A Bit of Pin Money

It’s hump day, that day in the week when it’s neither one thing or another – it’s not the beginning of the week and it’s not the end, it is just there.  It is the day when any niggling little doubts we have about anything at all, can blow out of all proportion sending us into black dog land.

When I woke this morning I was in a classic hump slump.  There have been a few slumps during this period of lockdown.  I don’t have any problems being alone, I’ve always been comfortable with my own company, but the sudden cessation of any income stream has had me thinking, wondering, worrying when the pennies will start falling back into the jar again.

As my mind wandered I remembered my mother – a resourceful lady who came through the Great Depression having found a number of ways to earn, what she called – ‘pin money’.  The need to keep adding to her repertoire diminished as the world economy improved and the family business became more profitable.  But there was one little enterprise she held on to for many years – possibly more for the excitement than the remuneration.

Sometime in the early 1940s, Gwen Morton became a “runner” for an SP bookmaker. 

Until 1931, in Australia punters were only allowed to make a bet with an on course bookie, but from that year, the country saw the rise of the SP bookie. Radio and the telephone made it easier for the SP bookie to operate as they would hang around pubs from where they could run their business.  Starting price bookies were ‘technically illegal in Australia, but flourished thanks to society’s needs at the time and police corruption.  Punters weren’t able to get a fixed price on their bet until after the race was run when the bookie would be told, via an intermediary, or runner, the average odds of each horse from a range of on course bookmakers.  Hence the need for a radio and telephone and Gwen had both.

One of the best known SP bookies in Footscray conducted his business from the Belgravia Hotel, opposite Gwen’s home and business.  The Belgravia was also her husband Morrie’s watering hole.  One day, Morrie was talking to the bookie who was lamenting that he was having some problems placing bets as the Publican had become difficult.  Morrie suggested that the bookie speak with Gwen, who might take on the job, which he did and she jumped at it. 

The bookie’s unofficial office was the laneway running beside the pub where he would take his bets from the punters and just before the start of the race, would dash across the road, get the results from Gwen and then in turn would settle with his punters.  For each bet placed, Gwen received a “deener” – the slang word for a shilling – and throughout the years, she collected quite a few deeners – her pin money.

This arrangement rolled on happily for all parties until the Victorian Government introduced the TAB around 1961, and the bookie’s failing health meant he wasn’t as fast on his feet anymore.

Belgravia Hotel cnr. Nicholson & Buckley Sts. Footscray

It was rather strange that Gwen took on the job as she wasn’t in any way, shape or form a punter.  Her biggest punt would be to wager five bob on the Melbourne Cup each year. She always said, “life’s a big enough gamble”. 
But she did miss the fun.

Opening Image – “Bookmaker” by vincent gerard is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0