Thirty-five years ago, the whole of Australia was singing along with Slim Dusty that they’d love to have a beer with Duncan at the Town and Country, because he’s a mate and the atmosphere of the pub is great. Sadly, no more.
The ambience of the legendary Sydney hotel immortalised in the hit song has now turned decidedly ugly, with the new owner suing the previous owner in the NSW Supreme Court in an altercation over the premises’ liquor licence.
And the Town and Country Hotel at St Peters, having fought off the threat from an extension to the WestConnex that once looked likely to give its last orders, has its doors closed once more while the court battle takes place, now becoming the embodiment of Slim Dusty’s other huge hit, Pub With No Beer.
‘‘That’s a real shame,’’ says Pat Alexander, the 77-year-old songwriter who penned the 1981 chart-topping Duncan that put country music icon Slim Dusty on TV’s Countdown for a solid five weeks and the Town and Country into the stuff of Australian legend.
‘‘It’s a good pub, but you never know what the future brings. I last visited it three years ago and met the publican and he asked me to sing Duncan at the bar, which I did. But I don’t get to Sydney very often these days, and I’m a very shy violet.’’
Slim Dusty, Duncan Urquhart, Pat Alexander and former Australian Rules player and radio broadcaster John K. Watts at the Town and Country in the 1980s.
The heritage-listed hotel is now being advertised for lease. It was sold last year, according to PriceFinder, for $1.8 million – a far cry from the $3 million it changed hands for in 2000 and nearly 20 per cent less than its last selling price of $2,235,000 in 2004.
The Oxford Agency has put the lease at $100,000 plus GST per year. ‘‘But we do have a tenant wanting to proceed,’’ Oxford partner Shane Blackett says. ‘‘But nothing can happen until the owners go to the Supreme Court next week with the old owner to get the liquor licence back. We’re all waiting on the outcome of that. Hopefully, when that’s settled, the pub could be reopened, a tenant can take over and it’s back in business.’’
The new owners declined to speak to Fairfax Media.
It’s sad days for the corner block site on Unwins Bridge Road that’s been used as a favourite drinking spot since 1881, close to the old brickworks when the area was fast becoming a major industrial centre.
The current hotel replaced the old one in 1923, designed as a three-storey building in an inter-war classical style by famed architect Sidney Warden and built by owners Tooth & Co.
These days, its two upper floors have newly renovated rooms that are run separately from the bar downstairs.
It became the much-loved local for former insurance salesman Pat Alexander who used to take potential customer and local factory owner Duncan Urquhart there to try to persuade him to buy a policy.
The pair met three times before Alexander realised that he had no intention of buying; he just enjoyed a drink and a yarn.
After the last of their sessions, he wrote the line, ‘‘I love to have a beer with Duncan ’cause Duncan’s me mate’’, and then the music and lyrics to the whole song, Duncan. He recorded the song on a number of discs and sent one to Slim Dusty – who loved it. It became his biggest hit after Pub With No Beer.
‘‘It was a novelty song but it seemed to grip the nation,’’ Alexander says.
‘‘I think it was just great fun, and it was all about mateship, which struck a chord with Australians.’’
The Duncan of the song died of a heart attack shortly after it became a hit, still never having bought insurance from his old pal.
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