In honour of Clive James who died this week, today we’re going to peek inside the doors of one of the Sydney establishments that helped him along, the Newcastle Hotel on George Street.
Like the Newcastle Hotel, writer and critic Clive James has been gone from Sydney for quite a while, but he always maintained a strong connection. The self-described Kid from Kogarah, possibly the best known of the southern suburb’s cultural exports, left for London in the 1960s.
Prior to his departure, he had been part of the artistic and intellectual movement called the Sydney Push.
The Sydney Push, named in an ironic acknowledgement of the 19th century ‘pushes’ or gangs that menaced Sydney’s streets, was a group of intellectuals and artists that had formed in post World War II Sydney. After the upheaval of the Depression in the 1930s and the war in the 1940s, Australian society had become more stable in the Menzies era of the 1950s. Various left leaning and libertarian groups came into existence in reaction to what was perceived as a more bland and boring culture. As is the way with any good intellectual group, they started to squabble, splits occurred between factions, and eventually the Push came into being as a broader artistic group.
The Push included writers, artists, academics, journalists: people like Clive James, Frank Moorhouse, Wendy Bacon, Robert Hughes, George Molnar, Bob Ellis, Richard Neville (of OZ magazine), Germaine Greer and Martin Sharp among others.
One of the Push’s preferred drinking dens was the Newcastle.
The Newcastle, on the southern corner of George Street and Essex, towards the Rocks, had initially been a wharfies and workers pub. Erected on the site of an earlier hotel in 1914, by the 1920s it was already becoming part of Sydney’s artistic scene. The offices of book publisher Angus & Robertson were nearby, as were the Bulletin, the Julian Ashton Art School and Smith’s Weekly. From these the Newcastle, one of the closest pubs to all of them attracted a diverse mix of intellectuals and bohemians.
The scene was helped in no small part by the publican, a man named Jim Buckley who helped the local artists by staging exhibitions of their works on the walls of the front bar, even buying some for the hotel to help them out. His wall of ‘dud cheques’ spoke loudly of his generosity, accepting cheques from the struggling writers and artistic drinkers to help them out even though he probably knew their money was no good.
Buckley also allowed women to drink in the front bar, rather than the Ladies Lounge which was the norm for Sydney pubs at the time. This added to the bohemian atmosphere, something so normal now that it is difficult to imagine it ever having been different.
Although the Push pushed hard to challenge Sydney and Australia’s dullness, it was not enough to hold many of its better known members. Clive James, Germaine Greer, Richard Neville and Robert Hughes all moved on to England or America in the early and mid-1960s. The Newcastle moved on too, demolished in 1973 to make way for Sydney’s ever growing skyline.
Head to the Dictionary to read more about the Newcastle Hotel in Frank Moorhouse’s article here.
Mark Dunn is the former Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association and former Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here. Mark appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Mark!