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Ode to Jimmy

Monday, 4th January, 2016

Jimmy Long doing what he did best ... playing the piano accordion. Last year, he began to teach his granddaughter who showed a lot of promise. Jimmy Long doing what he did best ... playing the piano accordion. Last year, he began to teach his granddaughter who showed a lot of promise.

By Michael Murphy

When two men bashed a South publican for a fistful of dollars last year, they robbed the Silver City of an absolute gem.

Jimmy Long went down that evening in May, and he never fully recovered.

Four months later, the family he adored said their last goodbyes.

It would be understatement to say that Jimmy lived life to the full. He squeezed so much into his 77 years; he injected life into so many people.

He grew up in Broken Hill, the son of a miner and a stay-at-home mum. He graced the corridors of Burke Ward and Broken Hill High, and got his first job at Campbell and Sutton before branching out with his own grocery shop in Williams Street, opposite the front gates of the Memorial Oval.

Jimmy then travelled around the top end of Australia and had stints in Adelaide and country South Australia working various jobs, including roo shooter, ambulance driver, land clearer, grocery store manager.

Broken Hill beckoned though, and Jimmy returned to the Hill, where he is best known as the consummate entertainer, though his music career did stall at the very beginning.

“When he was a kid he wanted a guitar but he thought they were called banjos,” said his daughter Emily, who gathered with her mum and brother at the All Nations last week to talk about Jimmy’s life.

“So he told his dad he wanted a banjo, and he got one  ... he said he had to suck it up and play it.”

The piano accordion became Jimmy’s instrument of choice, and it would not be long before he was playing anywhere people would listen.

Son Jamie said his father joined the Rambler’s Review, an amateur group formed in 1956, producing review-style entertainment.

“I had people ring me up when Dad died ... recalling the review,” Jamie said. “They used to travel around, a huge mob of them, and put on all these huge variety shows.”

Jimmy played at all the clubs and pubs, old-time dances, gymkhanas, school socials, football clubs, woolsheds and other far flung corners of the country.

He had a regular gig at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel on Friday nights in the 70s - Singalong with Jimmy Long - and he played at the Rockwell Hotel every Sunday for “years and years”, and even when it burnt down, his band still played for punters in a shed out the back.

Jimmy met his second wife, Gloria, at the Musos one night in 1974.

“He was there moaning about the band ... he didn’t like the young ones,” Gloria said.

“The young ones couldn’t carry the rhythm and the beat for people to dance.

“He came around and asked for a dance and I said no, and he went right around the table, and everybody said no, and I thought, poor bastard, so I got up and had a dance with him.”

And so began their 41-year union. Gloria said Jimmy “had the rhythm” and without a doubt, the piano accordion was his passion. It even helped him recover from a nasty accident.

Jimmy injured his back carrying a load up stairs and was confined to a hospital bed in “traction” for a few months before heading home to recover.

“He had to learn to sort of play again,” Gloria said.

“I used to lug it all in and set it up and put it in his arms to play.

“It’s a fairly heavy accordion and he used to get it and just play it to strengthen his arms and his back up.”

Neighbours around their Wickes Street home would sit out on their verandahs and listen to Jimmy get his mojo back.

After a stint managing the Albemarle Hotel in Menindee, Jimmy had his heart set on the Union Hotel in Patton Street after it came on the market. He missed out on that deal, but another offer came his way in 1988.

“The bloke that owned the All Nations, he come up home and seen us, and Jimmy just looked at me and I said, whatever, and this is where we are 27 years later.

“He liked the pub life.”

You would find Jimmy behind the bar every day, greeting punters with a smile and a warm hello, drinking coffee and pencilling in crosswords.

Jimmy still played Friday and Saturday nights, and was a keen bocce player. He filled in for the pool teams and played darts with his darts team.

Jimmy was involved in the Musicians Union and the All Nations became the home base for many musos in the city.

The unassuming pub also attracted the eye of film scouts and Jimmy played host to two of the finest Australian films to hit the silver screen: The Last Cab to Darwin, released last year to rave reviews, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The Palace Hotel in Argent Street tends to draw the awe of Priscilla fans because of its unique styling, but it was the All Nations that provided the backdrop to one of the more memorable moments in Australian cinematic history - the ping pong ball scene.

In the movie, an exotic dancer struts on top of the All Nations bar, bends over and shoots the ball over the heads of a packed pub of appreciative drinkers.

The scene went off like clockwork.

“To get her into the right position took a few shots but once she got in the right position, it took just one shot for the ping pong ball,” Gloria said.

“There was a bloke sitting down behind the bar, crouched down, and he had like a kids’ ping pong ball gun.

“He had it aimed between her legs, and when it was time, he went ‘choong’.

“It looked like it came from down there - it was unreal.”

Jimmy, son Jamie and the rest of the band were playing music on the pool table to start the scene.

Many other locals (including a BDT journalist) played the rowdy patrons.

Jimmy’s mother also scored a part in the movie. She just happened to be walking down Argent Street when they were shooting the scene of the three main characters arriving by bus.

“I said grandma, what are you doing?” Jamie said.

“She said ‘I’m in the movie’ and walked up and handed them flowers as they stepped off the bus.”

Jimmy was devoted to his family. From two marriages he had three children, Jamie, Geordie and Emily; eight grandchildren; and seven great grandchildren.

His sons played football, and he never missed a game, even if he had to leave one game at halftime and jump in the car to catch the other game.

He did the same for grandson Jaxon, who lined up for his beloved Central Football Club.

“He used to always say to my son, no fighting, go for the ball not the man,” Emily said.

“Then Jaxon bumped into some kid by accident, and the kid turned around and shaped up at him, and Dad yells out, ‘Jaxon, get over there and punch that bastard in the face’.”

Jimmy loved the football club. He used to get up every Saturday morning and cut up oranges for the teams, and they made him team manager so he could sit on the bench and watch the games. The club gave him a special award in 2013.

But it all changed for Jimmy that evening in May. After the attack, he didn’t go and watch his grandson play footy, wasn’t interested in playing music. He had a long stint in Flinders Hospital in Adelaide.

“He used to come in here and play, and he was teaching Emmy’s daughter the accordion,” Gloria said. “After that, that was it, he never played with anybody.”

Two men entered the bar that evening. They had a drink and watched TV.

“They walked out the back door and Jimmy went over to fix the fire up and they come from behind, dropped him and bashed him,” Gloria said.

One of the men then grabbed the money from the till.

“All they had to do was say give us your money, because Jimmy always said if they want your money, give it to them, don’t get yourself hurt.

“He would have given it to them.

“They didn’t have to do what they did.”

The men have pleaded guilty to robbery charges and are expected to be sentenced in the District Court in March, but that’s little comfort for Jimmy’s family, who spent their first Christmas and New Year’s without him.

Jimmy would always kid around at Christmas time, feel the presents under the tree and guess what he would be getting.

“We used to wrap them up in the weirdest stuff to try and disguise them and he would say ‘oh, socks’ ... he would just know, it wouldn’t matter what it was,” said Emily.

“He used to say ‘I told you I was psychic’.”

New Year’s was also a special time. Gloria said they always made an effort to see in the New Year.

“We never spent a New Year’s Eve apart. If he was playing somewhere, I went, if he wasn’t playing, we were always together.”

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