Shoal Bay Country Club

I wonder how many people who have sat down for a beer at the Shoal Bay Country Club (SBCC) have at some stage in their lives thumbed through the pages of The History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides? Or immersed themselves in the history of the Holocaust? Which patrons love to spend a rainy afternoon snuggled up reading a Peter Fitzsimons novel, or sit down on a Friday night to watch a documentary on Pompeii? Quite a fair few, I’m sure. In the same breath, there must also be many who wouldn’t fancy any of these options, occupied instead with, say, something sciencey or sporty or arty. And that’s fair enough! Everyone is different. Or maybe, just maybe, is the way in which we traditionally tell history inclined to appeal to a particular audience, thereby rendering itself inaccessible to the rest of society? 

Conducting an investigation into the history of the Shoal Bay Country Club got me thinking about the correlation between how we write history and who engages with history. When I was sorting through the archives of the venue, I was intrigued to learn of the role of the SBCC in WWII, and find out about the fire that partially destroyed the building in the 1950s. When conducting further research, I immersed myself in the Aboriginal history of the area and came across extensive newspaper coverage of a missing SBCC guest in 1949, who was presumed dead. My first instinct was to collate all of these pieces into one streamlined historical account of the venue. I acted on this and completed a 12 page ‘History of the SBCC’ that includes all the photos, drawings, cartoons and anecdotes I collected from both the venue and further research. Yet whilst this was a step in the right direction, it didn’t feel right that the history of a pub was exclusively located in a written document, accessible primarily to the few who actively attempted to seek it out. What format of history was most appealing to a crowd of beer drinking, holiday going patrons? As I pondered this question whilst sipping on my drink at the public bar of the SBCC, the answer lay right underneath my Lychee Lane cocktail… 

The beer coaster originated from somewhere in Germany in the 1880s, and was formally manufactured by the print shop Friedrich Horn. For centuries, coasters have absorbed condensation, prevented spillages and at one point or another been the object on which a mobile number has hastily been written and handed to an unsuspecting target. Scattered across pub tables and used by nearly everyone, this object offers the perfect canvas upon which to incorporate small, bite sized pieces of history to beer drinking patrons about the venue they sit in.

SBCC during WWII design: Front of coaster

To action this plan, I drafted five different designs. Each of them represents a ‘moment’ in the history of the SBCC. On one side is a date and few sentence summary about the particular era, and on the reverse is a collage of photos from both that period as well as others. If eventually implemented, I believe the coasters could kickstart conversations, inform patrons and engage a certain audience in the history of the venue who may not have otherwise had any means of doing so. When reopening the venue in 2018, new owner Andrew Lazarus stated that “we wanted to reignite this passion with the refurb and bring something fresh and exciting to the Port Stephens area whilst ensuring the hotel’s history has been preserved.” Achieving the desired balance between the past, the present and the future requires innovative approaches to the telling of history, and I hope that I have in some part contributed to the objective.

SBCC during WWII design: Back of coaster

‘History beyond the classroom’ has been a whirlwind of managing expectations, tackling unanticipated obstacles and adapting to change. My project is far from over, but my appreciation for the weird and wonderful world of history and history-making has never been greater. I am excited to continue to watch my project with the SBCC unfold and look forward to future historical endeavours of this nature.


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.