Sydney’s blind publican, John Wall had no problem tapping his own kegs

The Oxford Hotel, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, 1949. The Oxford Hotel continues to trade on busy Oxford Street (2023). Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University


WHEN returned serviceman John William Wall applied to become a publican, the Licensing Magistrate had some misgivings, doubting his ability to manage a hotel.

Wall, 42, was legally blind, and the magistrate was unsure the AIF veteran would be able to exercise the necessary control over a pub. His doubts though proved to be wrong, and Wall went on to become a successful hotelier.

Wall was blinded through an explosion during World War II in Greece, and hosted at least three NSW pubs after returning from war with his disability.

With his wife, who operated the till, Wall ran the Commercial Hotel, Parkes, the Oxford Hotel, Darlinghurst, and the Hotel Mainsbridge, Liverpool, before his retirement in 1954.

Commercial Hotel, Parkes, 1949. The Commercial Hotel continues to trade in Parkes (2023). Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

While hosting the Parkes’ pub, Wall was reportedly the first man to accept an offer of a seeing-eye dog in Australia in 1947.

Wall took over the license of the Oxford Hotel at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst in 1948. The pub in those days had a reputation as a tough establishment, and Wall was said to have had no problems keeping his house orderly. In fact, Wall was once quoted as saying; “the only thing I can’t do is see”, when quizzed about his ability to run pubs.

Blind publican, John Wall, tapping kegs in the cellar of the Oxford Hotel, Darlinghurst. Picture: Sydney Truth, December 19, 1948.

When interviewed by the Truth newspaper in 1948 he was in the chill room changing an 18 gallon keg “with dexterity of a cellarman with normal vision”.

To reach the chill room, Wall had to find his way down a steep stairway, and along a passageway. The publican could also easily dial a phone number from his office, and rarely called wrong numbers.

“I dislike publicity intensely,” Wall told the Truth. “But if my ability to overcome difficulties will help someone else, I am happy to co-operate.”

Wall was a popular publican at the Taylor Square pub, and he almost doubled business while at the reins. His pub did one of the largest bar trades in Sydney in 1948.

Tall and greying, he walked so confidently that many casual patrons were unaware of his disability. He had learned to recognise the voices of regular patrons, and had “a cheery word for them as he does his rounds”.

When Wall left the Oxford Hotel in 1953 to take over the Hotel Mainsbridge, Liverpool, the licensing police congratulated him on his well-conducted pub, which, they said was an example to all other licensees.

“We are sorry to lose him as a licensee,” the licensing inspector said.

The Mainsbridge Hotel, Macquarie Street, Liverpool, 1949. The pub continues to trade as the Macquarie Hotel in Liverpool (2023). Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Wall’s new Liverpool pub also had a reputation as being the haunt of tough, heavy drinking customers. However, the publican soon pulled his new pub into line.

Wall was quoted as once saying that blindness gave him a psychological advantage in hotel brawls.

“When it’s ‘on’ I’m the first over the bar. I never give ’em a chance to get stuck into each other,” he said.

Interestingly, while host at Liverpool, he had a ‘Braille Safe’ manufactured in London and installed in his pub during 1954.

Wall retired as a publican in 1954 at the age of 49 and went into business with his son as a “hotel efficiency expert”.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

Can you help us with further information on John Wall, including his year of death, and wife’s name? Scroll down to the comment section for your input.

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