Businesses, Occupations, Social Life, Sport

Billiards and Betting at Kandos

In November 1915, three months after the first Kandos land sale, Frank Brown announced through the media that he was “busily engaged erecting a billiard room”. That was the last we heard of it, but it was the start of a frenzy. Over the next three years, Martin Barlow, John Pike, Thomas Robinson, Jack Taylor and John Garland made regular announcements: “erecting premises” “two billiard rooms”, “two tables”, “spacious, convenient and well-appointed”, “an ornament to the township” “with hair dressing salon”. It was John Garland who won the race by acquiring the first billiard license in July 1918. Then followed the surprise announcement in October that his license had been transferred to Thomas Robinson.

My research of billiard rooms at Kandos has uncovered a mystifying collection of pop-up proprietors – thirty or so over thirty or so years, who took out licenses and leased billiard premises, built by opportunistic entrepreneurs. No wonder Bruce Fleming (History of Kandos) and I, don’t always connect in terms of who popped up where. The Government Gazette lists only license names; media articles don’t always name the saloon; all saloons were in Angus Avenue. I can locate four of them, perhaps five. However only two lasted the course and they provide the settings of this blog: Kandos Billiards Saloon located between the 1918 Stores and Chrisfield Motors; Tattersalls Billiard Saloon diagonally opposite IGA.

So what was the attraction of billiard rooms in the first few decades of Kandos? Those men who jostled for first place in the billiard stakes, knew that early closing of hotels in 1916 (6pm) left an opening for night-time entertainment. Following the war, hotels got rid of their billiard tables to allow more room for the six o’clock swill. Unlike other sporting clubs, billiard rooms offered more than a game. For a start women couldn’t hold a billiard license and though women had enjoyed billiards in past centuries, at this time they were neither welcome in saloons nor encouraged to play billiards. It was men’s domain, a place for them to gather, gossip, loiter, play, bet, fight, smoke (Kandos Billiards sold tobacco products) and scrub up (both premises had a hairdresser – for a cut and shave).

Billiard saloons developed a shady reputation especially in the 1920s and 1930s. As a magistrate in Young explained when he refused a licence in 1922: “the people who frequent them, using filthy language and spitting on the floor, make them unfit for decent men”. The saloons were often fronts for gambling and drinking, despite the regulations of the Billiards and Bagatelle Act of 1902. To obtain a license, an applicant had to get the support of six respectable householders and satisfy the court he was of good character. He paid a fee of £10 (£1 for a license transfer) and undertook to keep hours between 10am and midnight and have no liquor, gambling or disorderly persons on the premises. 

In 1924 one legendary “very smart” police raid was broadcast across the state. It seems Sergeant Lucas wanted to make an example of Bertie Graves, who had only held the license at Tattersalls Billiard Saloon for a few months. Lucas arranged for a back-up of five officers, as well as a plain clothes policeman from Leadville, to assist him in a raid. The Leadville constable joined the gambling group in the saloon on the nights of June 13th and 14th. Bertie was smart and careful but he welcomed the new player once he established he’d worked for the cement company a few years before. The game was “fives and sixes”. A leather-lined dice box was produced, each dice with three fives and three sixes.  A lookout was posted near the window ready to turn off lights if a police car approached. Bertie and his offsider Ossie Griffin, took it in turns to be banker. As each player handed the banker his bet, the banker deducted sixpence. Sometimes the banker joined in the betting. At 9pm on the 14th Sergeant Lucas pounced. Though some escaped, 18 men were charged with playing an unlawful game (fine £2 with 8/- cost). Graves and Griffin were charged with keeping a common gaming house (the magistrate reserved his decision which the paper didn’t record). The Leadville constable who was chief witness estimated that up to 100 men bet at Tattersalls over two nights. Sergeant Lucas reproached Bertie from the stand “You were the person who said when you applied for a licence you would conduct the room in a lawful way.” Whatever illegalities happened in Kandos billiard rooms thereafter, didn’t appear in newspapers.

Some proprietors were serious billiard players themselves and promoted the game, drawing in enthusiastic players. Lively Jack Pearce ran billiard tournaments during his two-year proprietorship of Tattersalls in the early 1920s. In 1934 Reg Wadie and James Sharrock invited Les Hayes, amateur Australian champion, to play a series of exhibition games at Tattersalls. George King held snooker tournaments for cash prizes in 1927. Donald Gillespie arranged exhibition games by a “lady billiard player” and her gentleman partner, with boxes of chocolates as side wagers and admission charges going to Rylstone District Hospital. Gillespie who had the license for Tattersalls 1931-33 was probably the most credentialed license holder. His trade was billiard marker. Obsolete now, a billiard marker collected fees (if the table wasn’t coin operated), provided fresh drinks (non-alcoholic of course), oversaw bets (quietly of course) and recorded the progress of games. 

The billiard rooms went into decline during World War 2 and never recovered. Owner of the Tattersalls building, Martin Barlow, put it up for sale in 1945. It was eventually sold to Loneragans’ in 1947 for a store. Kandos Billiards and Hairdressing building was demolished in 1957, with the Mudgee Guardian reporting: “Many thrilling tales are told of the startling events that once occurred in this establishment, and during the demolition a pistol was found under the floor boards.”

I am left thinking that what I have discovered about billiard rooms in Kandos is very tame compared with what really went on. Are there any stories out there?

The featured image is of Paul Newman in The Hustler

Paul Newman

Other names associated with Kandos Billiards:

Rupert Kennedy, George William King, S Luscombe, George Beard, Frederick Francis, Alan Knight, Hilton Clifford, George Albert Smith, William Charles McCoy, Robert J McPhee, Leslie N Price, George Reece, Jack Pearce, George Beard, B E McKenna, Herb Stone

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