LAST DRINKS FOR GEORGE AND VAL
Couple hand over keys to Pyalong pub
PYALONG pub regular Gerry Sporle reckons he drank the first beer poured by George Shield when he started running the hotel in June 1978.
And now that Mr Shield, 75, and his wife Val, 70, have retired more than 40 years later, he wants the last one too.
The Shields handed over the keys at 3pm last Monday, marking the end of an era.
The pair took over the business when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister; the drink-driving laws were more relaxed; and busloads of punters would make the trip to NSW for a pokies spree.
Since then eight people have been Prime Minister and six people (cur- rently Linda Barrow) have run the Pyalong store across the road.
But the couple, who largely ran the pub by themselves, have already gone back to cast an eye over the renovations currently underway by new owners Garry McKay, Beryl McKay and Scott Ragluss, and enjoy a beer or two. It seems they just can’t stay away. ‘‘We went to the pub last week and it was just a strange feeling sitting on the other side of the bar alongside our old customers,’’ Mr Shield said.
And for Mrs Shield, the reality that one long chapter has finally come to a close hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
‘‘It all just feels like a bit of a dream,’’ she said.
‘‘I feel like we’re just going on holidays, because we did that twice a year, and you always come back, but it’s not happening this time.’’
But as she explains, it was simply time to finish up – Mr Shield suffered a stroke in January 2015 and while he could push himself to continue working the bar as she cooked meals behind him, it was becoming an increasingly difficult task to manage.
‘‘There was a bit of sadness but mainly it was just a relief to step back from it all,’’ she said.
Born in South Shields, a coastal town in northern England, Mr Shield came to Australia with his parents as an eight-year-old in 1950. He grew up in Melbourne’s Newport, while Mrs Shield was raised in Preston.
The two first met one Saturday night during a dance at the Heidelberg town hall in 1967 and went off to the Moomba Festival for their first outing in March that year before getting married in 1968.
Fast forward 10 years and Mr Shield had been working as an industrial engineer for Ford in Campbellfield but eventually got ‘‘disenchanted’’ with the company and decided to get out.
‘‘We decided to get our own business so we had a look around bought the Pyalong pub and we’ve been there ever since,’’ Mr Shield said.
One course at William Angliss later and they were in business.
And while Mr Shield said he can’t remember pouring Gerry that very first drink – it’s an unofficial record the truck driver claims himself – he recalls being made to work hard; despite the fact there were fewer than 30 houses in Pyalong back then.
‘‘I just remember chaos more than anything else,’’ he said. ‘‘But the locals are great – they took you in under their wing.
‘‘There were times when it became hectic on a Friday or Saturday night, but one of the locals would just come
around the other side of the bar to pour a few beers and get me back into the swing again, then he’d sit back down, I’d give him a freebie, and he’d be happy. It was good.’’
The pub was thriving in those early days because, as Mr and Mrs Shield explain, the comparatively lax drinking-driving laws meant someone could drive a truck with a blood/alcohol reading of .08 or less. This meant truck drivers would park across the road and enjoy a few rounds over dinner before heading back to their vehicles for a long nap and then take off into the night.
Mr Shield, who also spent considerable time with the Pyalong CFA, said his pub enjoyed a seasonal advantage over its local competitors.
In the late 1970s and early 80s local pubs with a Melbourne-tuned aerial could only pick up the VFL Grand Final – the rest of the finals series wasn’t shown live.
But the Pyalong pub also had an aerial that picked up Bendigo, meaning Mr Shield could switch between the two to get all the September action. ‘‘We used to advertise in the Kilmore Free
Press to come watch the finals at the Pyalong pub and we would be packed,’’ he said.
‘‘Then the Lancefield pub wised up to it and they started picking up Bendigo. But things change and that was bound to happen.’’
And yet with all those busy nights, Mrs Shield said there was only one time in their 40-year history that things got out of control.
‘‘In the late 1990s someone threw a pool ball and the other person didn’t seem to like it,’’ Mrs Shield said.
‘‘And then it was on. Everyone had to get out and the cops came over after people started punching… but it was all over by the time the police turned up.
But crowd management was always made easy by the fact they had the regulars on side.
Even though Mr Shield jokes that every year he is told he needs another decade in Pyalong to be officially recognised as a local himself.
‘‘If you knew a person was a bit agro you’d sort of let them know in a roundabout way they weren’t doing the right thing — you would avoid mixing with him at the bar,’’ he said.
‘‘It was easy to handle once you learnt how to read people. And the locals all grew up together, so you very seldom even got bad talk between them.’’
Now the couple are relishing the chance to slow down and enjoy their first holiday in six years. In the past, they would find ex-publicans from the region they could trust to manage the pub for three weeks while they drove to Townsville in just over two days for a holiday in the sunshine state. But with no more beers to pour or chicken parmas to cook, Mr and Mrs Shield can finally take the time to enjoy all the little towns along the way, as well as making their first ever trips to Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
In the late 1990s someone threw a pool ball and the other person didn’t seem to likVeal —
George and Val Shield called time on running the Pyalong pub last week after 40 years in business.
George and Val Shield with new owner Beryl McKay, cook Peter Worley and coowner Garry McKay.