There were stories around that the main bar was the longest in Victoria or even the Southern Hemisphere. But this was just one of hundreds of tall stories passed around and embellished at the main bar. It was certainly long. Long enough for trick cyclist Tiny Moylan to get a decent ride along it. Or was that just another tall story?
This was a far cry from the early days when the pub's only public bar was no bigger than a good-sized lounge room.
This didn't matter too much during the war because wartime quotas meant there was little beer to sell. When the beer ran out, as it too often did, the patrons would drink anything. Like a 'fourpenny dark', cheap red wine served in a small glass.
Quotas were lifted in March 1946, but it was many years before the breweries could raise production enough to satisfy the rapidly growing demand. As the beer began to flow more freely, Tom could see the limitations of their one and only bar. Pressure on the main bar was eased a little in mid-1948 when they established the saloon bar, to be run by Jack, and soon known as Jack's Bar. But this was short-lived and a licensing inspection in June 1956 stated 'public bar is too small'.
So in the late 1950s, as the ground floor part of major renovations, Tom built the 'longest bar in Victoria'. It now ran half the length of the Maude St frontage.
The only photo we have of the long main bar shows just a small section of it. Sis and Brian Phillips are at the end. The bottle shop is behind Sis, and the ladies lounge back past that.
Main Bar Atmosphere
Cigarette smoke and the fresh smell of hops from a just-poured beer blended with the lingering odours from earlier sessions to create a smell that was unique to a bar. And the sounds were those of men - for it was certainly a male domain then - laughing, talking, shouting (both sorts), winding down from the day's hard work with their mates. It was a happy and rowdy place ... if only for an hour.
Six O'clock Swill
Six o'clock closing was brought in during the First World War as a temporary measure to curb drinking. The law was introduced largely due to the demands of the influential temperance movement in Victoria and meant no liquor could be traded after 6 pm.
Adapting to the short, intense period of post-work drinking, many publicans extended their bars, tiling almost every surface so that they could be simply hosed down after the pushing, shoving, beer-slopping crowds had departed. Beer taps were replaced by beer spigots attached to long hoses so that the bartenders could reach and fill more beer glasses in the quickest amount of time. In some instances, hotels with a series of small bars, billiard rooms and ladies’ lounges knocked out walls, minimised furniture and generally removed any impediments to their mostly male clientele getting as much beer into them in the shortest time. It was probably not the scene the temperance movement and sympathetic legislators had in mind when they imposed early closing by law.
(Michael Harden, 'Unique and Deplorable: Regulating Drinking in Victoria', Meanjin, 2010, <http://meanjin.com.au/editions/volume-69-number-3-2010/article/unique-and-deplorable-regulating-drinking-in-victoria/>)
An unintended consequence was that glasses were saved during the hour after quitting time until the last call came for drinks. Then, the emptied glasses could be refilled. 'The bartender didn't carry your glass to the tap. He carried a pistol-shaped spigot hitched to a long tube and squirted your glass full where you stood.'
('Six o'clock swill', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 January 2015, viewed 10 May 2015, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_o%27clock_swill>)
While the six o'clock swill wasn't pretty, it was something all the pubs had to be part of to survive.
Groups of like-minded drinkers were known to form 'schools' or clubs. Clubs had rules. Here's Tom Carey's description of one such club:
There was the famous 'Room Eight Club' presided over by a succession of top local sporting personalities where club nor creed meant nothing, where the rules specified fines of one swy [two bob, twenty cents] for not washing your glass before leaving, an Oxford Scholar for non-attendance at least once monthly, two weeks suspension for boisterous conduct, immediate expulsion for introducing a girl into the club, and one dozen bottles of ale for transference of membership ticket. Members drifted across the road in a haze of an extraordinary odor of booze, nicotine, Old Spice and Califomian Poppy at about 11:45 pm each Saturday night and wondered why the belles at the weekly Star Theatre dance with Mary Chuck's Blue Moon orchestra were not over-enthused.
Earlier clubs included Tom's old friends like Wally Smith, Reg Gibbons, Bob Abernethy, Bill Wise, Hec McLean, Clarrie Elliott and Bill Wallace.
A club from the next generation who would meet in the main bar every Saturday at noon, was the 'High Nooners'. This had the likes of Tom Quinn, Brendan Magee, Ian Stansfield, Shane Cody and Steve Duxbury, several of whom were also barmen at the pub. Drinking was often preceeded by a 'Hurco roast', a.k.a. dim sims.
For some, there was never enough drinking time. So in the face of unpopular drinking laws, Tom and other publicans were often creative in their approaches to meeting the needs of their customers.
Until 1966, at about 6:10 pm the head barman in the main bar would shout those three dreaded words 'Time gentlemen, please!' While this signalled it was time to drink up as the bar was about to close, some couldn't stop there. After everyone shuffled out, there would be the tap-tap-tap of a coin on the front door, and the hardier ones would sneak back in and meet in 'The Cupboard'. Officially a lodgers' cupboard, it was a tiny room tucked under the stairs towards the centre of the pub and crucially, could not be seen from outside. Tom recalls times when it seemed like there were a hundred blokes in there. At least things shouldn't get too out of hand, because the drinkers would be from all walks of life, cops included.
Tales From The Cupboard
With no doubt hundreds of stories told over the years about what went on in the The Cupboard, a few survive.
Like Laurie and the Miller's racing guide. Laurie worked in The Cupboard on a Wednesday night. When he went home for dinner, he'd take the Miller's Guide with him and study a few pages. After carefully returning the guide back into place in The Cupboard, he might casually steer the conversation towards a topic he had just studied. When someone disagreed, they would bet on who was right. The Miller's Guide was brought out to settle the matter. Laurie usually won.
Some of the 'Tales from the Cupboard' are less believable than others, like this one from Tom Carey.
Tom made lots of mention of 'The Cupboard'. One night a few of the boys were there drinking and making a bit too much noise. At about 1:00 am Mrs Phillips opened a hatch and dropped a briquette through. Unfortunately for Brian Tresize, it landed on his head and knocked him out cold!
More believable is this one from daughter Rene.
When the boys got a bit rowdy while drinking in 'The Cupboard' late at night, Mama (as Sis was known to family) would drop a little soap into one of their pots. She said 'you get to be a pretty good shot after a while'.
'But I'm a Bona Fide Traveller!'
Despite 6:00 pm closing, there was a rule that a 'bona fide' traveller (from 20 miles away) would be allowed to get a drink out of hours, including on a Sunday. Some drinkers would try to use the rule to their advantage, so it was hard to police and could be risky for publicans. It also had unintended consequences. You had the situation where the Shepparton drinkers would drive to Numurkah, and the Numurkah drinkers would drive to Shepparton to get a drink. And then they would all pass each other on the way home again.
Another drinking place available in the early days was the beer garden. This ran from just north of the stairs out to the yard. Women could drink here too. While no doubt a pleasant enough place to share a drink on a nice day, it was not an all-year-round venue.
Maybe a more believable story about Tiny Moylan was how he once came a cropper in the beer garden when he clipped the edge of the old well.
Bub and the Bottle Shop
Running the newly established Hotel Australia bottle shop would have been second nature for Bub Williams. For thirteen years, she had been single-handedly running the Junction Hotel in Toolamba. This was her second hotel venture, both of which had early financial backing from Tom. In 1959, Bub returned - she was there briefly in 1945 - to the newly renovated Hotel Australia where she ran the bottle shop for eight years.
Violet Williams (Sis Phillips's sister) was known as Bub to most and Auntie Bub to generations of family. She was aptly named, being both the youngest in her family and quite small. But you wouldn't want to let her size fool you - Bub wouldn't take crap from anyone.
When Bub ran it, the bottle shop was a walk-up affair on Maude St. Later, it became a drive-through.
Place for a Lady
In the early days of the main bar, you would never see a woman - and certainly not a 'lady'. Though in a case of blatant self-interest, barmaids and female publicans like Bub were somehow acceptable. When the weather outside was just right, a woman might be drinking in the beer garden; at all other times, she would of course be in the 'ladies lounge'.
From 1944 until 1959 when a dedicated ladies lounge was built, women would just drink in the 'lounge' on Fryers St. This was across the old main entrance passage from the main bar where all the men were, so a suitable distance for their delicate ears.
The small, dedicated ladies lounge built on Maude St soon became inadequate due to rapid changes to drinking habits and laws throughout the 1960s. Following the early 1970s renovations, almost half of the previous main bar area was made quite suitable for ladies to drink in.
Changing Drinking Habits, Drinking Laws ... and Pubs
Throughout the Phillips family's time at the pub, there were continuous changes to community expectations in the way they could drink and dine. This led to changes in the liquor, trading and labour laws, which in turn impacted - literally reshaped - the Hotel Australia.
As post-war affluence led to more people drinking, and to the six o'clock swill, the pub had to change. In the late 1950s renovations, the areas of the pub along Maude St were totally transformed.
The previous small corner bar grew to take over the dining room next door, and now ran half the length of the Maude St frontage. The famous 'long bar' was born.
A new dining room replaced the beer garden area behind it. This meant there was no longer an outdoor drinking area.
A small ladies lounge was built. In Maude St between the old dining room and the driveway there were three 'sample rooms', rooms that travelling salesmen could hire to show off their wares while in town. These became the ladies lounge.
In this photo of the pub following the late 1950s renovations, the once beautiful but by now rotting and dangerous verandah, has sadly been removed.
The next major change for drinkers came in 1972, and was in response to multiple changes relating to drinking habits and liquor laws.
While everyone saw that six o'clock closing was causing more harm than good, Victoria was one of the last States to eliminate it by moving closing time to ten o'clock. With the urgency of that drinking session eliminated, overnight there was a greatly reduced need for such a long bar, or The Cupboard.
Changes to liquor licensing laws meant that bulk liquor could be purchased at more licensed grocers, supermarkets and even dedicated liquor stores. Gradually, some shortcomings of the existing bottle shop became apparent.
Drinking habits were changing too, with beer consumption about to peak, but wine consumption continuing its steady rise. And people were drinking their beer and wine at an ever increasing number of licensed premises, like cafes, clubs, theatres, sporting venues - it seemed you could get a drink almost anywhere. Publicans had to adapt to the new competition or risk financial ruin.
‘Puff Bag’ alcohol breath testers were introduced by police in August 1971 and the ‘Turn off before .05’ campaign was launched in 1972. Coupled with an increasing awareness of problems associated with drink driving, these saw more people drinking at home. Once again, there was reduced need for such a long bar, and increased need for an efficient bottle shop.
Perhaps the final factor in the need for change at the pub was brought on by half the population - women. With increasing education, affluence and independence, women especially, were more likely to go out with friends for a drink, or maybe even a counter tea. And from the early 1970s - horror of horrors! - women began drinking in that previously male-only bastion, the public bar. While the mood for change was obvious, there was still a large part of the male drinking population that pushed back, insisting they needed their own dedicated place to drink. Once again, it seemed the long main bar had outlived its usefulness.
Some ideas the family were kicking around on how best to adapt to all these changes were hastened in October 1971 when there was a fire. Fire damage was confined to the main bar and cellar areas, with smoke and water damage to other sections. Plans for recasting the ground floor area were quickly drawn up, costed and lodged with the Liquor Control Commission early in 1972.
The bottle shop was moved to be next to a widened driveway and became a drive-through. A relocated and enlarged cool room serviced the drive-through bottle shop.
A new small bar, known as 'The Arches', backed onto the cool room and could service the ladies lounge, and via concertina doors, the large dining and function room.
The bigger cool room now conveniently allowed a variety of chilled white wines, which were becoming increasingly popular, to be supplied wherever they were needed.
The long main bar, which had served its purpose well but was no longer needed, was split in two. The men's toilet was moved to between the two bars. Unfortunately the bar on the corner became the domain of some of the more unruly patrons and soon earned the nicknames 'Snake Pit' and 'Animal Bar'. The other big bar was generally known as Brian's Bar, and had a (slightly) more refined crowd.
The long bar split cleverly provided an expanded area for quieter, more relaxed drinking and eating, while at the same time providing a refuge of sorts for hard-core and 'traditionalist' drinkers.
The ladies lounge was effectively moved to the northern end of Brian's Bar. And while it was usually serviced by 'The Arches', drinks could also be ordered at the main bar.
Not everyone adapted as well to the new norms. For some, the only thing worse that a woman in the main bar, was a woman in the main bar who ordered a soft drink.
'Why Don’t You Go to the Hurco?'
'If you only want a #@&^ing Coke, why don’t you go to the Hurco?'
The patrons loved it when a girl inadvertently ordered a soft drink from Corky.
Corky was an ex-boxer. He was always grumpy and he would always (quietly) abuse people. He was softly spoken and spoke under his breath a lot. Everybody loved him.
He was a diabetic and always looked like he could keel over and die at any minute. His face was green grey and wrinkly. It looked like life had been hard for Corky. It was not uncommon for him to complain about serving mixed drinks (especially to women) saying that they should go to 'The Arches' for mixed drinks - although the language was a little more colourful than that. Corky liked to serve beer, and beer only.
If there was ever any rough and tumble, Corky was the first in. With his health he should have been standing back, but that was not in his nature. There was never any deep and meaningful conversations with Corky, but you knew that if the shit hit the fan he was on your side and first in.
Corky was a loyal and lovable, grumpy old bastard.
(Trevor Phillips, personal communication.)
Corky was one of the more colourful barmen who pulled beers at the main bar, but there were scores of others. One of the earliest was permanent head barman Stan Hoskins. There are conflicting reports of whether he had worked for the Dunnes, but no disputing that he taught the other barmen, including the Phillips boys, how to pull a beer and tap a barrel. Jack Phillips soon left the main bar and started serving beer at his own saloon bar.
By the early 1970s, as some of Tom's grandchildren turned 18, a third generation of Phillips family would be seen behind the bar. There was Jack's son John, Don's son Trevor and Reg's daughter Robyn.
So apart from the occasional female, who else might you see at the main bar?
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