..for the word had passed around (with all due respect to A.B. Banjo Paterson.
It didn’t take me too long to realize why business was slack, after my second morning on the door, I called on the township manager, with another request/demand. I told him that I was wasting my time opening at 9, and wanted my opening hours changed to 7.00 am; opening 9.30 closing, for my morning session.
He says, “You can’t do that”! I says, “Yes I can, all you need to do is put in an application for a change of trading hours, I get that I’m off and running!” He said there was no way that that was possible; I told him there would be no problem, given the circumstances; men working 12 on, 12 off, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that there were many exemptions, and exceptions to the rules, all he had to do was submit the application, and get me an early opener.
Why it hadn’t been in place from the beginning was beyond me, anyway, I told him that was what I wanted needed and required; and as soon as possible please. He, disbelieving me, said okay, he’d see what he could do. I think half his trouble was that he was a Pom, without much experience of the booze, or the bush.
It didn’t take long, considering our remoteness from the Big Smoke, couple of days for the request to get down there, and a couple back, but I had my authority and the word went out!
The “Wet Canteen” would be opening each morning between the hours of 07.00 and 09.00 with 30 minutes grace, starting the following morning.
I was happy, and as it turned out the men were ecstatic. Previously they had to hang around, for 2 hours just to get a drink, completely ridiculous, why would anyone want to hang around, for that amount of time, after spending 12 hours hard yakka? They’d had their feed, they wanted a beer, and then they wanted their bed; what could be fairer?
At 10 to seven, I watched as the crowds started to build up, at both the side, and main door. Now was the time I needed a casual, and I hadn’t thought of putting one on, I’d expected I’d be busy, but I wasn’t banking on this many. But I’d asked for it, and now I’d got it.
When I opened up the side door, they surged in, no other word for it. I told one of the men to go down and open, up the main door for me, (never ask when you’re the boss) and got behind my bar, and started pouring merrily away. The next couple of hours flew, the “Wet Canteen” was officially launched, and I was Captain and in my element.
Back then in the 1970’s a bar serving just beer, no wine or spirits, had to be the easiest job on earth. Kind of like Henry Ford‘ “You can have any color you like, so long as it’s black” (do you notice how I spelt the word colour the Mr Webster of the USA way? ). You could have any beer you liked, so long as it was ‘Swan Lager’.
Yep! The only beer you got on tap, anywhere in Western Australia, was Swan, so the only thing to worry about was the size of the glass, most common was the pot.
Now Australian drinkers differ completely from state to state, in the way they like their beer poured, and served up; in NSW for example they like a nice, decent thick and frothy head, but in WA they want a very small, but thick head, that clings to the side of the glass, as the beer goes down, in 2 or 3 big sips. The Sandgropers, don’t like to sit with their beer getting warm, they like to down it, and get on with the next one. This was true back then; what it’s like nowadays 40 years on I haven’t a clue.
Anyway if you served a NSW style beer to a Sandgroper, he’d look at it, contemplate it, look at the barman/maid and ask quietly, “Do you think you can put a dash of lemonade in there for me?” to which the answer would naturally be sure, or yes, then he’d bellow back, “WELL FILL THE BLOODY GLASS UP WITH BEER!”. I’d learned this lesson long before I’d started working pubs, and clubs, so I’d never been caught out.
Well anyway, you can imagine, the new hours were just what was needed, and I knew I’d have to start getting a larger beer order, sent up from Perth.
It must have been a week or so after I’d started, that some bloke called, in around closing time on the morning session, told me he came around every 2 or 3 weeks to clear out the pool tables, which he did after the customers had all gone, I said fair enough asked him if he wanted a beer and bought him one and had one myself, I didn’t drink normally in the a.m session, but I made an exception.
While he was clearing the money out I asked him about a jukebox, where I could get one. “No worries” says he, “you want a jukebox, you can have a jukebox”; seems that he, or the company he worked for, supplied all the pool tables, and jukeboxes, for all the clubs and pubs, north of Capricorn.
He told me he could get me one within a couple of days, I didn’t ask, but I suppose it only had to come across from Hedland, then he told me the good news.
As I would be looking after it in a sense, they’d pay me a percentage of whatever the machine took. I said “what about Poone’s?” and he said “what about them”, this would be between me, and his company, as Poone’s were not involved in anyway, the cost/s of running the box, was only the power, and Poone’s got that free, and as I’d ordered it I got the benefit.
He also suggested I have a supply of 20c pieces, and mark them with a black cross, and plug the machine before opening up, as an incentive, and when he came around to clear out the machine, I’d get my coins back, and we’d start on the merry go round again. I said fair enough lets go for it, and I had my jukebox within a few days.
Naturally I called around to see my English chum, the township manager again, I think he’d have like to see me get on a plane out of Shay Gap, and told him that I’d ordered a jukebox, and that I’d be getting it within a couple of days.
I thought he’d have apoplexy “You just can’t go ordering stuff like that, without telling me, it has to go through the channels, and payment has to be approved, for any purchase of equipment , you get the drift.
When he calmed down, I told him that there was no cost to Poone’s, that the supplier installed, and maintained, the machines at all times, so what was he worrying about. I forgot to mention my %, but as he, and Poone’s, hadn’t thought fit to obtain something for the amusement, and entertainment, of the men at no cost to them, it was none of their business.
I tell you what though, my boys loved it, they loved the hours, they loved the music, and they started to love their ‘Wet Canteen’.
My booze sales started to climb.