The Dog ‘n’ Bull hotel has been in Bonalbo for ages. Sometime in the last 15 years or so the pub has had a bit of a refurbishment. I’ve never seen the old pub, but my guess is that while the renovations have given more room inside and some added functionality, this has come at the expense of old world charm.
There were a few chairs and tables outside, occupied by a number of the locals. We offered a ‘G’day’ with the characteristic wink, which was acknowledged with a nod and a wary smile. One man, whom we later learned was Old Errol [not his real name], had a Staffy [is his real breed] which appeared to be Old Errol’s equal in years. The Staffy had less hair than Old Errol, bald over most of its lower back and down its tail. An ugly dog. Uglier than most Staffies, in fact. Even so, he and Errol appeared to be great mates, and I felt good about that.
Behind the bar was a tall man wearing a handlebar moustache, a shirt with a Rabbito’s emblem, and the best ‘mullet’ I had seen in years. Sporting photographs, other memorabilia, framed football jerseys and historic team photos held pride of place around the bar. It was pretty obvious: Bonalbo locals loved their Rugby League. We thought it prudent not to let on that we were from Queensland: the day we visited was the week before the final State of Origin challenge, and Queensland had already won two of the three game series. Few things bring out the rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales better than the State of Origin series. It’s all good fun, and for a moment I imagined what it would be like to be at the Dog ‘n’ Bull the evening the game would be played, with Old Errol, his Staffy, and everyone else piling it on the visiting Queenslanders.
One of the mounted football jerseys was from Saint Clair Junior Rugby League Club, and dedicated to “Hornie”. We were not sure who Hornie was, but we guessed he was the proprietor of the Dog ‘n’ Bull. It also occurred to me that Hornie might have been the man behind the bar. He appeared to have any amount of time to talk to people like Old Errol and others who came to the bar. I wondered why people would come and sit in a pub for hours on end. Did Old Errol and others have nothing better to do? Did they have families? Jobs? I thought it was easy to make judgements about how much money someone might spend at the bar, and what better things they could do with it. But Bonalbo is a small place, and some people are just lonely. In those contexts, places like the Dog ‘n’ Bull provide a context for mateship and community. You can have a beer, tell Hornie your thoughts on pretty well anything, and he’ll listen, like a non-judgemental father-confessor. Others at the bar listen too, and offer the occasional banter in reply. This is why people come to the Dog ‘n’ Bull. People want to be with people. They want relationship and friendship. None of us were made to be alone. The Dog ‘n’ Bull might be one of the most consistent expressions of community some people will find. And I think this is why people enjoy places like the Dog ‘n’ Bull so much.
We rattled another 40 odd kilometres down the track to Paddys Flat, where the road crosses the Clarence River. Here we found the WWII tank traps (see pic, with Erin giving the size perspective), supposedly set up along ‘The Brisbane Line’. These were sizable pyramids of concrete. I tried to imagine how they would fare against a tank advance, and I think I could clearly imagine a tank blasting the concrete barriers out of the way. What was unclear was why the Japanese would want to advance along Paddys Flat Road in the first place! I can’t say for sure, but I think there would be areas of greater military significance.
So we had set out to see the tank traps, and in the end they were not the big deal of the day. I found myself thinking about Old Errol and his ugly Staffy, and wondering what it’s like for him when the weather is cold, the night is dark, and the Dog ‘n’ Bull is closed.
(Pic: Crossing the Clarence River at Paddys Flat, near the tanks traps on the ‘Brisbane Line’)