Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lindrum, Walter Albert (1898–1960)

by Evan Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with Frederick William Lindrum

Walter Albert Lindrum (1898-1960), by unknown photographer

Walter Albert Lindrum (1898-1960), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, Original : PXE 653 (v.6)

Frederick William Lindrum (1888-1958) and Walter Albert Lindrum (1898-1960), billiard prodigies, were the only sons of Frederick William Lindrum, billiardist, and his wife Harriet, née Atkins. Fred was born on 6 February 1888 at South Melbourne and Walter on 29 August 1898 at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. The boys received only brief formal education, Fred at Kalgoorlie, Walter in New South Wales at St Francis Boys' and the Albion Street Superior Public schools, Paddington.

Their paternal grandfather, Frederick William (Fred I) (d.1880), had arrived in Adelaide from Plymouth Devon, England, as a child in 1838, later established a vineyard at Norwood and was a hotelkeeper in Adelaide and at Victor Harbor. In 1862 he was a billiard-saloon proprietor; and on 17 September 1865 in Adelaide, the day his son (Fred II) was born, he defeated the visiting 'world champion' John Roberts senior (presumably in a handicap match).

Fred II played billiards from childhood. In 1886 he moved to Melbourne and next year won the native-born Australian championship. But by 1892 (in a pattern to be repeated by later Lindrums) he had sunk from the top competitive ratings and within a few years moved to Western Australia where he opened a billiard-room at Kalgoorlie and conducted a bookmaking business. He spent peripatetic years at Donnybrook, Perth, Kalgoorlie and Broad Arrow before moving to Sydney in 1909 and finally, in 1912, to Melbourne. There, at 317 Flinders Lane, he ran the Lindrum billiard-hall until his death on 11 April 1943. According to Walter, from 1909 to 1912 his father was the greatest billiard player in the world but 'only … my brother Fred and myself knew it. He passed over public matches to coach the two of us'.

The elder son (Fred III) was obviously his father's first choice. Left-handed, he was trained for convenience as a right-handed player. (Ironically, his brother, having injured his right hand, learned a left-handed game). In Perth, where he helped his father to manage a billiard-room, Fred won tournaments in 1904 and 1905 and next year became Western Australian champion. He went on to win the Australian title in Sydney in 1908. The year 1911 saw the peak of his career when in a successful defence against the English professional Tom Reece he made breaks of 830, 840 and 1239—the last an Australian record. The most elegant of players, a great showman, Fred took to the drink and after a disastrous English tour in 1911-12 never again looked a world-class competitor. While technically retaining the Australian championship (until 1934) he was soon eclipsed by Walter.

Fred died on 22 October 1958 at South Yarra. On 28 July 1913 he had married Augusta Hewett (d.1932) at Fitzroy. He was survived by his son from this marriage and by his second wife Dorothy Anne Jane, formerly Dyer, née Graham, whom he had married on 7 April 1948.

Walter was probably driven to excel by his need to match or surpass his brother in his father's eyes: significantly, his assumption of a billiardist's career followed hot on the heels of Fred's failure. World War I, however, obscured his rise, and though after it he racked up major successes against English visitors it was not until the 1929-30 season that he went to England and immediately won recognition as the best billiard player ever seen.

On this first tour Lindrum carried almost all before him, and made sixty-seven of what his nephew Horace was to call with perhaps understandable pique his 'highly scientific but somewhat mechanical thousands at billiards'. Lindrum himself effectively encouraged this view with a modest insistence that billiard champions are not born but made, an insistence reinforced by endless, perhaps exaggerated, reminiscences of dedicated practice from early childhood. It is generally said, too, that Lindrum owed his pre-eminence to 'nursery cannons' (close cannons barely moving the balls): but Lindrum's closest rivals also, necessarily, mastered this art and, though Lindrum's largest competitive break of 4137 on 19-20 January 1932 consisted of nearly two-thirds of such cannons, it was probably a more virtuoso insistence on that play by the New Zealander Clark McConachy which led, as McConachy wished, to a change in the rules in September. Tom Newman wrote in 1929: 'It is the greatest injustice you can do to Walter Lindrum to write him down as a “scoring machine”. Nothing could be more unlike him. He is showing you everything the game beautiful can show'.

Praise like Newman's—and it was chorused—must have been sweet to Lindrum's ears; but conflicting trade interests, always a major determinant in professional billiards, kept him that first season from playing for the 'world championship'. Coming back for the next season, he won an international tourney, a round-robin in which he gave 7000 start to the others and which ended in a play-off between Newman and Lindrum. This was perhaps the peak of Lindrum's career—but the tournament had been so successful that the annual world championship was abandoned.

Lindrum was also to miss the championship in his third northern season which he spent mostly on a North American exhibition tour. He finally won the cup, from Joe Davis, in May 1933 in his fourth international season and, to the consternation of the Billiard Association and Control Council (the English governing body), insisted on defending it in Australia. In 1934 in Melbourne he retained it against Davis and McConachy and in 1938 against McConachy, without the sanction of the B.A.C.C. In 1950, by which time, even in its strongholds, English billiards had given way to snooker, he refused McConachy's challenge and returned the cup to England.

It was not really the rule changes that ended Lindrum's record-breaking progress. He in fact made four breaks of over 3000—the highest 3752—against Fred in 1940-41 under the revised baulk-line rule. But he seems to have found competition an unwelcome strain, and having achieved the pinnacle in English billiards was content to stop, leaving pre-eminence in snooker to Davis. Nothing came of attempts to arrange matches under hybrid rules with the American champion Willie Hoppe. In later life, Lindrum deployed his skill to raise money for charities. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1951, and C.B.E. in 1958.

Lindrum married Rose Coates on her death-bed on 23 August 1929 in Sydney. His second marriage, to Alicia Hoskin on 9 April 1933 in London, ended in divorce in 1955. Childless, Lindrum died intestate of coronary vascular disease at Surfers Paradise, Queensland, on 30 July 1960; he was buried in Melbourne general cemetery after a funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral. His third wife Beryl Elaine, formerly Russell, née Carr, whom he married on 21 July 1956, survived him.

Lindrum was the author of several books on billiards. He was featured on the 1981 Australian 60-cent postage stamp and a technical school scholarship was founded in his memory in 1963. The cuttings, letters and telegrams on display at the Lindrum Billiard Centre in Melbourne reveal the astonishing range—probably owing something to his Freemasonry—of his acquaintances.

Fred and Walter's sister Violet was also a skilled player. Her son Horace Norman William Morrell (1912-1974) changed his name to Lindrum and became world snooker champion.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Ricketts, Walter Lindrum (Canb, 1982)
  • People (Sydney), 27 Sept 1950.

Citation details

Evan Jones, 'Lindrum, Walter Albert (1898–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lindrum-walter-albert-7755/text12453, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Walter Albert Lindrum (1898-1960), by unknown photographer

Walter Albert Lindrum (1898-1960), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, Original : PXE 653 (v.6)