On a roll in the Todd



John Wallace, Michael from Uluru, Donella and Lawrence Hayes sit on a blanket playing cards. Adrian Hayes snr sits astride the inverted milk crate.

At slight remove from the game are Dorrie Campbell, Michael Hayes and Denise Doolan. Joey Hayes approaches the group.

I recall concentrated games in Todd River when a player looked to be on a roll and friends and family hovered at their back, waiting for a share in the winnings.

I’d been amongst them once for the same reason, hoping Bernard Neal’s streak would continue as he’d promised to “square up” the $50 he’d borrowed some weeks earlier. Thursdays were his “money days” and he’d invited me to the river where a sizeable group gathered in the shade of a large river gum.

“Not now,” he’d said. Closing his eyes, he added. “I’m thinking cards.”

His thinking was right on track. His attention lapsed a minute as he turned to settle with a fistful of notes.

More than once I heard of someone allowed to withdraw from such circles with their shared knowledge that the winnings were required for a significant purchase of fridge, car, or TV, or repaying a debt.

But the big games seem to be a thing of the past. Not only in camp but the river and hospital lawn (Stuart Park), as well. Perhaps the gambling itch is now satisfied at Lasseter’s Casino.

The stick and pebble games kids played in the sand have also disappeared. Discarded plastic toys now lie amongst ground litter.

Card game at Whitegate, 1999


  1. Was there anything more reviled over the past decades than card games on Aboriginal communities?
    Under the Intervention there were even attempts to stamp them out.
    Now there is a greater awareness of their role in redistributing money within the community, usually to fund the purchase of a vehicle.
    The winner would escape to town and come back with a prized car and then take off with family to visit far flung relatives.
    For a very low income people focussed on maintaining bonds with extended family card games served an important purpose.
    But just as often these days, the winner heads to town to lose the lot at the Casino or on the pokies just introduced to the two hotels with mainly Aboriginal patrons.

  2. Ralph, I recall card games which dragged on until there was one winner. The winner would then head to town with the losers to buy a car. The car would be registered in the winners’ name but all got to use it.
    Both Mal Brough and Jennie Macklin demonized “humbugging” and made no distinction between stand-over tactics and generous sharing.
    Sadly such deliberate politically opportunistic obfuscation has not been consigned to the dustbin of history. The Intervention you speak of is still with us.

  3. @ Frank Baarda: A prominent notice at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre stated “Humbugging is Violence.”
    Best to focus on illegal acts rather than launch a full scale attack on Aboriginal traditional cultural practices.
    Prison Super at the time was shadow minister Bill Yan.


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