ICBM, Tradies, Moose: couples who met at Canberra nightclubs

Goran (Tiny) Srejic and Elaine Stanford, Copacabana, 1982

Tiny and Elaine at their wedding in  early 1984. Photo: Supplied

Tiny and Elaine at their wedding in early 1984. Photo: Supplied

If there was once a Canberra equivalent of John Travolta’s iconic Saturday Night Fever character Tony Manero, Goran (Tiny) Srejic was it.

In 1982, at the age of 17, Tiny was an uber-celebrity at Dickson nightspot the Copacabana.

Dressed in his disco-inspired partying uniform - a black unbuttoned shirt tucked into tight white jeans - he’d breeze upstairs to the club on Woolley Street, his long and freshly blow-dried hair flowing behind him.

And hell, could he dance. Tiny recalls women lining up to strut their stuff opposite him. Perfectly, the Copa dance floor had been designed as an exact replica of the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever, complete with light-up squares. It was disco era, and Tiny, who made a living doing "odd jobs", was in his prime.

He rocked up to the Copa every night of the week between Tuesday and Sunday, breaking hearts and having a blast with huge groups of friends. He budgeted $20 a week for clubbing at the Copa, the equivalent of $3 per night.

“That got me six cokes,” he recalls. “If I wanted more, I’d hit up the girls for drinks.”

It was September 1982 when Tiny peered through the throng of women moving and sweating on the dance floor around him and spotted a pretty brunette, sitting and talking with friends.

Elaine Stanford was a young employee of the Attorney-General’s Department and would always head to the Copa late in the night, after kicking off at the Ainslie Footy Club or the Private Bin.

Tiny and Elaine are well known in Canberra as joint owners of The Green Shed. Photo: Supplied

Tiny and Elaine are well known in Canberra as joint owners of The Green Shed. Photo: Supplied

Elaine couldn’t have cared less about Tiny’s smooth dance moves - which made her even more attractive to the slick teen.

“He asked me to dance and I said yes and he said, ‘I was hoping you’d say no’,” Elaine recalls.

“I said why? He said, ‘Cause I’ve got a bet on that you wouldn’t dance with me’.”

"When they played the song Copacabana at 5am, you knew it was time to leave," Tiny recalls of the Dickson nightclub. Photo: Supplied

"When they played the song Copacabana at 5am, you knew it was time to leave," Tiny recalls of the Dickson nightclub. Photo: Supplied

On a hot night in December - actually it was December 17; Tiny remembers it exactly - Tiny and Elaine had their photo taken by a man who regularly visited the Copa with a Polaroid camera. He offered pics of the partygoers for $5 a pop.

“That was a lot of money in those days,” Elaine laughs.

“We raised the money by asking friends - we just asked people to give us $1 each.”

It was almost like they knew something nobody else did.

That polaroid was the first of thousands of photos the couple would pose for together over the next 37 years, including their own wedding photos just 18 months after meeting at the Copa. (Tiny initially asked Elaine to be his girlfriend at the Starlight Drive-in during a Cheech and Chong movie. When she said yes, he got out and shouted the news to baffled movie-goers in the cars surrounding them.)

Today, Tiny and Elaine are well known to Canberrans as the joint owners of The Green Shed. They’re proud parents and grandparents and say the secret to a long and happy marriage is perseverance.

Elaine and Tiny were married at All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie. Photo: Supplied

Elaine and Tiny were married at All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie. Photo: Supplied

“We’re opposites,” Elaine says.

“We’ve had our ups and downs like any normal relationship but I just think you persevere.”

Says Tiny: “You’re married for life. You’re with them until the day you die.”

And they’re also fond of serenading each other; with the line of a song that could have been written exclusively for them:

Ben and Lindy Hall, downstairs Moose, 2005

Ben and Lindy on their wedding day, February 2009. Photo: Supplied

Ben and Lindy on their wedding day, February 2009. Photo: Supplied

Imagine your kids jumping up and down in their seats and squealing excitedly every time you drove past Mooseheads.

“Mum! Mum! That’s where you met Dad!” they cry and point at the Big Moose logo in the sky.

Welcome to the life of loved-up couple Ben and Lindy Hall, who met at downstairs Moose 14 years ago and have been inseparable ever since.

On a cool night in April 2005, Ben went all out, chucking on a T-shirt and jeans to head out with the lads while Lindy was all dolled up in a new boob tube from Supre, and out with girlfriend Belinda.

A single mum with six-year-old Braydon at home, Lindy wasn’t specifically out to find love - but when she clapped eyes on “little” Ben Hall, everything changed.

As Kanye’s Gold Digger and Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl blared across the ground floor level of Moose, Lindy made a beeline to the “hottie” drinking rum and coke at the bar.

Lindy and Ben Hall with kids Campbell and Amarli. Photo: Supplied

Lindy and Ben Hall with kids Campbell and Amarli. Photo: Supplied

“I’d seen him talking to my girlfriend Belinda and I was obsessed,” Lindy recalls.

“I walked straight over to him and said, ‘You’re coming with me’ and dragged him to the dance floor.”

The attraction was instant. The couple had their first kiss in the blaring lights of the dance floor and wandered out hand-in-hand in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Their infatuation and frantic text messaging in the week after meeting in Civic almost burnt holes in the Nokia phones they both had. But their memories of the early days of their romance differ more than a little.

Love on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Supplied

Love on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Supplied

“I invited him to a Raiders game,” Lindy says.

“Yeah but your mum and brother came too,” Ben interjects.

“I cooked him dinner - porterhouse steak with prawns,” Lindy says.

Ben: “You overcooked the steak.”

The couple’s shared sense of humour has been critical to the success of the Halls' relationship. Ben and Lindy celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary on Thursday and have two children in addition to Braydon - Amarli, 9, and Campbell, 6.

“There was no such thing as Tinder back then, you just headed out to a club and kind of hoped for the best," Ben says.

“It was just a different generation," Lindy says. "I don’t think young people these days even know how to pick up at a nightclub.

James and Fiona Lester, Dickson Tradies, 1991

Fiona and James share a smooch at the place they met - Dickson Tradies. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Fiona and James share a smooch at the place they met - Dickson Tradies. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

What Fiona Lester remembers most about meeting a young James Lester at the Dickson Tradies in the early 1990s are the hairdos.

“He had an excellent mullet,” she recalls.

“And I was rocking a perm.”

It was 1991; stone washed jeans were big, the cool boys wore long-sleeved Stussy T-shirts and the girls stripped Sportsgirl and Portmans of racks of aran-knit jumpers.

The couple at the Tradies in 1991. James had an 'excellent mullet'. Photo: Supplied

The couple at the Tradies in 1991. James had an 'excellent mullet'. Photo: Supplied

On the dance floor at the Tradies, Color Me Badd, Boyz II Men and Roxette provided the soundtrack to young teenage couples french kissing on the dance floor.

Fiona celebrated her 18th birthday at the club; playing pokies, dancing, and downing scotch and cokes like only a newly legal girl can. James Lester thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

“We’d seen each other in passing a few times at the Tradies,” he recalls.

“But on the night of her 18th, I definitely had a crack. She wouldn’t have a bar of me.”

Says Fiona: “I was too drunk to notice you were hitting on me.”

As it turns out, their lust on the Tradies dance floor was never requited. Well, in the 1990s anyway.

As fate would have it, Fiona and James did meet again; this time a decade later, in 2001, in the slightly more sober setting of Wanniassa Primary School. Both were separated from their first marriages and had had three kids. Fiona’s son and James’s daughter were sharing day one of school together.

“I was absolutely mortified when I saw him,” Fiona recalls.

“I did everything I could to avoid him. I didn’t want him to remember the drunk girl from the Tradies.”

James and Fiona with three of their nine kids - Matilda, Eddie and Olivia. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

James and Fiona with three of their nine kids - Matilda, Eddie and Olivia. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

But avoiding James became impossible. The couple’s older daughters Rachel and Merinda became best friends and Fiona and James found themselves dropping the girls to each others houses.

It took three years of casual cuppas and play dates for James to finally take the first step - by offering Fiona “a back rub”.

Today, the couple has three children together - bringing the total number of kids to nine - and four grandchildren, with another grandchild on the way.

They married in 2013 in the rose gardens of Parliament House, and held their reception at - you guessed it - the Dickson Tradies. (They pulled an all-nighter that night.)

“When I saw her again 10 years after the Tradies I still saw her as a little blonde hottie,” James says.

“And I thought - I missed out the first time, I’m not gonna miss out a second time.”

Luke Felton and Alyssa Hughes, ICBM, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake and The Bouncer: Alyssa and Luke on the day of their engagement. Photo: Emily Davidson, Colourful Creations

Strawberry Shortcake and The Bouncer: Alyssa and Luke on the day of their engagement. Photo: Emily Davidson, Colourful Creations

As a bouncer at Civic nightclub ICBM in 2011, it wasn’t unusual for groups of tipsy women to ask to have their photo taken with Luke Felton. Not that he minded.

“It was quite a good time if I'm honest,” Luke laughs.

"It was quite common for girls in particular to request photos during the night ... some would touch me in inappropriate places."

While Luke rarely ever saw the pics, he did manage to “stumble across one” on Facebook the week after it had been taken in 2011.

It was a photo of Luke and a group of girls in fancy dress. The girls were out celebrating a birthday.

The Facebook photo that sparked the romance. Photo: Supplied

The Facebook photo that sparked the romance. Photo: Supplied

Luke stared at the girl standing next to him in the photo, dressed as Strawberry Shortcake, and recalled that although she’d been shy, there had been a little spark between them.

“She hung around the door of the club most of the night,” he laughs. “I did have an inkling there was something there.”

And then he saw her comment underneath the Facebook photo.

“OMG it’s the hot bouncer,” Strawberry Shortcake (real name Alyssa Hughes) wrote.

Luke laughed and replied to her comment: “Oh, that would be me :)”

He direct messaged a “very embarrassed” Alyssa and asked her on a date.

The family all dressed up for Alyssa and Luke's engagement party. Photo: Supplied

The family all dressed up for Alyssa and Luke's engagement party. Photo: Supplied

“The rest, as they say, is history,” he says.

Alyssa joined Luke’s little family that included three sons - Dylann, Seth and Huntar - and now the couple has two daughters together: Lexi, 6, and Mia, 18 months.

Fancy dress still plays a huge part in the couple’s lives, with Disney a favourite theme for parties and other special occasions. Luke very publicly proposed to Alyssa at a Disney-themed Sweet Charitea event in 2017.

For their engagement party, Luke dressed as Aladdin and Alyssa dressed as Princess Jasmine.

“I’d say the secret to our relationship is intimacy, communication and a bit of silliness," Luke says.