By Michael Hitch
I love to have a beer with Duncan … and I’d love to have a beer with Darcy too.
Inner Westies can rejoice as the Inner West Council has revealed new plans to protect local watering holes from dreary redevelopments after studies revealed a number of historic hotels are not heritage listed.
Council is rolling out its new Heritage Pub Protection Program as more and more iconic Inner West pubs fall victim to the growing gentrification crisis – many reborn as 24-hour gyms and exposed brick apartments.
Earlier this year, the historic Town Hall Hotel in Balmain closed down so that the premises could be turned into a gym and massage parlour. Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said conversions like the Town Hall’s set a very risky precedent, and if allowed to continue, could lead to the Inner West losing its history, culture and soul.
“Our hotels and pubs are cultural institutions and have a value above and beyond the commercial – they have architectural, historical and social significance,” he said.
“We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and send a clear message that if you buy a heritage hotel in the Inner West you need to operate it as a pub and not convert it into new usage.
“Council officers have investigated the heritage status of every pub in the Inner West. And the good news is many historic pubs are already heritage listed.
There are 66 pubs that are currently operating in the Inner West Local Government area but 17% (11) of these pubs have no heritage protection while 36% (24) have limited protections due to their heritage location.
Needless to say, Slim Dusty would twist daisies in his grave to know that over half of Inner West pubs, conduits of Australia’s culture and history, are being left defenceless against the tyranny of cashed-up contractors.
The pub is one of the best meeting grounds where Duncans and Colins and Kevins, and Alices and Emmas and Sylvias, can catchup, spin a yarn and even sell life insurance, an endeavour that Pat Alexander, writer of the music and lyrics to Slim Dusty’s second-most successful song “Duncan”, attempted at the Town and Country Hotel in St Peters.
Though unsuccessful in selling the insurance to factory owner Duncan Urquhart, Mr Alexander walked away with his only commercially successful song.
Owner of the Town and Country Hotel, Helen Filips, understands the importance of a pub where the atmosphere is great, and said that losing any pub in the Inner West to a 10-unit apartment means a permanent loss of rich history.
“Our pub is a local pub with a history; it keeps people coming back and there’s a huge feeling of camaraderie and passion for this corner,” she said.
“A pub belongs to our history. With the Inner West being by far the densest in pub culture, that’s the most importance reason why pubs should be supported by everyone.
“With the history of Slim Dusty and him singing his Duncan song at my pub, it even brings people from the country here to see it. This pub has probably got one of the most historical presences within the Inner West Community, but losing any pub around here means the exact same loss.”
However, though Slim’s history is still kept alive, Ms Filips also noted that pubs needed to change with the community if they expect to turn a profit.
“Every corner there’s a local pub and with the increasing diversity we’re seeing a lot more ‘lifestyle’ pubs as well and we want to be a part of that. We’ve done away with the pokies, we prefer families with children to come and join and we’ve tried to make ourselves a deeper part of the community,” she said.
The decline in the five o’clock rush over the last 50 years has increasingly caused venues to abandon a typical RSL setup in favour of the ‘lifestyle’ pub. This new iteration of the public-house focusses on an atmosphere that reflects friendly values of drinking in moderation-ish, and providing a calmer atmosphere to have a craft brew with your mate, Duncan.
Though these aspects of pub culture have changed, the public’s enthusiasm for the local watering-hole hasn’t, making Council’s move to protect the pubs an imperative one.
Newtown resident, Kaihla Oxman, a frequent patron of her local pub, Newtown Hotel, said that her loyalty towards the pub is due to its welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff which she noted are quintessential components for any Australian pub.
“I’ve been going there for years now. You go to Newtown Hotel and you will always be around friends. It’s like your own little family and you can always count on it feeling like a second home,” she said.
“Drinking is a big part of the culture of Newtown. But it’s not just about that. You go out and you’ll run into every single person you know. It’s a good way to keep in touch … especially when everyone’s wiping their arse with their iPhone.
“Places like my Newy need to be protected. It’s kind of like a sanctuary, and especially in Newtown, it’s such an accepting community. You don’t have to be someone else. Our pubs promote safe spaces and places where you can be yourself.”