in 1945.

Mr McAlary, 69, attended a school reunion recently, and was introduced by Mr Max Connery, a solicitor, as the man who pirouetted on VP Day, “reputed to be the Fred Astaire of Rose Bay”. Mr McAlary said simply: “For 50 years I’ve kept that under the covers.”

Friends and colleagues nominated Mr McAlary, pointing out that a 50-year-old photograph of the dancing man hung in his chambers.

Mr Chester Porter, QC, said: “Blind Freddy could see it’s Frank McAlary. We were together in third-year Law School in 1945. VP Day opened as an ordinary working day but was suddenly declared a public holiday. Frank was an exuberant character and was dancing around. He’d had nothing to drink. A cameraman said, ‘Sonny, that’s pretty good. Would you mind doing it again so we could film it?’. He did.”

Mr McAlary did not want a fuss but felt he had to “come out”. He recalled the joyous day and how he could dance “a bit”.

Mrs Freda Osborne, 81, of Riverwood, believes she is the woman in the picture, looking over her shoulder at the dancer. She said she was certain it was Mr Hill but had not seen the other three men. Then again, Mrs Noelene Shaw, of Wiley Park, thought she might have been the woman …