“A kid of 14 painted a couple of trees on the way home from school, came here, and stuck the picture on the wall in the pub. It was there for months. He came in every day. ‘Have you sold my painting yet?’ Anyway, one day we were hosing the bar and splashed it with water and, being a watercolour, it ran. We were at our wits’ end; we didn’t know what to tell him. Anyway, he came in next day and said ‘Where’s my painting? so I said, ‘We sold it for five quid.’ I gave him the fiver, and his eyes lit up. I suppose he thought he’d made it; he’d sold a picture in Jim Buckley’s pub.”
This was the gentle Jim Buckley, talking through a friend; he had undergone a throat operation, and normal speech was no longer possible. When we visited Jim Buckley’s Newcastle Hotel in George Street, Sydney, it was under a death sentence, having to make way for the huge Rocks development. It was a pub that would be sadly missed, a cosy corner in a hard, bustling city. Scores of paintings lined the walls – in the back bar, only inviteable “Gents” sign broke the row of pictures. A tough part of the city, not far from the docks, but the crowd was quiet and the barmaids were pretty.
A majestic nude dominated one wall; this was Jim’s own picture. She was a Dutch girl and once she adorned the wall of the Sergeants’ Mess at the North Head army barracks. But when the wives objected, the picture was moved to Buckley’s. The faithful at Jim’s pub believe she is greater than Chloe, the beautiful nude at Young and Jackson’s in Melbourne. Jim Orme, who manged the Newcastle for Jim Buckley, said: “Chloe’s not really a nude. She’s wearing a bangle on her left wrist.”
That, most assuredly, would be fighting talk in Melbourne!
In fact, they displayed their scorn of Chloe at Buckley’s by pasting a cheap copy of the painting behind a clock in the public bar. “We had an exhibition here once,” Jim said, “and at least 20 of the nudes would have left Chloe for dead.”
Anyone could display a painting at the Newcastle. “The artists have to put fair commissions on their work, and when we sell a picture for them, we pass the commission on to the Spastic Centre. Paintings have sold here from a few bob up to $2,000,” Jim said.
Jim Buckley is a millionaire, so he could afford to smile over the $30,000 in dud cheques he had pasted to boards in an upstairs room at the pub.
Every so often, they’d bring the cheques down and hold an exhibition of them. It made a nice change.
IN the early 1970s, writer, John Larkins and photographer, Bruce Howard went on a 40,000km pub crawl around Australia, telling their wives, “Don’t wait up!” With Larkins wonderful words, and Howards’ fabulous photos, they chronicled an amazing snap shot of Australian pub culture – many, both people and pubs, which have now gone. From that expedition they had published “Australian Pubs”. These are excerpts from the now out of print book.
Jim Buckley had the lease and license of the Newcastle Hotel, on the south west corner of George and Sussex Streets Sydney, from 1956 to 1972. The pub’s freehold was owned by the Maritime Services Board, a department of the NSW Government. The pub closed for business on February 24 1973 and it was later demolished. A highrise office tower now sits on the site.