Pub culture sadly missed
Monday, 31st May, 2010
I have received several prompts to write this article - Brother Brian Anderson, a bus driver, and most recently the daughter of Prof. Stanley Livingston (of inorganic chemistry fame, adjunct to the W.S. and L.B. Robinson University College) and former wife of Jules DeBrenni Junior, who during a visit to the Labor Doyen at the War Vets Home stated she was a teacher at Railwaytown School (1967/68), that she "did not drink before coming to Broken Hill, and hasn't since she left".
I arrived in Broken Hill in February 1969 care of the Forbes Mail and the five-car Silver City Comet. It was suggested that I should visit the Pig and Whistle Hotel, home of the local teachers, all of whom were under the strict control of 'Nana' Norah Forde, publican and triple certificated nurse. I discovered a pub culture that had reached extinction in Sydney and elsewhere long before.
The 'pub' was especially 'home' to many old High School teachers, the Saints Football Club was based there, as were union activities. It boasted quoits and darts nights, Saturday was crib day. Friday nights were special, the odd guitar (the late K.C. Dodd) would emerge, there was no need for 'entertainment' licences, uniformed police visits did not happen (if police were there they were our friends, off duty), sniffer dogs were unheard of.
Of course the Pig and Whistle Hotel was far from the only pub patronised by teachers; every second week (pay was then by cheque) on Friday over 200 teachers would descend on Argent Street to do whatever with the cheques, and then gather in the vast rear bar of the Exchange Hotel where the feared Infants' Mistresses would zealously guard their brood, just as Matron Wade then guarded her trainee nurses.
The young and otherwise would then retreat to the 'Pig', many were younger than I (I was 25, and had been too old for the Vietnam Barrel of Death) and had had numbers of their peer group conscripted; the music of the day was very much Woodstock style peace songs - with of course Australian ballads thrown in.
Other pubs frequented by teachers included during the week the Junction where the North School held sway, and the Rising Sun, where "Molly" (Mary) Crosby kept order, and where the union held in the dining room its first executive meeting each year.
Other sections of the public service had their pubs, the police (the United Services Football Club) held sway at the Musos, and had the Freemasons Hotel painted red and white in their Club colours, the Geebungs Football Club (bankers and mine engineers) had the Silver King and the Southern Cross.
That the pub culture of Broken Hill was a steadying force on Broken Hill's social mores is beyond question - pubs such as the Pig were marriage factories (I can think of three teachers in one year). We as a community did not lock back doors, there was no breathaliser and surprisingly few accidents. Keys were left in ignition locks for safe keeping.
Was it always thus?
The short answer is no - for most of Broken Hill's existence there were no beer gardens, and women in bars was not on. Pubs were very much a working man's retreat, and a focus for sport (Sunday football, quoits, darts, euchre; a number had billiard tables next door) and S.P. betting on Saturdays.
Mining began in 1885 with two pubs. By 1888 that number had become 50 with a further eight in the 10 mile (Sunday drinking limit).
The number peaked in 1892 with 63, with another seven in the 10 mile limit. In 1923 the numbers were 59 and five. In 1924 however 18 city hotels were delicensed by the State Government.
Women in hotels were accommodated in parlours; the Labor Doyen recalls living with his parents at the Cable Hotel, made famous on New Year's day 1915 when bullets from Turk Rocks (named much later 'White Rocks') fired by two 'Afghans' were flying around it - it was on the southern corner of Oxide and Brown, a house now occupies the site. When I first saw it the corner door contained bullet holes which long ago had been puttied up.
Max Stewart describes the pub as having a front bar on Oxide Street with a cross hall and two large rooms behind it, a 'parlour' (also on Oxide Street linked to the bar with a slide or 'hatch'. A central hall went through to the rear with accommodation rooms to the left. There was a slide in the Pig and Whistle, a remnant from earlier days, other 'slides' no doubt existed.
In 1969 there were three early (6am) openers in the city, on Fridays the Sydney Club ceased serving at 4am with all out by 5am.
Sunday trading then was of course illegal, which meant that if you wanted to take a bottle (stubbies were yet to be invented) or beer with you, you took it out the side door in a brown paper bag. At the Pig, as with most of the then hotels, there was only two beers on tap, West End and Southwark. Cans were steel, requiring a triangular tool to open them. I had a Wolfram Street neighbour who took his kids to Sunday School, and then went to his pub, picking the kids up on the way home.
In 1969, keg beer outsold packaged beer 4 to 1, not all kegs however were consumed in pubs and clubs. In the early 70's Pud Tonkin (Junction Hotel) had over 30 'Puddies Goodies' (keg, tap, gas bottle) kits available for hire for 'private' functions.
Again in 1969, the per capita consumption of beer in Broken Hill was four times the S.A. State average.
Today, much has changed. Beer prices are no longer controlled by the BIC (I recall having to drink in the clubs for a week before the publicans agreed to bring their prices back down) with the result that packaged liquor is far cheaper than keg beer, and now outsells it.
Consider: Last week a popular beer at the Desert Oasis sold at $1.30 a can, the same beer was $4.80 a schooner at my regular pub.
In 1969 young people went for a drink, especially on Fridays, after knock-off and perhaps a change of clothes. Now they venture out much later, after apparently warming up on packaged product. Clearly, the practice of regular visits by uniformed police to our hotels is counter productive. It most assuredly has damaged community relations.
Similar with the so-called 'Liquor Accord'; elected people properly are those who should make the laws, and interpret them. Enough. What has occurred is vexacious; our young citizens can only listen and envy 'what was'.
1) In 1969 our pubs had no legal poker machines, and no objectionable noisy video machines.
2) Popular Willyama High School teacher Brian McCarthy has retired from teaching, and is leaving Broken Hill for the Central Coast. Brian arrived in Broken Hill in 1975, one year after Willyama was opened. He has been a tower of strength in the Saints Football Club and has served two terms as president of the Broken Hill Lions Service Club. Broken Hill will be much the poorer without him.
In February 1969 there were 36 hotels in Broken Hill, with a further three in the 10 mile limit (Rockwell, Mt Gipps, Stephens Creek) and a further four in the Broken Hill district (Border Gate, Quondong, Yanco Glen, Topar), and 11 licenced clubs.
The city hotels were: The All Nations; The Alma; The Baylyn; The Caledonian X; The Centennial X; The Astra X; The Crown X; The Duke Of Cornwall X; The Excelsior, Theatre Royal; The Federal (now Black Lion); The Freemasons (now West Darling); The Gasworks X; The Hillside X; Hotel Northern; The Imperial X; The Junction; Mario's X; The Mulga Hill; The Newmarket X; The Palace; The Pig And Whistle X; The Rising Sun; The Royal; The Royal Exchange X; The Silver King X; The Criterion (now Silver Spade); The South Australian; The Southern Cross; The Sportsman Arms (the 'Farm') X; The Sydney Club (became the Daydream) X; The Merthyr Tydvil ('Tydvil'); The Union Club X ; The Victorian X; The Wilcannia Club X; The Willyama.
Since 1969, 18 of these hotels (those marked X) have closed; 18 remain open. Five of the 11, 1969 licensed clubs have closed: Alma Sporting (the 'Billies'), Broken Hill, Broken Hill Bowling, Freemasons, RSL.
Acknowlegement: Papers held in the City Archives, K.L. Dansie, 1986.