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.

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