Sydney’s blind publican

Oxford Hotel Darlinghurst 1949 ANU

The Oxford Hotel, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

John Wall Publican Oxford Hotel Darlinghurst 1948

Blind publican, John Wall in the cellar of the Oxford Hotel, Darlinghurst 1949. Picture: Sydney Truth December 19 1948 


WHEN returned serviceman John William Wall applied to become a publican at the age of 42, the Licensing Magistrate had some misgivings, doubting his ability.

Wall was blind, and the magistrate was unsure he would be able to exercise the necessary control over a pub. His misgivings though proved to be unfounded.

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.

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.

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.

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.

While host at Liverpool, he reportedly had a Braille safe manufactured in London during 1954. Wall retired as a publican in 1954 at the age of 49. He reportedly went into business with his son as a “hotel efficiency expert”.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019

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