“There it is,” I shouted.
“Good job,” Jared said. “You found it.”
The pub with no beer is a historical landmark in Australia, made famous by a 1957 Slim Dusty song. ‘A Pub With No Beer’ was the first Australian single to go gold, and at that stage it was the best-selling record by an Australian ever.
If you’ve never heard the song, you’re not alone. I haven’t either.
Shameful, considering I’ve been to the pub – but I’ll get to the reason why in a minute. First, a little contentious history (to be taken with a grain of salt).
When I was looking for the story behind the pub, Google revealed to me that the original pub was not in Taylors Arms, NSW, but in Ingham, Queensland. This was a direct contradiction to all of the literature I’d come across at the pub and any surrounding tourist information centers.
As far as New South Wales is concerned, the real Pub With No Beer is in Taylors Arm, about 30 minutes further west from Macksville. It’s where songwriter Gordon Parsons was handed a scrap of paper containing an anonymous verse about a mythical pub with no beer.
Parsons was working in the bush with a timber cutter at the time (songwriting apparently not paying the bills), and the pub – then known as The Cosmopolitan – had a history of running out of beer before its next quota arrived.
Parsons came up with a little backing tune for the poem and started testing out his ditty on the local circuit. Slim Dusty picked up the song, recording ‘A Pub With No Beer’ on the B side of his new single, and the history was made.
The tricky bit here is that scrap of paper. Someone had to have written it, and it wasn’t Gordon Parsons or Slim Dusty. According to Queensland lore, it was written by Irish immigrant Dan Sheahan at the Day Dawn Hotel in Ingham. Now named the Lees Hotel, it proclaims itself somewhat confusingly as the Original Pub With No Beer.
The debate is somewhat moot, because both of these pubs do, in fact, have beer. The pub in Taylors Arm, though, lacked something a little more critical on the day we arrived.
We arrived at 11:40am on a Friday, a little early for lunch but (and I quote the Aussie here) “not too early for a beer.” Jared pushed open the door and we entered.
Into the dark.
“Are they open?” I said.
“I think so,” Jared said. “There’s a bloke outside with a beer.”
The publican came through from the front room.
“Sorry guys, we’ve got no power today. That means no taps but we can still do bottled beers from the fridge and a limited menu.”
An unexpected twist! The pub with no beer had beer, but no power.
It did explain the workers on the power lines outside. It also explained why I couldn’t access the free wifi to hear the song – there was no mobile service in Taylors Arm – so I had to make do with reading the lyrics on the wall.
Oh, it’s hard to believe that there’s customers still
But the money’s still tinkling in the old ancient till
The wine buffs are happy and I know they’re sincere
When they say they don’t care if the pub’s got no beer
The wine buffs are happy, the beer drinkers too
No power, no wifi, you’ll have to make do.
(Last two lines invented by me on the fly. Get outta town Parsons.)
Incidentally, it’s a great pub.
The interior was fascinating, full of old posters and objects pertaining to Slim Dusty and the song. A wood fire burned in the center, heating the dark room for no one. The pub is also the original home of Newcastle favorite Murray’s Brewery, which has since moved to Port Stephens.
There’s a large outdoor area and a stage on a grassy knoll. The tables on the veranda are sturdy and plentiful, perfect for beers in the sun, no power required.
It’s also kid-friendly, as indicated by the Cubby with no Cordial. Cordial is a juice concentrate popular in Australia, sort of the liquid version of Kool-Aid.
Behind the pub is a special treat for the tourists – the Talarm Church. Bear with me here, this gets good.
The church was built in 1928 in the nearby town of Talarm and relocated to the Pub With No Beer in 2001, courtesy of the Welsh family. This is presumably when things got interesting:
That’s right. Those are beer cans. And not just any beer cans, but hundreds of super weird and random beer cans.
Before we left for home, I ran back to the pub for a quick bathroom stop. (I have a pea-sized bladder, so it’s best to use the bathroom at the last possible second.) That’s where I noticed a sign stating that the lease on the old pub was up, and interested parties were welcome to enquire about taking it on.
A tempting prospect, but probably better suited for someone who’s heard the song.