In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, con-men, card sharpers and common thieves used to meet the country trains at Flinders Street Station in the hope of befriending a mug. They’d be looking for a shearer, a miner, a farmer - anyone with wide eyes and a fat purse would do.
The con-man might choose the ‘inheritance from a rich uncle in Fiji’ story or the ‘buy shares in a sheep station’ yarn.
The card-sharper often used the ‘silly man trick’ to entice mugs into playing cards for money.
The common thief would try to entice the mug into a pub crawl. There’d be lots of friendly banter, they’d take turns shouting drinks and it would be a very pleasant afternoon until the mug from out of town started to show signs of intoxication. The thief would then explain that he knows a shortcut to another pub and next thing the mug knew he'd be waking up in a back-lane with a bump on his head and empty pockets.
“If I didn’t take it he’d be returning to his wife with an empty purse and a bad case of syphilis”, the thief would muse, “now, at least, he’s only going to be returning with an empty purse.”
If you were met by a friendly stranger on the country platform, in this era, it was best to politely decline any offers to be shown about the town.
By Michael Shelford © 2017.
Michael Shelford is a writer who specialises in Australian true crime. He is currently completing a book on Melbourne's crime scene c1890's to 1920's. He is also the creator and guide for the walking tour company Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.