The rich history of stale beer: Shoal Bay Country Club

There is something magical about the pub. Somehow the sweating condensation of the glass, the stale smell of spilt beer and the buzz of chatter all merge together to create an atmosphere that feels homely to all. Across the humble pub table there have been plenty of friendships forged, plans hatched and memories made. And as a result, pub walls have no doubt bore witness to some of the critical moments of history. Whether it be the Great Depression, the World Wars or even more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, pubs have played a pivotal role in linking the experiences of locals with the history of the international. To view this first hand, one need look no further than the Shoal Bay Country Club which is a restaurant, bar, cafe and live music space situated on the shores of Shoal Bay.

Miscellaneous photos of SBCC found at the site.

The venue was bought by new owners in 2016 and underwent major renovations that saw the weathered old pub transformed into the now dreamy ‘Watson’s Bay’ inspired space. For locals, it’s the watering hole and for tourists, it’s the chosen destination for afternoon drinks after a big day at the beach. Whilst originally a Fishing and Games Club, the site was transitioned to a pub in 1934 and has operated as such ever since. During this time it has been temporarily made the WWII headquarters for British and American troops, accidentally burnt down by a guest and more recently experienced extended closures due to the pandemic. Upon this framework hundreds of thousands of visitors have stepped through the Shoal Bay Country Clubs doors, bringing with each of them their own experiences that forge the other, just as important, local and personal history of the pub.

Yet all of this history is subject to be forgotten. New ownership and mass renovations have meant that one of the few historical archives- four large framed photos and accompanying historical descriptions of the SBCC- have been taken down and are currently collecting dust in the storeroom. The only written history at the moment is a two page summary of the previous owners of the pub which includes multiple wrong dates and limited information. Other odd bits and pieces were also thrown into this mix. One such item was a framed written poem from the parents and kids who stayed there over the 1978 holidays to the ‘entertainment manager’ named Rowley Jenkins. In their poem that thanked Mr Jenkins for “making sure we’re all contented” and “teaching us the Shoal Bay Shuffle”. Another was mounted advertisements for the SBCC that are written in a strange language that is not quite English but also not quite not. So what does all of this mean? What was the Shoal Bay Shuffle? Who is the audience of the strange language? It is questions like these that might be left unanswered if the history of the Shoal Bay Country Club is not properly addressed.

One of the advertisements. Whilst the titles are written in English, the fine print is (for me) unreadable. Was it a sample poster written in jibberish or a modified English language? Or is there an audience for this language?

My ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ project is a great opportunity to spend some time amongst these archives and create a written historical record of the pub which can be kept for future use or published on their website. I plan on also including a virtual interactive timeline which highlights the intersection of SBCC within international history. This project would be further complemented by conducting interviews with older locals, who might be able to clarify some of the more confusing elements of the archives.

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