67 years “at the bar” kept her youthful.
By CYNTHIA STRACHAN
“THEY say I’m a gay old spark – and I suppose they’re not far wrong,” Mornington’s 80-year-old hotel proprietor, Miss Edith Ruth Clifton, said with a mischievous chuckle on the eve of he retirement after 67 years “at the bar.”
With this profound statement, Miss Clifton, who is affectionately known throughout the Peninsula and far beyond as “auntie,” stood up, looked at her gaily lacquered finger nails as she lit a cigarette,and said: “What will you have to drink?”
For hundreds of people who have grown to love her, there will be a sad moment next week when this pint-sized,slightly stooped woman, possessed of a vitality that would put a Collingwood fullback to shame, says her final, “Time,gentlemen, please,” at Kirkpatrick’s Hotel.
As she settled back to tell her life story, “Auntie” sipped a gin-and-two.
“Shouldn’t really have one so soon after lunch, but I’ll be a devil and make an exception today,” she said.
Then she told how she’d been born in Grafton, NSW. For a few years her father ran a hotel, but gave it up because her mother didn’t like the life.
“I decided for myself that it wasn’t so bad when I visited friends in a Kyneton hotel for holidays. I used to help them, and then, when I was nearly 17, I got my first job, in Melbourne.
“I was a barmaid at the old White Hart Hotel, the licence for which has passed to the Windsor Hotel.
Other jobs as barmaid followed, and her many tasks before she took over Kirkpatrick’s 32 years ago, included managing the Port Phillip for three years.
At dignified Kirkpatrick’s, probably the oldest hotel in Mornington, and about the same age as “Auntie,” she has ruled with a human and understanding rod of iron.
Miss Clifton’s nick name originated when she had two nieces staying with her at the hotel. It is now known far and wide, and even stuck with her when she went to Singapore on a holiday trip a few years ago.
“I’ve always kept well within the law, and haven’t had a black mark against the hotel in all that time,” she said, with pride.
“I suppose that’s because I won’t allow any gambling on the premises,and have a rule against drunks and after hour trading.”
Despite her stringent rules on gambling on the premises, there’s nothing Miss Clifton likes better than a flutter herself. She has a poker machine purely for her own amusement – in her bedroom, was an avid solo player until a few years ago, and still enjoys having a few pounds on the horses.
“Why, I won £12 only last Saturday. There’s nothing wrong with gambling as long as it’s within the law. You’ve got to do something to keep you young,” she said.
Then, the woman who has probably pulled more glasses of beer than any in Victoria, drew her chair nearer the warm log fire,sighed happily, and said:
“Hm-m. This is good gin. It’s my favorite drink. I’ve never had a glass of beer in my life, you know.”
Then, in an aside: “But I’m not a drinker. I’ve always known when to stop.
“And I haven’t been the sort of barmaid who loses her pride and dignity.
“And I’ve never married, either. But not that I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to,” said Miss Clifton in a firm, almost indignant voice.
Asked how today’s drinkers compared with those of 60 years ago, she gave an infectious laugh and said:
“They’re just the same.They’re very orderly . . .but they always have been in my hotel.
The trim, black-suited figure, with her greying red hair, looked keenly at me before her eyes wrinkled into a friendly smile, and she said:
“I don’t know why I told you I’d be 80 soon. People have been trying to find out my age for years. It’s been my best-kept secret.”
And her future?
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of hotel life. I wouldn’t change it, but I’ve worked hard, and think I deserve a rest.
“Although my late partner’s son, Mr. John Brock, and I have leased the hotel, I’ll live on as a paying guest. It’s easier than a flat. I’d have to cook there,” she said.
“I’ll talk it easy, and I’ll read a lot. But I won’t go to the films. Have been only twice in 32 years. I’d rather have the lively old stage shows.”
And if you want the recipe for her happy longevity, here it is:
Don’t coddle yourself, have two or three drinks a day if you feel like them,and smoke what you please.
And never, NEVER, lose your sense of humor or ability to keep up with the times.
Which brings us back to where we started. There’s no doubt about it: Miss Edith Ruth Clifton is certainly an extremely likeable “gay old spark.”
– The Argus (Melbourne) Saturday 3 July 1954.
Edith Ruth Clifton died aged 94 in Balwyn, Victoria in 1962.