2 September 2022

It might have been the pub with no beer, but in Gundaroo, there's 150 reasons to celebrate

| Sally Hopman
Start the conversation
Three behind bar

One of the few remaining photographs of the Crowe family behind their Gundaroo bar, Matt, his wife Beat and their daughter Kay. Photo: Private Collection.

It says something when a pub, which wasn’t allowed to sell beer for most of its working life, is just about to celebrate its 150th birthday. But there are few pubs like Crowe’s Wine Bar at Gundaroo.

Today, it’s called the Gundaroo Inn – and before that the Gundaroo Colonial Inn, Star Wine Saloon, and originally, the Commercial Hotel, but to many, it’s always just been Crowe’s.

It was the place where Matt Crowe always held court behind the bar, tea towel in hand, ready to greet whoever came through the door with one of his stories and usually putting their drink on the counter before they had asked for it. Didn’t much matter if he’d told you the story before, they grew, dramatically, just like the village’s population, over the years.

In retrospect, it wasn’t that tricky really, knowing what people drank – there was pretty much only port, cider or ginger wine – seeing beer hadn’t been allowed there since 1896. Something to do with the accommodation, apparently.

Two men at bar

Long-time Gundaroo resident Ron Miller with manager of the former Crowe’s Wine Bar now Gundaroo Inn, Jarrod Lord. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Built in 1872, it was run by Noah Cheesman until his death in 1882. His widow Margaret took it on until it was bought by Peter Murphy in 1887. Murphy’s niece Jane Carroll inherited the building about the same time as she married one Alfred Crowe in 1896.

For the next 102 years, it was known as Crowe’s Wine Bar, with son Matt taking over from his mother in the 1950s until his death in 1997.

To get Crowe’s back in the day, you’d have to see for yourself. Why the lack of a beer licence didn’t have too may folk bothered. Maybe the lethal-ness of the port and cider made up for it. Why the bottles of wine were always stored upright – Matt never giving them a minute for a lie-down. The lollies always plonked next to the wine. Why the chips were always stale even if Matt opened a new box for you.

Man with arms folded behind the bar

Master storyteller Matt Crowe was the face behind the Gundaroo Wine Bar until his death in 1997. Photo: Cathy Laudenbach.

It was the place where regulars had their stools, and even newcomers knew, somehow, not to sit on them. Where Matt’s other half, wife Beat, would fly about cleaning up Matt’s and customers’ messes, watching out for their daughter Kay who in turn watched who stopped at the fuel pump out the front. If she was inside Kay could tell you who was pulling up, just by the sound of the engine.

It was a place where Beat always seemed to be cooking, at least that’s what the smell led you to believe, but it was mostly the same – usually a huge lump of animal that had lived in a nearby paddock not that long ago. Mutton, mostly. And it was the place where Matt almost always wore a tie with a shirt that clashed with everything. But where you always knew what he’d had for lunch because he always had a little on his tie.

No one knows the exact day or month, but we do know that 150 years ago this year, the Gundaroo wine bar opened for business. So how could the village, between Gunning and Canberra, not celebrate?

READ ALSO Gundaroo makes the cut on Lonely Planet’s top 500 Aussie Experiences list

Ron Miller, who ran the Gundaroo Post Office and who has lived in the village for 47 years, and his partner Sue Burns, president of the Gundaroo Historical Society, knew the Crowes well.

“There really wasn’t anyone like Matt Crowe,” Ron said. “Some of the stories he told …. they certainly grew over the years. He was a great storyteller, he really knew how to capture his audience – and suck them in.

“Sometimes if he was feeling crook he’d say to Beat he was going to sell the wine bar – but of course he never would. So Beat would turn around to him and say, ‘Well, get off your bum then, and go work behind the bar’.”

His other love apart from his wife and daughter – and the bar – was horse racing and although he spent most of his working life in the bar, he wasn’t a big drinking man. The occasional scotch would do the trick – or a drop of one of his best-sellers – McWilliams Royal Reserve.

Man outside pub

Ron Miller outside the old Crowe’s wine bar today – still the centre of town. Join the pub’s 150th birthday celebrations in Gundaroo later this month. Photo: Sally Hopman.

“When you walked into the wine bar,” Ron said, “it was like seeing the Three Wise Men. Matt behind the bar, Len White on one stool and George Lees on the stool at the other side of the bar.

“They’d always talk about the weather and who got the most rain. George always got more rain because he would never say how much rain he got until after everyone else had said how much they had.

“You’d hear them all tell stories, some of them probably didn’t happen, but good stories all the same.”

READ ALSO Here’s cheers to the legendary Crowes, the best bar none

Today some of these old names still have a connection to the village, like White, Lees, Dyce, Sibley, Clemenger, Affleck, Guise and Osborne.

Gundaroo Historical Society invites everyone with a connection to the wine bar back to the village on Thursday, 15 September for an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia to mark its 150th anniversary.

The Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, will do the opening honours at 6:30 pm with dinner available at the wine bar afterwards. (Bookings are essential on 02 6236 8155). People interested in attending the event should email the Gundaroo Historical Society at [email protected].

On the Saturday, 17 September, there’ll be another opportunity to reminisce with a celebration barbecue at the wine bar from 1 pm. Bookings are essential on 02 6236 8155.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.