The Bullocky: Politics in the pub

A bullocky and his team passing the Clifton Inn early last century

A bullocky and his team passing the Clifton Inn early last century


BREAKING that unwritten rule of never discussing politics and religion at the pub can have dire consequence.  Some people learn the hard way: like Bulli bullocky James Robinson.

Robinson was a new arrival to the parochial little coal-mining village of Bulli and was causing quite a stir with his outspoken political views. While driving his bullocks through Old Bulli Village to his home on the mountain pass one autumn day in 1872 he was invited to join a couple of blokes for a drink at the Railway Hotel.

Better known to locals at the time as the Miners’ Arms, the Railway Hotel, along with Old Bulli’s three other pubs, have long disappeared. The pub closed in 1913 and was demolished in the 1940s. It sat on the eastern side of the Prince’s Highway, opposite Hobart Street near Bulli Public School.

From the low slung verandah, John Daley, who was known to the law for hitting the grog and generally getting himself into strife, called to the bullocky as he passed the timber inn to come and join him for an ale.

Thirsty, the bullocky obliged and pulled up his team to wet his whistle with the pub’s only customers, Daley and his mate, Jim Madden.

At the bar, hostess, Rose Floyd pulled the bullock driver a drink and the conversation turned to Robinson’s favourite subject – politics. The bullocky and his new found drinking mates had differing views on the election of a local MP and heated words quickly escalated into something a little nastier.

Realising he had broken the unwritten law of no politics at the bar, and more importantly knowing he was outnumbered, he attempted to leave. But it was too late.

Daley dragged him by the collar back into the bar where Madden was waiting with rolled up sleeves to beat some political sense into the ‘ring-in’. The two began laying into Robinson.

Bruised and battered he remembered he still had his tool of trade, the trusty bullock whip by his side. Robinson lashed out with the whip, but to no avail, and was copping a hiding.

The fight was brought to a stop when hostess, Rose called for her husband John to intervene. Now John, better known to his customers as Jack, was no stranger to fighting, especially in a pub that was notorious for rowdy coal miners. Floyd, also moonlighting as Bulli’s butcher, was known for his pugilistic skills and, as he had done on countless occasions before, quickly brought peace back to his bar and sent the men on their way.

Robinson, humiliated after his beating, summoned Madden and Daley to the Wollongong Court of Petty Sessions to answer his charges of assault in March 1872.

However, the court dismissed the case for lack of witnesses.

No doubt host Floyd’s daily encounters with brawling coal miners enabled him too busy at his Bulli pub and he had no time to worry about appearing as a witness for a ring-in bullocky who carelessly broke a sacred bar law.

Bullocky Robinson’s lesson in bar etiquette that Autumn morning, hopefully for his own safety, would have encouraged him to think twice before again discussing politics at one of Bulli’s toughest watering holes.

© Copyright 2014 Mick Roberts

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