'Urgently appeal consideration extra beer before Xmas Hotel Australia Shep. This hotel's beer quota including extra already granted all Shep hotels will only last over weekend. TJ Phillips Licensee.'
Sent more out of frustration than hopefulness, this was Tom's telegram to Senator RV Keane the minister for Trade and Customs on 13th December 1945. It followed weeks of communication with officials in an attempt to get his beer quota increased.
Wartime limits on beer production were imposed in March 1942 and required breweries to reduce their output to two-thirds of previous levels. While Tom's efforts were successful in getting an increased beer quota for all Shepparton pubs to cover the upcoming fruit season, he had a bigger problem.
The Hotel Australia had a beer quota that was about 40% lower than the other five Shepparton pubs. So the pub often ran out of beer and this was financially crippling. The telegram was sent mid-month, so for the next two weeks they were once again literally the Pub With No Beer. Privately, in the years following the war, Tom said that if the war had continued much longer he would have been ruined.
Tom's Pub, Dunnes' Quota
The reason for the huge discrepancy in quotas goes back to when the Dunnes ran the Hotel Australia. By the time war was declared in September 1939, the Dunnes were well off and were selective of who they gave rooms to and who they served beer to. With pickers likely excluded, this resulted in beer sales during the summer fruit picking and canning season - the time of most demand - nearly half that of the other Shepparton pubs. Unfortunately, beer quotas were set nationally using sales figures from January and February 1942, so Tom's beer quota was locked into Dunnes' low beer sales from three years earlier.
During the previous fruit season - Tom's first in the pub - he had recognised the problem and gone through a similar appeal process. He enlisted the help of Harry Williams, his live-in financial manager, and they explained in detail why their pub's quota was unfairly low. But the government officials refused to listen. Not taking no for an answer, Tom tried again. This time he enlisted the help of local Labor politician John Devlin, who was known to minister Keane, and he explained how his low, fixed-price accommodation tarrif set at the request of Food Control Authorities meant he was losing about £9 per week. But there was still no change in the decision. Tom was stuck with the lowest beer sales in Shepparton and losing over a third of his £25 weekly rent through subsidised accommodation.
While the only way was up, recovery was painfully slow. Although restrictions were lifted in March 1946, it was many years before the breweries could ramp up production to meet demand, and for the beer to again flow freely.
Supply had picked up enough by 1948 that they opened a second bar, the saloon bar in Fryers St. Then in the last half of the 1950s, with unlimited beer available, the tiny main bar on the corner was replaced with the new long bar to meet demand from the tsunami of drinkers betweeen five and six o'clock.
With the bar changes made, the pub became so popular that writer Tom Carey later quotes Tom Phillips as saying the Hotel Australia's liquor sales figures peaked in the 1950s and early sixties to be regularly in the top ten for country Victoria and a couple of times in the top three.
In fifteen years, Tom and the family had taken the pub from lowest beer sales in Shepparton to top three in country Victoria.
Despite beer sales slowing a bit through the 1970s, when they sold the pub in 1979, the total volume of beer sold was more than 17 times that of the wartime quota days. It was up from 83 thousand glasses per year in 1945 to the equivalent of 1.44 million glasses a year by 1979.
Having cleaned up after a particularly hectic session at the bar, they were now sitting around enjoying a well-earned beer or two. Tom, Jack, Reg and Laurie were all there, as was Stan Hoskins. Stan was a permanent barman; he was there with the Dunnes and taught the Phillipses how it all worked, including tapping the barrels.
As he'd often do on big days like this, Stan had nipped down to the cellar and lifted the barrel's extractor tube a bit. So now when the drinkers heard the dreaded sound of the gurgling beer tap, they'd think the beer had run out again and reluctantly leave. But there'd still be enough beer below the extractor for one last beer each for the thirsty barmen.
Well this particular night they had a beer. Then a second. Then a third. Tom asked Stan 'How much did you lift the extractor?' Stan replied 'Just the usual'.
Finally, Reg sheepishly admitted that he'd also lifted the extractor a bit. Then while they were still laughing, Laurie said 'Me too!' They were there for over an hour.
Only Carlton Draught
In the early days, your beer was Carlton Draught - nothing else was on tap, nothing else in bottles. CUB (Carlton & United Breweries) was the dominant player during the Phillips family's time in the pub. As other brewers such as Courage appeared, the pub started selling it. In 1973, Courage represented 7.5% of beer sales; by 1979 it represented 13%.
Aussie drinkers loved their cold beer - and their beer cold. And it was no accident that the Hotel Australia had a reputation for the coldest beer in Shepparton. Trays of clean glasses were stored on a shelf under the bar and a chute funnelled cold air from the cellar over the next tray to be used.
Initially they used a single barrel at a time and tapped another when empty. Later, to minimise beer supply downtime in the busy bars, they worked out a way of linking four or five barrels together.
There were three entry points to the cellar. Tom Carey mentions the one at the southern, Fryers St end of the main bar:
'One night, locksmith genius, wag and trick cyclist Leo 'Tiny' Moylan, the only man who could ride a bike down Mt Major backwards mounted on the handlebars, rode into the cellar in the 'snake pit' before a crowd of patrons crying with laughter.'
The 'snake pit' was actually before Tiny Moylan's time, but Tom Carey was never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Tiny was not the only one to fall down that trapdoor; Don's son Trevor did; no doubt there were others. And there are reports of mishaps at the trapdoor further north along the bar, closer to the ladies lounge and bottle shop.
Beer was delivered via the third cellar entry, a chute from the footpath on Maude St.
Truckloads of Beer
In the very early days, Tom had a driver to collect the beer from the station in his truck. Everything came by rail then. As his sons settled in, they bought a truck and did it themselves, first Laurie and later Brian.
The tray truck was a bottle green International that sometimes you had to crank start. Arriving back at the pub with literally a truck load of beer, the sides were dropped and unloading began. Barrels weighing up to 100 kg were slid down a little ramp and rolled over on their edge to the chute. Here a metal hook on the end of a heavy hemp rope was put through the barrel handle and it was lowered down the chute. Thick leather gloves avoided rope burn.
In what wouldn't be allowed today, pedestrians made their way past the gaping, unprotected hole in the footpath. The chute was normally covered by a padlocked grate, and while there are no reports of any people falling down, occasionally other things did.
Grandkids and the Truck
During school holidays, many of Tom's grandkids got to go to work with their dad. A real treat was a trip to the station to get the beer. A home-made wooden booster seat meant we could see over the dashboard. No seat belt of course. With the beer collected, there was the return trip and unloading. With each barrel lowered, a metal-on-brick 'clunk' was soon followed by a shout of 'right!' as the hook was released from the barrel, ready for the next one. Once done, the kids would plead to be lowered down below the chute to look for dropped change. If you found a penny, you were lucky - if you ever found two bob, you thought it was Christmas. Fifty years later, the smells of the truck's leather seats and the hemp rope used to lower the barrels are still in the memory banks.
Here are some of Tom's grandkids who might have travelled in the pub truck: Warren, Karen, Michael, Tony, Lesley, Peter, Susan, John, Brendan, Robyn, Tom, Catherine, Kerri, Tim, Kevin. But there were more.
Renovations and the Fire
When beer became readily available in the mid 1950s, Tom invested £20,000 in extending the underground coolroom, plus some other pipework. Apart from an event in 1970, this is the only known work on the cellar. That event was a fire in October 1970 which caused major disruption, as well as damage to the cellar and main bar. Naturally, it was all repaired as quickly as possible.
Beer was the dominant liquor sold in the early days (when you could get it). But by 1979, changing personal tastes, increased affluence and less restrictive liquor licensing laws meant that wine was an increasingly important product sold. Pub sales figures for 1973 and 1979 show that there was an 90% increase in beer sales, but a 160% increase in wine and spirit sales over the same period.
Just as not everyone wanted to drink beer, not everyone wanted to drink at the bar ...
Next chapter: Weddings, Parties, Anything
Previous chapter: Punters, Players and Politicians
Home: House of Phillips