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Screamers! The White Ensign Club - Melbourne



Melbourne, Victoria. 1952-1972



"Screamers" - As it was known to the sailors of the R.A.N. was an oasis in an alcoholic desert in a once thirsty Melbourne.


A popular Australian colloquialism used for describing a "Cheap Drunk" or one that cannot hold his liquor is said to be a "Two Pot Screamer".


The Australian Navy shortened this saying to, "Screamer".


The nickname "Screamers" as it was applied to the former White Ensign Club in Melbourne and thus speaks for itself.  The home of the 'OD'.


Up until the mid 70's it was nearly impossible to buy alcohol from licensed premises in Melbourne after hours or, most importantly, on a Sunday. However, Screamers sold it buy the barrel full - is it any wonder the place became famous for its impromptu raunchy parties.


Located in the heart of Melbourne next door to the site of Australia's First Parliament (now the Exhibition Buildings) The White Ensign Club provided cheap amenities for resident and visiting sailors.



Below: From the PR Blurb Of The Day.............................



In all navy's around the globe the true nature of a Seaman's occupation and the hardships and hazards he endures is realised by charitable clubs and organisations ashore providing services and facilities specifically catering for the needs of mariners - The White Ensign Club in Melbourne was one one such place,. Collectively known as "Fleet Clubs "The Brits have Aggie Westons, The Kiwis have The Fern Leaf Centre, The Yanks have the USO, - Aussie matelots had The White Ensign Club in Melbourne, known as 'Screamers' and Royal Australian Navy House in Sydney, known as 'Johnny's'.






THE WHITE ENSIGN CLUB - Melbourne Victoria


Left: The front cover of this PR Publication.

During my ABFCs Course at CERBERUS in 1970, to my utmost dismay, I found myself featuring on the Weekend Duty Watchbill as White Ensign Club Shore Patrol. It was a One- Man Duty Assignment.  Surely this should be, at least, a job for a Senior Able Seaman!  I was an Ordinary Seaman and not long turned 17 Years of age when one dreary Friday Afternoon I found myself being issued with an SP Wrist Band, White Webbing Belt and White Gaiters and heading off on the Cerberus Leave Train to Melbourne, and ultimately, The White Ensign Club. 


At about 5 Feet 6 Inches tall and 8 Stone in weight,  I was pretty sure I wasn't going to strike fear into the many brave hearts who frequented this place!  To say I was trepiditious of this Duty assigment would be a gross understatement!


This same weekend was the one HMAS HOBART had pulled into Melbourne for a short visit on its return from Gun Line Duties in Vietnam.  What followed is a memorable weekend.  To say the least.

 The Club provided these "dongas" or cabins, (pictured left) for short or long term rent. Most often they were used by sailors on short leave during their weekend sojourns to Melbourne from Flinders naval Depot..


It was not uncommon for groups of 6 or 8 sailors to 'pool' their money and all share one cabin for the entire weekend. Thus saving more money for beer. Can you imagine 6 or 8 sailors sharing one of these? I am not sure what the record is for the number of occupants but I am sure double figures was reached on many occasions.


The walls were thin, decor was sparse and one can only imagine the sounds and smells of hundreds of intoxicated sailors piled on top of one another in something reminiscent of the Black Hole Of 'Calcutta'


It's a poor seaman what can't handle his shipmate's breath!" (Butch Berry, Cerberus Rifle Range Circa 1979)


In an unusual quirk of circumstance - wherever matelots did happen to gather - so did certain members of the opposite sex - Every nice girl loves a sailor, as the song goes. Some of these were not ordinary young ladies and could match many a bold, thirsty matelot beer for beer or blow for blow whatever his fancy was, either to drink or fight! Sailors being what they are had nicknames for them all, like, 'Anna The Spanner' and her mate, 'Toolbox', 'Rocky', 'The Beast', etc etc. They wore their sailor given nicknames with pride and possessed an unbelievable fondness for all things navy.

The picture above describes the bar scene as 'convivial' - Let me assure you that is somewhat of a gross understatement and since when does a bunch of beer soaked matelots enjoy a quiet chat?


Left: A shot is taken from the small bandstand/stage at the end of the room. On Sunday afternoons a live rock and roll band would see the place packed to the gunwales with merry makers and Rock'n Rollers..

Jack was also partial to a cheap feed and these clubs generally provided such arrangments. 


Left: Sailors on short leave ordering meals in the dining hall.

Left:  Having a feed in the Dining Hall.  The meals were decent and cheap and the ladies on the staff were jovial and worked hard.
As you can see, Screamers had all the Mod Cons.  Even a functional TV in the TV Lounge.  You can see the human remote control changing the channel and adjusting the picture.

Before the days of ATMs Screamers and Johnny's provided access to bank accounts 7 days per week,
24 hours per day. A service unheard of and unavailable to main stream civilians.

The caption originally accompanying the above photo reads - 'The Club provides 15 modern shower recesses and up- to-date toilet facilities'. Implying what? I wonder.


Sadly the White Ensign Club closed its doors to the sailors of the R.A.N in March 1972, never to reopen - Johnny's, in Sydney, followed a similar fate a few years later.

A White Ensign Club Membership card from the 60's - Once belonging to LSRP John 'Connie' Francis