Tottenham Hotel

New South Wales, TottenhamTottenham Hotel

Tottenham Phone: 02 8887

So anyway whenever I head out searching for a memorable adventure with a great pub and some colourful locals, I always have one over-riding thought:

Will this be an experience that sticks, or will it be a succession of empty promises?

And as I headed out to Tottenham, the town closest to the geographical centre of NSW, on the trail of a couple of killers, I realized nothing could’ve been more appropriate than wondering:

Is this going to be a classic week or am I just chasing pie in the sky?

It’s around 550kms from Sydney via Mudgee, Narromine and Albert to Tottenham and in that there’s some damn fine riding plus a few really decent stops. I overnight camp at Lake Windemere out from Rylestone on the way out and get to Tottenham just on 3 in the arvo, plonk the Triumph XC beside the splendid pub and take a walk around the CBD.

It ain’t huge and I’m just taking in the town but I’m also looking for traces of the two old Wobbly blokes who brought my wobbly knees to this old mining town.

Down to the post office then across to the old servo and the police station next door, then back up to park, across to the mini mart. As I’m about to head to the café which shares the main corner, I stand back and wait for the traffic to clear.

This entire traffic consists of June on her electric buggy zooming diagonally across and headed for the community notice board. This notice board sits between the town’s café and a closed old S&S agent whose front window is dominated by an old photo of a bloke sitting in front of his wattle and daub hut.

On a clear autumn arvo, June and I shoot the breeze for a bit and I ask her about the murder.

A hundred years ago two members of the International Workers of the World (known as, ‘Wobblies’) were found guilty of the first political assassination in Australia, the murder of Tottenham’s new police officer, George Duncan.

Roland Kennedy and Frank Franz allegedly shot Duncan through the window of the police station as he banged away on his typewriter on just his third day in the town.

Kennedy’s brother, Herb, was also charged but got off and in December 1916 the other pair became the last people hung at Bathurst Gaol. In court it was claimed that the pair’s anger at Duncan stemmed in part from his arrest the previous day of another Wobbly, George Wann on the charge of uttering the profanity, ‘bugger’ in public. (This was obviously before the Bugger series of Toyota Ads .)

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago in 1905 as a socialist/anarchist radical workers’ union and the first Australian ‘local’ was formed two years later with the one at Tottenham soon thereafter.

These were the most radical of unionists. They made the CFMEU look more like the CWA and beside them, even the Painters and Dockers of the 1990’s look more like a genteel group of social scooter riders. Their meetings featured, apart from militant rhetoric focussed on class struggle and syndicalism, much singing of workers’ and revolutionary songs.

And many of the songs they sang were written by Swedish born Joel Hågglund who’d moved to west coast USA in the early 1900’s, switched his name to Joe Hill and, faced with long terms of unemployment and underemployment, joined the IWW.

Hill had been executed a year before the Tottenham killing on a trumped up charge of murder. At his execution the OIC ordered his men to raise their rifles and shouted, “Ready. Aim,” then paused and asked Joe Hill if he had anything to say. Hill simply replied, “Fire!”

Four of them got him in the chest and the cops published a photo to prove it.

The authorities countered the singing of songs at Wobbly rallies by using bands, often from the Salvation Army to drown out the singing and the Salvos became identified with the class opposition and with the police. They became known as the ‘Starvation Army’. They were allowed to preach their version of the gospel but the Wobblies were forbidden to proselytize theirs.

(In a wonderful irony, a Salvo collection bin still stands shoulder to shoulder with the Police Garage at Tottenham.)

Hill was nothing if not inventive and so he used the tunes of the Starvation Army as the basis for his songs and effectively used their bands as backing artists.

His most famous song was, The Preacher and the Slave, a rewording of the Salvos’ “In the Sweet By-and-By” and a direct attack on the empty promises of Bill Booth’s mob.

And here’s something extra to chew over as you’re enjoying a hot pie at Cowan on the Old Pac, or maybe an apple one at Bilpin:

In writing the sarcastic, bitter chorus, this militant immigrant became the first person to use the phrase, “pie in the sky’ and hence the appropriateness of my leaving-Sydney musings.

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie)

(see sidebar)

Anyway, June Buggy reckons there’s no monument to this episode in the town and points out Pat’s house a bit down the hill.

Pat’s with the local historical society and takes me up to their rooms in the community hall and we go through their great collection. In it’s a photo of Rolly Kennedy with the Tottenham Brass Band. Generations of interested oily fingers have touched his face no doubt accompanied by a sound track of, “that’s him,” and have rendered his head almost unrecognisable.

I head back up to the pub where Rick the boss is on duty for a quick cleanser. He bought the place in 1979 after a (yep you guessed it) motorcycle prang meant he could no longer work. There’s Tooheys and XXXX Gold on tap plus a decent range of stubbies. Wine comes in those small glass and a half bottles.

There’s no restaurant as such but Rick’s wife Debbie who helps run the joint, cooks dinner when there’s a demand. If you’re headed here with a group, ring ahead!

There’s no gambling or pool table in the bar. This is a talking place!

I head upstairs and to check in to a forty buck balcony room. Two sharing will set you back sixty.

Like ten of the other dozen rooms this is a twin with two singles and the door opens straight out onto the ‘randah. (the other 3 have a double bed.)

All rooms have air con but no heating and every bed has an electric blanket. You’ll find all the makings for a brew in the common room plus cereal and toast, honey, jam and vegemite. The fridge has a freezer to take all camelback bladders. Comfortable!

I move the bike around into one of the three woodsheds at the end of the massive beer garden, if only to save myself dragging all the unlockable crap off it and upstairs.

I leave my jacket and helmet and other sundry detritus on bar and head out for a chat with Richard, a few doors the street. He’s the grandson of the bloke in shop front picture in front of the wattle and daub house. He explains how this fella, his dad’s dad had arrived in Tottenham on his bicycle in 1906 and decided to make it his home.

Richard has those outback eyes that fix on you, trying to focus through your retinas and into your soul, wondering if you can be trusted. Sizing you up. Measuring your responses. And then relaxing as they open up their secrets, their stories, their memories and their open wounds. These are the people who share stories rather than just tell them.

For three hours we talk. He tells of his father being captured in Singapore and being sent to Changi, of working on the Burma railroad. He tells of how for 2 years no word came from his dad and how his grandfather, convinced his only son had perished, died of a broken heart just six months before finally a letter arrived: a year before the war ended, and his emaciated son returned fatherless to Tottenham.

He shows me his father’s secret war diary, pencilled into tiny notebooks and he shows me a photo of his dad in a rugby league team in Singapore before the fall and tells how only 7 returned…5 of the players died at the hands of the Japs on the Burma Railway and another in the final battle for Singapore.

And then as I am leaving he hands me a well-filled foolscap manilla envelope bearing, “On Her Majesty’s Service, The Commander of Police, Tottenham Station, NSW,” and says, “I think you’ll find this stuff interesting.”

Back at the pub, I’ve missed dinner so Ricky offers to call back Debbie but I’m good.

My stuff’s all still on the bar including my wallet and keys, and I schlep it all upstairs and once out on the ‘randa, I open the envelope.

Tottenham’s copper shafts might be closed but this is a goldmine, It contains copies of the original arrest warrants for the Kennedys and Franz, photos of Herb Kennedy, copies of contemporary news clippings, a map of the town and it contains copies of the records of interview. Oh and a photo of the cop shop with the window hole made by the bullets. It takes a while to suck it all in.

In the morning I find the bathrooms are well kept and the hot water seems endless with great pressure. I make a brew and enjoy it on the ‘randa, my back to the caressing sun.

I go through the envelope again and I bask in the generosity of spirit of people like Richard and think, “Bugger me, coming out to the bush and hoping for amazing days, aint just pie in the sky.”


The Preacher and the Slave by Joe Hill

Long-haired preachers come out every night
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
But when asked about something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie)

And the starvation army they play
And they sing and they clap and they pray
Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they tell you when you’re on the bum

Holy rollers and jumpers come out
They holler, they jump, and they shout
Give your money to Jesus they say
He will cure all diseases today

If you fight hard for children and wife
Try to get something good in this life
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell
When you die you will sure go to hell

Workingmen (folk) of all countries unite
Side by side we for freedom will fight
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain

You will eat, bye and bye
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry
Chop some wood, twill do you good
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye (that’s no lie)

The first performance of Preacher and the Slave was by Harry McClintock fittingly at Portland, the town that gave birth to the term, ‘Skid Row), and an interview and recording by him with overlaid images of Joe Hill is at:

Other great performances are by Joe Glazer:

and Chris Buhalis:

The oration by Jim Larkin at Joe Hill’s funeral is at:

But Hill was also eulogised in the ballad, Joe Hill and the performances of Paul Robeson:

Bruce Springsteen:

and Pete Seeger:

are the standouts for me.

The classic Toyota “Bugger” adverts can be found at: