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Galea, Percival John (Perce) (1910–1977)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Percival John (Perce) Galea (1910-1977), gambler and illegal casino operator, was born on 26 October 1910 at Musta, Malta, one of four children of John Galea, later a railway fettler, and his second wife Mary, née Saliba. John had had six children by his first marriage. The family emigrated to Sydney about 1912, settling at Woolloomooloo. By 1924 Perce was a newsboy outside Central Railway Station and already betting in threepences. He started as a milkman with the New South Wales Fresh Food & Ice Co. Ltd at Ultimo in 1926 and was eventually employed as a driver. Advised by Rodney Dangar, a customer, to back his horse Peter Pan in the 1934 Melbourne Cup, Galea won £150. At St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, on 18 February 1933 he had married Beryl Catherine Jones. By 1939 he was working as a wharf labourer.

During and after World War II, when Sydney was teeming with British and American sailors, Galea operated as a registered bookmaker at the Wentworth Park greyhound races and ran baccarat schools with Samuel Lee and Sid Kelly, 'a notorious criminal'. About 1949 Galea invested £2500 in Lee Enterprise Pty Ltd and was made a director; he worked at Sammy Lee's Theatre Restaurant as a host and staff supervisor. In evidence given in 1952 to the royal commission of inquiry into the liquor laws (1951-54), he admitted to buying beer on the black market.

Notwithstanding the royal commission, Galea became co-proprietor and manager of the Roslyn Social Club, Elizabeth Bay. Husky voiced, with a crooked smile, he catered for the well-to-do and averred that only legal card games were played. On 22 March 1953 the police raided the premises and arrested forty-six baccarat gamblers, among them Jack Davey. Galea was fined £75 for occupying a common gaming-house and thereafter took 'appropriate steps'. Once the police co-operated by giving advance warning before a raid, he could afford to invest in expensive fixtures such as roulette wheels. He remained untroubled by the authorities, save for the Department of Taxation: in 1970 he was named in the taxation commissioner's report to parliament and penalized for understating his income by £49,964 between 1955 and 1963.

From the mid-1950s Galea had also run the Victoria Club, Kings Cross, which moved nearby and was renamed the Forbes Club in 1967. The casino 'offered baccarat, roulette, blackjack and craps, free food and alcohol, and a bevy of glamorous hostesses in skimpy evening dresses who doubled as late night escorts'. It was a fashionable place to be seen for show-business personalities, sportsmen, leading politicians and lawyers; boxers worked as doormen and there were no fights. Taking full advantage of hundreds of American servicemen in Sydney on rest-and-recreation leave from the Vietnam War, Galea and his syndicate (Eric O'Farrell, Ronald Lee and Reginald Andrews) operated other luxurious gaming-houses. The Bridge Club (1974-76) at Double Bay had weekly operating expenses of $16,000 which allegedly included $5000 in bribes paid directly to the police; it was relocated at Bondi Junction as the Telford Club (1976).

Galea had been in financial difficulties when he won £12,000 in a lottery in 1957. His flamboyant career on the turf began as his winnings snowballed. In 1961 he bought and sold his first racehorse, Sugarfoot, and soon registered his colours—black jacket with an orange Maltese cross, orange armbands and black cap. A compulsive punter, he ignored his doctors' warnings not to bet in large sums following his first heart attack in 1962. When his colt, Eskimo Prince, won the Sydney Turf Club's 1964 Golden Slipper Stakes and returned to a great reception, Galea (who had won some £33,000) scattered banknotes to the crowd. Eskimo Prince went on to win the Rosehill Guineas and the Australian Jockey Club's Sires' Produce Stakes, but Galea reputedly lost £40,000 after the horse was unplaced in the A.J.C. Derby. Betting as much as £25,000 on a single race, he was soon known as 'The Prince'. He was a suntanned man of middle height with greying hair who took pride in his appearance, owning dozens of handmade suits and pairs of shoes. His other good horses included Indian Prince, Count Rajan and Sir Serene. In 1976 he was elected a provisional member of the Australian Jockey Club.

In 1950 the Galeas had settled at Coogee. They were devout Catholics. He was generous to the Church in Sydney, a friend of Cardinal (Sir) Norman Gilroy and staged an annual party for crippled children. A member of Clovelly Life Saving Club, he swam daily—winter and summer—and was a handball champion for seventeen years. Galea's luck held. He and his family shared the $200,000 Sydney Opera House lottery prize in 1975. To the end of his life he enjoyed a cup of tea, and watching boxing at the Stadium and games of Rugby League.

Galea died of coronary heart disease on 14 August 1977 at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried in Botany cemetery. His wife and two sons survived him; she inherited his estate, sworn for probate at $422,952. Although Galea was a warm-hearted friend, 'adored by punters, esteemed by the press . . . his reputation also instilled fear into bookmakers, bad debtors and underworld operatives'. In 1985 it was alleged that the illegal casinos had 'provided colossal cash flows to the underworld and enabled organised crime to consolidate its power' in Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Liquor Laws and Allied Subjects: Minutes of Evidence, vol 2 (Syd, 1954)
  • D. Hickie, The Prince and the Premier (Syd, 1985)
  • E. Whitton, Can of Worms (Syd, 1986)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Oct 1970, 23 Nov 1975
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Aug 1977, 22 Oct 1982
  • National Times, 4 Jan 1981.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Galea, Percival John (Perce) (1910–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/galea-percival-john-perce-10268/text18161, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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