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  A Grog at the Races

The Sport of Kings and the liquor industry have gone hand in hand from the earliest days.
Horse racing has always attracted drinkers and those serving up liquor always obliged the thirsty crowds.
Wollongong Turf Club's annual races were attracting big crowds during the 1870s with punters and spectators travelling from as far as Sydney to witness the thrill and festivities of the sport.
The October 1878 Wollongong Races drew a crowd of over 1000 people.
This was no mean feat considering the primitive conditions of roads and transport of the period.
The local publicans were keen to secure one of the four booths allocated to supply liquor on the two day racing carnival.
The best position - number one booth - was situated in the busy grandstand and incurred a fee of ?2 and 55 shillings. The tender for the grandstand booth was awarded to influential publican John Galvin of the Cricketers Arms Hotel, situated a stones throw from the racecourse.
The number two booth was operated by John Clarke of the Mt Keira Hotel for a fee of ?0 10 shillings, the number three by John Hannon of the Hibernian for ? 10 shillings, and number four by Andrew Devlin of the Queens Hotel in upper Crown Street for ?.
The nearby Cricketers Arms was granted a license extension over the two-day event to cater for the huge crowds.
All the hotels in Wollongong benefited in some way from the annual event, including the Commercial Hotel in Crown Street.
The Commercial was the venue for the prize money presentation the night after the races with the large gathering enjoying plenty of Champaign and food.
Licensed liquor booths continued to play a role in the Wollongong races for decades to come.

John Galvin
  Mother Ryan

The Thirroul Ryans Hotel has recently had a facelift. The landmark pub has traded on the site for over 110 years, originally opening as the MacCauley Park Hotel in 1886. The pub's sign was later changed to the Bulli Pass Hotel and, later in 1915, rebuilt from timber to brick. The watering hole was officially named in honour of legendary publican and proprietor, Johanna Ryan in 1926. Mrs Ryan was known for conducting an orderly house. She become famous (or infamous, depending on your behaviour) for keeping a shallalee or umbrella handy behind the bar to 'clout' any unruly customers. She detested foul language and kept a tight reign on behaviour in the bar.
Eighty one year-old Dick Oakley of Corrimal, recalled frequenting the hotel when Mrs Ryan was host in the 1920s in an interview I conducted with him in the mid 1990s.
"She was known as 'Mother Ryan', and always kept an umbrella behind the bar to keep patrons in line. She was a strict mine host and if you played-up she would give you a hit over the head with it."
Mr Oakley told the story of how on one occasion a man became impatient waiting to be served at the bar. Using some foul language, he complained of slack service and was quickly confronted by 'Mother Ryan'. The host promptly served him a glass of water and said, in her thick Irish accent, 'that's to clean out your filthy mouth' and was refused a drink of alcohol.
The Ryan's had a 'swear jar' on the bar which quickly filled when drunken coal miners let slip any unacceptable language.
The South Coast Times reported on May 6 1927 that Mr. J Cavill, secretary of the Illawarra Cottage Hospital at Coledale, "acknowledged with thanks the sum of ?/2s/9d forwarded by Mrs Ryan, hostess of the Thirroul Hotel from men who used swear words inside the hotel."
Mother Ryan would sit on an elevated platform in the centre of the bar, where she operated the cash register. The barmaids would serve the customers their drinks and forward the money in a container on a pulley system to a watchful Mrs Ryan. Sitting on her central throne, overlooking her empire, she was no doubt the Queen of the Bar and laid down strict laws in her busy kingdom.
Dick Oakley also told of how Mrs Ryan kept a 'book' for the coal miners, who would 'tick-up' drinks on credit when regulars were short of a quid.
The fate of Johanna Ryan is somewhat of a mystery. She disappears from the licensing records after 1941 and no trace of her death can be found. One likely explanation was revealed by Mr Oakley: according to the one time regular, Mrs Ryan would take a trip back to her homeland, Ireland every year and it was in her country of birth that she died while on her annual pilgrimage.
Another yarn about Mrs Ryan was told to me by 89 year-old Celia Broadhead. Mrs Broadhead was a long time regular at the Ryans Hotel and was a colourful character even when I interviewed her in the late 1980s having a beer in the pub's public bar.
Mrs Broadhead said that Mother Ryan moved to Sydney to open another hotel in the 1940s. After her death, at the age of 102, one of her last wished was that the Thirroul hotel was always to retain her name. And so it has.
The Ryans Hotel is situated in Lawrence Hargrave Drive Thirroul, north of Wollongong.

Mother Ryan in action!
Cartoon by Paul Dorin
  Johnie Bolton

JOHNIE Bolton* wasn't much to look at but he must have been made of iron. He was renowned as one of the hardest toilers in the pit (coal mine). From the time he 'knocked off' until six o'clock he was in the pub getting full, but on Friday nights he really gave the grog a bashing. On a number of occasions he crawled along the gutter on his hands and knees for some distance before struggling to his feet to stagger home to his 'missus' for a fight, which could be heard around the district, putting on a performance which usually attracted a large audience. Apart from his hard drinking he smoked to excess, ate the wrong things or not enough of the right things, swallowed enough coal dust to give silicosis to an elephant and lived to a ripe and healthy old age.
Johnie got drunk every Friday night almost as an act of faith but his star turn was not wife beating. The pub was at the top of the hill and at the bottom the road crossed over a narrow wooden bridge which spanned the swamp [over Slacky Flat]. Johnie was cocked-eyed and on leaving the pub he wheeled his bike down the hill to the bridge where he attempted to mount while the bike was on the move. On many occasions he wobbled into the swamp but he always came back to the starting point and tried again until he succeeded in getting across. When he succeeded he acknowledged the cheers of his mates with a low bow and then rode a zig zag course home.

-William Evans memories of the Bulli Family Hotel in the 1930s. Johnie Bolton was not his real name.

Johnie Bolton crossing slacky flat
Cartoon by Paul Dorin