From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

[ ICE HOCKEY ] Bendrodt's Bears

The First Commercialisation of Ice Hockey in Australia, Sydney, 1938

The Association went back on its contract with me to provide teams. It pulled all its teams out of the Ice Palais, and refused absolutely to instruct its referees to apply the rule of the same in accordance with the International ice hockey code. Ask the Association this plain, straight question: Why did it refuse to give this guarantee? The Association's greatest referee, by the way, has resigned, or is resigning, as a protest against its conduct. Somewhere in the vicinity of 70 members, including the best players imported and local, have resigned, and now this truly Gilbertian collection of athletic nondescripts, instead of getting behind the game, are fulminating all sorts of threats against me." J C Bendrodt, October 1938. [16]

Portrait of Jim Bendrodt by Judy Cassab, Archibald Prize Finalist, 1957

THE SITTER FOR JUDY CASSAB looked elegantly focused on something, much like an elderly Fred Astaire or Somerset Maugham. A work in progress, a chameleon blending in with the luminous walls of the painterly Sydney home. Cassab had painted Packer last year, but her entry this year in the 1957 Archibald Prize would at least be cultured. The imported silk suit, the red carnation buttonhole, the white silk kerchief, the manicured hands, were without doubt at home with the Meissen porcelain and Bohemian crystal which he just happened to collect. Yet, rather paradoxically, they also served to emphasise whatever it was that resided behind that resolute stare. Even at sixty-six, as one reporter had said, Jimmy Bendrodt looked like 'a man that had lived, but one you didn't mess with'. A former pro boxer and lumberjack, he had a penchant for 'bouncing' drunks, yet his face did not display a single scar from the weapon of choice during the vicious era of razor gang wars, 1927 to 1931.

Cnr Bayswater Road and Kellet Street, Darlinghurst, 1937. Bendrodt lived in a Kellet Street terrace and appears in the Australian tele-movie Underbelly - Razor City of Sydney Archives.

The menace of cut throat razors had intruded upon his thoughts more than he cared to recall since the evening of August 8th 1929, outside his own home. Two mobs occupied Kellett Street for hours that day, maybe forty gangsters leaning against houses, sitting in gutters, working up Dutch courage from bootleg beer and cocaine. Tilly Devine's armed crew just marched on Kate Leigh's sly grog shops while she was in Long Bay Jail, taunting her gang all afternoon and into the night. Throwing bottles, yelling obscenities, each waiting for the other to make the first move until eventually Bendrodt leaned out his first floor window and told them to stop. [2] He was thirty-eight back then, a 5-foot 8-inch, 10-stone 10-pound, ex-pat Canadian lightweight who looked like Fred Astaire. The bottles and death threats that both gangs hurled through his window drove him back, but he wasn't easily intimidated. He returned with a revolver and fired a warning shot in the air. That was it. Everyone lost it. The gangsters inflicted maximum damage on each other with revolvers, bottles, stones, boots, fists... and razors. [2]

The man who was first to commercialize ice sports in Australia emigrated from 50 Quebec Street in Victoria BC around the same time as Jim Kendall. He flirted with acting in Melbourne with J C WIlliamson's, then taught dancing for two decades from 1919 at Macdonnell House at 321 Pitt Street in Sydney. At that time, dancing meant jazz, " danced; in the afternoons, in the evenings, at night in dimly lit cabarets you danced until the small hours, and your feet ached and you could scarcely hold your head up." [3] Bendrodt's Palais Royal in the Hall of Industries at the Moore Park showgrounds could hold 5,500 people, with 3,000 dancing to Billy Romaine, one of Australia's first jazz bands. Together with Herbert Blatchly and the Jacksons, Bendrodt brought over the dancing Uksilas from America to teach and exhibit skating and ice hockey in the Winters of 1920 and 1923. They performed at the rinks in both Melbourne and Sydney. Bendrodt accompanied Lena Uksila, the New York ice dancing star, on her second visit from America in 1923. She probably performed at the opening of his Palais Royal dance hall. He imported many other foreign entertainers in the face of government and union obstacles, including 'colored' minstrels. In the same year, he established J C Bendrodt + Co, took up horse racing and breeding, and later brought jazz pianist Frank Ellis and his Californians from San Francisco. Thousands of dance fans regularly flocked to see them.

Frank Coughlan and Band on The Troc stage

Bendrodt renewed his involvement with Melbourne's entertainment industry sometime after the opening of the new Palais de Danse on the St Kilda foreshore in Melbourne in the early 1920s. By the early 1930s, he had extended promotion of his Palais Royal dances and bands from Sydney to Melbourne, and it was no doubt during these years that the idea for Melbourne's St Moritz and Sydney's Ice Palais ice rinks were conceived. On April 3rd 1936, at the height of the Depression, Bendrodt and his partners opened the palatial Trocadero, Sydney's first purpose-built ballroom, with Frank Coughlan (1904 - 1979), the father of Australian jazz, leading the orchestra. "On the carpeted floor area, stood tables decorated with cream tablecloths and scarlet napkins. Among the glistening cutlery and glasses stood elaborate toning floral centrepieces of cream, pink and scarlet carnations, white magnolias, frangipani and tuberoses. The tables were flanked by high-backed chairs of padded cream velvet." [4] It was a high class, stylish and beautifully appointed venue where ordinary people could pay a small admission charge to attend dances.

Bendrodt's Ice Palais as it opened in 1938

Then, in December 1937, Bendrodt formed a company to transform the Palais Royal into the opulent Ice Palais. He opened it the following year featuring Canadian figure-skating and ice-hockey stars, including his own Canadian Bears ice hockey team. Dunbar Poole had conveniently retired as manager of Sydney Glaciarium a few months earlier, and Bendrodt brought him back as Ice Palais manager in the Winter of 1938. Building on its success, a second rink in Melbourne, St Moritz, opened the following year opposite the Palais de Danse on the St Kilda foreshore where Bendrodt also promoted his dances.

At the gala opening on 8 pm Friday June 10th 1938, wicked scarlet lettering beneath the glassy surface of the freshly cut ice announced, "The Ice Palais Welcomes You". Murals of mountain scenery adorned the walls and the ceiling was a star-studded midnight blue, much like the St Moritz rink that was to follow next season in Melbourne. The wide, rust-coloured carpet surrounding the rink was covered cabaret-style with tables. Radiators warmed away the chill for non-skaters, the 14-piece Billy Romaine band provided the swing, and Clarrie Hislop, British champion Freddie Tomalins, and Norwegian Junior champion, Inger Kragelund provided the skating exhibitions. Fashion models paraded on ice, Anthony Hordern was among the skaters, and the table guests included actor Roland Conway, Canadian Trade Commissioner Lt Colonel Moore-Cosgrove, and Sir Ernest and Lady Riddle, former Governor of the Commonwealth Bank.

Bendrodt promoted his Canadian Bears as amateurs but it is said the local association prohibited them from playing in local leagues because they considered them professionals. The real point everyone liked to avoid was that the Bears had developed in foreign leagues far more advanced than anything made available to Australians by their associations. Out here, the Bears were in a league of their own, whether or not they were professional. Watching defeat by double-figures is not sport, and that was certainly not what Bendrodt was about. He mainly wanted to show local fans, players and controlling authorities the potentialities of fast, skilled, world-class competitors. The Bears did not play an Australian team until the end of the 1938 season. Their opponents were considered the Australian National team at the time, and the Victorian representatives were Ellis Kelly, Johnny White, "Spot" Lloyd and Colin Mitchell. [7]

George Balork and Ken Tory with Fred McCabe, son of NSW Ice Hockey Association secretary, Ted McCabe, Truth newspaper, Sydney, June 1938

When the Canadians, Balork and Tory, were selected by the state association to represent New South Wales, Victoria issued an ultimatum — withdraw them, or the Goodall Cup was off. Victoria was coached that season by Fred Turner, the Canadian Trade Commissioner in Melbourne, and the final roster included Canadian, Hugh "Spot" Lloyd. The New South Wales association publicly "refused to allow another state to dictate the personnel of her team", claiming there were no rules in the books prohibiting the playing of Canadians. A conference between the Victorian association and Glaciarium management decided the Mebourne rink would not be available for interstate games if the Canadians played, but one a side was the final outcome. The NSW Association also attempted to be represented by British speed skater Freddie Tomalins, an English boy who had just won the NSW title. Victoria protested and Tomalins was replaced by Jack Douglas. Visiting Hall-of-Famer Hap Holmes accompanied NSW on this trip "to gain knowledge of the standard of play, with the object of possibly returning next season with two professional American teams". [19]

Harry 'Hap' Holmes, when he was keeper of the Toronto Arenas hockey club, c1917 -18. Manager of the new Cleveland Arena, he traveled this season to Melbourne with the New South Wales Goodall Cup squad to assess the commercial potential of the Australian game. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A professional team named the Bears was also formed at Bendrodt's Ice Palais in 1938. The team uniforms were Bendrodt's wicked scarlet and off-white, the colours of The Troc, the colours of Canada. The squad was comprised of four of the visiting Canadians from Kenora; [7] two other Canadians; and four local players. The four locals or "rabbits" with very little ice hockey experience were Jack McNaughton, Vic Freeman, Arthur Billington and George Curtis. They were not even state players, but they played well enough to give a Canadian a rest. The two other Canadians were George Barlok from Saskatoon who played centre for the Ice Palais Panthers' [Wests], and represented New South Wales in the Goodall Cup earlier in August, and Ken Tory from North Alberta who played centre for the Ice Palais Monarch's [Easts]. The Bears won 10 of their 11 games and tied the other. Each game was sold out. Their four Kenora-born players were goalie Russell W Carson, Stewart Fielder, Frank "Pinky" Clifton and Donald Robertson. History has it that Fielder, Clifton and Robertson were all members of the 1935-6 Kenora Thistles. [8] Donald "Spike" Robertson played for the Thistles each season from 1935-6 until 1937-8, but went missing from their rosters from 1938-9 until 1949. So too did Clifton and Fielder on and off, but Fielder never returned. [8] All four had visited Australia in the off-season, where they may have remained for quite some time. Carson remained for the rest of his long life.

Robertson, the sandy-haired and helmeted left-winger, was the Bears' most spectacular player but their captain, Ken Tory, was a 6-foot 4-inch power forward who could easily brush aside local opponents. The Bears' Canadians were all tall, very fast and combined well. After the first three challenges — Panthers 3-2, Glebe 8-3, and Monarchs 11-0 — the Bears had scored 22 goals to 5 against. [9] But fans were speculating the game against St George would be the acid test. The club included four players in Bear-class: Jimmy Brown, Percy Wendt, Jim McLauchlain and the NHL Black Hawks one-gamer, Tom Coulter. [9] The week before, Tory had incensed Brown by saying "Australia is a long way below international ice hockey standards. There is too much individualism and not enough team work in Australia. It would cost £500 (about $40,000) to bring a leading overseas coach to Australia for a season, but the result would be worth it. Australia would then be strong enough to send a team to England, where the standard, although high, is just short of Olympic requirements." Brown pointed out that England was the current holder of the Olympic championship, even though its national team included five Canadians, like many other top Olympic ice hockey nations who have the pick of the best players in the world. Brown believed Australia at that time was competitive with the mid-ranking nationals. [10]

The long-awaited St George versus Bears game was played hard with furious body-checking and a very high skill level. In those days, in that league, only defending players were allowed to body check in their defensive zone, and only against an attacker in possession of the puck, never in the back, not gathering momentum, not within 5-feet of the boards, and not with the knee or elbow or stick pushed out in front. The Bears held St George scoreless to win, 1-0, Robertson netting the match-winning goal assisted by Fielder. The crowd repeatedly hooted St George and counted them out each time they broke the checking rules. Tom Coulter and Stu Fielder were sent off by referee, Norm Turner, others were cautioned. [12] Robertson fell behind the St George goal in the first half and struck his head heavily against the boards. He recovered after a few minutes but fell again, this time striking the back of his head on the ice. He was carried off but returned at the start of the second half, only to be knocked out for a third time, recover again, and score the game-winning goal. Several St George players were sent off in the second half and there were as many as eight players prostrate on the ice in a melee at the one time. [12] The sport's regular journalist said it was a shame to see the way Robertson, the Bears star, was targeted and "continually bashed to the ice surface by illegal play". [11]

Referee Carl Kerr watching Wiseman tussle for the puck with Stu Fielder in the scarlet and white bears kit. Truth newspaper, Sydney, 4 Sep 1938

St George captain Jimmy Brown played, despite bleeding internally from a game a few days earlier, and both Percy Wendt and Widdy Johnson were strangely quiet. Wendt and Johnson later sided with Bendrodt. The Referee sports writer said Tom Coulter was the best on the ice, despite his illegalities, and Robertson, Clifton and Fielder were not far behind. Tory and Brown were "good without rising to heights". [11] Carson in net for the Bears played with a shattered nose from his last encounter protected by a baseball helmet, but did not have to face any shots from close range, such was the quality of the Bears skating defense. Scotty Fraser in net for St George stopped three certainties.

Bendrodt took exception to the way the game was refereed and wrote to both St George and the association. On receiving the letter, Brown said it contained a strong suggestion that Coulter was guilty of dirty play, and since such a suggestion would not be tolerated, the writer would be asked to withdraw it. "It is about time some stand is made before the game is ruined," he said. "There are strong efforts being made to commercialise the sport, much to its detriment." [13] Coulter went public to remind everyone he had his reputation to protect back home, as both a player and a referee. Bendrodt requested future games conducted at the Ice Palais be refereed by two men, and there must be no rough play. Executive officers of the association went namelessly to the Truth newspaper refusing to entertain the two referee idea. The shadowy figures got personal instead, "Bendrodt might be an expert at dancing but he was not in a position to tell men of years standing how to run the great sport of ice hockey. The IHA of NSW has existed and prospered without the aid of Mr Bendrodt." The "association" said it was "fighting for a vital principle that it is the controlling body and that it and its referees will not be told by a comparative newcomer and promoter that a game is too rough." [14]

Jimmy Brown briefing the boys, July 1938.

The newcomer showed players how to depart the NSW association to form their own, and the dispute became plain nasty leaving top players like Percy Wendt, Widdy Johnson and Bede Moller out of the state side, out of the sport for a season, and probably also the war years. It even spread to Victoria where it affected players such as Victoria's captain, Ellis Kelly. The NSW Association secretary, Ted McCabe, issued a statement published in Truth which reiterated its earlier position less arrogantly, and said there was no foul play to deal with. As active participants in Bendrodt's promotion of ice hockey, the hypocrisy in statements such as this must have been hard to stomach: "Ice hockey in New South Wales was an amateur sport and the association would not agree to it being exploited for financial gain." [15] About fifty players and officials signed an avowal of loyalty to the association.

Bendrodt replied to Truth, 'If I allowed the position to continue it would simply develop into a donnybrook when any team with very little knowledge of ice hockey, but with skates and boots, and armed with lethal sticks, could go in and bash the brains out of anybody... I brought here the finest team of ice hockey players; in fact, the only team of international standard that Australians have been privileged to see. I issued a challenge to all Australian teams whose appearance was guaranteed by the Ice Hockey Association. It said that the games would be played strictly in accordance with their rules. Their rules mark you, not our rules! And their referees, not out referees! After the fourth game it became obvious that the spectators were antagonised. The press described the brutality and grossly illegal tactics of the game. I have forgotten more about ice hockey than the gentlemen who run the Association know. Among their players here and in Victoria are 25 at the most who could possibly make a third rate amateur team in the junior grade at home. As a result of my activities and investments ol thousands of pounds In ice hockey, the Association has had its greatest chance. It threw it away because of personal animus, petty spite and jealousy.' [16] Bendrodt's final word on the matter was, of course, a bet —  £100 to nothing (about $8,000) the state association could not assemble a team to beat his Bears.

The management committee of the local association threatened all that it could, including punitive measures through its affiliation with the Australian Olympic Federation. Then it announced player suspensions from 2 to 5 years duration. Among other games, the Bears went on to beat the New South Wales All-stars, 9-4, on October 5th, and the Australian national team, 5-4 and 8-3 later that month. They returned to Canada on Remembrance Day, November 11th. Officials here stated "the visit greatly assisted in raising the standard of the game in Sydney. Their tactical work and positional play have been something new to Australian players who have not had the opportunity of witnessing games played overseas, and much has been learned of methods not previously exploited." [17] Inter-rink hockey matches between the Glaciarium and Ice Palais were a feature of the 1939 and 1940 seasons. Harry Kleiner opened the St Moritz rink at St Kilda in 1939, but it was at least equally Bendrodt's idea. Bendrodt had announced the Carrier refrigerating equipment for the Melbourne rink was on its way from America when the success of the Ice Palais became obvious in its very first season. St Moritz became the flagship for Victorian ice sports and the focus of Australian ice hockey shifted there for many decades. The state achieved an enduring ascendancy for the first time since the Australian game had been founded there in the early 1900s.

Ice hockey matches were not played at the Ice Palais in 1941, and the owners of Sydney Glaciarium asked the association to reduce the number of teams engaged to ensure a higher standard of play. Two of the five ice hockey clubs were merged to strengthen the league. [5] From about 1942, the Ice Palais building was requisitioned for the AIF District Accounts Office accommodating 1,200 people for the war effort. By the end of the war, the executive of the state association had been replaced. The Ice Palais reopened on May 7th 1948 with 4,500 people and closed its doors for the last time in 1952. The original building is still standing at the showgrounds. Employees remembered Bendrodt as a hard boss, willing to reward initiative or bend the law. He was tried in August 1939 for minor fraud over payments to employees, fined in 1951 for understating taxable income in the early 1940s, and forced to admit to a royal commission in 1952 that Prince's regularly ignored State liquor regulations. Lavish entertainments at the restaurant were criticized in wartime, though Bendrodt claimed that American troops had benefited. Abandoning the turf in the early 1950s because it involved 'too much distress', he campaigned against cruelty to animals. In 1956 he opened the Caprice, a lavish, 'floating' restaurant at Rose Bay, which became a Mecca for celebrities, known today as Catalina. [1]

He was no angel, Jimmy Bendrodt, but as with many successful entrepreneurs, important people backed his ventures. He had done more for Australian ice sports than anyone since the founder, H Newman Reid. First in the early-1920s, then from 1938 until 1952. Neither the sport here, nor future investors, should ever forget his story.

1938 Goodall Cup | 01 | 02 |

Video: Deep Water, by Richard Clapton, laments the closure of The Troc. Footage of skaters at the Ice Palais is included at the end of the biography of Hope Braine.


[1] Iain McCalman, 'Bendrodt, James Charles (1891-1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

[2] Larry Writer, "Razor: A true story of slashers, gangsters, prostitutes and sly grog", 2001

[3] Kathleen Mangan + Frederick McCubbin, "Daisy chains, war, then jazz", 1984.

[4] Joan Ford, "Meet Me at the Trocadero", 1995, p8

[5] Sydney Morning Herald, May 8 1941.

[6] Cassab has twice won the Archibald; 1960 and 1967.

[7] "The History of the Goodall Cup", author not stated, Ice Hockey Australia.

[8] 'Kenora Thistles 100th Anniversary Web site", Past Teams from 1894-5 to 1975-6

[9] "These Bears Are Good", Referee, Sydney, 8 Sep 1938, p 23

[10] "Australia's Ranking in Ice Hockey", Referee, Sydney, 8 Sep 1938, p 23

[11] "Crash, Bang, Wallop: Ice Hockey Game For Gladiators", Referee, Sydney, 15 Sep 1938 p 23

[12] "Bears Beat St George", Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Sep 1938 p 16

[13] "Letter Resented. Ice Hockey Incident. Accusations Against Player". Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Sep 1938 p 15

[14] "Bendrodt Dances On Thin Ice In Hockey". Truth, Sydney, 25 Sep 1938 p8

[15] "Ice Hockey Dispute. Association's Statement". Attitude Toward Foul Play. Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Sep 1938 p 15

[16] "Bendrodt Blares Challenge. All Heated About Ice Hockey War". Truth, Sydney, Sun 2 Oct 1938 p 10

[17] "The Bears Unbeaten Record". Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Oct 1938 p 15

[18] Referee, Sydney, 21 July 1938 p 23

[19] Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1938 p 19 (American Expert's Visit) and 3 Aug 1938 p 20

Jimmy Bendrodt's Bears, Ads, Truth newspaper, Sydney, August 1938.

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