Bartholomew Cornelius O’Brien managed the Court Hotel at the corner of Beaufort and James streets Perth for over 35 years, first taking the reins in 1903.
After his death in 1938, his sons took control, resulting in the O’Brien family eventually chalking-up 60 years as hosts of the landmark Perth hotel.
The Court Hotel, known today (2021) simply as “The Court”, is a popular and lively gay bar, with a chic, modern interior and a sprawling courtyard, for pub grub and DJs. It’s difficult to know just how the pub’s longest host and owner would view how his business is operated today.
Known far and wide as ‘Con’, the publican was a prominent member of the Labor Party. He was the first Labor member elected to the Legislative Council in December, 1900 — an election which he won on the casting vote of the returning officer. He remained a member of the Council until May, 1904, stood again in 1908, and was again elected for the Central Province.
Con O’Brien was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1867, and moved to Western Australia to be one of the first on the Murchison goldfields. It was on February 1, 1895, that O’Brien took over the Great Britain Hotel at Cue. It had been conducted as a hostel, but the enterprising businessman secured a publican’s licence.
The Great Britain Hotel was later renamed the Railway Hotel and continued operating into the late 1940s. It was the fourth hotel for which a licence at Cue was granted.
O’Brien conducted the Cue pub for eight years before making the move to Perth where he obtained a lease of the Court Hotel on February 9 1903. After some time he acquired the freehold. Over the years he owned the hotel he undertook many improvements to the building.
O’Brien was 47 years of age when the Great War broke out in 1914. Putting his age back, he joined the A.I.F. during the Great War, and served as a private with the 11th Battalion.
O’Brien was said to be an excellent boss and many of his bar staff remained as faithful employees for many years. Two barmen, Alfred Wolstenholme and Arthur Williams, remained with O’Brien for over 35 years, from the time his name first went over the door as the Court Hotel’s licensee.
Con died in 1938 at the age of 71, a few months after his wife. After his death his sons, Stan and Clarence, carried on the long tradition of running the landmark pub.
Stan and Clarry O’Brien remained at the Court Hotel into the 1960s.
The grandson of Clarry O’Brien, Peter O’Brien recalls the pub’s African grey parrot, Kruger II, who, from its cage on the balcony of the Court Hotel drove passing pedestrians, trammies, women, horses, dogs and policemen almost mad with whistles for almost 40 years. Peter writes: “She learned to perfectly mimic the tram conductors whistle. The Perth trams of the times had two carriages, The conductor would blow his whistle from the back to signal to the driver that passengers were safely on or off before the driver could start. Kruger caused many a fall and a few seriously dangerous incidents. And she nearly bit my finger off when I was about 3. Did not like Ms. Kruger!!!”
The Perth Mirror reported the passing of Kruger II on Saturday 19 March 1955:
Death Of City Identity: Famous Whistle Hushed For Ever
A famous Perth character died the week. It was a bird — an African grey parrot, Kruger II, who, from its cage on the balcony of the Court Hotel in Beaufort-st., for the past 40 years has driven passing pedestrians, trammies, women, horses, dogs and policemen almost mad with uncanny whistles.
A city landmark, Kruger II was no gentleman. She was really Mrs Kruger. The bird was a female and why one female should give “wolf whistles” to other females is still an unsolved mystery. Boniface Stan O’Brien attributes it to the Yanks who were here during the war and taught Kruger to deputise for them in whistling girls when the GI’s had ran out of wind. Behind this lovable bird is a history. Thousands of people will miss the parrot who had the uncanny knack of whistling just the right whistle at the right people at the most appropriate moments.
Back in 1905 the late Con O’Brien, father of Stan and Clarrie, bought an African grey for £5 from a sailor who had brought the baby bird from South Africa. The Boer War was not long over and the bird was named Kruger. It became a famous talker and even spoke Dutch to a Dutch yardman at the pub. At that time the late Reg Harrison (afterwards president of the LVA), who had the old Criterion Hotel in Hay street, had an equally famous talker in a brilliant Mexican macaw.
Rivalry between the publican owners of the talking birds was keen. Eventually they had a competition for £25 a side to decide which was the best talker. It resulted in a draw. The original Kruger died in 1914. In 1915 the O’Brien family, always keen on birds (they even have budgerigars flying loose in their bars), purchased Kruger II from Perth’s first pet shop, situated at the Metropolitan Markets, (then in Wellington St., at the foot of the Horse Shoe Bridge). They paid £15/15/- for a him; they later found they had a her. When, after two years, Con O’Brien found that Kruger II had not spoken a word, he called in an expert, who found that the bird was a hen. And, according to the expert, only the male birds talk (unlike humans) but the females whistle. Kruger II started to whistle. From then on began years of trial and tribulation for all who passed the Court Hotel. Trams stopped when Kruger whistled; dogs ran around in circles; horses trotted faster; pedestrians looked around and women were really annoyed. Everyone knew Kruger was there, but his whistle was always unexpected. Kruger’s wolf whistle taught him by the Yanks, was his masterpiece.
Walking up James St early one morning I saw a smart young woman halt at the “call of the wild”. There was only one man standing on the Court Hotel corner. She walked smartly across the road and slapped his face. Now Kruger is dead. Officers on duty in Perth Central Police Station will no longer have the job of explaining to irate complaining females that the nasty man who “wolf whistled” them in broad daylight was really a 40 year old grey lady who sat no doubt chuckling to herself, in a cage on a pub balcony.
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