Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

A fragment of Balmain history

The recent discovery of this photograph inspired me to recall a certain event in the history of the inner-city suburb of Balmain. I’m still uncertain whether I should be proud or ashamed to have participated in this example of Sydney seventies binge drinking, but I’m not making excuses, when I say that occasion was culturally richer than it might at first glance, appear.

In the early 70s, author Frank Moorhouse was one of the initiators of the Annual Balmain Pub Crawl. It’s probably superfluous to explain, except to the resolutely abstemious, that the object was to take a drink at every one of Balmain’s then 27 pubs. For the 1972 Balmain Pub Crawl, I was appointed the BPC’s “Official Photographer”.

Intending participants assembled on Saturday morning at 10am at the crossroads of Darling and Rowntree Street, outside The Town Hall Hotel. There, they were required to register the beverage they would continue to drink at each of the pubs throughout the day. Conservatively, I opted for middies of beer. A friend “won” his division from the outset by nominating 7 ounce glasses of port. There were none foolish enough to challenge him. Amongst the flow of Saturday morning shoppers, early arrivals gathered self-consciously on the pavement, but then as the numbers swelled, we realised that this was going to be memorable! It is in that spirit that I record it here.

About 100 hardy souls kicked off, in what at times seemed to be a combination of sporting event and political demonstration; for in part, that is what it was. About a third of the participants were women and fledgling feminists at that. At the time, women were not allowed to drink in so-called public bars and so at the first pub on Darling Street, we invaded “the public” en masse. Long-standing barriers fell at the first hurdle, as the publican, faced with the threat of losing 100 drink orders if he refused service, grudgingly complied. The cash registers rang out in celebration of our defiance of the law.

As we marched on through the narrow Balmain streets The Crawl took on the spirit of a religious festival. Residents came out of their homes and stood at their front fences to watch this happy, noisy procession pass and cheer us on. We should have been carrying huge statues of Bacchus.

Was it the walking between drinks that seemed to keep drunkenness at bay? There was no bad behaviour, few arguments and a spirit of carefree joyousness. Moorhouse kept a random diary in which contenders were allocated or docked points for various notable incidents or memorable quotes. I remember being docked points for “cross cultural vanity”, for helping a faltering indigenous participant keep up the pace.

One commercially opportunistic denizen of Balmain, anticipating we would become ravenously hungry, set up a curry stall outside the White Bay Hotel, where we were due to arrive around 1pm An anarchist shouting, “Free curry!” was the signal for the immediate descent of a horde of inebriated locusts, stripping it in minutes and leaving the would-be venture capitalist gazing forlornly at the remnants of his stall amongst a pile of abandoned, curry stained, paper plates.

We racketed on through pub after pub, up the hill from the White Bay, which by this time seemed to have become an inner-city Everest. Turning right at the summit, back into the Rozelle end of Darling Street, conversation and song had become wilder and more incoherent. By the time we reached Balmain Town Hall, almost a full circuit, fatigue overtook exhilaration and the gritty pavement beckoned to me as a pleasant place to have a lie down.

I could still walk in a relatively straight line and even string a few words together, but the paving seemed as seductive as a the softest down mattress. As I drifted off to sleep, not in the gutter, but on the kerb, I could vaguely hear my friends urgent encouragement. “Come on, Rob. It’s all downhill from here. Only four more pubs to go.” I had taken ale, as Lindsay Tuffin would say, at 23 pubs. I had nothing left. I gave in to the demands of my body.

After a short and uninterrupted restorative nap, I took myself off home, a few streets away. The resilience of youth and the miles of walking seemed to have eliminated the usual need for a hangover. Was I ashamed at my failure to finish?

No.

It was enough to have just been a part of this joyous celebration. In the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, “… the important thing in life is not to triumph but to compete … not victory but combat … not to have vanquished but to have fought well … not winning but taking part …”

This photograph is for me, the only surviving pictorial reminder of that memorable day. I like to think that perhaps one day, Moorhouse’s event diary and an album of my photos will be discovered in some Balmain loft for future generations to ponder on the profligate pastimes and Olympian ambitions of the seventies.

Former Sydneysider, photojournalist, *Rob Walls recalls a fragment of Balmain history. At the end of April Rob will be setting off on the road for two months, traversing Australia and continuing his photographic project, This Working Life, a documentation of work in Australia. http://thisworkinglife.wordpress.com

• Elizabeth O’Dwyer in Comments: Frank wrote a delightful book years ago “Days of Wine and Rage” which had a great chapter on the Balmain scene in that period. I was part of the folk scene then. The bikers were actually OK, they used to protect us from the rednecks who would occasionally venture into Balmain to belt up the “hippies”. The workers from the “Empress of Australia” used to drink at the Forth, they were militant unionists but funny a hell. Murray Sime (sadly no longer with us) was a mainstay of the scene, despite being a big corporate director. He held an annual Xmas party for those of us who didn’t have family in Sydney, the “Waifs and Strays” Party. They were great times, and many went on to fame, such as the poet Bob Adamson and Frank Moorehouse. I saw Greer in there once, holding court.

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Rob Walls

    March 22, 2016 at 9:56 am

    #13 Would love to see those pictures, Margaret. Probably a lot of faces I’d remember.

    #7 Sorry Kitty, “the perm” is my ex-wife, Irene, an artist, who to this day, still lives in Balmain. You can take Balmain out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of Balmain.

    For those who reminisced about the Forth and Clyde, the Empress and the bikies, there’s a story I can tell of a day out fishing with Danny, (the guy on the extreme right of the photo, who owned a 30 foot motor cruiser), and a bunch of others including the actor, Jack Thompson, and film sound technician, Kevin Kearney, which ended up being more of a trip than anticipated.

    Bored with the lack of fish, some of us decided that things would be a little more interesting if we “dropped some acid” (as the vernacular of the day described such). All day we cruised the harbour marvelling at all sorts of LSD enhanced visual delights such as the red and green painted Meccano-like under structure of Pyrmont Bridge and the rust patterns on the sides of moored shipping. When night fell, still quite out of it, a decision was made that a few drinks at the F&C would add an adventurous edge to the stone. We moored right up under the floodlit bow of the Empress. A lot of “Wows!”

    Once we had conquered our paranoia enough to mingle in the crowded bar of the F&C, one member of our party, Neil McCann (graphic designer) by way of a lame conversational gambit, was asking women where they were from. Eventually he came to me and said, “Hey Rob, where the fuck are we? Every one of the girls in this bar seems to come from Balmain.” I do remember that the bikies, far from threatening, and realising we were mostly incapable of putting a drink order together ended up buying us drinks. One very memorable fishing trip.

  2. Margaret

    March 22, 2016 at 12:58 am

    I know where a set of photos of these pub crawls can be found.

  3. Philip Lowe

    July 20, 2015 at 2:00 am

    It’s interesting to observe the Establishment government of the UK proposing legislations that would prohibit events like this under public order offences,and,seemingly the Australian very similar government doing something very similar.
    This seems to be a common and recurring pattern of behaviour in the US,UK and Australia.Do you think that Tony Blair,John Howard and George Bush are all still on each others Christmas card lists;
    and as the UK teeters on the precipice of involvement in Syria,will Australia follow?

  4. Tim Thorne

    July 20, 2015 at 1:40 am

    I, too, used to drink at the F ‘n’ C. I remember being invited to a party on board the Empress one night in ’67 or ’68 after the pub closed and almost missing the call to leave before the gangplank went up. Could have come back to Tassie long before I’d intended to.

    I was also at the F ‘n’ C the night a property developer who wanted to buy the pub sent in a bunch of hoodlums to start fights so as to get the licence taken away. That was pretty scary.

    But most of my memories of the Balmain of those days are positive, if a little fuzzy.

  5. Karl Stevens

    July 19, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    I was 20 when the Forth and Clyde closed. Check this out?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forth_&_Clyde_Hotel
    My brother had a bit part in the movie ‘Stone’ riding a Matchless with sidecar.

  6. Elizabeth O'Dwyer

    July 19, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Frank wrote a delightful book years ago “Days of Wine and Rage” which had a great chapter on the Balmain scene in that period.

    I was part of the folk scene then. The bikers were actually OK, they used to protect us from the rednecks who would occasionally venture into Balmain to belt up the “hippies”. The workers from the “Empress of Australia” used to drink at the Forth, they were militant unionists but funny a hell.

    Murray Sime (sadly no longer with us) was a mainstay of the scene, despite being a big corporate director. He held an annual Xmas party for those of us who didn’t have family in Sydney, the “Waifs and Strays” Party. They were great times, and many went on to fame, such as the poet Bob Adamson and Frank Moorehouse. I saw Greer in there once, holding court.

  7. Karl Stevens

    July 19, 2015 at 11:43 am

    I also once lived in Balmain and drank at the Forth & Clyde when the Tasmania ferries went from opposite the hotel. I remember it closing for ever.
    I remember the bikers and the Balmain folk music scene from that era.

  8. Kitty

    July 19, 2015 at 10:21 am

    I think that’s me with the perm, on The Crawl. Born and raised Birchgrove Road. An early, early feminist – taught by a young Germaine Greer at Marrickville Girls’ Junior High School in the early 60s, her first “post” after Uni. My choice was Bacardi and coke – I could adjust the nips according to how I was fairing. 😉

  9. Elizabeth O'Dwyer

    July 19, 2015 at 3:11 am

    I bet the “curry” joint would have been set up by our dear long departed Jules, with aid from Frank Povar and possibly Bob Pommeroy.. I remember at one stage Jules and Frank, I think, had a curry stall set up under the stairs in the corridor at the Forth & Clyde. Was Jules last name Sackville? I’ve been away too long.

  10. Elizabeth O'Dwyer

    July 18, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Ah, memories of the pub crawls, and me dancing on the bar of Shaky Tom’s Forth and Clyde, my local, on the last night. Life was never quite the same after that, although I do remember watching Gough’s win on Tele in The Dry Dock, clapping as the dejected Liberal drinkers crawled home.

    I remember quite a few faces in that photo.

  11. Philip Lowe

    April 10, 2015 at 5:02 am

    Aaaah,Sydney in the 70’s.Defacing bill boards on Parramatta Rd.,outside the SCG and around Balmain.
    Organising bicycle rallys across the Harbour Bridge in the rush hour.I still have a peach of a photo of the old ‘Forth and Clyde’ just before it shut down for good.

  12. Dr.John R.Wilson

    April 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Rob.

    I think the object of those undergraduate exercises was to have our generation of frizzy affro-haired black duffel coated sexually-liberated leftist-leaning intellectuals forget them rather than remember them.
    Very successful they were too.
    In my case, I do have recollections of squeezing into (or being squeezed or should I say thrown into) a public phone box because someone or other though it might be very interesting to find out how many people could fit in one, although perhaps that was on a PC in Indooroopilly, not Balmain.

    But hey, good luck with your attempt to relocate Frank’s BPC diary and your social history of old negatives.

    I shall keep my eyes open for you in the op shops and clearing auctions …

    PS Excellent photography btw …

  13. Rob Walls

    April 8, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I take it you remember other Balmain pub crawls then, John?

  14. Dr.John R.Wilson

    April 7, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Oh god …
    I don’t remember that particular pub-crawl.
    Sorry Rob …

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