The officers of the British regiments stationed in the colony of NSW were already playing billiards by 1795. However, the sport was not confined for long to the more elite members of the new colony, as by the early 1800s, publicans began to install full-sized tables in special billiards saloons within the hotel’s premises. This meant that the game attracted a predominantly male following and appealed to a wide cross-section of the population.
The manufacture of the tables within Australia in the 1850s, led to broad divisions in the location and style of playing. On the one hand, tables were bought for private residences and exclusive clubs, where the game was played by both men and women in a refined atmosphere; and on the other, hotels and specially set up billiards halls attracted male working class adherents, who drank and gambled heavily on the results of individual games, in what was seen as a “not respectable” environment.
This division between the classes, has continued to the present day. With the introduction of snooker, a game played with coloured balls and also played on a billiards table, a class snobbery developed over the merits of each. As the popularity of snooker increased from the 1920s it was “looked down” on by billiards professionals because it was less complicated than billiards and a game could be completed much quicker.
There is no doubt that in the Penrith area, this pattern of two stratas of society playing the game was repeated, with tables to be found in both the homes of the landowners and in the local public houses and billiards halls.
The unsavoury reputation attracted by the game when it was played in public areas has continued to the present day, especially with snooker and billiards halls. The life of these halls in the Penrith area have been somewhat chequered. Problems of unruly behaviour, excessive drinking, drug-taking, and criminal activities have dogged many of the halls that have opened and closed over the years. Police intervention has been common and the local council has been compelled to close down several premises during this time.
Snooker and billiards hall proprietors have had to constantly battle to protect their premises from attracting unwelcome clientele. They have to perform a delicate balancing act trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population both young and old, while simultaneously conducting a successful commercial enterprise.
The recent history of snooker and billiards halls in Penrith graphically illustrates this problem. A hall was opened in High Street in 1972 under the stewardship of John Gollan. It was a small centre and local children and teenagers formed the main clientele. The owner ran “a tight ship” and there was not too much trouble. However, the premises were sold in 1988 and in February 1989 police raided the premises and seized amphetamines (speed) valued at about $228,000. The push was then on to close the premises. Despite new owners – Barry Gollan, John Arasco, and Ted Passfield – promising to have a drug and alcohol-free centre, the police request was eventually successful and the premises were closed in August 1989 under Penrith City Council’s orders. Attempts to open a new hall nearby also failed to get off the ground.
Since then, several other snooker/billiard halls have opened and closed and at present Penrith Cue Sports Centre and High Street Cuesportz are operating in Penrith.
Penrith Cue Sports Centre opened originally in Peachtree Street Penrith in 1997 and moved to its present premises in Henry Street in 1999. It aims to appeal to a wide audience and its clientele ranges from over 400 school children a week from local high schools, who attend during the daytime from Monday to Friday as part of their school sports curriculums, to family groups on Sundays. The evenings tend to attract the 18–24 age group on Friday and Saturday nights with a broader age range on weeknights. The Centre conducts competition events for its 130 members including some inter-club competitions. In addition, several national events have been conducted at these premises. These include the Under 18 and Under 21 National titles, the Australia/New Zealand and Australia/Singapore test matches; and, more recently, the Australian National Billiards Title.
The Centre is alcohol-free and liases with the police to keep unruly elements away. Several initiatives have been introduced to help the youth of the area stay out of trouble and to promote good youth/police relations. These include competitions between interested police and Centre players, drug education, and counselling services.
The High Street Cuesportz is also open seven days a week and generally attracts those in the 20-30 age group. There are plans to start organised competitions among players in the not too distant future. At present competition is limited to occasional one-off games. Both High Street Cuesportz and Penrith Cue Sports Centre cater for all cue games, including billiards, snooker, and US and British pool.
These games have had their ups and downs in popularity over the years and proprietors continue to fight to keep their halls free of any criminal influences.
Baye, Alex, Telephone Conversation, August, 2000.
Fairfax Sun, 10/6/97, p.55.
Fairfax Sun, 17/6/97, p.54.
Penrith City Star, 4/4/89, p.5.
Penrith City Star, 16/5/89, p.2.
Penrith City Star, 18/7/89, p.11.
Penrith City Star, 28/8/89, p.7.
Penrith City Star, 21/11/89, p.13.
Penrith City Star, 29/10/91, p.3.
Vamplew, Wray et. al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport, 1992.
Warne, Tony, Telephone Conversation, August, 2000.