By Jacqueline Smith
TO the regulars at Sydney’s Kings Head Hotel she is simply Fay, the girl in the saloon bar who can carry nine middies at once.
Somehow the place wouldn’t be the same with-out her.
For two and a half years she has been their friend, general confidante, and good mate who’ll lend them a dollar or two if they are a bit short and who’ll laugh at their jokes.
When it was recently announced that Fay Major was to represent Australia’s 3000 barmaids at the renowned Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, the drinkers at the Kings Head were jubilant. Fay is their barmaid!
Her younger son, nine year-old Lee, was thrilled. “He keeps squeezing my face between his hands and saying, ‘Mummy’s going to Germany. Isn’t it gorgeous?”, Fay said.
“And when he is so proud and affectionate it makes me really feel great. Just to know that to at least one person in the world I am very important.”
As the guest of one of the large international airline companies, Fay will fly to Dusseldorf, Belgrade, then onto Munich for the two-week festival of eating and drinking that attracts more than five million visitors from all over the world.
“Next year,” Fay explained, “there will be a contest between all the barmaids in Australia and New Zealand to decide the top barmaid. It’s to become an annual event, with the winner representing Australasia.
“This year there was no contest, but somehow I was nominated and chosen to go, strictly to observe.”
Fay and her husband, Colin, have two sons -Wayne, 19, who has started as a deck boy in the Merchant Navy, and Lee.
Fifteen years ago Fay took her first job behind a bar at the Ulster Hotel, Brisbane. At first she found the work exacting and tiring, but, she explains, it was the only work that allowed her to earn reasonable money and to spend time with her family.
Today, there is very little that could tempt her to give up her job.
Too many women lead boring and unsatisfying lives, she says, and, anyway, she would miss the people.
Taking a long sip of a gin squash and soda, Fay said: “You know, it still astonishes me that many people still attach a stigma to my job.
“The job is certainly no worse than being behind a shop counter – and a darn sight more interesting. Many barmaids I’ve met are the most admirable and hard-working women.”
Fay has an incredible list of people she has met and befriended on the job, working in hotels in Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney.
“There was one man – I still don’t know his name -I used to chat to often in one of Sydney’s luxury hotels,” she said. “He used to talk and talk, encouraging me to advance my sons’ education. One day he came in with a parcel – a slide rule for Wayne.”
Then there was the “little wise man” in Perth Fay remembers more vividly than any other customer.
“He’s dead now,” she said, “but I can still remember so many things he said. His big platform was. ‘Why is education so wonderful? People were a lot less inhibited and unhappy during the Stone Age than they are in this age of mechanisation and advancement.’
“Really, I love all kinds of people – the talkative ones, the joke-tellers, the quiet ones, even the bad-tempered rude drinkers. If anyone is rude, I just keep smiling. The ruder they become, the nicer I am until they eventually start to behave more reasonably.”
As for the ones who have obviously had enough to drink – firmly but gently she says, “No more, dear, I think you’ve had enough. You better go home.”
And usually they go!
The Kings Head is Fay’s favorite hotel. Her customers are for the most part newspaper men, and she likes them.
“They like good listeners,” she said. “And that’s what I am, a good listener.
“If they don’t like my dress, they’ll say so. If they don’t like my hairstyle, they will let me know by saying, ‘Hey, Fay, that doesn’t suit you – wear it like you did yesterday.’ ”
A successful barmaid, it seems, is not the woman who can give sane, sensible advice.
“Now and again my customers want practical help,” Fay said, “but most of all they need someone who will listen to them sympathetically.
“That way I feel I am giving some help. And if that will assist them in anyway I’m happy!”
According to staff writer Robin Adair, a customer of Fay’s, she is being modest.
“I’ll bet she didn’t tell you about her ‘birthday club’,” he said. “She gives as many regulars as she can birthday presents each year.
“When she came back from one holiday she had little mementoes for some blokes’ wives and kids.
“She runs another valuable service we call ‘Fay’s Post Office’. People wanting to make contact with other blokes, or to leave something for them, simply leave a message, or parcel, with Fay.
“And in the best traditions of the ‘neither rain nor hail’ sort of jazz the mail always gets through.
“One of the sweetest things she ever did was to help a litle old pensioner.
“He explained one day that he was having a legal problem in connection with some property he owned. He could neither afford nor quite figure out what to do.
“Fay to the rescue!
“During her lunch hour she took him to the Town Hall to find out particulars. Then she arranged for another customer, a lawyer to handle the matter.
“It is typical of the respect in which she is held that the lawyer unhesitatingly offered his help for nothing.”
– The Australian Women’s Weekly Wednesday 28 August 1968.