Saturday, June 28, 2014


Sheila’s morphed into McGettigans in October, 1992 and is well known to the people in their mid-thirties group today. At that time most of this group, carrying their birth certificates or bus passes to show their age, were in their teens, from 12 - 17. No one over 18 was allowed entry.  It was best known for its supervised underage parties on a Friday night and with the first of the “HSC Results “parties in NSW.

It was first suggested as a trial by a NSW policeman, Larry, who did a lot of work with youth on the streets at the Cross who had just been released from detention.

“Lyn, Brian,” he said, “there is a big need for a safe place for kids to go.  Somewhere with supervision and without alcohol.  For all kids, not just for those with problems.”

So McGettigan’s was born.

 As reported in the SMH “Nights For Teen Dance But Alcohol Strictly Out.”
“A North Sydney nightclub has broken new ground by getting the support of police, council and the licensing courts to run weekly alcohol-free dance nights for under 18‘s. The licensing courts have not done this before, have not allowed clubs to deregulate, but we have the support of the North Sydney police and the Mayor, Gerry Nolan,’ Mrs. Mcgettigan said.’Something has to be done to provide entertainment for the youngsters,’ she added. Mrs. McGettigan said she and her husband would be on duty at the club to supervise the nights and would organize fleets of taxis to be there before the 12:30am closure. The club’s doormen would see youngsters into the cabs. Once the youngsters are in the club they will not be allowed to have pass outs to go on to the streets. But the club has a large garden at the back.”

Little did we know what a minefield we would be walking into and what misconceptions it would produce, especially in the mind of one headmistress of a girls’ school on the lower North Shore. She was convinced it was a hellhole where drugs, alcohol, brawls and heavens knows what else would take place. It actually turned out to be a place where all school kids, particularly those on the Lower North Shore could meet in safety. It was securely policed by the management, with the help of my mate Bernice, and the NSW police.

To be continued...

Do you have a McGettigans story to tell? Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE.

The content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan. Editor Jan Cornall and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sir Lunchalot

Another excerpt  from Tales of A Publicans Wife by Lyn McGettigan. Read more about her upcoming book here.

The term 'Sir Lunchalot' was popular before it was immortalised by the lengthy political Chinese banquets of the 80s and 90s and the political shenanigans of the that era. 

We had our 'Sir Lunchalots' and they did the term justice. Sheila’s drew the white collar workers of North Sydney for what was commonly called, 'the long lunch'. Various government Departments  did the tradition proud, the bank employees had to be hauled out by their respective bosses and told “lunch is one hour, boys and girls.” 

In fact, to reinforce this, often the banks would book a long table of 60, one for the 12 noon sitting, one for the 1pm sitting, to get them in and out and back to work on time. But the 'Lunchalot' boys made them all look like workaholics. 

Long lunches features in the TV series The Sopranos.

These guys, generally a core group of four, held very responsible jobs in four big corporations. They would get to work no later than 7am in the morning, which meant that they got most of their paperwork, office administration and phone calls completed by 11am. Their secretaries knew where to find them, but rarely were they interrupted in their pursuit of conviviality.

 The real business of the day began about noon. Today it would be called 'networking' as three three of these guys worked in inter-related industries, and the forth was a public servant. There were also the bosses of the interrelated businesses such as telecommunications and banking and the guys were all known to each other and were happy in each other’s company. 

I wasn’t privy to the business discussed, but there seemed to be utmost amiability. Billy, the wine waiter, was kept busy. So much so that he was constantly getting up from his traditional afternoon schooners of VB with The Boiler to replace their empty wine bottle. Mind you, the guys showed their appreciation handsomely. 

So, I’m sure that there was some business benefit to the lunches, but there was a huge benefit to Sheila’s and to Billy. The guys would often drink a dozen bottles of wine between noon and 8pm before their drivers came to take them home. Their wives may not have been happy, but they had nothing to worry about, other than inebriated spouses. These guys had principles and morals and the attractive girls that were a feature of the place were simply that – female drinkers.  Even the fashion parades we ran on a regular basis did not distract them too much from their conviviality.

Sheila’s blokes came from all walks of life and because of Sheila’s went their many, sometimes shattered, ways. Some got married because of Sheila’s, some were married at Sheila’s some were divorced because of Sheila’s. But all agreed that it was 'the place to be in ‘83' and for a good many years after.

This content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan. Editor Jan Cornall and author Lyn McGettigan are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sheila's Blokes

Another excerpt  from Tales of A Publicans Wife by Lyn McGettigan. Read more about her upcoming book here.

Brian the Publican always said, “where the girls are the boys are” and how right he was. 

The girls flocked in, all dressed to the nines and the boys followed even faster. We had young, single, attractive blokes, middle-aged blokes who still thought “they had it” and perhaps they did. 

There is something attractive about a good-looking, 40 something bloke. Then there were the “red-eye specials”. I call them this because they could be any age and the yellow eyeballs with red road maps gave away one of the loves of their lives. 

We had the older “sophisicates”— well-dressed, well-heeled with well-brushed egos. We had hospitality workers, advertising types, bankers, television and radio personalities. They were all there. “Sheila’s” was the place to be.

There was the bloke who took a shine to me, or maybe I was putting his attention on a higher plane than it deserved. It didn’t matter that the “Boiler” (the elderly lady who was employed to arrange flowers and check the table settings),  knew his name and game and was always close by to keep an eye on him. It didn’t matter that I was married and Brian was usually visible. If not seen, heard, for he always had a good story to tell and an audience to tell it to. This day this bloke bought his scotch and soda and as I was standing near the bar, asked me if I would like a drink.
Well, is the Pope a Catholic? Of course I said yes. I had about half an hour before Brian came back from taking the kids to sport, and was due to pick me up. The “Boiler” was having a middy and a Winnie Red with Bill the Wine Waiter. Our friend thought he was safe, no such luck, The “Boiler’s” beady eyes shrivelled. She was on alert! He started with the line that was guaranteed to win any girl’s heart.
“You’re not a bad sort.” 
Ok. Right. Sip of red wine. Another swallow of scotch and soda. Where is this going?
“Thank you,” I replied.
“You’re not a bad sort but there is one thing. Why don’t you take elocution lessons and learn to speak without that accent. You’re not in the bush now.”
I took another sip. He took another sip, pleased with himself.
“Why don’t you finish your drink?” I said. “You’re barred.”
I still have a bush accent. No-one has tried to improve it again.

This content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan. Editor Jan Cornall and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Mate, Bernice.

Another excerpt  from Tales of A Publicans Wife by Lyn McGettigan. Read more about her upcoming book here.

The story continues...

Throughout my years at the Union Hotel at North Sydney and especially during my days at Sheila’s, I had, and still have, a good mate called Bernice.

Bernice and I met when our kids were at St. Mary’s Primary School at Ridge Street, North Sydney. Her daughter Briony was the same age as my daughter Kate. They met on their first day of kindergarten. Kate had been refusing to go to school because her mates, old Jack and Eric, from the Public Bar, told Kate she didn’t have to go to school. They would teach her all she needed to know. Kate believed them, after all they were her mates. On most days she would sit in the public Bar with them for half an hour and they would, all three, have philosophical chats over her pink lemonade and packet of Smith’s Crisps and their middies. Consequently, she was not happy on her first day. Her elder sister, Danielle, a perfect pupil, walked in a lady-like way to school. On this day Kate, in her school uniform, sat down in the first gutter she came to and refused to move on. Brian the Publican was taking her to school as I was at Ryde Tafe, enrolling for a 4 year, part-time Hotel Course.As well as the recalcritant Kate, he had the lady-like Danielle and the baby, “Buddha” in his stroller.

Brian the Publican managed to move her on. She moved, only to encounter the headmistress, Sister Ellen, at the school gate. Sister Ellen was a trooper in a million! After enduring a kick aimed at her shins, followed by a left hook, she took Kate to her classroom.( Before continuing, I would like to say they emerged hand-in-hand at lunchtime, and to this day are good friends).  

Bernice's son, Dylan, and my son, “Budds” also became firm friends. Budds was so nick-named because he was rotund, but on being asked at St. Joseph’s College, Hunter’s Hill the origin of his nickname, replied, “It’s because I pray a lot!”  Went down a treat at that school! Anyway Dylan and Budds became best mates. The children used to play together upstairs at the hotel after school until Bernice arrived to pick Dylan and Briony up. Bernice and I became best mates after an incident at St. Mary’s.

One morning I arrived at the school to hear an altercation coming from around the side of the Church where the mothers used to park.
“You can’t park here again.” said an elderly male voice.
“Why not?”  replied an irate female voice.
I think that’s Bern, I said to myself as I rounded the corner, all guns blazing. My paternal grandmother was a suffragette and the fight to right all wrongs comes out strongly in me, so strongly that I think all grandmothers, maternal and paternal, from way back must have been suffragettes!
I  came around the corner to find Bern and an old priest standing toe-to-toe.
‘What do you mean she can’t park here? She’s a working mother! She has two children to support on her own. She can’t afford parking fees!”
‘I don’t care’, said the old priest.
“Don’t worry, Bern," I said, "you can park in the hotel car park”.

So started our friendship! I’d like to relate a few instances from our history that will explain why we have remained good mates.

One of the customers at Sheila’s was a lovely girl called Mary. We had arranged to have a night out with her and met up at the bottom bar at Sheila’s about 8pm. Brian the Publican was being an angel again and minding all the kids. We had a couple of drinks there and decided to go to the San Francisco Grill at the Hilton for dinner. The Hilton was an institution in those days. It had the Marble Bar, which is still there, and the Grill.

 The San Francisco Grill was famous for its “silver service”. This is a form of service whereby waiters serve all main course dishes to the table from a silver platter. They served the meal to your plate (already in place in front of you), from the left side and cleared from the right. You had to remember to lean slightly to the right when serving was in progress and to the left when clearing! They also had “gueridon” service. This was a cart wheeled to your table and speciality dishes were cooked in front of you, or in the case of cheese or bread, you made your selections from it. Two dishes that were famous for gueridon style preparation were Chateau Briand, a beef fillet, which was finished off and carved right there and Crepes Suzette, a pancake which was sauced, flamed, and served in front of you. This may sound very grand but the “piece de resistance” was the signature “dish”. A small silver tray in the shape of the San Francisco Bridge was presented with coffee. On it had been placed dry ice and on this were four or five chocolate-coated peppermint ice cream balls! This was Sydney in the days of Romanos, Pruniers, the Silver Spade Room, The Coachman. Dining was an event you anticipated, dressed for and thoroughly enjoyed.  The guests around you were often as varied and “colourful” as the menu.

We decided to have a pre-dinner drink at the cocktail bar outside the Grill. We were all “dressed up” and looked very attractive, even if I say it myself! We had been seated for a while with our martinis in front of us and had polished off about three, when a guy who had been sitting at the end of the bar, moved up and asked if he could join us. He was closest to Mary, so she politely replied,
“No. We are having a quiet drink and a chat and would appreciate it if you would go away.”
No chance.
After retreating for a while and keeping his eyes fastened on the three of us, he thought he would try again.
“No,” said Mary, “we have told you that we are having a quiet drink. We do not want to be disturbed”.
“The third time he tried he said nothing. He perched on the stool beside her. He was ignored. Then he tried to join in our conversation. Mary very quietly gave us a wink and then opened her handbag and casually laid it on the bar between herself and the pest.
The guy went white, spluttered in his drink and knocked the heavy bar chair over in his haste to get away. Bernice and I looked at his retreating figure, looked at Mary and laughed.
“How did you manage that Mary?’ asked Bernice,
Mary gave a little smile and pushed her open handbag over to us. In it was a pistol.
It wasn’t only blokes who were part of the underworld!

Often we would go to the Bourbon and Beefsteak in the Cross. The Bourbon was another Sydney institution, particularly in the 60’s. It was rumoured that it had been set up by the American Government and that the boss there was ex CIA. His job was to garner any intelligence he could from the American servicemen who were on leave from Vietnam. It was very American — there was Bourbon of course and the best hamburgers in town! It introduced Australia to the American way of eating salads before a meal. However, it could not get us drinking water before and during a meal, The Australian attitude was, “Waste of good drinking time” or “It will rust your insides". The interior had a large eating area with white tablecloths on the right when you walked in. There was a maître d’ in a dinner jacket and a very large menu. To the left was a long bar with stools all along, tables and a dance floor. The best feature was a piano at the end of the bar with enough space for people to sit around. It played jazz, generally the popular kind of Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra. It was the place to be and such fun!

I started going there in the 60’s when Sydney girls went out with the visiting servicemen. Usually you met at the American Club, which held dances to facilitate meetings. It was unheard of for a “nice” girl to meet any American in a bar! The Cross went all out to cater for these boys, with strip clubs, gambling dens, brothels. There were drugs, but they were something that was unknown to the average young Australian who would not have known what they looked like, or if an exchange was happening. The American male also brought super good manners when taking out a girl and always gave them a gift on first meeting. In hindsight, I can understand the furore during WW2 when the Australian men got upset when the girls flocked to the servicemen then!

 Bernice and I often went to the B&B and felt extremely comfortable. This, however, was the 80’s and the clientele had changed. Instead of servicemen, there were all types — underworld, police, regulars from the Cross, hospitality employees, anyone really. We were lucky enough to know them all, from the big doorman, to most of the clientele. We wouldn’t get there until after midnight and the place was buzzing! This night Bern and I sat at the bar in our usual seats and ordered our usual drinks — scotch and soda for Bern, martinis for me. For some reason, we never had to pay for our drinks! We put it down to being in the hospitality business (Sheila's was raging at that time) but I think that it was due more to the fact that we knew most of the “goodies and baddies” in town!

We began chatting to the barman and to the people next to us, and as one does, got into an interesting conversation. The fellow next to me admired my ring.
“There’s a lovely stone in that," he said.
“Yes”, I replied, “I’m giving it to my older daughter. I have two daughters. I would love to find another one of the same size for her.”
With that he whipped out his notebook.
“I’ll just take details”, he said, “What size is it, what clarity?”
So I went along with this and told him. When wanted my contact information I realized that he was serious.
“Thanks,” I said, “Let me think about it and I’ll let you know next time I see you up here.”
“No worries," he said, “I know what you want. I can get it overnight and you’ll have it the next day.”

It was a common thing for “people in the know” to order things that would be stolen to suit. I didn’t want to be part of this scene, but I knew a bloke who did. His particular band of mates specialized in stealing clothes. One day this bloke was passing through Coffs Harbour on his way to see his parents on the Gold Coast. He was walking along Coffs street when he was passed by two blokes in white overalls wheeling a large clothes stand. They winked at him, not a word was exchanged, and the guys went whistling along on their merry way. Another placed order, another satisfied customer!

It was a 'wink and a nod' type of society. There were boundaries between the criminals and the citizens and people generally stayed within them. It was as if there was also a barrier of osmosis, and sometimes one could slip in and out without any harm.

The content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan, edited by Jan Cornall. Jan and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sheila’s Coasters

This was the 80’s. There were no thoughts of discrimination. People seemed to get on pretty well. If they didn’t they said so. Probably a good thing. We had the most interesting coasters in town, thanks to the combined brains and imagination of some of the guys at the Union Hotel at North Sydney.
One afternoon, while Sheila's was still in the planing stages, Kevin, Stan and Brian the Publican were in the Corner bar discussing the exciting new prospect that was to be Sheila’s.
“What are you doing about coasters, Brian?” asked Kevin.
“Oh, I suppose I’ll get them from the brewery for free.” answered Brian.
“No mate’’ said Kevin, “I think we should design some”.
I was walking by at this point and they said to me,
“What's the colour, Lyn?’
“Shocking pink”, I answered.

With that we decided that the front logo should feature a lady’s hand holding a champagne glass, a rose and a big picture hat. We thought that that would say it all. Stan and Kevin got to work. Pretty soon they had enlisted two other mates, Bruce and Allan from J&K printing. At that time, coasters only had printing on the outside. I clearly remember Kevin picking up a coaster that was on the bar and saying,
“There should be something on the back. You always turn a coaster over.”
So were born “The ladies of Sheila’s”

The result is some of those you see here. There were 20 in total. They were very popular and became collector’s items. Within the first 6 months, 400,000 had been printed. It cost a fortune in postage to send them to collectors in Australia and overseas, but they epitomised the spirit of Sheila’s.

This content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan.
Editor Jan Cornall and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sheila's Opening Night - A Blue Bruiser

Opening night arrived. It was 1983,  May or June, I can't quite remember. The place was ready. The invitations had gone out;  some declined (the local member for Bennelong- John Howard being one), the staff were all in place; the pink coasters were on the table; pink napkins and tablecloths on the dining; room tables set for 100 diners.
 Chef Bob, who had broken his leg the day before (giving a new meaning to “break a leg") was in a wheelchair directing the cooking, starting with hors d’oeuvres for 500. The bar staff was behind the two enormous bars. The Usefuls were on the floor - 10 of them, ready to pick up glasses. Video screen on, band in the band room, Brian the Publican, Crowie, Col Joye, Kevin and David were enjoying a beer before the 8pm opening.
Not so me. I had been delegated the job of “doorwoman” along with Bob, The Lady Killer and Paddy the Irish Street Fighter, who had fended for himself on the hard streets of Liverpool. An unlikely trio, but all formidable in our own right!
“How are you guys?” I asked as I approached the door in my red business suit and high heels. Appropriate dress!
"Have you looked outside, Lyn?” remarked Bob.
I looked outside.
Sheila’s had a curving ramp edged with palm trees that stretched from the front door to the street one floor below. The ramp was filled with people standing four abreast.  I went to the windows flanking the top bar and looked again. The line continued 500 yards along Berry Street, then angled into Miller Street and out of sight.
“Looks like we’ll have a good night,” I said, “Don’t forget the dress code.”

We had a very strict dress code —for the guys; collared shirt, trousers (no jeans) leather shoes (no runners). In those days girls always dressed up to go out so no dress code for the girls. Brian the Publican’s philosophy was that where the good sorts went, the guys would follow. He was right.
The doors opened. Some of the guests had the official pink invitation, others had the verbal “Brian invited us” invitation.  No-one was refused entry! We began cloaking coats and directed the patrons to the bottom bar and conservatory.
I stayed on the door until 10 pm and then thought it was time to join the party. The guys had the drift of the dress code and besides, the local priest; the brothers who had taught Brian the Publican, and the nuns, who had taught our children were in there. Maybe I should keep an eye on them and make sure that they were ok.

The party was in full swing as all parties are when the grog and food are free. However, as things go, there is always a greedy group. They had stationed themselves in the prime position- at the end of the bottom bar and in front of the kitchen exit.  They couldn’t believe their luck; free food and drinks and they were first in!
 The evening wore on. The alcohol held out but the food didn’t, despite the chef’s team emptying the coolrooms and cooking everything in sight.  Behind the bar the drip trays - the aluminium trays under the beer taps that catch any overflow beer - had been emptied three times. Each time they were emptied an purple-blue ethyl dye solution had to be sloshed in, so that the contaminated waste had to tipped out after it had been measured. This was a health directive and was strictly enforced by the health inspectors, because in the old days, it was tipped back into the kegs and resold.
As a note of interest, Jean, my mother-in-law told me about the “heart starter”.  The nip measures for spirits, a silver cup-like pourer that held one nip- 50 mls or half a nip-25 mls, also had to be upended over a tray of ethyl dye, but before this was law, the left-over spirits from the untreated  drip tray were emptied into a special bottle. This bottle was kept for the alcoholics who were first through the doors when they opened. One shot of this, their hearts started again, and the trembling in their hands stopped- hence the name “heart starter”!
This night, as the trays were emptied, the bottle holding the dye made by mixing ethyl dye tablets and water in a bottle, was empty. “I’ll get you some,” a Useful told the barmaid as he bent down to the cupboard under the sink and put the large plastic bottle containing the tablets on the top of the bar. He then showed some initiative. Somewhere, somehow in the adrenalin of the night he thought,” this could happen again tonight.” So he tipped out enough tablets to fill a saucer and left it on top of the bar above the sink while he put the plastic bottle back.

Meanwhile, our merry little barflies at the ends of the bar missed this. They were too busy watching the kitchen for the next tray of food to come out.  After grabbing a bit more food as the waitress passed by, they turned to the bar and their eyes lit up.
“Look guys”, chortled John, one of the group, “They’ve even got some lollies for us!”
“Best place ever this,” enthused Allan.

With that the Greedy Eight jostled for the saucer and managed to grab a handful each. They swallowed them. Next minute - pandemonium! They were frothing at the mouth! Their lips were blue! They looked at each other, started screaming ”Blue Murder”! And then stopped stunned! Eight pairs of eyes had seen eight sets of blue teeth! I have never seen men part a crowd so quickly and head for the gents - rocket-propelled!!  I have never known men to stay in a toilet so long or to come out with their lips so tightly pressed together!
These guys had no hope of picking up a Sheila at Sheila's that night!

The content for this blog are excerpts from the forthcoming Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan, edited by Jan Cornall. Jan and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013

The Magic That Was Sheila’s.

For over 35 years Lyn McGettigan ran pubs in NSW. She didn't have much choice in the matter — she married Brian the Publican (as she still likes to call him). Still she made the job her own and has lived to tell the tale. 

Currently working on a book of her adventures in the hotel business, called Tales of  a Publican's Wife, Lyn is keen to gather stories from those who may have frequented her establishments. 
One of the ventures she managed was Sheila's Tavern in North Sydney, which became a famous watering hole for the famous, the infamous and ordinary punters from all walks of life. In this blog we present some excerpts from Lyn's book and invite any one who has stories from the Sheila's years to leave comments or contact Lyn. 

Rubik's Cube - symbol of the 80s.

 "Sheila’s Tavern opened in 1983 and was largely the brainchild of an amazing ideas man, “Crowie”  John Crowe. Sheila’s was the first of its kind and the prototype for many of the nightclubs and venues that sprang up around Sydney like mushrooms after the rain.
John Crowe’s nickname should be “The Magician” or “The Dream Maker”. Sheila’s was John's embryo. He fed it, nurtured it, watched it grow and then gave birth to it. It was his baby and it became the fantasy of the 80’s; the place where everyone wanted to be, where they could totally be themselves or invent a new persona.

Let's Get Physical and Stay Alive - Powerhouse Museum Exhibit.

 Some people may have dismissed Sheila’s as a “pick-up” joint. It was never envisaged as that, but if that was what happened, so be it. I think that a gentler, gentrified, truer description would be “where girls meet boys and where boys meet girls” and in particular where a female out alone could feel safe. This was what Crowie envisaged.
Crowie had owned Grey’s Bar in North Sydney. Grey’s was a success, so much so that the publicans in North Sydney, (Brian the Publican amongst them), complained so often to the Licensing Police that it was closed down. It was certainly not closed for breach of licensing conditions! That didn’t sit well with Crowie, and he determined to create something that would “blow them out of their minds” – a place so successful that they would rue the day that they crossed swords with The Crowe!
When Crowie decided that he would have the most successful place in North Sydney, he set about to do just that. Before long he had found a great, empty, desolate space – a vacant floor above Shopping World - a new complex in Berry St, North Sydney. It was a huge, with square metres  of columns and cement.

Not the actual space - but it could've looked like this.

Crowie’s vision created 2 bars, an outdoor, covered conservatorium, a 13 bay bistro with a fully-equipped kitchen complete with walk-in freezer, coolroom and dry-goods store. There was a problem with the design of the kitchen area though; the architects wanted to put the coolroom and the freezer outside the kitchen, next to the cellar.  At this time I was studying hotel management at Ryde Tafe and knew this was unworkable. The facilities had to be part of the kitchen. My reasoning fell on deaf ears - there was still a very strong “boy’s club" operating!
“If I can’t beat them, I’ll find someone who can,” I thought. So I went over to Centre Point where the executive chef, Herbert Berger, at that time, was the best chef in Sydney. I had met Herbert when I wanted advice on aspects of my hospitality work and he had showed me over the complex he operated and explained the economics of running a large kitchen. I explained my problem.
“Don’t worry, Lyn,” he said, “I’ll come over and speak to them." He did. The kitchen layout turned out exactly as it should have!
The two bars, one at either end of the tavern, were huge. As they had to be. It was normal that 600 people ate daily in the restaurant area and 1000 were served at the bars at night. On busy nights, there were 8 operatives behind each bar. The architect, Peter Mulroney and the builder, David Newman, did a great job bringing Crowie’s dream to life.
The name, “Sheila’s” did not come about entirely by chance. Crowie had everything in order, the space, the lease, but not the name. It came from a complete stranger; a lady who was sitting next to him on a plane.

“You seem rather quiet,” said the woman, "you must have something on your mind.”
Crowie laughted. He was always laughing. He has a great, infectious laugh.
“I’m trying to think of a name for a place that I’m building in Sydney.” he said.
“What type of place?” she asked.
Crowie described his plans in general, but said, “I want it to be a place where women can walk in, go to the bar, order a drink and feel secure and comfortable.”
At this time pubs were generally far from pleasant places to be in. A woman could drink in any bar, but often the language was not good and the area was inevitably filled with cigarette smoke. Not to be forgotten was the silence that often descended when a woman walked into the public bar, or the many sets of male eyes that followed her.
“I don’t want that kind of atmosphere,” said Crowie, “I want the surroundings to feel comfortable and look attractive.”
The woman thought for awhile.
“Why don’t you call it Sheila’s?” she asked. “If it’s to be upmarket and female friendly, then that would give the right vibe. There is a magazine called “Sheila, she continued, “Why don’t you get in touch with them? It could work well for both of you.”

So Crowie did. The editor of “Sheila” magazine was Pamela Noon and she and Crowie decided that some of the model photo shots could be enlarged and used on the walls.  These were enlarged to beautiful 163cm by 153cm shots and became part of the décor. They were magnificent works of art.
The next problem confronting Crowie was music for the venue, He decided to enlist the help of the Jacobsen’s. Kevin Jacobsen was a well-known show business entrepreneur and at that time was bringing the biggest names in international show business to Australia through his company, Jacobsen Productions. There was also another string to the Jacobsen bow - Col Joye, much loved entertainer and part of the Bandstand mob, who were like one big family. Jacobsen Productions could provide the entertainment and bring any big names who were visiting Sydney to the venue.

So, one Friday all the big names in the music industry met in Jacobsen’s offices. Some of the personalities present were Slim Dusty and Michael Edgley, amongst others. Crowie described his vision and his dilemma- what type of music would be most suitable?

Slim Dusty was involved in planning the music venue side of Sheila's.

The guys argued. Finally, they said to Crowie,
“Look John,” we could argue here all day and not come to a decision, We could charge you a fortune for a piece of paper that would mean nothing. So, we will leave it up to you.”
With that, Crowie decided that it was time for a beer and lunch. With later thought he decided that 60’s music would be the most appropriate. Crowie was miles ahead of his time in the Sydney music scene. He owned the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills which was the “birthing’ place of many great bands. Crowie knew what he wanted so he set out to make “Sheila’s” the music venue of Sydney. In actual fact, it was probably THE music venue of Australia and many great bands such as TheCockroaches, One Hit Wonders and many, many more, played there.

The Cockroaches played at Shelia's
 It also hosted stand- up comedy nights. One comedian I remember was Vince Sorrenti,  who was one of  many. To do this, Crowie built a fully set-up stage, lights, sound, curtains, with a mixer box and a DJ. There was a huge parquetry dance floor in front. This wore out within one month and had to be replaced with marble. This marble was too soft, so had to be replaced, after a week, on one frantic Sunday night by a team of workmen, with harder marble. It lasted! The bands were not forgotten; there was a band room out the back with lounges for their breaks and of course, occasional tables for their “riders”. “Riders” was a list of the drinks that the band wanted (within reason), and these were supplied by the venue.
Beside the stage were two video screens, one on each side. Especially selected videos were played 24/7. These videos were selected on a weekly basis , made especially for “Sheila’s” and regularly rotated. Some of the songs that I particularly remember were those of Annie Lennox and the Eurorhythmics- notably “Sweet Dreams are Made of This”.  The sound and videos were managed by a super DJ called Bret, who was the bane of everyone’s life, but they were also the bane of his!

The Eurythmics clips played on the video screens.

I thought that Brett was really kind and considerate. He knew that I loved the song, “Oh What a Night” sung by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and he stopped whatever he was playing and put it on when ever I walked onto the premises.
“Do you remember Brett?” I asked my mate Bernice the other day as we were reminiscing over old times and I was waxing lyrical on what a great staff we had at “Sheila’s” and how they were always industriously doing their job whenever I walked in unexpectedly at night to check up.
“You know, he knew that I loved “Oh what a night” and always played it when I arrived. I thought that was really nice.”
“Did you?” responded Bernice. He played that to alert the staff that you were on the premises. You were pretty tough in your day.”
“Oh!” was all that I could reply as my mouth remained open.
Now, before the building started, Crowie had most of his team- the architect, the builder, the show biz gurus. But he needed someone to run it. He approached his accountant, Kevin and outlined his ideas. He wanted to complete the compatible partnership of seemingly unlikely people (Crowie was running his own hotel); an entrepreneur to bring celebrities there and a builder.

“Mate, do you know a good bloke to run this?”
Kevin did! Brian the Publican.
Brian was the ideal choice- he was larger than life and was a great PR person and he had a hard-working wife- me! Brian the Publican also had the advantage of being well known in North Sydney- to bankers, advertising, radio and TV personalities, footballers and police.
So with the stage set, the meeting was convened in the dining room of the Union Hotel- where, after a few ales had been consumed downstairs in the Corner Bar of the Union Hotel, made for a very amenable meeting. In this amiable mood all agreed to be part of this new concept and were prepared to give it a go. When word of what they were doing got around the hotel industry, the general consensus of old-style publicans was that it would be a failure.

Crowie spoke to a radio announcer and described his concept, right down to the shocking pink baby grand piano and the chauvinistic coasters. I doubt that the name; chauvinistic ”Sheila’s”, with its bright pink logo of hat, rose and champagne glass could ever have been used today. Neither could the coasters with their ”Sheila's, naughty but nice, “  “Sheila’s, the best pick up in town”, “Climax your week at Sheila’s”. There were twenty of these!!
 “It won’t work, mate," said the radio announcer to Crowie the day before the opening ,’I’ve just surveyed 100 people. 99 said they would never go near a place with a name like that”.

This didn’t worry Crowie. He came in laughing to tell the “boys”. It didn’t worry them- they were the primal, confident eternal optimists or else they hid their worries well!
 “It won’t work”’ repeated the hard-nosed publicans.
Crowie had the last laugh.
He was having a drink with his mate Colin Tidy, the well-known Sydney bookmaker, on opening night as they watched the place fill to overflowing capacity.
“Looks like it will be a success, John. The place is really firing.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret. This is how to get people in –free entertainment, free food, free grog!”
It wasn’t necessary, but was a brilliant opening stunt. Sheila’s was the greatest Sydney success of that time. Opening night only presaged the amazing success it was to be!

This blog was prepared by Jan Cornall, editor for Tales Of A Publican's Wife, by Lyn McGettigan.
Jan and Lyn are preparing the book for publication in 2014.

Please leave a comment or get in touch HERE if you have a Sheila's story to tell.

(c) Lyn McGettigan 2013