was born at Mordialloc on 12 February 1930, the son of Francis (Frank)
Fitzgibbon, clerk and Minnie née Mitchell (d 1989). Educated at St.
Bede’s College, Mentone, ‘Smacka’ as he was popularly known began first
playing the ukulele at an early age before switching to the banjo; his
earliest influences were Bing Cosby and Louis Armstrong. In 1951 he began
playing with “Frank Johnson’s Fabulous Dixielanders”, and later with
the father of Australian jazz, Graham Bell, before forming his own band with
“The Steamboat Stompers”; his first album was “Frisco Joe’s Good
Time Boys”. In 1969 he opened Melbourne’s first jazz restaurant “La
Brochette” (Studley Park Road, Kew) and later in June 1971 “Smacka’s
Place” (Chetwynd Street, North Melbourne) which became a Melbourne
institution; his recipe for an enjoyable night out was an ample supply of
“good food, good liquor, and good entertainment”. Described as “plump and
smiling with a warm and friendly genial personality”, Smacka was a much
loved entertainer, a rare breed who left a smile on everyone’s face and a
familiar face on Melbourne television shows, notably “Sunnyside Up”,
“The Penthouse Club” and “In Melbourne Tonight”. In 1972, the
jovial Australian jazzman recorded the title song of the unforgettable movie
“The Adventures of Barry McKenzie” which became a best seller.
Having had a malignant tumour removed in 1955, on 1 September 1977 Smacka
collapsed during a radio broadcast on 3.L.O; in July 1979 he was told the
end was neigh and died from a cerebral haemorrhage on 15 December aged 49
survived by his wife Faye née Hommelhoff whom he married on 31
October 1959 and four children; daughter Nichaud went on to become a noted
jazz entertainer “thrilling audiences with her distinctive, smouldering
style for many years and is regarded as one of Australia’s finest jazz
stylists”. Several thousand attended a rather colourful funeral service -
“Mass for Smacka” - with Frank Traynor’s “Jazz Preachers” playing the
New Orleans hymn “Oh Didn’t He Rumble” for the funeral march in
honour of the man described “as Melbourne as the Yarra (river)”. On 8
November 2004, a tribute show “Remembering Smacka” was held at the Arts
Centre in honour of the man best remembered “for his popular jazz club, his
dapper dress code (spotted bow ties, striped jackets, checked pants and two
tone shoes) and his passionate love of vintage cars”.
News Limited. All rights reserved. Reprinted by kind permission of
(La Trobe Picture Collection,
State Library of Victoria,
ADB Volume 14 1940-1980 (Di-Kel).
The Age 12 June 1970, 11 January 1977, 17 &
20 December 1979 & 28 March 1980.
The Sun 24 March 1977, 17 & 20 December 1979.
The Herald 1 September 1977 & 15 December
Media release “Remembering Smacka with
Nichaud Fitzgibbon and friends” (14 October 2004).
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