Almanac Life: Marbles

 

 

 

 

‘Shags’ Morrow was the gun dake player during my primary schools days at Colac West PS in the late 50s early 60s. He had a style all his own. His grip of the marble used the knuckle of his thumb rather than the fingernail, and the end of his index finger to produce a flicking action of such power and accuracy to hold us all in awe of him, and I really don’t know how he did it. As hard as I tried I could never emulate his style, he was a legend! His skills could only be heaven-sent his mesmerised opponents believed. And the array of marbles he used was legendary; the ‘dead stick’ when pulled from his marble bag meant only one thing, ‘Shags’ was fair dinkum and going in for the kill, and unfortunately, if you were in his way, look out!

 

My thoughts turned to ‘Shags’ and marbles after reading ER’s post about playing poison ball in Grade 6 took me back to my primary school days and playing the game of marbles.

 

In between the the footy and cricket seasons was the time for all the young dook upstarts to drag their marble bag out from the cupboard  and prepare for coming marble season.

 

 

 

 

It was a time to show off our collections of Tom Bowlers, ‘dead sticks’, ‘bloods’, cats eyes and other favourite dakes  – at least that’s what I think we called them, the mind is a little hazy these days. Marbles or dakes, or dooks was our game of choice until it was time for footy or cricket again.

 

Naturally the gun marble players had bigger bags winning more marbles than others. A full bag swinging from your hand making that sound only marbles make when jiggled was a sign of confidence by the carrier.

 

As I remember, we played ‘Fat’, ‘Circles’ and ‘Follows’ mainly. Fat usually involved at least two or three players but rarely more than six. Usually there was many games being played at the one time in a playing area. The fat was drawn in the shape of a semi-circle or sideways D with the straight line facing the players. Each player placed a marble in the fat they were willing to lose; from behind a line about three metres away each player then in turn lobbed their marble towards the D to determine who had first shot.

 

 

 

 

The aim of the game was to knock as many marbles out of the fat as you could and the game was over once the marbles were all cleared. Your winnings were the marbles you knocked out. However, along the way you could win and lose extra marbles. For example, if you aimed for and hit the marble of an opponent who had already knocked a marble out of the D you  then claimed that marble. If you knocked a marble out of the D or hit an opponent, you also received an extra shot. If your shooting marble stayed in the D when shooting for a marble, you lost a shot and you had to go back to the beginning line for your next turn and lob towards the D. If your marble stayed in the D after knocking a marble out you had to replace the marble and also lost a shot.

 

The better dake players monopolised games with good strategies and know how. If you were in danger of being hit by an opponent, you called out ‘nuts’ before they picked up their marble to shoot in order to cancel out any pre-conceived shot they may have planned shooting at your marble. Opponents would also call out ‘flick,flick, flick’ if you were within a distance of two or three inches either to an opponent or the D to make hitting more difficult. You had to flick the marble with the fingernail of your index finger. You needed to have your wits about you playing marbles!  If your opponent’s marble was virtually touching your marble you called ‘drops’ before your opponent called nuts, meaning you opponent had to stand and drop their marble from chin height in an attempt to hit your marble.  Tested many a player’s hand eye co-ordination.

 

 

 

 

The one constant rule playing marbles was your knuckle/s touched the ground at all times when taking a shot. Some players had styles all of their own. Many a lad returned to class with in-grained dirt on their knuckles much to the chagrin of their teachers!

 

Circle was basically the same game with the same rules  but a little more difficult due to the size of the circle, roughly a diameter of eighteen inches.

 

Follows was a little like golf in a sense. You followed a course of holes and had to pot each in turn before moving onto the next one.  Same rules applied as with other games and the winner claimed a marble from each opponent in the game.

 

Some of the courses were quite sophisticated. Players would ‘borrow’ brushes from the classroom to sweep pathways to create billiard top surfaces for marbles to progress along.  We were lucky at CWPS to have  many trees and shrubs around the periphery of the playing areas and many of our courses meandered around them and created pleasant playing surroundings.

 

Would love to hear from Almanackers about their schoolyard experiences of marbles, and to correct or clarify some of the terminology I used, after all it was over sixty years ago since I played marbles, and my memory is not like it once was. Comments welcome.

 

Fond memories.

 

 

 

 

We hope to publish two book in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020  as will the 2021 edition to celebrate the Dees’ magnificent premiership season (title is up for discussion at the moment!). These books will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers and Demons season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from these two Covid winters. Enquiries  HERE

 

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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.

Comments

  1. Judi Booth says

    Great story Col. I do remember you playing marbles. Our Grandson Lee loves playing marbles, l will read this to him when he has a sleepover next. Thanks for sharing Col it brings back so many memories.?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Col. Very interesting piece – your memory of marbles seems remarkably crystal clear and detailed – it would be difficult to imagine someone with a better memory of the intricacies of the game.

    I must admit that even as a kid I was more interested in marbles as objects of colour and beauty rather than the game in which they were used.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ve lost most of mine Col.

    I do remember one game which involved chucking 2c pieces towards a vertical surface with winner takes all for the closest to the wall after they had settled. I think the best technique was to hold the coin roughly parallel to the ground and release with a flick of the wrist. Some of us had more practice than others.

  4. Wayne Matthews says

    Excellent commentary CGR, which brought back so many memories of the early school days at Colac West PS. You reminded me of the intricate skills of Shags Morrow and I could even picture him in my mind, absolute focus and concentration as he prepared to take his turn with his dake, Being completely hopeless at this game, nay sport, I lost my marbles to other players. Being often reminded that I have lost my marbles, I can only accept this assessment. Cheers.

  5. I too remember playing marbles in my youth. I remember having “Kicks On ” and “Eye Drops” where we produced a much larger ally for this procedure. Playing for “Keeps” could be costly. We had “Cats’ Eyes” and “Blood Trackers”. I must confess that like Swish, I have lost my marbles (or so I’ve often been told on Facebook). .

  6. Colin Ritchie says

    Alleys, I’d completely forgotten that term!Thanks for the comments everyone, it’s surprising what you forget, and remember, but mention a word then next thing thousands of memories come flooding back.

  7. Excellent yarn, Col. And sure brings back memories!

    From memory, the most valuable of marbles in our schoolyard were “spaghettis”, marbles which were only of one colour and contained an intricate spaghetti-like design. I remember “pee-wees” also, the smallest of the marbles.

  8. Great stuff Col – and I concur, remarkable detail in your recollection.

    At Oakey Primary School there was an additional step and that was who won the right to draw the circle. Some liked a small circle drawn in the dust. By flicking your marble towards an object, or a line.

    We played a few games. One where everyone put in a number of marbles – say 4 players each putting in 3 marbles. The target marbles would sit in the middle, gathered together like a scrum. One game you always shot from the edge of the circle, but if your taw finished inside the circle that’s where you stayed. If someone knocked your taw out you had to give the mall the marbles you had knocked out. You always played from where your taw finished. Some players would dribble their marble into the pac and risk staying in there.

    Some players had the knack of hitting a target marble on the full and some had the added knack of getting their marble to stick like stunning the cue ball in snooker.

    Thanks for reminding us all of this Col.

  9. Thanks Col. This reminded me of good times at Eastwood PS, I had forgotten the drops

  10. roger lowrey says

    Seriously Col, not only should this go straight to the pool room, but also, to the Oz archives records.

    What an outstanding account of what was, in our time, a routine inexpensive recreational pursuit for normal kids.

    God only knows how many cancel culture vultures can now go to work to demonize marbles. But they’ll never know the thrill it gave us.

    BTW, just as a teaser, I must one day share with our FA colleagues the outline of the outstanding primary school playground called “Countries”

    Trust me. It’s an excellent game for kids of all ages!

    RDL

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Col. Marble season was a very big for a few weeks when I was at primary school. The only game we played was “chase”, where you’d follow each other’s marble until one of you hit the other one and get to keep both. Much to my parents disgust, we rolled rather than flicked the marbles. The most valuable marble we had was the “chunky”, solid white with coloured spots or “chunks”. Also recall playing with ball bearings of various sizes at times! Sadly, marbles doesn’t seem to be played at school now, at least it’s not at my children’s primary school.

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