Wednesday, 6 September 2017


by Nick McConchie
   In 1975, Sydney detectives went to Queanbeyan to investigate the existence of an illegal casino allegedly operating from the Monaro Social Club at 62A Monaro Street. The investigating officers found no evidence that such a Casino existed and the investigation was discontinued.(Source: Canberra Times 21 March 1975) If the truth was known, the detectives looking for action probably quickly became bored with Queanbeyan and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Perhaps they should have disguised themselves as normal citizens and bet a few bucks at the casino or visited one of the many pubs for a beer and a fight.
  The non-existent casino at 62A Monaro Crescent Queanbeyan may have been in the building on the viewer’s left, up some stairs from inside the alley, above a restaurant, as shown above. 

   I’m not sure if the casino had a green door, but if you play the above embedded youtube song while reading you can get an idea of the atmosphere at the time.
   In any event, despite the meticulous attention afforded the Monaro Social Club by local law enforcement, the casino continued to operate for some time. 
   It was during that period I worked as a public servant in a department in Woden. I always looked forward to pay nights as my workmates and I would often visit the non-existent casino in Queanbeyan. 
   We would generally catch a taxi there as Uber was not yet operating. We thought this to be sensible given that alcohol at the casino was unlimited and free to those who were gambling. Food in the form of toasted sandwiches was also gratis. There never seemed to be an issue with excessive consumption of alcohol,  (my mate, Dave Clark, from my work, was asked by a croupier at the black jack table whether he was sleeping or playing), although obnoxious drunks were quickly dealt with by the bouncers, the majority of whom played rugby league for a local club.
   Entry to the casino was readily gained by ringing the bell and being eyed by the doorman (usually a well-known rugby league player) through a peephole. As none of us looked like coppers we were always let in.
    From memory, the games on offer were roulette and blackjack, though there may have been others. The roulette table was a full size casino standard one, and the croupiers (dealers) were well-versed in their trade and highly professional. I do not know from where they hailed, though at least one of the girls was a full time Canberra public servant.
    The casino was generally well patronised and the clientele included some fairly big spenders. We generally enjoyed our nights there and there was much borrowing and lending of money between members of our group. There were occasions when entire pay packets were lost and other times phenomenal winnings.
   One time however, we all lost and had to hitchhike back to Canberra. I use the word hitchhike in its finest sense because on that occasion no one was willing to stop for a rowdy group of drunks at 3am. 
   Resorting to shank’s pony, we finally arrived at the house of my mate, Ken Montgomery, who lived in Curtin, at around 5 or 6am. I am not sure if anyone slept, but we were all at work by 8am, still drunk, un-showered and presumably reeking of alcohol. Not sure how we survived the day.
  As mentioned at the outset, this was a time when the Canberra Times and local TV media were keen to expose the casino, and there had been several articles written about the casino and the police denial of its existence. My mate, Fitz, who has featured in several stories on this site, was working at the time as a cameraman at Channel 7. He asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed on camera about the casino, for the evening news. Not being one to shy away from the opportunity for glory, I readily agreed.
  At the allotted time, I arrived at Channel 7 and met the interviewer. Unfortunately his name escapes me. He was however, a very pleasant fellow. He informed me that due to the contentious issue to be discussed and the possibility of reprisals I would be filmed in side profile and in silhouette. 
   At the interview I was asked a series of questions about my experiences at the casino. I took the position that the casino was all good and should be legalised. However, with some clever editing, when the article was shown on the news that night it appeared that I was anti the casino. This however, is neither here nor there.
   I was somewhat assured that by being shown in silhouette my identity could not be established by viewers. WRONG! 
   At that time I was living with my parents. So, that evening we were sitting around the TV as a family watching the news when the interview came on. Naturally, I had not told my parents that I had been interviewed as I did not want to worry them. I also did not think that they needed to know that I frequented such places.
  The interview was prefaced with words along the lines of “Canberra resident exposes illegal casino in Queanbeyan,” then I appeared in side profile, in the shadows. I had not even started speaking when my mother, God bless her, said “That’s you”! There was no denying, it was clearly me, easily recognisable. 

  I forget most of what else was said, though I am quite sure that both my parents were less than impressed. I do however, recall my mother expressing concern that I might become a target. 
  The next day at work a number of people asked me if that was me on television the previous night, so clearly all the silhouettes and side-profiling in the world were of little use that day. 
   I was never worried about any potential repercussions, though for a time I kept an eye out for pink Chevrolets with running boards! Nothing eventuated, and I enjoyed many more visits to the casino until it was eventually closed.

INTRODUCTION by Dave Wheeler
  While growing up in the Berra I met many coppers who I could only describe as really good blokes, particularly those I interacted with at the Turner Police Boys’ Club, which later became the Turner PCYC. And I remain grateful to the coppers who, during my teenage years, let my mates and me off with a warning for a particular incident we were involved in that could have put us in Shit Street. And I also of course remain grateful to the coppers who lock up paedophiles, non-independent politicians and other low-life when they have been careless and not covered their tracks properly.
   Having said what I have said, within every barrel of apples you will always get some bad ones, and some of the Canberra coppers of the sixties and early seventies were truly rotten. I cannot speak for other eras. 
    In this post my old mate, Nick McConchie, describes an event that occurred in or around 1971 in which some rotten coppers got what certain patrons of the Canberra Rex thought they deserved.
    Read on and take in what Nick has to say about another time and another world.
  Dave Wheeler
    The Canberra Rex was a favoured drinking hole for many of Canberra’s youth back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There were 3 main bars, the “Hitching Rail,” which was an all male domain until several women “hitched” themselves to the rail and demanded service, the “Jet Club,” which, from memory, was favoured by those that thought of themselves as trendy, and the “Mariners Tavern,” which was seen as an escape from the rowdiness and dangers that lurked in the Scottish Bar. 
    This story relates to events that occurred in the Scottish Bar one night during one of the aforementioned years. 
   Various groups of youths frequented the Scottish Bar. There were the Northside boys from the inner north suburbs such as Dickson, Downer, Hackett, Watson, and of course Ainslie, Turner, O’Connor and Lyneham. There were interlopers from Narrabundah, who most likely had been banned from the Travellana, which would  have been a feat in itself. 
   There were the Canberra bikies, originally known as “Asylum Choir,” who eventually became a formal chapter of the “Hells Angels.” And of course there were many other groups of friends and drinkers.
   The Scottish bar was staffed by several “good blokes” and one or two bartenders and glass picker-uppers I regarded as obnoxious. I will not mention any of these by name. Alfie, you know who you are!
    The above photo, which was taken from “Tales of a Canberra Boy,” shows the land where the part of the Canberra Rex of which I write once stood. The photo was taken not long after the bar's destruction. All that remains is the rock wall, and that would probably be gone by now. If any readers have any photos of the bars I have mentioned, inside or out, please send them to Dave Wheeler so they can be added to this story. 
   On Friday and Saturday nights the Scottish bar was usually crowded with drinkers and designated drivers. Actually there were no designated drivers, such a thing being a fairly recent phenomenon. In those days very few people paid any attention to the amount of alcohol they consumed before driving. Being over the limit was not an issue, or certainly not a consideration for most. 
   While people were convicted of “drink driving” offences, there were no RBT’s and one would normally have to be all over the road before drawing the attention of the police. And even then one would have to fall out of the car before being deemed too drunk to drive. 
   The photos below show some characters who were regulars at the Canberra Rex in the era of which I write. The photos were also used in the last anecdote I wrote for this blog due to there being a shortage of other suitable photos.
  The first photo from left to write shows Spud Murphy, the late Geoff “Fitz” Fitzgerald, Mick Gladwish and Nick McConchie (me). It was taken when we were in our mid twenties.
  The lower photo shows the late Brent Bolas, Nick McConchie (me), Spud Murphy, Keith Dickerson and Max Duncan in or around 1970.

    Nowadays of course, we live in a nanny state where just a couple of drinks could put you over the limit. Interestingly, years ago when the limit was .08 you would be considered sober with a reading of .07, but the same reading today would land you before the courts.
    Back to the Scottish Bar. Closing time in those days was 10pm. At around 9:50pm a staff member would flash the lights and call out “last drinks”. Fair enough, this was required by law and was quite acceptable. What was not acceptable however, was this: 
   At 10pm at least 2 uniformed police would always arrive and harass drinkers, telling them to finish their drinks and leave. If people had not finished and left the premises by about 10 past 10 they would draw the ire of the police officers, and some were known to be charged with “failing to quit licensed premises,” or at the least charged with the back-up offence of “Indecent language.”     
    Indecent language was often used as an excuse to lock people up regardless of whether they swore or not.
   There were often confrontations between the police and patrons, including one day when a respected policeman and a lad hailing from Narrabundah way decided to settle their differences in a pugilistic fashion. They arranged to fight each other in the grounds of the Rex at a prearranged time. The fight ensued and from my somewhat hazy memory the outcome was reasonably even.
   I ran into this lad (now in his mid 60's, as am I ) several months ago at a local club, and we had a yarn about the old days. He told me that shortly after this fight he was arrested by said policeman for a trivial offence. He was brutally bashed in the cells by a number of police and charged with assaulting police and other offences. It resulted in him doing time at Goulburn Gaol. 
   Back to the Scottish Bar. One night 2 policemen were performing their usual patrol at around 10 pm. At several minutes past 10 the lights went out and it remained pitch black for what seemed like several minutes, though it was probably only 30 seconds or so. 
   To this day I do not know who was responsible, but in the ensuing seconds there were the clear sounds of punches being thrown and connecting, people falling over bar stools and an amount of shouting and cursing. This went on for a few seconds, and a short time later the lights came back on. 

    At the point the lights came on most patrons were innocently sitting at the tables or on the bar stools, and there were two heavily disheveled police officers nursing their heads and running around like blue-arsed flies
    Needless to say, it was not long before the bar was swarming with police. To the best of my knowledge the perpetrators of that violence were never identified.
   Over the years there have been several versions of this story, including that there were no punches, just beer thrown over the coppers. It is surprising the number of people who say they were there that night, some of whom may have been, others who may not have been. I know that I was there.
   The Scottish Bar remained a favourite haunt until the new Lakeside Hotel was opened at some point in the 70’s. At that point the Rex patrons migrated en masse to take up their positions in the Settler’s Bar and the other bar whose name I do not recall.
  I can recall being at the Canberra Rex on the night of which Nick writes, although I was not in the Scottish Bar at the time the coppers were assaulted and as such heard and saw nothing. But, turning the lights out on the coppers happened on more than one occasion, hence the confusion, although I believe the only time it involved the coppers being assaulted with the fists of patrons was on the night Nick was present. 
   On at least one other occasion when the lights were turned out the coppers were drenched in beer as a result of the patrons who had planned the event/s throwing it over them. 
Dave Wheeler
  For more mainly Canberra-based yarns hit the Home button above.


No comments:

Post a Comment