The qualifiers for the Australian Goldfields Open have begun, with places available for 16 qualifiers in Bendigo in July, joining the top 16 seeds.
Note: the top 16 seeds rather than the top 16. Half of the elite group have declined the chance to go to Australia.
Prize money for this ranking tournament is significantly lower than the other events, especially when you factor in the expense of getting there.
Players who feel they don’t need to go are not going, although this isn’t necessarily the whole story. One top player who hasn’t entered told me he would have done had the event been played in a big Australian city rather than the back of beyond.
Australia has a long snooker heritage but the game has always been a peripheral activity compared to other sports, particularly those played outside.
Neil Robertson, who has worked hard to promote the Goldfields Open, took up the game because his father ran a snooker club in Melbourne. But many of his peers were out playing Aussie Rules and cricket instead.
Vinnie Calabrese seems to be a promising prospect and has joined the tour this year. He follows in the footsteps of several Aussies of snooker times past.
It’s often said that the best cueist of all time was Walter Lindrum, the former world billiards champion. His nephew, Horace, won the 1957 World Snooker Championship from a field of two after all the top players boycotted the tournament and staged their own.
In the 1980s there was the toweringly tall John Campbell and Warren King, who was runner-up to Steve James in the 1990 Mercantile Classic. But the great figure in Australian snooker in the TV age was Eddie Charlton, who three times finished runner-up in the World Championship and who also promoted tournaments in his home country.
Eddie was a hard case; a tough as old boots snooker warrior. He would have laughed heartily at claims of ‘burnout’ – this is a man who used to undertake hundreds of flights between the UK and Australia and think nothing of it.
He had been a surfer, a cricketer, a boxer and very probably wrestled crocodiles of a weekend.
At the table, Charlton had a win at all costs approach which meant less pushing the boat out and more tethering it to the nearest post. He less threw caution to the wind than locked caution up in a dank cellar and threw away the key.
He once beat Cliff Thorburn 10-9 at 2.40am at the Crucible. A journalist asked him afterwards if he had considered the crowd and the entertainment value of the match.
His response was: “F*ck the crowd, I’m here to win.”
His safety game caused all manner of trauma for hapless opponents and he rarely put any side on the cueball, meaning he wasn’t as proficient a break-builder as some of the other players of his era.
That said, he made the first ever century at the Crucible in 1977. He had also made the first century in the BBC’s Pot Black, a title he won three times.
Eddie was never world champion but was without peer in one area: swearing. Many who played him attested to this. Had the £250 fines been in operation back then he may have gone bankrupt.
Superbly, he also reverted to Aussie stereotype when he felt he had a point to make. He once read something a journalist colleague of mine had written which he didn’t like and so marched into the pressroom and called him a ‘Pommie shirt-lifter.’
Charlton’s longevity was proof of how much he loved the game. Into his 60s he beat both Jimmy White and John Parrott in ranking events, although it was Parrott who delivered a wounding moment, the only 10-0 whitewash at the Crucible in their first round match in 1992.
Earlier that season Charlton had reached the final of the first World Seniors Championship, losing 5-4 in the final to Cliff Wilson.
He did some BBC commentary but time inevitably caught up with this formidable character and he eventually fell off the tour.
Charlton died in 2004 but even then his remarkable attributes were brought to the fore. The WPBSA forgot to take him off the ranking list but did remove someone who had retired. Therefore, in death, Steady Eddie actually rose up the rankings.
The charismatic Quinten Hann looked like he could take Australian snooker forwards. He had the looks and he had the game but lacked the professionalism. During one World Championship he won his first round match, flew back to Australia then came back to the UK and lost in the second round.
Robertson is a far more level-headed character although has had a few mishaps of the table when it comes to preparation. This week he made a 147 in the Wuxi Classic qualifiers – a great break, by the way. However, Mark King tweeted that Robertson had to borrow Matt Selt’s playing gear as he had forgotten to bring his own.
It’s hard to see too many Australian players following in Robertson’s considerable footsteps. Sadly, his many achievements have barely made a ripple in the media back home.
This is a shame because his story is inspiring: leaving his family to come to the UK with £500 in his pocket, pursuing his dreams and ambitions and realising them.
Neil’s own brother, Marc, gave it a go this year by entering Q School but failed to qualify for the main tour.
This is the last of the Australian Goldfield Open’s initial three-year deal. Whether it returns to the calendar remains to be seen.
It would be a shame to lose it because the Australian snooker public have waited a long time after Charlton for another world class player and, now they have one, they’d like to see him up close, doing their country proud.