Smacka Fitzgibbon

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Graham Francis ("Smacka") Fitzgibbon was an Australian entertainer.

He was born at Mordialloc on 12 February 1930, the son of Francis (Frank) Fitzgibbon, clerk and Minnie née Mitchell (d 1989) and younger brother to actress-singer Maggie Fitzgibbon. 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 Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

In 1951 he began playing with “Frank Johnson’s Fabulous Dixielanders”, and later with the father of Australian jazz, Graeme Bell, before forming his own band with “The Steamboat Stompers”; his first album was “Frisco Joe’s Good Time Boys” 1953.

In 1967 he opened Melbourne’s first jazz restaurant “La Brochette” (Studley Park Road, Kew, Victoria) and later in May 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 was a regular performer on Melbourne television shows, notably “Sunnyside Up”, “In Melbourne Tonight”and “The Penthouse Club”.

In 1972, the jovial Australian jazzman recorded the title song of the movie The Adventures of Barry McKenzie which was released as a single that same year, reaching #22 on the Australian Singles Chart (Go-Set) in December 1972.[1] He was a mate of Australian satirist Barry Humphries.

Having had a malignant tumour removed in 1955, on 1 September 1977 Smacka collapsed during a radio broadcast on 3LO; in July 1979 he was told the end was nigh 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”,
  • son Mark is one of Melbourne's top Jazz piano players having worked all over the world with many leading players,
  • his other son Andrew is a drummer who loves R & B.
  • His granddaughter is a budding entertainer.

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 Ramble” 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 performed by his daughter Nichaud at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, 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 - he collected Packards).

The Victorian Jazz Archive featured Smacka in its Fitzgibbon Dynasty exhibition.

References[edit]

Australian Dictionary of Biography[2] The Fitzgibbon Dynasty, The Victorian Jazz Archive, October 2007