I’ve been holding out on you. I had this little story bubbling away in the deep recesses of my brain. It happened on our recent trip to South Australian wine country. Our first and second nights in the Coonawarra region, we stayed at a small set of holiday apartments called ‘Must at Connawarra‘. Being tired and having had our late lunch in Naracoorte we opted to have some nibbles and a bottle of red in the apartment instead of going out for dinner. However, before retiring for the evening in our accommodation, we ‘needed’ to visit my husband’s old haunt, Heyward’s Pub (actually the real name is Heyward’s Royal Oak Hotel, but in my experience most folks refer to the local hotel as ‘the pub’).
Don lived in Penola over 40 years ago when he first came to Australia as a teacher. He spent two years there, and if my piecing together of his stories serves me, at least 6 months of which must have been in the pub!! He was sure the owner from those days, Jon Heyward, was still there since the Pub still brandished his name. While we were having a quiet cider with our American friends, a man came up and asked the four of us where we were from. Our friends answered Chicago, but then added that Don and I were from Alice Springs.
Upon hearing that, the man’s eyes narrowed and you could see the wheels turning in his head… his gaze slowly shifted in Don’s direction and asked if he was a former teacher at the high school? When Don answered in the affirmative the man slapped his leg and declared Don was the thorn of his young life!! Turns out, as a kid he was a bit of a ‘lad’ in school and he remembered Don too well, and not in a warm fuzzy way! We all had a good laugh but he left us wondering if he was laughing less about the ‘fun’ of the old days, and more with relief that they were over!
As we were leaving the pub, another man stopped us and said to Don ‘I heard you was here!’ We looked up and it was the publican! The very man who had served Don and friends, over 40 years ago. “I tried to look you up in Darwin about 10 years ago!” he said. “We haven’t lived in Darwin for 22 years” Don replied. Jon laughed and said, “Well, I never would have found you then. I just thought you had gone back to America.” We told the publican we were returning for dinner the following evening and would visit more then.
Upon arrival at the Pub the following evening, Jon met us and took us to a table he had reserved for us, in front of the fire in the dining room, certainly the best seats in the Pub, especially on a cold evening. He brought us a round of drinks on the house (something he never did 40 years ago, how could a publican ever buy just one drink for someone?) and said to Don “I’ll bet I never bought you a drink all those years ago!” Don laughed and Jon disappeared since he was working in the bottle shop that evening. But he returned several times during our meal to make sure all was as it should be.
And then, finally, as we were leaving he approached Don and pulled a gift out from behind his back… an old style (but not old) water jug like the ones pubs used to keep on the bar for people to water their whiskey. It is not a beautiful work of art, but it was given with affection. We have brought it home as a memento of that evening and all those other evenings Don would have had 40+ years ago.
I’m very happy, as a relative newcomer to this country, that Pubs have not completely gone. To be sure, they have changed a lot. For one thing, women are allowed in the ‘front bar’ now! But also because whenever we travel we know that if we find the local pub, we will have a warm welcome and a decent meal… and possibly a bit of personal history. Cheers!