Old Billy Fitzpatrick called the Harp Hotel his local for 65 years

The Harp Hotel, Wollongong, 1959 before its demolition in 1965. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset: Billy Fitzpatrick enjoying a beer and a smoke in the temporary bar of the Harp Hotel in 1965. Picture: Illawarra Mercury.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

THE Harp Hotel was old Billy Fitzpatrick’s second home.

The retired baker had been a ‘regular’ at the pub, in the Illawarra region of NSW, for 64 years when he was photographed enjoying a noggin of beer in a temporary bar.

The temporary bar was built to accommodate drinkers while a replacement hotel was under construction, in 1965. The Harp Hotel is Wollongong’s oldest licensed premises, established as a coaching inn, and which continues to trade in Corrimal Street.

Billy was just five years old when he first visited the bar of the Harp Hotel with his grandfather.

The original coaching inn, opened in 1839, was demolished and replaced with the Harp Billy knew for most of his life, in 1896.

William Clifton Patrick arrived in Wollongong as a boy, and as a teenager he gained work as a baker. By the time he was 30 he owned his own bakery in West Wollongong.

A retired 69-year-old Billy, who I believed was a bachelor, lived in nearby Market Square, when he was interviewed by the Illawarra Mercury in 1965.

It’s not known what the old baker thought of the demise of his old pub and its sterile replacement, with its chrome and laminated tables and chairs, and tiled floors and walls. But, I would risk a guess he wasn’t impressed with his new pub.

The “new” Harp Hotel, Wollongong, 1965. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Billy Fitzpatrick in the newly opened bar of the Harp Hotel, Wollongong, 1965. Picture: Australian National University.

When the new Harp opened on July 28 1965, Billy continued to frequent its bar. We know this because he is captured in a Tooth & Company Brewery photograph, pictured sitting alone in the public bar, looking a little forlorn, drinking a seven ounce glass of beer, with his newspaper and a smouldering ashtray sitting on the table, arguably lamenting the loss of his old Harp.

William Clifton Fitzpatrick didn’t live long after this photograph was taken, and he died later that year at the age of 69.

He went to the Harp with his grandfather

BILLY Fitzpatrick of Market Square, went to work with the City’s milkman, Charlie Price, at the same age that he became a regular at the Harp Hotel.
He earned 2/6 a week.
“I walked from house to house, carrying four gallons of milk, two each hand,” he recalled yesterday as he downed a glass of ale in a temporary bar at the back of the Harp Hotel.
The Harp, the City’s oldest pub, is being pulled down to make way for a new building.
For Billy Fitzpatrick the old Harp has been like a second home.
“I’ll be 69 in May, you know,” he remarked.
“My grandfather ushered me through the swinging doors of the Harp at the age of five and I have been a ‘regular’ since.
I didn’t touch the beer until my ‘teens, but I would sing a song for the ‘locals’ and collect a halfpenny to buy biscuits.
“I have known all the important people in Wollongong in my time and drunk with many of them at the Harp. I knew ‘King’ Billy, the lot”.
The Fitzpatricks moved to Wollongong from Cooma in the late 1890s.
At the age of 17 Billy decided to become baker and started with a leading firm.
He is a veteran of two world wars.
In 1914 he travelled with the 18th battalion as a pastry cook. “They sent me all over France to feed the boys,” he said.
“In the 1940-45 war, I marched with the 13th battalion. I was in the transport division.”
After the war, Billy opened his own bakery at West Wollongong, in late 1945, but retired several years back when Southern Bakeries moved in.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021


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