“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





01 December 2008


Victory Hotel publican Douglas Govan fondles his pot of gold at his Rudderless Vineyard behind his Victory Hotel on Sellicks Hill, McLaren Vale, South Australia. That's another view of the vineyard, above, with the Gulf St. Vincent in the background.

SPEECH for the OPENING of the NEW BAR AND CELLAR at the VICTORY HOTEL, Sunday 30th November 2008


Thanks Douglas.

I’m going to talk awhile about the nature of names as much as those very special qualities which mark the nature of a successful public house.

Public houses are places people attend to enjoy indulgent luxuries and wickedness they cannot otherwise procure because they’re travelling – it’s too long; or luxuries and behaviours which would simply not be tolerated at home – it’s too hard.

Such naughtiness ranges from extreme gushings of bullshit to spilling stuff on the carpet, through, until recently, to burning holes in the carpet, to the more traditional outrage of using the carpet through friction to burn holes in elbows and knees while scorching the gluteus maximus muscles of somebody else.

Metaphorically, of course.

Given the economies of the day, the publican varyingly tolerates, facilitates, and even encourages such behaviours, and the cleverest among publicans are those which can routinely manage all three, whilst keeping a clean nose, and ensuring those customers, and sometimes also those regular customers’ partners in life, reoffend with impunity.

While beer has been popular for some 8000 years, we don’t know who first made its drinking something that should be supervised by publicans in public houses, but I’m sure it didn’t take long.

There are references to such establishments in Chinese literature several thousands of years back, but one of the earliest writings to make pubs sound rather fascinating to the young Philip White came from the Gospel According To Matthew. It was read to the congregation of the Presbyterians at Childers, in the mountains of east Victoria, by Philip’s Father, the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, in about 1958.

And it referred to wine, not beer.

As if to prepare me for Shakespeare, who plied his thirty thousand word vocabulary at Stratford while the royal scribes across in London and Oxbridge were limited to five thousand as they worked on the King James Version of the Bible, my Father the preacher of course used that translation.

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation?” Jesus asks.

“It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows. And saying, ‘We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented’.

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He hath a devil!’.

“The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’.”

1,950 years later there was an essay competition.

“I won it with an entry under my own name”, Douglas Govan told me earlier this year.

“And I also came third with another entry under another name.

“With the winnings I bought a Sony amplifier. I had no speakers or anything. Just the amp. I’d turn it on and marvel at the little green light. There was a Japanese kid at school with big stereo headphones. He let me try them on and once I was in there – like wow! Stereo! Suddenly I understood. I got right into music. I got into some serious platter-spinning. The wheels of steel. Within a few years I was running nightclubs, and eventually made enough money to buy a pub.”

So Douglas has been here since 1989, doing renovations and rebuilds in brave, tasteful waves, which are directly relative, of course, to the numbers of sinners, apostles, and sons of gods he entertains here.

Before the mighty rebuild we celebrate today, Douglas’s last big spend was on three bed and breakfast establishments just up the hill. While these are highly convenient and polite, I think somewhere in there, back with the gamblers, Douglas should build a copy of the Great Bed Of Ware (see picture at bottom of this page), which at three metres by four in acreage, was famous for holding around twenty passengers at a time. In Billy the Shakespaw’s day this mighty cot resided in another great pub, the White Hart Inn in Hertfordshire, and the Bard referred to it in Twelfth Night, where Sir Andrew Aguecheek is urged to write down enough lies to fill a sheet 'big enough for the bed of Ware'.

Speaking of the gluteus maximus muscles, the surname Aguecheek reflects not on the bearer’s capacity to score carpetburns upon his arse, but is a slightly more polite version of quakebuttock, a popular term for the sweaty, quivering cowards of that day.

Built by Hertfordshire carpenter Jonas Fosbrooke in about 1590, the bed’s four grand posts are carved with the names of some of those lucky enough to have sailed in her. She went to The Saracen’s Head, another Ware inn, until 1870, and now lies restored but tragically unused in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Which brings us to another great pub, the Boar’s Head. As Christian beliefs overtook pagan customs in Europe, the presentation of a boar's head at Christmas came to symbolize the triumph of Christ over sin. So young Will Shakepaws appropriately named the favourite watering hole of that corpulent and profane reprobate Sir John Falstaff The Boar’s Head.

This pub was at Southwark, where, coincidentally, lived the German woodworkers who'd helped build the Great Bed Of Ware. The real Boar's Head had been owned by the warrior John Fastolf, who in hearty simile to the playwrite’s name Shake Spear, (which he often signed Shakes Paw – a walloper of one’s cods) became John Fall Staff, a character quite the opposite of John the Baptist, who neither ate nor drank but did carry a staff til Salome secured the falling of his head.

The Boar's Head Inn, outside the City of London's medieval walls on the northeast, had long been a venue for play-acting in previous decades, and Shakespeare easily modified it for use as the vehicle in which Head Bore, Fall Staff famously fell asleep, drunk.

In Richard IV, Falstaff’s there drinking at two oclock in the morning with prince Henry.

enter BARDOLPH, running

"O, my lord, my lord! the sheriff with a most monstrous watch is at the door."


"The sheriff and all the watch are at the door: they are come to search the house. Shall I let them in?"

It appears that the Sheriff’s looking for Falstaff over the little matter of a big stack of stolen money.

Prince Henry sends Falstaff to hide behind the arras, which, like denim, the characteristic cloth of Nimes - de Nimes - was an abbreviation for the rich tapestries and brocades made in the French town of Arras. The word came to refer to such tapestries, which usually bore heroic images of hunts or great battles, and which were hung in pubs to hide drafty unused doorways, annexes or snugs.

“Go, hide thee behind the arras”, the Prince tells Sir John.

As I’m talking about names, their meanings, and the way these change, Hardy’s or BRL or Galaxy or Heavens Above - or whoever they're currently called - that supplied this beautiful Tassie fizz we're gurgling should shout Douglas an arras as he now has the perfect location for one in his sumptuous new cellars.

Prince Henry assures the Sheriff that his quarry – as fat as butter – is not in the pub, so the sheriff leaves.

“This oily rascal is known as well as St Paul's” says the future king. “Go, call him forth”.

But Falstaff’s fast asleep behind the arras, snorting like a horse. They go through his pockets, looking for the money, but find only the day’s account from the pub.

Item, A capon (a chook),. . 2s. 2d.
Item, Sauce,. . . 4d.
Item, Sack (that’s sherry), two gallons, 5s. 8d.
Item, Anchovies and sack after supper, 2s. 6d.
Item, Bread, a halfpenny.

“O monstrous!” yells the Prince. “but one half-penny-worth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!"

Sir John drinks in many public houses, and handily repairs to one called The Garter Inn after having been thrown into the Thames.

“Have I lived to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher's offal, and to be thrown in the Thames?” he roars in the MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. “Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in't”.

In those days they served steaming hot sherry in large mugs, with a crouton or two floating on top. The sherry, which was yellow and sweet, and made before the invention of flor fino, was often so stinky and cloudy they also stirred in an egg or two to clarify it, much as we clarify consomme or indeed wines in barrel.

“Let me pour in some sack to the Thames water; for my belly's as cold as if I’d swallowed snowballs for pills to cool the reins. Call her in” Falstaff orders of the barmaid. But when Mistress Quickly arrives, he roars again “Take away these chalices. Go brew me a pottle of sack finely”.

“With eggs, sir?” she asks.

“Simple of itself” he gurgles; “I'll have no pullet-sperm in my brewage”.

“A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it” Sir John trumpeted. “It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use. Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.”

A few hundred years later The South Australian in 1845 praised “the extensive and rich valley of McLaren … where almost the whole of the country inns visited on this trip are neatly and cleanly kept … everywhere the traveller meets with civility and attention … and there was no lack of good viands”. Going by the amount of sherry grape varieties then planted hereabouts, these abundant good viands must have included a fair potage of Sir John’s peculier petrol.

But this Victory was then not yet built.

I’d always thought, like hundreds of other pubs throughout the British Empire, that this establishment was named after the mighty vessel upon which Lord Nelson asked his mate Hardy for “a bit more tongue” then up and died.

I liked this possibility, because the Victory had been more successfully employed off the Portuguese coast in the battle of Cabo de São Vincente – Cape St Vincent - on 18 January, 1797, under Admiral Sir John Jervis, who thence took the title Lord St Vincent and became First Lord of The Admiralty, in which position he awarded passports to the French ships which sailed from his Channel to this coast, captained by Nicholas Baudin, under the sponsorship of Charles Pierre Claret, the Comte de Fleurieu, Senator, member of the Institute of France, former Minister of Marine, governor of the palate of Versailles, and intendant-general of Napoleon's household.

Baudin, of course, named this water Golfe Josephine, after Bonaparte’s mistress, unaware that by the time his charts got back to Paris Boney’d swapped Josephine for Marie Louise.

But before the French cartographers changed Baudin’s maps, Flinders named this glittering stretch of water St Vincent after his sponsor. It’s perchance that Baudin's maps reside in the Bibliotech, opposite Willy’s Wine Bar in the Rue Petit Champs in Paris. Henri Paul, the ex SAS man who drove Princess Diana to her death, drank, sometimes heavily, in Willy’s as he lived directly upstairs and always left his Mini Cooper S parked crooked on the footpath outside. Diana of course was a Spencer, and it was her ancestor, George John, the Second Earl Spencer and first Lord of the Admiralty, after whom Flinders named the other Gulf, which Baudin called Bonaparte.

It’s simply opportune that Vincent was not just the patron of viticulturers, but also of vinegar makers, lost stuff, and schoolgirls.

When Douglas named his wine brand Rudderless, he reinforced my naive belief that this Victory was named for Nelson’s vessel after its great Victory at the Cabo St Vincente, around which smart caravels for centuries carried sherris sack from Spain to the likes of Falstaff and the lads in The Boar’s Head, just as this gulf (St Vincent) and this cape (Cape Jervis - at the toe of The Fleurieu) see today’s enormous wine exports sail off for the public houses of London.

The names of Australian public houses often referred to things royal. If the King sought to go to war, he’d have to build a navy, so he planted Royal Oak, or Kingswood. The Great Eastern and Great Western hotels, of which Australia has many, were named after the biggest vessels of their day, both built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was the consultant engineer on the Goolwa – Victor Harbour railway, here on our beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula. The Exeter was named after that temple of enlightenment, Exeter Hall in London, where Wilberforce held his world-changing rallies against slavery, the first emancipationists met, and the meetings for the establishment of the South Australia Company were held. Rising Sun Hotels, which are everywhere, either face east or sit on eastern pavements. This pub, indeed, would make a perfect Rising Sun.

It took Chris Davies, of Willunga, to set me right about this Victory, and point out that the old coach road that passes outside here from Sellicks Hill to Pages Flat Road was originally named The Victory Road, not after any vessel, but after the victory of Aldinga Council Chairman John Norman who was instrumental in pushing this road through to Myponga and Yankalilla.

The ceremony to open the road was held on Tuesday, March 15th 1859 at this new inn, and at the celebratory dinner which ensued, this great public house was named Norman’s Victory in the hope that it would be a perpetual commemoration of the councillor’s achievement.

So, in the spirit of Sir John Falstaff, and his foremost Australian equivalent, the NSW Premier Sir John Robertson, who upon visiting these shores in 1860 drily observed

"None of the men who in this country have left footprints behind them have been cold water men",

I urge you to pack your pottles with sack, put a toast on it, and drink one to the gulf the Kaurna called Wongayerlo - the place where the sun disappears – and to all publicans and sinners, to Douglas Govan and his mighty Victory, where each day the sun arises, to all who sail in her, and in honest expectation that if Jesus came back today, the first thing he’d do would gather the lads up from their clambake down there on Galilee, and wander up the dusty Victory track for a few long loud ones in this beautiful new cellar and bar.

To the Victory!


1 comment:

Wet Ears said...

I want you to read that to me.