Old Jimmy Woodser: The lone drinker

The “new” Harp Hotel, Corrimal Street Wollongong NSW in the 1960s, shortly after its completion following the demolition of the original 1890s pub. The old man drinking alone – the ‘Jimmy Woodser’ at the table – is thought to be Billy Fitzpatrick, who lived in nearby Market Place, and at the time of this photo was in his 70s. “My grandfather ushered me through the swinging doors of the Harp at the age of five, and I have been a ‘regular’ since,” Jimmy said in a 1960s Illawarra Mercury interview. For more on Billy Fitzpatrick see the post: He Went to the Harp with his Grandfather

Jimmy Woodser is a name given to a man who drinks alone, or a drink consumed alone. The name is thought to come from a poem by Barcroft Boake, published in The Bulletin on May 7 1892, about a fictional Jimmy Wood from Britian who is determined to end the practice of ‘shouting’ (buying rounds of drinks for a group of mates), by drinking alone.

“One man one liquor! though I have to die
A martyr to my faith, that′s Jimmy Wood, sir.”

The following poem penned by Henry Lawson could have been written for Wollongong’s old Billy Fitzpatrick. Many lines describe him perfectly – a relic from another time, a man who was watching his town rapidly change, and despite those changes, he continued his daily pilgrimage to his favourite watering hole, sometimes drinking alone, reflecting on a different time – a different world.

Billy Fitzpatrick enjoying a 5oz glass of beer at the 1890s Harp Hotel before its demolition and replacement in the 1960s.

The Old Jimmy Woodser

By Henry Lawson

The old Jimmy Woodser comes into the bar
Unwelcomed, unnoticed, unknown,
Too old and too odd to be drunk with, by far;
So he glides to the end where the lunch baskets are
And they say that he tipples alone.

His frockcoat is green and the nap is no more,
And his hat is not quite at its best;
He wears the peaked collar our grandfathers wore,
The black-ribbon tie that was legal of yore,
And the coat buttoned over his breast.

When first he came in, for a moment I thought
That my vision or wits were astray;
For a picture and page out of Dickens he brought –
‘Twas an old file dropped in from the Chancery Court
To the wine-vault just over the way.

But I dreamed, as he tasted his “bitter” to-night
And the lights in the bar-room grew dim,
That the shades of the friends of that other day’s light,
And of girls that were bright in our grandfathers” sight,
Lifted shadowy glasses to him.

Then I opened the door, and the old man passed out,
With his short, shuffling step and bowed head;
And I sighed; for I felt, as I turned me about,
An odd sense of respect – born of whisky no doubt –
For the life that was fifty years dead.

And I thought – there are times when our memory trends
Through the future, as ‘twere on its own –
That I, out-of-date ere my pilgrimage ends,
In a new-fashioned bar to dead loves and dead friends
Might drink, like the old man, alone.

Bar Tip

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