A pub with no beer

By Martin Gleeson

In 1904 Dan Sheahan and his brother Ben left Barleyhill, Newmarket, Co. Cork to emigrate to Australia. Dan was the eldest of a family of 14 and had attended just a few years in the local school.

After Dan and Ben had reached Melbourne, they worked in the city for a few years, but they were country lads. They preferred the countryside and they moved to New South Wales where they bought 600 acres of land with the money they had saved.

In 1915 Dan joined the 13th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces. He saw active service in France and Flanders and participated in the Battles of the Somme and Messines. While in the trenches he wrote several poems.

After the war, using the £75 from his deferred soldier’s pay, he bought 40 hectares of land in Queensland. He cleared the land and began harvesting sugar cane. He married a local girl, Molly Walsh, originally from Co. Limerick and they started a family.

Dan continued writing poetry and often his letters to his brothers and sisters back in Ireland were in verse! He got some of his poetry published in local newspapers and this earned him the title “Bush Balladist.”

During World War II there was only a limited amount of grain available to the Australian brewers so that the pubs were given just a quota of beer each week.

Sometimes the quota was used up days before the next delivery and the locals were not too happy.

One day in late 1943 Dan rode his horse the 20 miles from his farm to the town of Ingham. He was looking forward to having a drink of cool beer in the Day Dawn Hotel. However, a group of American servicemen from the 22nd Bomb Group, travelling north from Townsville to Cairns had consumed all the beer on the previous evening.

Dan was not amused, and to show his annoyance as he sat in the pub drinking a glass of tepid wine, he wrote a poem called ‘A Pub Without Beer’.

Dan’s poem contains these lines:

It is lonely away from your kindred and all

In the bushland at night where the wild warrigals call.

But there’s nothin’ on earth as lonely and drear

As to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

On the following year, Dan’s poem was published in the local newspaper The North Queensland Register.

Gordon Parsons came from a dairy farm at Mt Kalang, between Bellingen and Dorrigo, in New South Wales. After winning second prize in a radio talent show, Gordon started his career as a country music singer and songwriter.

In 1954, someone handed Gordon a scrap of paper containing Dan Sheahan’s poem ‘A Pub Without Beer’. Using this poem as a basis, Gordon fleshed out it out with word portraits of patrons like the maid, the cook, the stockman, the swagman, the blacksmith and the dog. He was familiar with those characters from drinking in his local bar, the Cosmopolitan Hotel in the settlement of Taylor’s Arm.

When music was added, Gordon had the song that made him famous.

Oh it’s lonesome away from your kindred and all

By the campfire at night we’ll hear the wild dingoes call

But there’s ‘a nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear

Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

Gordon began performing the song in public and folks seemed to like it.

Australia’s First Gold Record

While Gordon was touring with Slim Dusty, Slim told him he was one song short for a four-song 78rpm record and he would like to use ‘A Pub with No Beer’.

Even though this song was put on the B-side of Slim’s record, it became a massive hit all over Australia. It became the first Australian single to earn a gold record and the first Australian record to enter the UK charts, reaching No. 3 in 1959. It became a number 1 in Ireland. Over the years, it has been recorded by folk singers all over the world, including Johnny Cash, Foster & Allen, The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners.

In 1960 Lees Hotel, in Ingham, Queensland, replaced the Day Dawn Hotel.

Today, it exhibits artifacts, memorabilia and photographs of its early days as the “pub with no beer.” It is popular with tourists who like to have a drink there while they remember Cork man Dan Sheahan and are relieved that this pub has plenty of beer.

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