The decade from 1900 marked the high tide of wowserism in
those years saw everything from bridge parties to cycling declared sinful
WILLIAM JUDKINS, Melbourne’s fire-breathing social crusader, saw John Wren and a prominent politician as the city's worst evils.
ON Sunday, September 30, 1906, an unusually large crowd streamed
Gaiety Theatre to hear a special afternoon address by the social
reformer William Henry
Judkins on the subject of Melbourne's Sins And Follies.
A popular speaker on the evils of drinking, smoking, gambling and almost every vice known to man, the diminutive orator was used to addressing a packed house though this time he looked distinctly uneasy as he mounted the platform.
"We have all been passing through a crisis," the speaker began.
"You're passing through your crisis right now," a voice interrupted from the back of the hall, triggering off a chorus of shouts and boos, whistling and cat-calls.
"It is time for men to make a choice," Judkins resumed when the din subsided. "l’ll give you 20 to 1 about your choice," the same voice yelled again. The hall was rocked by gales of laughter.
Tickets for such occasions were normally distributed round the churches ensuring that the reformer's message received a sympathetic hearing. Obviously this Sunday the tickets had fallen into the wrong hands.
The heckling, stamping of feet and prolonged interruptions could only be the work of professional demonstrators hired to break up the meeting.
Determinedly Judkins struggled on and for several minutes seemed to have got the better of his opponents. Then, just as he launched into his stride on the subject of man's duty to build a better world, an egg struck him full in the face. Another hit the lady vocalist sitting beside him.
At this stage police intervened to haul away the offenders. However the singer needed attention while Judkins had to retire to wipe off the yolk. The proceedings had been effectively brought to an end.
For Melbourne's sinners the fierce little man with the gimlet eyes and bristling chin was no joke.
In 10 years the social reform movement with Judkins at its head drastically reduced the city's enjoyment not only of gambling but of sex, drinking and most other pleasures.
Twelve months in particular, from December 1906 to December 1907, represented the highwater mark of Australian wowserism.
By the 1906 Licences Reduction Act, proportioning the number of hotels to the population of any given area, the Government could begin closing down hotels in Victoria at the rate of 100 a year. Melburnians were inevitably the chief sufferers.
Next came the Gambling Suppression Act which struck particularly at the privately-owned Collingwood Tote with branches throughout Melbourne.
But it was designed, nevertheless, to outlaw all forms of betting, even the sale of raffle tickets for the local church bazaar.
Finally the Police Offences Act, by giving the police almost unlimited powers of entry, closed down the last, of Melbourne's most famous establishments in the heart of the city -- the luxurious brothels of Lonsdale Street, just over the road from Parliament House.
A Victorian country school teacher before joining the Methodist Church as a probationer -- he was never ordained -- young Judkins had first made his mark as a temperance reformer.
When Judkins returned to Melbourne from New Zealand in 1902, however, the city had still not recovered from the effects of a prolonged depression and the little firebrand quickly established himself as leader of the antigambling crusade.
At "Pleasant Sunday Afternoons" in Lonsdale Street's Wesley Church,
congregations heard Melbourne's most powerful orator blasting away at
gambling and such
associated evils as mixed bathing, dancing, theatres, Sunday picnics,
bridge parties and art schools.
But gambling was Judkins' main obsession and the arch enemy was John Wren.
STARTING out in a small room at the rear of a tea shop, Wren had
built the Collingwood
Shilling Tote into a colossal business that took in huge sums every
For most Melburnians John Wren was just a shadowy Mr Big whose identity was hinted at in the newspapers from time to time until Judkins kept harping on the name every week.
In the influential Church journal, Review Of Reviews, editor Judkins had this to say of the tote owner in 1906: "Wren produces nothing, manufactures nothing, does no useful work. He is a mere parasite thriving on the monumental folly of the community."
On September 16, after Wren had been convicted on a minor betting charge, then had the conviction quashed in a higher court, Judkins told his Pleasant Sunday Afternoon audience that the matter had been hushed up "by the power of money".
Wren fought back, writing to the Press that he preferred to be known as a gambler than as a wanton libeller and scandalmonger. Hecklers repeatedly interrupted Judkins' Sunday afternoon meetings.
But Judkins, scorning suggestions that he needed a bodyguard, his tiny frame already racked by the cancer the would eventually kill him, really had the bit between his teeth by now.
A Gambling Suppression Bill had been before the Legislature for several months and the determined little crusader suddenly switched the direction of his attack to Victoria's Chief Secretary and former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Samuel Gillott.
"No more supine, weak, ineffective bit of humanity ever sat in an administrative chair," declared Judkins on October 1. '
CYCLING, declared Judkins, was evil; .along with art classes, Sunday picnics, dancing, theatres, gambling and a host of other "vices."
By December 2, as hundreds flocked to Russell Street's
Temperance Hall to
hear the latest revelations, he was ready to finish Gillott off.
He began by telling of the frightful prostitution in Melbourne; how Melbourne was worse in that respect than Sydney or any city in Europe. Thousands of girls were going to hell annually thanks to the facilities provided by the whore-dealers.
Then came the bombshell. He had searched the records, he said, and discovered that Victoria's Chief Secretary was the mortgagee of one of the most notorious houses in Melbourne and had been for 20 years. Gillott resigned the next day.
Within two more weeks the Gambling Bill became law, enabling police to go straight into action against the Collingwood Tote.
Victoria's largest private tote now closed down. Soon hundreds of hotels would follow and the high priced tarts of Lonsdale Street would be forced to take their business to the suburbs.
After that the star of William Judkins began to fade. Suddenly deprived of most of his favourite hobby-horses, he took to stalking the public parks discovering to his horror "scores of couples amorously entwined."
In 1910 Victorians were worried that too many competing charities were having the effect of cutting off aid from the families who needed it most.
Proposals were therefore put before Parliament for a board of commissioners to distribute donations more evenly.
Judkins' stance on the subject was uncompromising. The commissioner's first duty, he proclaimed, should be to impound the wages of every breadwinner who had proved himself by gambling or drunkenness to be incapable of supporting a family.
Judkins' views were doing the social reform movement little credit. But by 1910 he was a sick man, his attitudes probably warped by suffering.
On September 3, 1912, he died of cancer aged 43.