History: Looking Back

Looking Back history feature: The rise & fall of the billiard saloons

Looking Back

By MICK ROBERTS ©

Tom Richards (right) of Thirroul playing billiards in the Thirroul saloon about 1925. Tom Richards (right) of Thirroul playing billiards in the Thirroul saloon about 1925.

RELIGIOUSLY every Saturday a steady stream of men crossed backwards and forwards from the bar of the Bulli Family Hotel to the billiard saloon opposite. They were not playing billiards, or even having a haircut or buying tobacco, the men were making their way to a tin shed at the back of the saloon where the resident SP bookie was waiting to take their bets on the horse races.

The region’s blue collar workers devotedly visited their local billiard saloons for a punt on the races from the 1920s through to their demise in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Although billiard saloons or halls were a social institution and meeting place within northern Illawarra communities, they were often looked down on by the law and by those who considered themselves “respectable”.

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About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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