"Like croquet, only different"

by Kate C
Publish date
2 March 2012
Comments (2)

Most workers on a smoko break shoot the breeze or maybe have a cuppa, but on rare occasions, smoko engenders creative genius. In the railyards of Newport in the late 1920s, a new sport emerged as workers improvised a game played with bits and pieces around the workshop. This uniquely Melburnian game, attributed to a Mr. Thomas Grieves of Yarraville, is called trugo.

Workers at the Newport Workshops, circa 1925 Workers at the Newport Workshops, circa 1925. Perhaps a champion trugo player stands among them. (MM 8099).
Source: Museum Victoria

Every aspect of trugo is linked inextricably to its railyard origins. The thirty-yard field of play is the ength of a railway carriage. Teams of players hit a rubber ring – a buffer from a train –backwards through their legs with a wooden mallet. If the ring makes it through the goal, which is as wide as the distance between train seats, it's a 'true go'.

Trugo clubs sprang up all over the blue-collar suburbs of Melbourne. The first were in the west – Yarraville and Footscray – but it spread to Brunswick, Preston, Prahran, South Melbourne and beyond. By 1938, the social pages of the Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian were raving about the game that was "like croquet, only different". From boom times in the 1940s, many clubs have struggled to remain open in recent years. Preston Trugo Club is shuttered up and looking grim, while the second-oldest club at Footscray is gone and replaced with a housing development.

Trugo equipment from the MV collection is on display in the Sportsworks exhibition. A group of History and Technology Department staff decided it was time to learn first-hand how it was used, so at the end of last year, they visited Brunswick Trugo Club to meet club president (and trugo champion) Gerald Strachan. Curator Bec Carland was among the MV guests and loved every minute of it – the history, the community, and the game itself.

Ben playing Trugo Ben ‘get outta the way’ Thomas with his strident trugo technique.
Image: R. Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

She described the set-up of the game as a "beautiful ritual of measuring out. It takes about half an hour to set up each pitch and they measure them out painstakingly as everyone stands around chatting. You can see how workers set up this process that's a little bit drawn out to make the break go longer."

Michelle and David playing Trugo Michelle Stevenson and David Crotty attempting a 'true go'.
Image: R. Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

"The rules are simple but they flew out the window after a little while because we were all having a go. There were some standout performances – it's really quite difficult." Bec said. "No one could get three for three yet Richard arrived late, picked up a mallet, hit three for three straight away."

playing Trugo Richard ‘4 for 4’ Gillespie and ‘Liza ‘strongarm’ Dale-Hallett on the trugo field.
Image: R. Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

The clubhouse is carefully maintained by the club members and is filled with memorabilia, trophies, and a rack of hand-made mallets. There's even a vegie patch out the back and a club dog. "Gerald's got this beautiful dog that chases the buffers that go off straight," according to Bec. "He says, 'don't worry, if it's on track he won't go near it'. Every time he'd follow it half-way down and if the dog veered away, you knew it was true. And if he stayed with it, you knew it 's not going to go in."

Brunswick Trugo Club interior Left: Brunswick Trugo Club's prizes are on display inside the clubhouse. Right: Hand-made wooden trugo mallets on racks at Brunswick Trugo Club.
Image: R. Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

In January, Gerald put out a call for new players in the Melbourne Times. He and other long-time members are worried that the game won't survive unless younger people start playing. Said Bec, "there wasn't a point in the day when the club members weren't discussing its past and its threatened present."

If you'd like to try trugo, Gerald would love to hear from you.


Victorian Trugo Association

YouTube video: Trugo

Comments (2)

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Michael Greenway 29 March, 2014 04:20
At the risk of being called a pendant, there are a number of inaccuracies in this article. I am well aware the the article is a description resulting from a social funstion at Brunswick and is not intended to be an academic tract, however ... The rings are not buffers but are a component of the buffers. They are actually shock absorbers which were replaced when rolling stock was serviced. There would have been lots lying around the workshops. The width of the goal in the codified game is 5 ft 9 in. which is Victorian railway gauge. The proposition that the rings were hit down the passageway in carriages between the seats is possible but I have not seen or heard any authenicatable evidence for this. Like many of the stories about trugo, it should be treated with some skepticism. It is more likely that the knockabout rudimentary game was played between the tracks in the yards. Perhaps some keen players went "indoors" during inclement weather! The Footscray Trugo Club is defunct since 2005(?) however the courts and clubhouse are extant and located in Buckley Street, Footscray, between Windsor and Cuthbert Streets and clearly visible on Google Maps. The housing developement story may relate to an earlier venue. The role of Tommy Grieves in the history of trugo is undoubtedly significant but the details are problematic. I know of no evidence that he invented the game. It is quite likely that he had a significant role in codifying and organising the first games outside the rail yards. There is good authority indicating that these first games took place in Yarraville Gardens. Grieves is also the subject of the likely apochryphal and oft repeated yarn that his initials, "TG", provided inspiration for the name of the game. The phrase "linked inextrcably" in the first sentence in paragraph 2 is hyperbolic and does no service to the game of trugo. The links between the codified game and its railway origins are one of the few things about trugo that are easily explained and perfectly clear. If "linked" needs any modifying words at all, I would respectfully suggest "inseperably". The order of play in competiton games has players hit rings in batches of four, not three. The order of play in social games is entirely within the control of the participants hence the reference to "three from three" in the article. Anyone interested in playing or knowing more about trugo, have a look at the Victorian Trugo association website and the Ascot Vale Trugo Club Facebook page.
Justin 15 February, 2016 11:37
There is a group of local residents that is trying to re-establish the Footscray Trugo Club. We'd love people who are interested to get in touch and link up with us via our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/footscraytrugoclub Also as an aside, the width of Victorian rail gauge is actually 5'3" so perhaps that does mean that the 5'9" goal width was based on something within the carriages?
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