Like most people who grow up in a house where there's lots of music, I marinated in my parents' music when I was a child. Since they had fairly broad tastes, I ended up soaking up a few odd influences, including a bit of Aussie music. They owned several Rolf Harris records, which my sister and I listened to over and over. Never mind Tie Me Kangaroo Down; to this day I can sing every verse of The Court of King Caractacus, should the need ever arise (it hasn't so far, but it's good to be prepared). There was also a single Australian 45: Slim Dusty singing A Pub With No Beer. It was this record that had us stopping at Lee's Hotel in Ingham.
We had driven through Ingham on the way north, even commenting on Lee's Hotel as we went past -- or at least, commenting on the life-size statue of a cowboy on a horse that is perched on the hotel's roof. But it wasn't until later that I realized that Lee's Hotel marked the site of Dan Sheahan's dry evening.
Sheahan was a farmer in the area, and one evening in 1943 he rode 20 miles into Ingham to have a pint. Unfortunately there was an American military base in the area, and the American soldiers had consumed every drop of beer in the pub. Sheahan had to make do with a glass of wine, so he sat down and penned a poem about how sad it was to be in a pub with no beer.
The poem got published in the local paper, the clipping was passed to a singer, who passed it on to another, and eventually it got to Slim Dusty who turned it into a song. The poem had changed quite a bit by then, but it was still recognizeable as Sheahan's, and eventually he was credited as the author.
The original pub was torn down in the 60s, and replaced with Lee's Hotel. It was mid-afternoon when we came into Ingham for the second time, and we still had a few miles to go before we stopped for the night. But I knew I would regret it if I didn't stop in and tip my hat to Sheahan's creativity and to my parents' record collection, so we found a parking spot on Ingham's main street. (That's not a difficult task: not only is Ingham a fairly quiet town, but it has one of the widest main streets I've ever seen. To walk from one side to the other you step off the sidewalk, walk past one row of angle-parked cars, cross two lanes of traffic, past another row of angled parking, and up onto a grassy strip wide enough to have its own picnic area. You are now at the middle of the street, and need to do it again to get to the other side. By which time you're ready to pop into Lee's for a beer.)
"Care to join me for a pot?" I asked Sharon. She just smiled. "No, you just go do what you have to do," she said. The kids were watching a movie in the back seat, apparently unaware that we had stopped, so I grabbed a camera and headed in.
At first glance, the bar at Lee's looks like a fairly typical pub: long bar along one side, pool table in the back, two t.v.s showing different programs, blackboards advertising the upcoming pool comp and pub draw. The barmaid and the only customer were watching a 1970s disaster film on one of the t.v.s, laughing about how long it was taking before the hero's helicopter inevitably crashed into a cliff.
What set the bar apart was a wall of tribute to Sheahan. An enormous plaque told the tale of his poem, and featured both the original and the more famous song version. Beside it was a mass of newspaper and magazine clippings, telling other versions and details of the tale.
"Pot of Four X Gold please," I said to the barmaid. (A pot is a small beer, a little smaller than a half pint. A schooner is the next size up, and it was a hot day, but the family was waiting in the car. I had to be reasonable.) I sipped my beer, read the plaque, and eventually asked the barmaid if she would take my picture in front of it.
"You'd be amazed at the number of people who take their pictures here," she said. As if to prove her point, a moment later a woman came into the bar and took a photo of it. "It's for my dad," she explained. "He loves this song."
Mine too, I thought as I finished my beer and walked out into the sunshine.
"All good?" Sharon said as I climbed in the car.
"All good," I replied.
Thanks mum and dad. Thanks Slim Dusty. Thanks Dan Sheahan.