By MICK ROBERTS ©
IN the days when the two big breweries ruled the liquor industry, owning most of New South Wales’ hotels, and ‘tying’ clubs and pubs to exclusive beer sales, Bob and Lurline Urwin made quite a name for themselves as trouble-shooting temporary managers for one of Australia’s most successful – Tooheys Limited.
Born in 1918 at Thirroul on the NSW South Coast, Robert Moore Urwin began his working life as a railway fireman and engine driver, later meeting his future wife, Lurline at a Woonona Bowling Club ‘social’. It was ironic they met on licensed premises, as it would be in pubs and clubs they would spend the rest of their married life.
Lurline Rose Corney was born in 1923 at Coledale and the two were married at St Augustines Bulli in 1941.
I caught up with Lurline Dacombe – who had remarried after Bob’s death in 1981 – at Headlands Hotel, Austinmer, in 2003. They had managed ‘Headlands’ during the 1950s and 60s.
Sitting in the lounge bar of the run-down pub, rumoured for demolition and redevelopment, memories of happier times came flooding back for 80-year-old Lurline.
“Ongoing bronchitis forced Bob to find alternative employment because the soot and steam around the locomotives played havoc with his illness,” Lurline said.
With the end of World War II Lurline found part time work at Thirroul Ryans Hotel caring for the cook’s children and later working as a waitress.
The publican at the time was Bill Hogan who offered Bob work as a cleaner and over the years the former engine driver’s cellar and pub management skills became apparent.
At the time Thirroul’s Ryans Hotel was tied to the state’s second largest brewery, Tooheys Limited. The brewery noticed Bob’s management skills and he was recuited to revive Toohey’s struggling pubs around the state. He became one of Tooheys most experienced and successful relief hotel managers.
Lurline, living at Dapto at the time, recalled in 2003 how beer was rationed after the war, often forcing pubs to run dry. She smiled remembering when Ryans’ publican, Bill Hogan pulled a swiftie and managed to get a double truck load of kegs from Tooheys on one occassion.
“We were bombarded with customers,” she said.
“The bar was packed full of drinkers shoulder to shoulder.”
Bob’s first managerial appointment for Tooheys was at the Doncaster Hotel at Harden and from there he was placed in relief positions all over the State.
“He was a wizard at (beer) pipes and would build the business back-up so Tooheys could get a good price for a new lease on the hotel,” Lurline said.
When Bob and Lurline managed the Ryans, the pub was the largest selling country hotel in NSW.
Bob’s growing reputation as an excellent hotel manager seen the pair take the reins of Austinmer’s popular Headlands tourist hotel in the late 1950s.
They managed the Tooheys leased hotel for two licensees, firstly for WH Jones and later good friend, Vince O’Connell.
They were happy years for Lurline.
“Ryans Hotel was very dear to us, but Headlands was our favourite,” she said.
“Headlands was a delight to work at although 15 or 16 hour days, seven days a week was exhausting,” Lurline said.
“Bar trading was excellent in summer months, but winter was a different matter, as it can become quite cold and patronage was slow.”
The tourist side of the business was extremely important and the hotel’s accommodation was completely booked out during summer and most weekends.
“The dining room was white tablecloths and full silver service requiring many hours of labour,” she said.
“We would spend hours cleaning the silver and ironing tablecloths.”
Lurline, who was in charge of keeping the accommodation in top order, has vivid memories of constantly removing sand from the guestrooms.
“Guests were always visiting the beach and they continually dragged sand into the hotel,” she said.
Both visitors and locals, dressed in dinner suits and their best frocks, were entertained with dance music on weekends by the likes of Ron Campbell and his band and tourist coaches continually assured the hotel a thriving business.
Surf Life saving Championships and the Austinmer Surf Club were a real asset to the business Lurline explained.
The ‘clubbies’ were regular drinkers at the pub and she recalled how sometimes they indulged in a few too many.
“The rooms underneath the wings were known as the dungeons and had earth floors… many a time we would put the surf club boys, the worse for ware, down there to sleep it off.
“There was also a red haired police sergeant, who waited in Headlands Avenue to book the surf club boys when they left in their cars.
“Bob would either take their keys or arrange a lift home for them,” she said.
Like all pubs of those years, Headlands had an odd jobs man. His name was Ronny Wall.
“He was a real devil,” Lurline said.
“He was stopped from answering the phone because of his habit of greeting callers with ‘Hullo Austinmer brothel’.”
Bob also managed the Woonona Bulli Soccer Club and Austinmer Bowling Club (both of which ave now closed) during his remarkable career. He died while at the helm of the Cobar Services Club in 1975 aged 57.
Glancing the neglected bar room, Lurline looked despondent.
“It’s sad to see the grand old pub in this state – it makes me feel sad,” she said.
“It’s hard to know what to do with it, but if they rebuild, they should continue the tradition of a hotel serving food and catering to tourists.”
Footnote: The Headlands Hotel closed in 2013 and was demolished in 2015. Serviced apartments and a new “pub” has replaced the old landmark.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2013