Where The Buggers Are Silly

My roaring days contained little roaring, but there was a healthy dollop of falling over and being denied entry and arguing about not much, and I spent some time in pubs of various descriptions. Not a lot of time. Sometimes it seems that way in my memory, but it really wasn’t – there are people, after all, who are constantly in pubs and taverns and sportsman’s bars. Let’s call these people men. They frequent these venues, chasing women, drinking heroic volumes of overpriced product, playing poker machines, and generally perpetuating a certain strand of Australian culture. To consider it, this drinking behaviour, this way – as our culture – is a sad thing, but true; however it neglects some of the other functions of the public house, which are older and resonate more deeply than whirring sounds and jackpot lights, and broken glasses used as weapons, and crude suggestions to scantily clad women.

Pubs should all have rooms to stay in. That is the original purpose of the institution: a place for travellers to get a bed for the night and a feed. Refreshment in its various guises came after that, and these things are not to be underestimated in the social life of a town or suburb, but the rooms to stay in are the only essential element.

These places functioned, and still do, as a refuge, a place to wait for someone, spend time until a train arrived, or seek shelter from rain or wind or heat. They are also useful as places where toilets are provided and no-one will judge or ask questions if you walk in off the street, use the facility, and just leave (or at least no-one should judge or ask questions – there are pubs and there are pubs, of course).

Being a place of great distances such refuges and shelters were more important in Australia than they might have been in smaller countries. The last pub before a long journey over unsealed roads with no conveniences became a very important place, as did the first pub at the end of such a journey. Travellers would have mail sent to a pub and horses and coaches could be maintained and repaired there too. Pubs were used to hold meetings, bushrangers used them as places to keep their hostages, and they were rallying points during natural disasters. There was a decidedly local character to a public house, a particular identity, and this identity notion has been associated with gangs and criminals who operate in certain areas, but it is this same character notion which means we feel more at home in some pubs than others, like the feel of a place, and choose to drink there.

But it was only in the Royal Sheaf Hotel the other night that it fully occurred to me, this idea which had been tapping away at the back of my mind, unwilling to fully present itself: it was about another of the pub’s important functions. And, again, it’s about men – but not in quite in the same way as the excessive drinking, brawling, unpleasant scenario I hinted at above. No, we’re talking about older men. Older men – some old, properly old, some just mature – being older men. They stand at tables and talk and occasionally swear, but not in a confronting way, and they drink their beer and peer at the racing on TV and occasionally put on a bet. They walk into the room, and stop in the middle of the floor, and gaze up at the football on TV or become distracted or wave to an acquaintance on the other side of the room, all while standing right in the middle of the floor, possibly in someone else’s way, and then they collect their thoughts and move off towards the toilet. They enter the room wearing a bad polyester polo shirt with spectacles in the pocket or using a walking stick, and they merrily offer some sort of salutation to the staff behind the bar, very friendly, not at all threatening, and the bar staff smile and maybe say hello back or maybe wonder who the man who just shouted hello at them so robustly is but they keep smiling and wait for their next customer. And a customer shuffles up and orders a beer and starts a conversation about the weather or how the horses are going at Flemington, and the younger man or woman allows the older customer to talk and nods and wishes him luck with his next bet or says he’s earned a nice drink after a good win like that. And the men are Caucasian and indigenous and Islander and from various parts of Asia, and nobody cares. And that’s what it is: a place where no-one is judged. No-one is told to stop doing what they are doing and sit down. No-one will be criticised for wearing the cardigan which isn’t their good cardigan. And dad may still be a bit of a silly bugger, perhaps even a silly old bugger, but he’s a silly bugger amongst silly buggers when he’s at the pub and he enjoys his time there. It’s a refuge.

And although I don’t fit the age profile yet, I enjoy my time at the pub too.

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Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

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