Gang-gang: times past

Mon Lazarus and wife holding horses in front of the Cricketers Arms circa 1918.

Mon Lazarus and wife holding horses in front of the Cricketers Arms circa 1918. Photo: Family of Lyall Gillespie

History-conscious Australians, what would you do if, like Superman, you could turn back time? (In the 1978 Superman Superman (Christopher Reeve) turns back time to prevent Lois Lane having a fatal car crash.) Some of us, in Superman's costume, would hurry back to prevent the loss of precious, important ACT buildings like the Cricketers' Arms Hotel at Hall.

The Cricketers' Arms opened in the 1860s. By 1864 it had a licence to sell the demon drink. It survived as a pub and community centre until 1918. Then it was closed, never to reopen. Now there is no visible trace of it. But in its lifetime, it was place of vital importance to Ginninderra, to Hall, to Canberra and the district and next year, the centenary year, the Friends of the Hall Museum want to remind us all of the hotel and its significance.

Phil Robson of the Friends asks if this column's multitudinous readers can help.

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''Friends of the Hall School Museum is putting together an exhibition to celebrate the Centenary of Canberra and ACT Heritage Week next year. The exhibition is called Hall Village and District 1913 and it will have displays of photographs and artefacts relating to some of the businesses and families living in the area at that time. The hotel held an important role in the village as it was where many social gatherings were held as well as a meeting place of sporting clubs. I would like to make contact with descendants of Morris (Mon) and Margaret (Doll) Lazarus, who were the popular licensees of the Cricketers' Arms Hotel in Hall, or anyone who may have old artefacts, books, photos, anything relevant to the old hotel which I would like to borrow for the exhibition. I can be contacted at p.robson50@optusnet.com.au or telephone 0408 259 946.''

If Superman intervened to save the building, when and where might he intervene? One helpful intervention might be to zoom back to 1916 to tell Walter Burley Griffin not to be such a wowser. To explain, historian Lyall Gillespie records that as the federal government began to resume the region's properties (before building the federal capital here) ''in the face of official hostility the one pre-existing hotel in the Territory [the Cricketers' Arms] had a hard time''.

''Morris Lazarus had owned the Cricketers' Arms since 1905. In March 1916 he faced acquisition of his land but before the transaction was concluded, Griffin complained of excessive drinking by workmen at the Cricketers' Arms. Since Lazarus owned the only hotel in the area, the discovery was hardly surprising but it justified the refusal to Lazarus of the lease usually granted to the original holders of resumed lands. The Cricketers' Arms closed in 1918 and was never reopened.''

Ben Hall circa 1865.?

Ben Hall circa 1865. Photo: National Library of Australia

Bushranger proved to be good news

To let you, dear readers, into a trade secret of newspapers and journalists, this is the slow time of year (Christmas) when news gatherers pray for something newsy to happen. So it was 148 years ago this week (in 1864) when Ben Hall's effervescent gang was at large in our part of the world, and, God bless it, giving newspapers like the Queanbeyan Age, some rich and exciting news to report at a notoriously slow time of the year.

''OUTRAGES BY BEN HALL'S GANG'', the Age reported, feigning indignation but secretly rejoicing,

''Goulburn was once more thrown into a state of excitement yesterday afternoon by the arrival of a person with [reports] of Hall, Gilbert and Dunn having visited Binda [near Crookwell] on Monday night … ''

''The following are the particulars .. About eight o'clock p.m., on Monday the trio made their appearance at Morriss' store, and told him that he and his wife must accompany them to the Flag Hotel, where there was a ball that evening. They entered the store, when each of the three robbers [pointed] a couple of revolvers at the owner. The place was then ransacked by them for money, of which there was over £100 in the house.''

Poor Mrs Morriss was obliged to to put on a new dress to go to the ball and then all five went to the hotel, ''where the robbers continued dancing, drinking, treating and spending their [well, the couple's] money in the most liberal manner''.

They were exotic creatures, these brigands, and women at the ball took a keen interest in them.

Then ''at a late hour in the evening Morriss proposed to three or four others to capture the bushrangers. [The bushrangers found out] and at about two o'clock a.m. Gilbert and Hall went suddenly towards Morriss, and he, at once, seeing that the plot was discovered, jumped out of the house through a window.

''The gang sought for him in all directions but without finding him. They then went back to his store, and having thoroughly ransacked it, they, heedless of the tears and entreaties of his wife, set fire to the place … The bushrangers then departed, and this morning all that Morriss could see of his property, which was valued at a thousand pounds, were the smouldering ruins and cinders, not a particle of anything having been saved.''

At this hell-raising Christmas of 1864 Ben Hall's days were numbered. His biographer in the Australian Dictionary of Biography reports that ''On 5 May 1865 he was ambushed and shot by the police … His funeral [at Forbes] was 'rather numerously attended' for his reckless courage, courtesy to women, humour and hatred of informers had won him a sympathy not shared by his more bloodthirsty colleagues.''