Monday, January 21, 2008

Smoke socials

I wonder how many Australians remember the term smoke social? I was reminded of it because I came across references to it in material that I was reading.

This was a term applied to organised social gatherings, often but not always dinners. They were held as celebrations, as organisation get to togethers, even fund raisers covering a wide range of activities. Sometimes the smoke social was added to another activity, such as annual general meeting and smoke social.

I could not find a history of smoke socials. However, a web search suggests that the term was strongly Australian, although it was also used in New Zealand. I could not see any references outside these two countries.

The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s, the latest references to the 1940s.

The term indicates the importance of smoking as a social activity.

Smoke socials have vanished, but the period survives in the continued use in Australia and New Zealand of the term smoke-oh to describe a work break. This term, too, seems to date to the 1890s.

Smoke-oh itself has been in decline, killed not by the anti-smoking movement, but by the fact that so few of us now take structured work breaks.


David Nash said in a comment:

The Australian National Dictionary (OUP, 1988) has smoke social as an Australianism, with citations spanning 1901-1972. As "The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s" the AND people presumably will be pleased to learn the details of your antedating.

This caused me as soon as I got home to try to replicate my web search. I should know better and have recorded details. A second search is always problematic because Google searches do not always give the same results. Worse, I started searching on the wrong term, "smoke socials" rather than "smoke social". This threw up some interesting historical material, but not what I wanted.

Finally, after some digging, I found the following from the Hawera & Normanby Star, 1898. Typos in the original reproduction plus those from copying!

(OWN OORRBSPONDBNT.) At Manaia last (Monday) evening a farewell smoke social was tendered Mr Hurley by the townspeople preparatory to his leaving for Wellington to take up his duties as secretary to the National Dairy Association, and an illuminated ' address presented to him, the text of which was as follows : — Manaia, September 1898. To G. A. Hurley, Esq., Dear Sir, — May we ask you, on the eve ' of your departure, after a residence of some • years to accept this as a slight recognition of your services to the town and district. Your name in connection with the Manaia Town Board, Domain and Cemetery Boards, the Forest Conservators, the Wanganui Education Board, and in fact everything of local interest in public business or recreation has become a household word. We; for ourselves and the people of Manaia and the Waimate Plains unite in wishing Mrs Hurley, yourself, and family, a long life of 1 health and prosperity, which, in endeavoring to benefit the community, you have so ■ honorably earned. — We remain, Dear Sir, yours faithfully, (Signed by Members Town Board, Forest Conservators, and townspeople.) Members of Local Bodies, Forest Conservators, settlers and townspeople were present. The Chairman, in presenting the , address, spoke highly ot the interest Mr t Hurley had taken in public matters in connection with tbe district during the past 17 years and of the loss the district i would sustain by his departure. v Everyone present spoke feelingly of Mr Hurley's many good qualities, both ' a3 a private and a public individual, > nnd expressed sorrow at his leaving ' Manaia. ! Mr Hurley retured thanks for the ■ kindness shown him, and was glad that j his efforts werb appreciated by the 3 public. Ample justice was done to Mr Steven' son's recherche spread, after which, ' smoke, songs, and toasting were freely ' indulged in, and everyone present voted the social an immense success. The illumination and engrossing of the address was done by Mr Norman 1 Benporath, and refleots great oredit on 1 that gentleman. It is really a work of i. art, and was very favourably commented 2 on by all. Among other things Mr Hurley's residence, the tower at the old ' redoubt, Mt Egmont, the Drill Hall, and tbe Court House were prominent. 3 " Auld Lang Syne " was heartily 1 sung, and a very pleasant evening terminated.

So we know that smoke socials were alive and recognised in New Zealand in 1898.


Anonymous said...

The Australian National Dictionary (OUP, 1988) has smoke social as an Australianism, with citations spanning 1901-1972. As "The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s" the AND people presumably will be pleased to learn the details of your antedating.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, David, that's very helpful. I will re-run my searches tonight, see if I can find the earlier citations, and pass them on as you suggest.

Anonymous said...

Certainly I heard the term "smoko" very often, though not lately. I have heard it called a "drug break" in recent times though...

As for "smoke social" -- I honestly do not recall ever hearing the term until now!

Jim Belshaw said...

That's interesting Neil. I first came across the term smoke social when reading newspapers from the 1920s. My impression was that it was a term from that period.

I was surpised to find it earlier and later. But it seemed to vanish during the war, although David's AND reference has a date range to 72. I suspect that we all got far more genteel.

Jim Belshaw said...

David, I emailed the NZ link on, Jim. Thanks again.