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Simple Fun and Games.

Before iPads, iPhones, tablets and Wii, kids could make up a game with almost anything, including knuckle bones collected from the Sunday roast!

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, the games we played and the toys that we played with were not as expensive or as sophisticated as those of today.

Photo from Museum Victoria and shows four young girls sitting in a circle on an asphalt surface, playing with sheep knucklebones in a government school playground in 1954.

Photo from Museum Victoria and shows four young girls sitting in a circle on an asphalt surface, playing with sheep knucklebones in a government school playground in 1954.

When I see the games and toys that my grandchildren have at their disposal, I often think back to those years when we would make a game out of almost anything and quite often toys would be home-made or hand-me-downs.

We’d spend hours playing ‘bullys’ (some people called it clinkers), using the kernels or seeds from wild peaches. There were games like marbles, brandy or chasey, while the girls would either join in with us or play skippy, hop-scotch or knuklebones. Of course quite often we’d join in each other’s games and I can vividly recall playing knucklebones with my sisters, and I was thinking recently, how a set of 5 sheep’s knucklebones, saved over a period of time from the Sunday roasts, could keep us all entertained for so many hours.

More popular with boys (but again not exclusive to boys) was marbles (also called alleys), which were also quite valuable for trading with other kids.

Cats eyes from memory were the most common, trombolas were the big ones, the white marbles with the red splash were called blood trackers and ball bearings were also used and were known as ‘steelies’. There were also ‘bottlers’, clear glass marbles that were used to seal the old cool drink bottles.

There were several different games of marbles, one where you drew a circle and another game had the shape of an eye with 3 marbles placed in it. You could also play ‘keeps’, which meant the winner kept the loser’s marble (disaster if it was one of your favourites), or not keeps, just a friendly game.

Photo from Museum Victoria and is from 1954. There were several different games of marbles, you could play 'keeps', which meant the winner kept the loser's marble, or not keeps, just a friendly game.

Photo from Museum Victoria and is from 1954. There were several different games of marbles, you could play ‘keeps’, which meant the winner kept the loser’s marble, or not keeps, just a friendly game.

Wow! I’m surprised I can remember so much about marbles seeing I probably haven’t played for more than 50 years!! (Hope I’m not losing mine)!

Some of the other games that come to mind include elastics, hopscotch, ‘piggy in the middle’, squares, red rover all over, what’s the time Mr Wolf? There was brandy, chasey, hide and seek and not to mention all the board games, card games, draughts, snakes and ladders… many simple fun games and not an iPhone or iPad in sight.

Somebody also mentioned recently how we would make a kite with some brown paper, a few sticks, a ball of string and flour and water to make the glue to hold it together.

All that was required for kid’s games back then was a huge amount of energy, heaps of imagination, a length of rope, some chalk, an old tennis ball, fresh air, sunshine and lots of other kids,

What games did you play back then and what did you need for the game? Probably a fair bit of imagination but not much else.

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9 Responses to Simple Fun and Games.

  1. Tricia January 23, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    I would love to see some of the rules of these old games documented. Can anyone help? I remember playing knuckles (with the plastic ones in the 1970′) but can’t remember the rules. Same with cat’s cradles, elastics, and a couple variations on hopskotch. I used to love playing “what’s the time Mr Wolf” in primary school and think my children still played it in the late 90’s. I remember my mother used to play a game with me using buttons and a pattern she drew out on paper.

    • Hela Topor March 2, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      Hi Tricia

      You were interested in the rules of these games being documented. Well, I’m currently compiling a book on the games played by the kids in Benalla Migrant Centre between 1949 and 1967. Among the games were those you cite and one’s listed in Bob Byrne’s blog.

      Seems like we kids played very similar games. Some of the games, however, seem to have been unique to Benalla Camp – as far as I can make out.

      When the book comes out, perhaps you could get in touch with me on

  2. marjorie brown January 23, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

    In the 1940’s we used to make stilts out of steel fruit tins by threading a strong loop of string or twine through a hole each side of the tin which was knotted at the bottom and pull up on them so as to walk along. The tins are too fragile today to do that now.

  3. Bob Johnston January 23, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    Not so much a game, but get two jam tins (cleaned out), punch a nail hole in the bottom of each, a length of string 5-6 yds, thread each end of string thru hole in tin (joining the tins), tie a knot at each end of string, pull the string taunt (don’t break it) , one person put tin to ear, the other speak into other tin and presto you have your own walkie-talkie with out electricity.
    Make sure you say “Over” when finished talking, so the other person knew it was thier turn to talk.

  4. Carolyn January 24, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    We used to play a game called gotcha, using a laddered leg from a pr of mums old stocking we would put a tennis ball in the end of it, knot it , and then swing it around by it’s tail( the stocking leg) and throw it to our playing partner at the other end of our grassy lawn high and far to the other side where it needed to be caught without a bounce..

  5. paul s July 21, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

    I remember getting ampol or amoco spinning tops that you wraped a piece of string around and flipped onto the ground so they would spin and hit your mates top doing the same thing the last one still spinning was the winner. also i remember a game called Jacks you had little mettle star shaped things and a ball played the same as knucklebones. i could never afford to buy a set but i loved them because they were shiny and silver. i think the girls played more than boys {marbles] but i really wanted a set .

  6. Terry L May 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    Marbles. Brings back memories of the early ’50s, kneeling around a hastily drawn chalk circle on the asphalt schoolyard at Alberton Primary at lunchtime. Keenly aiming my best heavy bottler (with the tiny chips in it for better thumb friction) at the blood alley I needed to add to my collection. Yelling at the kid who had the temerity to attempt to use a steely. Hoping that that big kid with the strong thumb would not join the game. Coming to school with a bag of glistening, unmarked new cat’s eyes, returning home to the angry question “Where are all the marbles I bought you the other day?” Memories of Alberton and Queenstown – hope they never fade.

  7. Calamityj November 19, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    What about swap cards? Mainly for the girls but you’d get pretty or interesting cards from card packs or sold separately sometimes from toy shops. Bound together with a rubber band we’d take them proudly to school and with the magic words “Wanna swap?” we would go through our respective packs and negotiate on a swap. Extra special cards were kept safe behind little plastic home made covers:)Ah happy days .. Brighton Primary 1965-72 for the win!!!

  8. James Lightoller December 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    At North Adelaide Primary in the late 60s we played Red Rover All Over, aka British Bulldog. Rugby League is pretty much Red Rover All Over, With Violence …..

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