" THE SMOKERY"
Natban F. Spielvoge1
(From the.’Ballarat Courier’,
9th April 1932)
5 o'clock on a dreary afternoon is the best time to visit the Smokery at the
in the street‑ The wind blaws as t'wad blaw its last, The rattling
showers rise on the blast”.
whistling wind, sleety rain, and bitter cold are all forgotten once you enter
the cheerful smokery, the air of which is a fog produced by more or less
fragrant tobacco. Nearly all the chairs are occupied. Fine, solid
old‑fashioned chairs they are! Some of them. black and shiny with the
friction of thousands of trousers, must be a hundred years old.
the fire lounge the politicians. Fierce and fiery are the denunciations of
Langism, of Bolshevism, of the perfidy of the United States,. of the
degenerate spirit of the age. One orator eloquently and loudly proves that the
ruin of the country is caused by the crass extravagance of the Parliaments.
and another is pleading for a trial of the theory of Henry George. And there
is always an audience to applaud or to offer ribald comments.
of grim earnestness are being fought across the chess and draught tables, for
you must certainly know that the Smokery has produced at least three chess
players considered good enough to play for Victoria against New South Wales,
and to‑day John Armstrong, a son of the Smokery is playing off for the
draughts championship of Australia. Around each table is a group of onlookers
ever ready to give unsolicited advice how the game should have been played. No
insult will silence them!
upon a time a player challenged his foe to play a game of chess for a pound.
His opponent politely remarked he did not care to play the noble game of chess
for the filthy lucre. The challenger looked round at the circle of grinning
spectators, and said he had no objection to the filthy lucre. What he objected
to was the filthy onlucre. It may be added he is still alive!
a cosy corner a noisy, merry game of Ricketty Kate is in progress, and
80year‑old young "Dick" Mitchell gives an exhibition of how
the game is played according to Lancashire
rules. Nearby a loud, defiant cry
of "Nine clubs" shows where the 500 experts are doing battle.
Everything is going merrily till a queer, quaint
sound rises from one of the draught tables. It is only a player in a tight
corner easing his feelings by breaking into song. He gets as far as
–“There’s a green little spot in old Ireland”, when howls from all
sides silence his dismal carol.
are few young men in the Smokery. Anyone
under 50 years of age is looked on as a mere boy. And there are some ripe old
lads taking their ease on those old chairs. Alex. Don is well on to his
ninetieth mile post, and is still able to give the best of them a good go over
the draught board; Harry Mitchell, who taught school as far back as 1865, and
is still as straight as the proverbial poker. is there; Edgar Martin, despite
his 80 years, worries his opponents both at the chess table and on the bowling
green; John Andrews, the evergreen, sits and smokes and murmurs cynical gibes
about the blunders of the chess players.
hands of the clock creep round to 6 o’clock. Reluctantly the men drift out,
mindful of :
our sulky, sullen dame
her brows like winter storm,
her wrath to keep it warm.”
apostle of fresh air throws open all the windows to
clear the room of the stale tobacco fumes. And then he, too, departs.
one man remains. quietly reading the evening paper. What tales he could tell
about the actors who strutted upon the boards of the old theatre, of Stewart
and Maggie Moore, and John Sheridan and Charles Anderson, and other celebrated
sit me down and in the gloaming muse about all the men who came here to take
their leisure on those hard old chairs; men who have all gone on their last
long voyage. Then methinks I see them here again. That sturdy little
Scotchman, John Munro, eternal flower in the buttonhole of his
coat, ever ready to take up the cudgels on behalf of Tory ideals;
kind‑eyed J. M. Bickett courageous dabbler in mining.shares; Don
Ricardo, the Spaniard with a Galway brogue, who waylaying any youth who poked
his inquisitive nose inside the door, dragged him in and taught him how to
play chess (he must have taught hundreds of us); quarrelsome Harry Rawlings,
the watchdog of the Institute, ever ready to jump on anybody who broke the
unwritten laws of the Smokery; W.B.Withers, the author of "The History of
Ballarat” who came in to play chess, and looked with deep contempt on all
the amateur politicians; and then in stalked R.T.Vale, meniber for Ballarat
West, just for the joy of a blow up with the group round the fire.When he had
reduced them all to silence he would chuckle sardonically and stalk out. I
remember him ending a debate by telling his opponent he was nothing else but
an iconoclastic anachronism! A nice name to call a decent hard working man!
in came little Dick Mitchell, father of young Dick. He wore a long flowing
beard, and his eyes were full of fight. He been champion draughts player of
the goldfields, and was still prepared to take anyone on for a bout. Along the
western wall sat a group of men who had been mining-mates in the days when the
Affair at Eureka was but a thing of yesterday, and when they were giants in
again, I, a callow youth, snuggled close besides them, and listened to their
entrancing stories of the days when the world was wide. Gentle fatherly Tom
Muir; friendly Bob Gullan, with his high boxer hat; Jack Tatham, the smiling
Yorkshire man; very tall and very frail Charlie Martin, with his treble voice,
and cultured, well-read Reeves, the bookseller.
look at the clock. An hour has slipped away while I have been communing with
the dead. The time for the evening session is approaching. Tom Opie sets up a
patience deck, and a group gathering round watch his amazing manipulations of
the cards. Crib and euchre schools are formed. In the cosy corner, a
solo school goes its misares and pays out its fishes. At the other end of the
room frowning brows and tense silence betray the bridge fiends. Among these
are J.C.Fletcher and T.R.Odlum who have the honour of holding the record as
the oldest continuous habitués of the Smokery. They came here long, long ago,
young bright-eyed youths -how long ago may be judged by the fact that both of
them played in a chess tournament in 1890, a tournament in which there were 24
the crib table came the ancient tags- “Two’s the crew,” “Three’s the
weight,” “Four’s the score,” ”Six’s the fix.”
from the euchre school good-natured banter and merry laughter. Swiftly the
hours glide away.
storm outside might rain and rustle,
did not mind the storm a whustle”.
door suddenly opens. There stands the caretaker. “Time, gentlemen,
with the coats! Out with umbrellas! Friendly good nights! And the Smokery is
deserted. Perhaps now the ghosts of the old players return to their beloved
haunt to play their old games over again. Certainly there would be stern
Herbert Lockett, bold and adventurous Ernest Figgis, merry George Rowsell,
little big-browed P.Lampe, gentle Bob Clarke, imposing J.Lee Archer, dignified
Jacob Showman, noisy Reg Fray, musician Hatfield, as well H.H.Morell,
cigar-smoking Goddie Abraham, pleasant Tweedie, cunning Power, mighty Tullidge,
schoolmaster Burgess, foul-mouthed ??
such meetings are not to be seen by human eyes. They certainly are not seen by
the weary caretaker tidying up the room for tomorrow’s revels.