The song Honest John is an adaptation of Harper’s poem The Old Bark Pub. A photograph of the hotel titled “First Hotel and Store Angledool -1878” appears in Memories Of Angledool. It is described by Harper as “a long, rough building, the walls being of round pine timber, the roof of bark.” 1
The old hotel was built by Henry Hatfield and was run by John Merry. Apparently his daughter was the first white female born in Angledool. When Merry left the old bark pub he only moved a mile or so up the road to New Angledool where he built another hotel. Before the first hotel was bought and demolished by the blacksmith, Harper’s family lived in this old building. It stood opposite the Commercial Hotel, which was also built by Hatfield, and was opened around 1880.
Out on the dull old Narran side
Out where the runs are wild and wide
Honest John bought the right to rule
The first pub opened in Angledool.
It wasn’t a building of city mark
With its pine slab walls and its roof of bark
It was just a pub, it was plain and rough
It suited the times and was good enough.
And what did the men in those wild days care
If the house was rough, if the grog was fair
Though the bushmen came from near and far
To cash their cheques at the old bark bar.
And those were the cheques that could raise a grin
And those were the fellows that could do them in
They stained their flannels with blood and beer
And never a policeman to interfere.
And Honest John had a game to play
A game not seen in the pubs today
And the boys that spreed in the old bark pub
Were mannered only to suit the scrub.
And to win from them when you got a start
A man had need of a head and a heart
And John had both and a tip or two
From the devil himself so he battled through.
And Time marched by with its giant stride
And changes came to the Narran side
Better houses were built and sold
The old bark pub had the call to go.
It stood at the bottom of the hill for years
A monument to departed beers
And an eyesore too to a thriving town
Till the smithy bought it and pulled it down.
And years have fallen on Honest John
But he’s just as solid as in days agone
Running a business up to date
Coining cash at a princely rate.
But it isn’t strange that when trade is slack
That his memory crowds him and takes him back
To the roaring days on the mulga scrub
And the cheques that he cashed at the old bark pub.
- Read the article Jim Harper of Mulga Land by Jim Low
- Poem by Jim Harper, music by Jim Low
1 Memories Of The Angledool, edited and published by P. Cross, p.2