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Familiar faces abound in Colin Whelan’s River Murray pubs book
Yes, that’s Moorlands' Jock Muir on the front cover of Drinking in the Rivers, Volume One, and he's not the only one.
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You won’t have to look far to find a familiar face in a new book about the River Murray and its pubs, published this month.
Moorlands’ own Robert “Jock” Muir is on the front cover of Drinking in the Rivers, Volume One, in his customary spot at the bar in the Tailem Bend Hotel.
Author Colin Whelan describes the scene:
Outside the pub there’s a single vehicle, a very well-used red ute right at the front door, and when I go in, there’s an even more used old hat, on a very used old head, right in front of the taps. Hanging from the bar beside him there’s an old walking stick and if you were going to describe this little bloke as wiry, it’d be the barbed variety. Yellow, tobacco-stained moustache cascades down to grey whiskers drooping a good few inches past his hidden chin. Filthy spectacles span a nose which has been non-professionally rearranged at least once and a folded, furrowed face that looks like an aerial shot of the channel country far to the north when it’s not seen rain for years. For a jockey of a bloke his fingers are long but gnarled with arthritis, age and a life of toil. Born just back up the river at Mannum but with Scottish heritage, this is Jock.
Over 350 pages, the book tells tales from the dozens of front bars Whelan visited up and down the river.
Yet the other photos on the book’s cover were all taken in South Australia, too: the Swan Reach Hotel, a ruin at Morgan and Meningie’s Uncle D, Derek Gollan, “possibly the most interesting, insightful, fascinating, gentle person I met on my journey, a wealth of knowledge”.
Mannum’s Peter “Beachy” Raison is opposite the title page.
“Some of my best hosts were in South Australia,” Whelan told Murray Bridge News.
“SA has some amazing pubs along the river.”
Riding his motorbike from town to town and stopping at every hotel along the way wasn’t hard work for Whelan, a self-described “pub afficionado” who was previously a photographer for the National Rugby League, and who spent five or six years reviewing bush pubs for a motorcycling magazine.
Over time he learned that the best stories were the ones you traded for an old tale of your own.
He learned that blow-ins from Sydney were the only ones who took their wallets and keys with them when they went to the toilet.
And he learned that he could tell a good pub by the time he ordered a second drink.
“I’ll say ‘the same again thanks, mate’,” he said.
“If they know what I’ve had, you can see (the staff) have taken some interest.
“If they ask ‘what was it again?’, if it’s like that, you move on.”
New Holland Publishers asked him for 90,000 words for Drinking in the Rivers, Volume One.
He sent them 140,000, but they still found it interesting enough to publish in full.
What did some of the locals featured in the book think about the finished product?
When Mr Muir was asked about his growing fame – after all, his portrait had already won a photography prize for Doris Connolly in 2019 – and about the fact that a poem of his was included in Whelan’s book, he gave a verbal shrug.
Did he ever imagine he’d be on the front cover of a book?
Drinking in the Rivers, Volume One is out now.
Buy the book: Visit au.newhollandpublishers.com/9781760792077 or your retailer of choice.
Editor’s note: Thanks to the reader who encouraged Jock to get in touch.