Before pokies and tellies, talented pets were popular pub attractions

Bemboka Hotel Bemboka 1926 anu
The Bemboka Hotel, November 1926. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University
Bemboka’s talking crow. Picture: Sydney Mail 28 December 1938

WAY before pokies and television screens, pubs had to find other means to attract and entertain customers to their bars.

Pets of various descriptions were often used to draw custom, and occasionally the talented animals and the the pubs they called home gained national and sometimes international fame. Inquisitive people would travel the length and breadth of Australia to see the more talented of the pubs’ pets.

One of these was a common black crow owned by Alexander Gray Mudie while host at the Colombo Hotel, Bemboka on the NSW South Coast.

Mudie was host of the Bemboka pub from 1892 to 1913. While he was at Bemboka the crow became known nationally for its fine talking skills. It was said it could speak in three different voices — that of a man, a woman, or a child.

The bird loved to get to the glasses that were left on the counter and drain them of any remaining contents. The crow would walk a chalk line along the bar for the amusement of patrons and perform all sorts of tricks.

Large sums of money were offered for the bird, but the owner refused to part with him. When Alexander Mudie died in 1913 at the age of 59, the bird fretted and was said to have never talked again.

Newcastle’s thirsty sheep. Picture: Sydney Mail 28 December 1938

Another famous pet was a sheep at a Newcastle hotel. This sheep paid regular visits to the bar and – placing his forefeet on the counter – would refuse to move until he was given a drink.

The barman kept the tailings for him. One day he imbibed too freely, fell off one of the wharves into the harbour, and was drowned.

And there is of course the well-told tale of Cocky Bennett, an almost featherless parrot, with a long twisted beak that squarked foul language, and amusing one liners.

Cocky Bennett called four Sydney pubs home. However, it was during his residence at the Sea Breeze Hotel, Blakehurst, from 1892 to 1915, the talented bird became the most famous.

After the Cocky Bennet was offered a drink, he would screech; “One at a time, gentlemen, please” and then proceed with his antics, which included a failed attempt at flying. “If I had another bloody feather I’d fly,” was one famous line squarked by the bird, while another was “I’ll fly, I’ll fly; my God, I’ll fly”. The bird was also known for his foul language, which was said to have “put to shame the hardiest bullocky”.

A trick that always amused patrons of the Sea Breeze Hotel, and generated plenty of money for the Kogarah Hospital through a donation tin beside his cage, was moves learnt while Cocky Bennett was on the high seas.

Cocky Bennett, 1911

Cocky Bennett would move to one end of his perch, take hold of an imaginary rope in his beak, hauling on it with regular tugs, edging backwards along the perch.

Cocky Bennett was introduced to his fourth pub, the Woolpack Hotel at Canterbury in May 1915 after the retirement of 71-year-old Sarah Bennett from the Sea Breeze Hotel.

On retirement Sarah gave the parrot to her nephew, Alexander Wagschall, who was host of the Canterbury pub. There Cocky Bennett continued his antics, until his death at the age of 121 the following year. Read my full story about Cocky Bennett here.

At Big Jack Mountain, on the South Coast of NSW there was a fine green parrot which reportedly could speak as clearly as any person. He not only mimicked all and sundry, but could answer a number of questions according to the Sydney Mail on December 28 1938:

“Like many other hotel birds this one had an extensive vocabulary of words that would not bear print. When a car or coach stopped at the door the bird invited all to come and have one.”

In a more unusual example of a popular pub pet, a Central Queensland publican was said to have kept a couple of green frogs under his bar. The Sydney Mail reported on December 28, 1938:

These frogs were the means of inducing numbers of men to drink to the breaking of the drought. After long dry spells, which were frequent in that part of the country, the hotelkeeper would remark that it felt like rain in the air, and when the bar was fairly full he would throw a glass of water on the frogs under the counter. They would immediately commence to croak. “That’s a sure sign of rain,” several would assert, and all would drink to the breaking of the drought.

Keeping pets as hotel attractions has long passed, with the occasionally pub parrot, or sleepy old dog the only hang-over from those far away days. Perhaps it’s just as well, with the temperament of today’s animal rights movement.

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Categories: animals, NSW hotels, Queensland hotels, Sydney hotels

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