Let’s take a look at the amazing Rooklyn family – Russian-Jewish London-born brothers Maurice, Harry and Jack – who contributed to Australian life in quite different ways.

The Rooklyn family migrated to Australia in 1912, first living in Paddington, and later moving to the Hunter Valley town of Greta. The three brothers soon became involved in the entertainment industry, performing musical, comedy and illusion acts on the Tivoli circuit.

Here is Maurice Rooklyn about to perform is sawing a woman in half act, n.d. (SLV, Image No: al000529)
Here is Maurice Rooklyn about to perform is sawing a woman in half act, n.d. (SLV, Image No: al000529)

Maurice Rooklyn was a magician. He created (and tried to copyright) an act known as ‘The Human Target’, which was a variation of the bullet catch trick. After getting hit twice too many times, he moved to England where he toured his signature billiards manipulation routine known as ‘A Symphony in Spheres’. In the 1940s and 50s, he became a famous magician known as The Amazing Mr Rooklyn – his illusion and hypnotism show travelled throughout Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Japan.

Brother Harry also stared out on the vaudeville circuit in Sydney but with a music act known as ‘The Musical Bandalero’. He began importing coin operated machines from America in the mid-1950s – mainly ‘slot machines’ including jukeboxes and pin ball machines. As well as being a ‘coinman’, he was a manufacturer of ‘kiddie rides’ (coin operated rides for children, often found outside supermarkets).

From the 1950s through to the early 1980s, Harry Rooklyn ran a fun parlour on George Street in the Haymarket called ‘The Happiest Place in Town’ –  it had pin ball machines, space invaders and shooting galleries. Rooklyn’s fun parlour is immortalised in the title and cover of the second LP by Australian 80s band Do Re Mi. Harry also ran the shooting gallery at Luna Park, and had a coin-operated amusement equipment showroom on Chelsea Street in Redfern and later became a namesake for a local park (which was later named something else).

Third brother Jack Rooklyn had a long and colourful life. He started out writing comedy sketches and later brought out the first American rodeo to Australia. He sometimes drove cabs to make ends meet and tried his hand as a jockey before he became too fat. During World War 2, Jack started a club for American soldiers based in Brisbane but later moved into the business of importing poker machines into Australia and across Asia, becoming the head of Bally Australia. Although there had been claims he was involved in organised crime from the 1970s, nothing stuck. But he was implicated in Queensland’s Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1988, and convicted of corruption in 1992. But due to his age and ill-health, he was fined, not jailed.