It didn't matter whether you were a politician or footy player, picker or punter, Tom would welcome people from all walks of life to drink at the Hotel Australia.

But that didn't mean all topics of conversation were encouraged.

Politics and Religion, Shh!

Tom was a Catholic and a Labor man, but he kept it to himself. He knew that politics and religion were topics guaranteed to start an argument or lose patrons, and very early on told his sons to avoid them at all costs. Mind you, that wasn't easy when the Prime Minister dropped in for a drink.

Gough Whitlam was interested in the arts and was persuaded by local Labor party member John Riordan to see an early production of The King and I.
(Erna Werner, from 'Shepparton art icons take a bow', Shepparton News, 21 November 2012, <>)


Footy was always a pretty safe topic of conversation. Many of the drinkers played country footy, like the James boys.

Garfield 'Gandhi' or 'Gundy' James and his two brothers 'Shady' and 'Rupie' were good footballers with Mooroopna and Shepparton East. Gandhi was good friends with Tom and drank at the Aussie.

After the war Jack, Reg & Laurie all played for different footy teams - Jack for Shepparton East, Reg for Shepparton and Laurie for Shepparton then SPC. After the Saturday game they brought all their footy mates back for drinks where the winners celebrated and the losers commiserated. For something completely unplanned, it was great for business. Later, Don and Brian also played football and no doubt continued the tradition; they both played for Shepparton, then Brian played for Shepparton United after an overseas trip.

Footy bets had to be in by Friday night. The money was kept on a shelf behind the bar for safe keeping. By late Monday, there was still money on the shelf - many had forgotten what they bet.

Some even better known footballers came for a drink too. Trevor met Footscray's Ted 'Mr Football' Whitten in the ladies lounge. And there was this guy ...

Carlton footballer Harry 'Soapy' Vallence and Tom Phillips 1975

In the 1970s, Carlton great Harry 'Soapy' Vallence dropped in for a drink and chat about old times with his friend Tom. Soapy was best mates with Tom's younger brother Danny who now lived in Tatura. The two families were from Bacchus Marsh where the numerous Vallence families were dairy farmers.

All Welcome

Maybe Tom's kind, tolerant and generous nature was formed through his poor upbringing and raising family through the depression where everyone helped each other. And his war service where a mate's religion or colour counted for little.

Tom was the son of a railway worker whose wage was stretched to the limit supporting ten children. The children were all well fed, educated, and especially clothed. Their mother had a saying 'it's no good being poor and looking poor'. Tom always dressed well - except maybe when he was acting yardman.

Tom Phillips, Hotel Australia yard

In quieter times, Tom liked to do work around the pub, like painting or gardening. If someone wandered into the yard asking for Tom Phillips, he was known to exercise his cheeky sense of humour and tell them 'Oh, he's inside. I'm just the yardman.'

Tom and Sis raised their own family through the Depression years of the 1930s.

While working as an apprentice baker in St Kilda, eighteen year old Tom signed up for war service, joining the 13th Australian Light Horse regiment. His horse Austin was the start of a lifetime association with horses which he often weaved into his business life.

A Quid on Miss Latta

Another popular and uncontroversial topic of pub conversation was anything to do with horses, especially racing.

While he had financial interest in a string of race horses over the years, Miss Latta was Tom's sentimental favourite. Probably because she was his earliest success story. In later years he combined with Sis and son Laurie in a stable of horses, mostly bred from New Zealand mare Khorion, to moderate success.

Tom was president of the Shepparton Jockey Club and continued on its committees for many years. His mate Doc Kennedy was president of the Trotting Club. For a while, until the tracks set up their own facilities, the Hotel Australia would run a bar at the race courses.

Bill Condon, racing expert: The Phillips boys perpetrated many pranks on former Shepparton News reporter and later Sporting Globe racing expert Bill Condon. He raced to more hoax 'fatals' at his peril, and went out to see more gelded sires than any other newsman in known history. Yet for all his naivety, he was still a brilliant journalist, according to the boys.
(Tom Carey, 'Mine host pulls his last glass', Shepparton News, 27 September 1979, p. 9.)

Joe was one of four of Tom's five brothers who at some point used SP bookmaking to supplement his income. Though not strictly legal, this activity was tolerated by the authorities until regular - and tax-paying - bookmakers became established. While most of Joe's brothers scaled back their SP bookie activities, Joe went full-time.

Of course you could never place a bet while in the bar, as that would be illegal. Though if someone was keen, Joe might have been available. This would save the punters from heading to the track for a bet. And they could have an ice cold beer while waiting for their nag to win.

Perfect Host

Business man or battler, Mick or Proddy, indigenous or import; it didn't matter to Tom, he treated you just the same.

The consummate host, if Tom didn't know somebody's name, he would go up beside Trevor or one of the other barmen, and with a voice even softer than usual ask 'Who's that bloke over there?' Just so he could address them by name.

Genial and small in stature, Tom could easily blend into the background if it wasn't for his crop of silver hair. As he mingled with the patrons, he'd be nursing his 'foursie', a small 4 ounce glass of beer that looked much like everyone else's, but allowed him to socialise all day without getting sozzled.

With the perfect attributes for his line of business, Tom would also offer a glass or round on the house, all but guaranteeing patrons would linger and be back.

By the 1960s the beer was flowing freely, but it wasn't like that in the beginning ...

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