by Alex Whitworth


This dice shaker was made at Giles Weather Station on the edge of the Gibson Desert in Central Australia in 1968.
Giles is located at 24 37.00 S 126 18.52 E in Google Earth.


This map records the author's travels with Adastra.
Giles Weather Station is circled in blue.


The dice go back even further than the shaker but my memory, sadly, does not. I think they came with me from England in 1966 which would mean that they bounced around at least on the Wardroom bar in HMS Centaur but I cannot be certain of this.

The shaker was made by Andy Ralla (who was Spanish and insisted on the correct pronunciation - It's Rallyar Alex, Rallyyaaar!!) Andy was the maintenance engineer at Giles and he turned the shaker on the big lathe they had in the workshop. He used an old and seasoned piece of Mulga wood and it has never cracked despite the many changes of atmospheric conditions it has been through.

Andy was a lovely guy - tough and independent and a great story teller. He also played the accordion. The photo below shows him in our tent in the campsite at Giles on a bitterly cold desert night with our makeshift stove glowing red hot.


Poker dice is similar to the game that is played with cards. The dice are shaken in the open and the goal is to build the best combination with up to 3 throws. The first throw includes all 5 dice but for the second or third, the player is permitted to select which or all of the 5 dice to throw. Calculating the odds is a lot simpler than with a pack of 52 cards and the owner of the lowest combination would buy the drinks.

There is a variant called Liar Dice which is the version we played and much more fun. The first player throws all 5 dice but so that the other players can't see the dice. S/he then covers the dice with the shaker and makes a call, truthful or otherwise and slides the shaker along the bar to the next player who can then accept the call or lift the shaker. If the call is accepted, the accepting player looks at the dice but keeps them hidden and may then throw any selected number of dice, again hidden from the other players, but must make a higher call to the next player and so on until someone lifts the shaker . If the shaker is lifted and the exposed combination is lower than the call, the caller loses and buys the drinks. If it is equal or better, the lifter loses. There are lots of opportunities for ganging up on the inexperienced and for subtle calls and deception but turning the dice with the finger is cheating.

Mike Wood and I thought we were the Adastra champions whenever we happened to be in a bar together and playing with others. Playing against each other required exquisite levels of deviousness and facial control. I can still hear Mike's disgusted roar when - very occasionally - he lost.

The shaker and its dice were very busy in Adastra days but they then sat on a shelf at home while I was at University and until I bought my boat, Berrimlla in 1993. They have sailed with us ever since, so they have done a lot of Sydney - Hobart and Lord Howe Island races and have been round the world twice, via both Cape Horn and the Northwest Passage. There were also a couple of Fastnet races in England. You can see the wear on the rim - an indicator perhaps of distance travelled along the bars of the world.


Alex Whitworth

May 2012