By MICK ROBERTS ©
LONG before the Sydney Push met in pubs around the harbour city, a group of “theatrical types, well primed with soda and a dash” paved the way for artists by reciting poetry and “warbling” songs in a Wollongong pub.
The Sydney Push is not to be confused with the criminal gangs, known as The Push who terrorised Sydney streets from the 1870s to the end of the 1890s.
The Sydney Push of the 1940s was hugely different. They comprised a broad range of manual workers, musicians, lawyers, criminals, journalists and public servants, as well as university staff and students, who met in Sydney pubs to express and perform their art through poetry, song, dance and theatre.
Long before the Sydney Push, which had its hey day from the 1940s to the late 1960s, a group of ‘artistic types’, known as the ‘Upper Crown Street Push’ were meeting in Wollongong, 100km to the south, during the 1890s.
The Wollongong ‘Push’ was made-up of about 20 local businessmen, including a former publican and well-known tenor, Jessie Budge, who hosted the Cottage of Content Hotel during the 1870s.
The men met in the parlour of Wollongong’s Royal Alfred Hotel at the north-east corner of Crown and Keira Streets. The pub continued to trade in updated premises until it was demolished in the 1970s. Crown Central shopping centre replaced the pub.
At the time, the men, who liked to recite poetry and sing ditties, shared their pub with tough, heavy drinking coal miners. I can’t help but wonder how these theatrical men were looked upon by the miners out in the public bar, who were swilling their ale, and exchanging conversation about vastly different topics.
The Upper Crown Street Push either evolved into a group by another name, or disbanded before the end of the century. I’m unable to find any further references to the group of artistic men.
The Illawarra Mercury reported on the Upper Crown Street Push on Tuesday January 19 1892:
BAR PARLOUR HUMOURS.
The Upper Crown-street ‘push’ are about as merry dogs as can be met with in a day’s walk. All fish come the same into their net; they never let time hang heavily on their hands if they can help it. They are always bringing out some one or other, and their jokes are always good. The last gathering is thus described by one of themselves:- On Saturday evening last about twenty of the ‘boys’ met, promiscuous-like, at the Royal Alfred Hotel to hear Mr. Floyd, a newcomer, give a taste of his recitative powers. Among the confraternity were Messrs. Thomas Brown, ‘Ned’ Davis (members of the late Dramatic Club), and several local theatrical critics. Mr. Floyd, after being well primed with soda and a dash, started with Brunton Stephens well-known ‘Rabbit Pie,’ which was succeeded by Tennyson’s ‘Railway Bar,’ and it is but just to say they were received with well-merited applause. But it was in that touching piece ‘The Glove and the Lions’ that Mr. Floyd showed what he really could do. His modulation of voice and dramatic gesture were superb, and during the pathetic portion of the recitation tears were actually soon coursing down the rugged yet manly features of Mr. Harry Jones (an enthusiast in the art himself), while Mr. Ben Gray was so affected that he had to leave the room. The evening was brought to a termination by Mr. Jesse Budge, the popular Crown-street tenor, warbling the ‘Powder Monkey,’ all present joining in the chorus with startling effect.’
“[Little] Powder Monkey Jim” was a music hall song of the nineteenth century.
The poem, The Glove and the Lions, which brought these men to tears, was penned by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859).
“King Francis was a hearty king, and loved a royal sport,
And one day as his lions fought, sat looking on the court;
The nobles filled the benches, and the ladies in their pride,
And ‘mongst them sat the Count de Lorge, with one for whom he sighed:
And truly ’twas a gallant thing to see that crowning show,
Valour and love, and a king above, and the royal beasts below.
Ramped and roared the lions, with horrid laughing jaws;
They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws;
With wallowing might and stifled roar they rolled on one another;
Till all the pit with sand and mane was in a thunderous smother;
The bloody foam above the bars came whisking through the air;
Said Francis then, “Faith, gentlemen, we’re better here than there.”
De Lorge’s love o’erheard the King, a beauteous lively dame
With smiling lips and sharp bright eyes, which always seemed the same;
She thought, the Count my lover is brave as brave can be;
He surely would do wondrous things to show his love of me;
King, ladies, lovers, all look on; the occasion is divine;
I’ll drop my glove, to prove his love; great glory will be mine.
She dropped her glove, to prove his love, then looked at him and smiled;
He bowed, and in a moment leaped among the lions wild:
The leap was quick, return was quick, he has regained his place,
Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady’s face.
“By God!” said Francis, “rightly done!” and he rose from where he sat:
“No love,” quoth he, “but vanity, sets love a task like that.”
Originally published 2014. Updated 2021
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021
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