Address: 206 Gertrude St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Phone; (03) 9417 6518
From an interview with Gordon, David, Luke and Christine that has been edited.
Our business started in 1895 with Harry Evans Sr.
He moved from England to Adelaide in 1882 before moving to Coolgardie in Western Australia.
Australia was experiencing a gold rush which brought some of the most talented billiards players to the country. He built a reputation as a professional player and competed in many tournaments.
While in Coolgardie Harry Evans tutored the father of one of the world’s greatest ever players, Walter Lindrum. Harry moved to Melbourne in 1884. He played a billiards competition and won an exhibition sized table plus prize money two years in a row.
He subsequently decided to open a billiards shop – focusing on general maintenance – before his son Harry Jr took over.
The shop started in Little Collins St before moving to Elizabeth St.
The business spent the depression years in that area until Harry Jr’s sons Gordon and Norm went off to the Second World War, which prevented the business from running.
On their return the business secured a big government contract for the army – to supply 20 full sized tables – which was a big deal at the time, and took us all over the country.
They went to Wodonga, Albury, Puckapunyal and other army barracks up there.
In 1951 Gordon and Norm were almost able to buy the Gertrude street building. At the time the banks weren’t lending money, so they acquired a personal loan from a man who ran a fish store in the Victorian market.
Harry Sr met the businessman at the market and made the deal.
Moving to Gertrude St. the business started building tables in a more progressive way.
When we bought this place from Johnson Furniture it was derelict.
It was filthy and had no bathroom or toilet.
There were 14 squatters living in the building at the time and back then they had rights.
So we bought a house in Collingwood and said to them, “if you continue the mortgage payments the house is in your name and you can have it.”
From there the company grew into a large business. At one stage there were two factories and 16 employees, but it became too much work to keep it going.
We downscaled, and we’ve been happy as a smaller business.
In 1969 we bought a little business which made reproduction furniture.
It was in a little cul-de-sac in the centre of a north Fitzroy housing block.
The factory had a nice workshop with different machines and four tradesman came with the business.
Unfortunately Norm died of cancer in 1979, and we had to sell that place. But we moved a lot of the machines from there and put them in here.
So that business really worked out well for us.
A lot of the work we do is repairing and restoring antique tables.
We completely strip back and re-polish the timber work, re-rubber and recover the cushions and sew on new nets and leathers. The process is hard work. You’ve just got to keep sanding until your fingers bleed.
Then we knock off and do something else.
When we build our new tables we still use the same traditions. We fully house and bolt the leg frames from solid timber, not craft-wood. Then we go through the process of marrying the slates to the leg frame.
Marrying the slates to the leg frame requires setting the slate on the frame, rubbing it on the frame to find the high spots, then lifting it off to plane away the high spots with a hand-plane.
When you have enough contact area – and that particular slate is level – you put the next one on and repeat. It takes a long time and it’s hard on your back. Once you’ve done that, you have to make the cushions which are bolted to the side of the table.
We don’t make too many tables a year because they’re all handmade and high quality.
Over the years some of our techniques and methods have expanded to incorporate new machinery.
This doesn’t mean we’ve changed.
We still maintain all of our traditional skills.
Some of these tables are over 100 years old so we have to use 100-year-old methods to restore them.
When we sell a table people often ask if we are good players, and challenge us to a game.
“Ok, we’ll play you double or nothing for the price of the table,” is often our reply.
This is a large bet so people make the assumption that we are good.
But nobody has taken the challenge.
In the gold rush era there was plenty of money around and billiards was a sport that was played by the elite.
It was classified as the sport of kings.
But as the population grew, so too did the interest in the game. New alternative games were included in the sport. When the British first started to play in India, they used to play different types of games: general pool, blackpool, devils pool and pyramids.
These games had different scoring systems and required flexible, all inclusive scoreboards. This (pictures below) is a general pool and blackpool board. You can see the little stars that slide out for each colour. They represent the fact that you had three lives, and you could buy your way back into the game.
The players put their sovereigns or coins in the cash box which would drop back behind the glass. When the game was won, the door at the bottom would unlock allowing the winner to collect the coins.
And the expression “scooping the pool” came from when they would scoop the money out of the cashbox door. All of the clocks were electrically operated, and the colours of the balls were yellow, green brown, blue pink and black.
They were combined with pyramids to make the game snooker.
During the depression and after the war, a lot of billiard rooms were opened.
People were looking for things to do instead of sitting around at home – and most people couldn’t afford TV’s – so billiards and snooker halls were a popular source of entertainment. When money was tight and everyone was struggling the billiard rooms were usually full.
But now we’re dealing with the pokies. People still want to play the game, but they aren’t many buildings or houses with rooms big enough to put tables in.
That, or the rent for rooms is too high.
So there’s hardly any billiard rooms left now. There’s a few clubs and RSLs but a lot of those have taken the tables out, and put pokies in. You can put 10 or 12 machines in and the amount of money those machines can generate for the hotel is many times that of a pool table.
And there’s been a remarkable amount of change that’s happened around here. Gertrude St. is quite nice now but – at one point – it was pretty seedy and you didn’t feel comfortable.
I don’t really know how we managed to survive and create a business here.
I wouldn’t come in if I didn’t enjoy this.
It’s the sort of business where we make things that people get enjoyment out of, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of making it for them.
I have quite a large family. I have five children, and my wife just turned 90. We recently had a party, and 42 of my immediate family turned up.
We’ve worked from my grandfather right through to my grandson, so that gives a sense of belonging.
We run it as a family business.
That’s the way it will be.
Written by Aron Lewin and all photos by Tatiana C C Scott