BOOK PREVIEW – Money, Tough Love and Sunshine
WHAT’S A SCHOONER?
Tuesday October 12th, 1918
Alfie Norrington disembarked from the SS Kalyan into Sydney, a city which he believed held a wonderful future for him. The light, the colours, the brightness and the glorious sunshine made Alfie squint and it was such a contrast to the colours he was used to in East London which tended to be grey or dark, even when the sun was shining it did so through a gentle haze that diminished the glare. In Sydney the glare was perfectly apparent and he loved it. It was early spring in Australia and wherever he looked he sensed and felt warmth. From the buildings in The Rocks, to the people that were going about their business. Sydney Harbour itself glistened and shimmered like a million precious jewels and ploughing through her waters were boats of all shapes and sizes. The Sydney ferries quietly going about their work, transporting people to various parts of the Harbour, to and from Circular Quay. A flotilla of tiny sailboats all racing around three buoys off to the east of Bennelong Point and commercial ships coming and going into Sydney docks being Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo finger wharf. Alfie walked up George Street to his hotel and stopped along the way for a cup of tea and to read the local paper, The Sydney Morning Herald. The war seemed to be nearing a conclusion but several battles were still raging, all of which were pushing the Germans into retreat. Everyday saw young men becoming wounded or dying in pointless battles. What a tremendous sacrifice these young men were making, from all corners of the Empire they came and now from America. This ludicrous war really pissed off Alfie. The waste of young lives, the destruction, the mental anguish for some all seemed pointless to Alfie. He hated war.
Alfie read that Australia’s population at the commencement of the war was five million from which four hundred and seventeen thousand young men enlisted to fight. They fought battles that were literally on the other side of the world. Sixty-two thousand of these young men were killed and one hundred and fifty-six thousand were either injured or taken as prisoners of war. Surely this took a toll on those that stayed behind and Australia would definitely be effected in one way or another for many years to come, thought Alfie.
He had asked for his trunk to be delivered to the Metropolitan Hotel on George and Bridge Streets intersection, where he had booked a room for a month until he got settled. He continued to walk up along George St to the Hotel and was pleasantly surprised how convivial the Sydneysiders were. A number greeted Alfie with “good morning” and most people smiled and nodded as they went about their business. Unlike the East End, he saw few beggars and none of them were children. Alfie checked in, was given the keys to his room and he took the lift to the fourth floor. He found the room to be tidy without being spectacular, went back to reception and asked the man at reception to ensure his trunk was taken to his room once it arrived and tipped the man to carry out this task. Alfie walked out onto the street determined to discover a shop that could sell him a detailed map of Sydney and to find an estate agent which, in Sydney, he soon came to realise, was known as a Real Estate agent. He bought the map and was told that there was a well-respected real estate agent at the South end of Castlereagh St which is where he then headed. He was met by a big man with a ruddy red face and a waistline that Alfie thought had grown to that size through very good living. “G’day mate, my name’s John Murphy, how can
I be of help?”
“I’m Alfie Norrington,” they shook hands. “I’ve just arrived in Sydney and I am looking for a flat to buy, I ‘ave no idea where I should live or what the prices are so I am after your ‘elp.”
“No worries, mate. Come in and take a seat, I’ll educate ya,” said John with a genuine smile on his face.
After an hour of questions and answers from both men, John made a suggestion. “Now, Alfie, I got an idea. We should go for a late lunch and a few Schooners. Then I can list for you the suburbs where you can get a two-bedroom flat, close to the City and has all you have said that you want. Once you’ve picked the location, I supply you with a list of properties for sale that meet your requirements and fit within your 400 pound budget.”
“Luverly, John, but what’s a schooner?”
“Come wiv me mate, I’ll show ya.” They walked about 20 yards and entered a pub called the Surrey Hotel where John ordered, “Two schooners of Recshes thanks, and a couple of dogs eyes wiv dead horse.”
“Ah, so schooners are beer glasses, but what the fuck are dogs eyes and dead horse?”
“They’re pies, mate, and this pub makes delicious pies with tomato sauce. Here they come.” They took their beers and pies and a bottle of tomato sauce and found a table in the corner. “Here’s looking up your old address, mate,” said John.
“Cheers,” said Alfie, “nice to meet you, John.” After three pies and three Schooners, Alfie was feeling a little off colour, not from the pies, they were delicious. It was the beer as it seemed much stronger than English beer and served very cold. Fortunately, John had finished his list of suburbs for Alfie who hastily beat a retreat and told John he would be in touch as soon as he found a suburb that seemed nice.
The next few days saw Alfie wandering around a list of suburbs, all of which were close to the City. Alfie was having a grand old time acquainting himself with them. He visited Camperdown which was a bit industrial, Annandale which was very nice, Glebe and Pyrmont, both of which Alfie didn’t like as they reminded him a little of Mile End. Woolloomooloo was too scruffy but there was a pub there called The Tilbury Hotel that made him smile. Surry Hills and Paddington, both not quite right. John warned Alfie that the suburbs of Darlinghurst and Kings Cross were very seedy so to avoid them. Alfie took a ferry to Milsons Point and Kirribilli, the latter he loved. It was a short trip by ferry across the harbour and Alfie liked the concept of getting away. He could achieve magnificent harbour views, and he liked the laid-back feel of the place. You could almost touch the City but could also be a million miles from it. Yup, he would go back to see John early tomorrow morning and get a feel as to what he has for sale in Kirribilli.
With house hunting partially out of the way, he sought out Trev’s Mother as he wanted to meet with her as soon as was possible. Her address was on the envelope and he asked for the assistance of the receptionist at the hotel to obtain her telephone number, if in fact one existed. Twenty minutes later, the receptionist had indeed uncovered Mrs Chambers telephone number and asked if Alfie would like to be connected. Alfie went into a phone booth of sorts in the lobby of the hotel, the phone rang, and he picked it up and heard a woman’s voice on the other end of the line. “Hello, are you there?” said a frail sounding voice.
“’Ello Mrs Chambers, its Alfie Norrington ‘ere, I was in hospital wiv your son and I wrote to you from England a few times.”
“Oh yes, I remember, good to hear your voice, Alfie.”
“I ‘ave recently arrived in Sydney and would really like to meet up wiv you to pass on some fings that Trev asked me to ensure that you received.”
“Oh that would be lovely, Alfie. When would you have time to meet?”
“Anytime that suits you, Mrs Chambers, any time at all.”
“Well, Friday is good. How about 12.00 noon? My address is 38 Wolseley Road, Point Piper. I am looking forward to meeting you, Alfie. Perhaps we will have a light lunch and sit outside if the weather is conducive?”
“Luverly,” said Alfie. “I look forward to meeting you then, Mrs Chambers.”
“Oh Alfie, please call me Maud, it makes me sound younger.”
“Will do, Maud. See you tomorrow.”
Alfie felt relieved that he had made contact and that tomorrow he can fulfil his pledge to poor old Trev.
It was around 4.00 in the afternoon and Alfie decided to find a pub and try again with Sydney beer that had left him feeling queasy. There was no shortage of pubs in Sydney with one on every corner and some in-between. He chose the first pub he came to and men were five deep at the bar knocking back schooners of beer as if there was about to be a world shortage and they needed to get their fill before this catastrophic event occurred. Alfie went in search of a quieter pub, but to no avail as he tried three more pubs and the same insane behaviour was occurring. He went back to the Metropolitan and asked the receptionist what the heck was going on.
“It’s the start of the six o’clock swill, Mr Norrington. If you would like a quiet drink, our guest-only bar is on the third floor and we do have a public bar on Bridge St.” Alfie chose the latter and found the bar to be heaving with men all seemingly intent to drink the place dry. Alfie fought his way to the bar, ordered a schooner of Reschs then retreated to the relative safety of a table, rested his beer and watched the circus play out in front of him. “’Scuse me, mate,” Alfie asked one of the participants, “Why is everybody drinking as if the world is about to end?”
“Well, mate, it’s licensing laws. They changed a couple of years back with all pubs now closing their doors at 6 o’clock sharp. The blokes try to drink as much as they can between knocking off time and 6 o’clock. Look at ‘em go.”
“Can you get a drink after 6.00 in Sydney?”
“Only in the illegal sly grog establishments which are expensive and are often raided by the bloody cops.”
“Fanks for you ‘elp, mate.”
“No worries, ‘ave a good ‘un.”
Instantly, Alfie began to think and it seemed as clear as day: There was an opportunity for Alfie to do what he did in London. If people were forced by law to drink after 6.00 p.m. in unlicensed premises, then there must be plenty of premises, the sly-grog joints, and therefore plenty of opportunity for Alfie’s business. The owners of these establishments would probably have an issue in buying quality liquor and he saw a chance in this, not dissimilar to the operation he and brother Jack ran in London. He walked back to the quiet bar at the Metropolitan and asked one of the staff for a pencil and some paper. Alfie’s research, that he undertook at the London University Library some months ago, indicated that there were 830,000 people living in greater Sydney with 110, 000 living in the City itself. If 10% of the City dwellers only, not considering those outside of the city, went to a sly-grog premises twice a week, that would be about 3,200 people drinking illegally every single night of the week. Alfie, being very cautious in his calculations, guessing that there were possibly 30 sly-grog shops in Sydney. If half of them became his customers, taking two cases of fine spirits each week, or 30 per week, it would be exactly the same number that he, Jack and Victoria were moving in the East End. The question for Jack was: Could he provide Alfie with a contact in the docks who could ship 120 cases each month to Alfie? If that were the case, it would require Alfie to safely get the grog off the wharves. He would need to bypass customs then store the booze somewhere safe. Finally, he would need to set up a distribution channel. His first task was to write to Jack, to see if this idea was possible then to begin a list of sly grog joints he could approach. Alfie had been living in Sydney for less than a week but was already getting stuck in and felt that he was progressing. That night, he wrote to Jack outlining his ideas and seeking answers to his questions. Alfie was excited and looking forward to tomorrow.