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Graham Francis (Smacka) Fitzgibbon (1930–1979)

by Bruce Johnson

This article was published:

Graham Francis (Smacka) Fitzgibbon (1930-1979), jazz musician, hotelier and restaurateur, was born on 12 February 1930 at Mordialloc, Melbourne, second child of Francis Michael Thomas Fitzgibbon, clerk, and his wife Minnie Margaret, née Mitchell, both Victorian born. His elder sister Maggie was to become an actor in Britain and Australia, and a jazz vocalist. Graham attended St Bede's College, Mentone, until the age of 14 when he was apprenticed to a mechanic. During his childhood he had learned the ukulele, playing and singing with his mother who was his earliest influence, as was the music of Al Bowlly, George Formby, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

Switching to the banjo, 'Smacka' formed his own band, 'The Steamboat Stompers'. He performed with various Melbourne-based groups, notably that of Frank Johnson, with whom he made his first recordings in 1951. Working at the Darnum Hotel, he gained experience which enabled him to become licensee of the Commercial Hotel, Warragul, in partnership with his parents. While at the Darnum, he had released his first album under his own leadership, Frisco Joe's Good Time Boys, which established his name as the 'singing barman'. In 1958, after his father died, he and his mother moved to Wycheproof and took over the Royal Mail Hotel.

At St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 31 October 1959 Fitzgibbon married with Catholic rites 19-year-old Faye Mentha Hommelhoff. He took a job as a life-insurance salesman and, with his wife, ran the Druids Hotel in South Melbourne. In 1969 he bought the lease of La Brochette, a small restaurant at Kew, and turned it into Melbourne's first jazz restaurant. Increasingly well known through his work on television, he appeared in such shows as 'Sunnyside Up', 'The Penthouse Club' and 'In Melbourne Tonight'; Graham Kennedy recorded an album with him. Fitzgibbon's success was consolidated with the opening in 1971 of a new restaurant, Smacka's Place, in North Melbourne. In 1972 he sang the title-song for the film, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie; as a record, this song began a string of his consistent popular sellers. Plump and smiling, 'Smacka' was a genial public figure and took part in the Keep Australia Beautiful campaign. While engaged in this work in 1977, he was prosecuted for playing music in the streets of Frankston; the case was a cause célèbre.

That year Fitzgibbon, a longtime sufferer of melanoma, collapsed during a broadcast on radio station 3LO; the cause was subsequently diagnosed as brain tumour, for which he twice underwent surgery. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 15 December 1979 at South Melbourne and was buried in Brighton cemetery. Frank Traynor's 'Jazz Preachers' played at the packed funeral service at St Mary's Star of the Sea Church, West Melbourne. 'Smacka' was posthumously named Melbourne's 'King of Jazz' for 1980. He was survived by his wife, daughter and three sons; three of his children became jazz musicians.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Johnson, The Oxford Companion to Australian Jazz (Melb, 1987)
  • J. Mitchell, Australian Jazz on Record 1925-80 (Canb, 1988)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 24 Mar 1977, 15, 17, 20 Dec 1979
  • Herald (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1977, 15 Dec 1979
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 June 1970, 11 Jan 1977, 17, 20 Dec 1979, 14 Jan, 28 Mar 1980
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bruce Johnson, 'Fitzgibbon, Graham Francis (Smacka) (1930–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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