The Australian Bar and Restaurant – New York

New York city is so rich in culture and diversity, it is mind blowing Darryl. They have a channel that plays baseball 24 hours… a… day. Some of the bars have more than 20 televisions, each one playing a sporting event of real cultural significance. You should see The Australian Bar and Restaurant. It’s more Australian than Australia…

A young Tasmanian girl approached the bar on Saturday afternoon and politely requested Land Down Under for the listening pleasure of patrons. She was just starting to get fired up. It was about 6pm in New York, Australia had been smashed 4-0 by Germany, and being a Sunday afternoon most of the patrons had cut their losses and busted out into the evening twilight to shake the memory of the emphatic loss. This little pumper however, was not about to let the 4 goal hiding get the better of her, and no sooner had she finished drowning out Men At Work with her own spirited vocals, she was back at the bar with a much noisier plea for I Still Call Australia Home. This time she was backed by a man wearing our flag as a cape and a couple of amused Americans who were keen to come along for the ride. They were all wearing the yellow World Cup t-shirts that we’d been flogging for 15 dollars over the bar.

Where are you from,’ I asked her.

‘Tasmania,’ she said.

‘How long have you been away from home?’

‘Two and a half years, I really really need this.’

Who was I to deny her these guilty pleasures? She had me wrapped around her little finger.

The song came on a few minutes later by which time she had gathered a bigger posse. They stumbled blindly through each verse before smashing the choruses, arm in arm, into oblivion.  By songs end the little Tasmanian, now affectionately known as Boony, was started to fatigue. When I got back to her she was slumping a little on the bar.

One more, she said, her index finger raised up to my eye level. This one’s gonna get you a big tip.’

‘Let me guess, True Blue?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘Waltzing Matilda.’

The sound system kicked into over drive. ‘Once a Jolly swagman camped by a Billabong… Boony and friends lifted about ten notches and sang with the kind of passion you’d expect from a group of larrikins bonded by beer and cheap green and gold shirts. I could do nothing but smile. The truth is, I can’t be cynical about Aussies abroad. I’d been out of the country three weeks and here I was at The Australian Bar and Restaurant pouring a river of Coopers and Fosters for Aussie punters. Boony sidled up to the bar, slipped me a fiver and a complimentary wink for good measure.  I’d done good. When I got home I stashed the Aussie World Cup T-Shirt into my bag. It could be a few years before I return to Australia, but when I do, that one’s going straight to the poolroom.

Comments

  1. pauldaffey says:

    Top little vignette, Mapo.

    When I was overseas, I alternated between cringing at the antics of You Beaut Aussies and feeling quite proud of their openness and verve.

    Was Khe Sanh played at any stage?

  2. Daff,

    Unfortunately there was no Khe Sanh.

    I have renewed respect for Chisel since reading Don Walker’s novel Shots.

    He apparently wrote several of the greats including Flame Trees, Cheap WIne and Khe Sanh.

    I’m sure they’re all on the computer backlog at The Australian Bar and Restaurant – NYC.

    Australia play at 10 am on Saturday which opens up Saturday afternoon for hours of anthems.

    I’m missing the Coney Island Mermaid Festival to help out at the bar, so the Socceroos better deliver.

  3. Ian Syson says:

    I’ve been told that there were very few Australian sappers ’round Khe Sanh and that the song is a tad fraudulent because it is targeted at an American audience. Is this tosh or is there a grain of truth?

  4. Dave Nadel says:

    Ian,
    I don’t think it was targeted at an American audience – Cold Chisel, like Skyhooks were part of the “new nationalism” of the 70s – but as far as I know there was not one single Australian soldier at Khe Sanh.

    John Schumann (former Maoist and current Vietnam Vet supporter and extreme Aussie left-Nationalist – at least in the days that he led Redgum) has rewritten the first line of Khe Sanh with Don Walker’s permission to read

    “I owe my life to the choppers at Long Tan”

    Which is historically accurate for Australians who survived Long Tan.

  5. Ian Syson says:

    Thanks Dave.
    Chisel did try to crack the American market though and the reference to Khe Sanh wouldn’t have hurt. The failure to succeed produces the song “You Got Nothing I Want” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_6NOIeziQQ

    I like the improved lyric. The more I think about this the more the songs seems dodgy.

    I guess it depends how we read the opening line: ‘I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh’. Does it imply that the soldiers were Australian?

  6. pauldaffey says:

    Mapo,

    I heard snippets from the Don Walker book on Radio National and loved it. I actually thought he was a great songwriter. I wore out a copy of East when I was a mid-teenager (although I must admit I lost interest in Chisel when I was 20).

    One of the Almanackers, Rod Gillett, is an old mate of Don’s from the University of New England. Don grew up in Grafton in northern NSW. The references to jacarandas in Flame Trees refers to the famous jacarandas in his home town.

    I think I want to go to a mermaid festival.

  7. Ian Syson says:

    No jacarandas in ‘Flame Trees’ Daff.

  8. pauldaffey says:

    You sure?

  9. Two things,

    When a triple J DJ outlined steadfast station

    rules to the listening audience, the most interesting one was his

    strict – NO Cold Chisel policy, lest they turn into Triple M.

    Meanwhile they were absolutely smashing Sarah Blasko’s cover of Flame Trees.

    and

    Barnesy certainly couldn’t have sung ‘oh the Jacarandas blind a weary driver.’

    I think Flame Trees could be metaphorical jacarandas, but only through October and November when they are in full bloom.

    He does talk about his home town a lot in the novel.

    Great stuff,

    Mermapo

  10. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    The first single released by Chisel off the album, Cold Chisel, was Khe Sanh, which was duly banned from air-play.

    I always recall taking Don to see a uni band in Armidale play a cover of Khe Sanh – it was the first time he had ever seen a band play a Chisel cover – he was blown away. Now, of course, several bands earning a living doing Chisel covers.

    When I first went to UNE in 1974 Cold Chisel were based in Armidale while Don did his honours in nuclear physics. Used to go and see them play in the Imperial Hotel on Friday nights – mostly Traffic and Free covers plus some Led Zep. Wonderful memories, considerably blurred by drinking lots of schooners of Tooheys New (brewed in Grafton).

  11. Mapo Snr says:

    Don Walker launched his first(?) book ‘Shots’ at the Byron Writer’s festival last year. I’m glad to see that copy is now touring the world. At these events authors are supposed to open up and bare their soul giving deep insights into the novel’s creation. Don Walker was having none of that – his replies to probing questions were mostly 6 words max – a standard song line length perhaps. But he did let one gem slip out. Growing up he was greatly influenced by Phantom comics and at that point being a huge fan myself, I listened with interest. He gave an example of the Phantom boarding a plane (generally a DC3 I think), with Devil at his side, hat, glasses, trench coat and trousers – the usual travelling disguise.
    Hostess: Excuse me Sir but you can’t bring that dog onto the plane.
    Ghost Who Walks: It’s not a dog ma’am, it’s a wolf.

    Don Walker (a relative of The Mr.Walker?: You just can’t beat prose like that.

    I had to agree and so lined up to purchase a book.

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