Rob Willis Tales from the Track

An early pub scene. Photo National Library of Australia.
An early pub scene. Photo National Library of Australia.

How dry we are, how dry we are

We’ve had no beer, since last New Year.

We’ll build a still up on North Hill

And let the rest of the world go by.

The above ditty was sung to me many years ago by the late Reg Baldock whose family came to Forbes during the gold rush. 

Don’t know why this song became an earworm for me  or why it reminded me of the drinking folklore of Forbes. I was once told that we had the second highest beer consumption in the country only being beaten by Darwin. I’m not saying it is true, but is certainly a good story. When you look at it up until recent decades, we had a large number of pubs to cater for our thirsty population 12 or 13 I think.  Who can help me on this?

I can just remember the last days of the ‘six o’clock swill’ in Forbes when the pubs had to close at six o’clock. The bar of Flannery’s pub was chaos with all the blokes knocking off work and trying to sink as many schooners as possible before the curfew. The ladies by the way were confined to the ‘ladies lounge’ as were we kids. 

It was interesting digging around for information on the Temperance movement in Forbes during those early days. Yes, we did have a temperance movement in the town and what’s more we had The Temperance Hotel with its owner Jim Lyell. 

Jim Lyell comes up quite often in the early days as the licensee of several ‘proper pubs’ in the Central West.  But Jim must have seen the light because when he came back to Forbes he owned the ‘Temperance Hotel’ in Templar St. A newspaper advertisement from those days:

Public Notice Jim Lyell THE FORBES BEER KING OF 18 YEARS AGO Has returned to Forbes and has re-opened the old Federal hotel in Templar Street Forbes as an UP-TO-DATE TEMPERANCE HOTEL.

Good clean Beds, one shilling per night. Furnished and Unfurnished Rooms to Let. Furnished Bedrooms to suit Married Couples from eight shillings per week, with use of kitchen. You can rely on a good night’s rest by giving old Jim a call. This Hotel is solely under the management of Mrs Lyell, which speaks for cleanliness, civility and attention.

You can rely on getting a good Ice Cool Drink, an automatic Washing Fountain having been installed, thus guaranteeing absolute cleanliness. Absolutely no Wines, Beer or intoxicating spirits allowed on the premises.

By Order, J. LYELL Proprietor

Now old Jim’s temperance must have stood him in good stead  as he found himself a bride:

The marriage took place on Monday afternoon at the bridegroom’s residence, the Temperance Hotel, near the Cricket ground of Charlotte Finley, a spinster, aged 61 years of Sydney and James Robinson Lyell, a widower, aged 83 of Forbes. – Forbes Advocate Friday 10 August 1928

There is a bit of confusion for me here as there are a couple of references to the Temperance Hotel being in both Templar St and also “near the cricket ground”.

However poor old Jim nearly did not make it to his wedding:

A well-known townsman, Mr Jim Lyell, had a narrow escape from an unpleasant death on Saturday afternoon. He was about to take his medicine, a cough mixture, when a customer entered the little store which Mr Lyell conducts near the cricket ground. In his hurry to attend the customer, he carelessly poured out the mixture into a glass, and adding a little water gulped it down before hurrying into the shop.

His horror can best be imagined when it is told that he had taken a dose of sheep dip in place of his usual medicine! Hurrying to the doctor, he was promptly taken to the District Hospital for treatment.

Owing to his age – he is in his 83rd year – his condition was considered serious, but after the administration of an emetic, he commenced to make a rapid recovery. – Forbes Advocate Tuesday 23 August 1927

I sense that there should be more good stories floating around about Jim Lyle. Another time perhaps?