3 May 2022

Tables turn on legendary Gundaroo storyteller ... what are your memories of him?

| Sally Hopman
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Man with arms folded behind the bar

Matt Crowe, publican of the Gundaroo Wine Bar, was the face of the local watering hole for his lifetime – he was born there. Photo: Catherine Laudenbach.

It’s been known by many names over the years – from the Commercial Hotel when Noah Cheeseman opened its doors in 1872 to the Star Wine Saloon, then Gundaroo Wine Bar and, most recently, Gundaroo Inn. But, for almost anyone who has ever dropped by, it was simply known as Crowe’s and, as of this year, it marks its 150th year of continuous operation.

Matt Crowe was almost always behind the bar of the Gundaroo drinking hole. Born in the pub, he was its face.

Always wearing a tie and almost always carrying a tea towel to mop up something, if you’d listen, he’d tell you a story. The same ones, over and over again, but always a good yarn, and a little better every time.

Crowe’s was the pub where you couldn’t get a beer for most of its life, but could fill your car up with petrol via an ancient bowser. The place where Matt’s wife Beat would discourage womenfolk from drinking too much of the scrumpy which stood up by itself in the glass, but where you could buy lollies. The place where the regulars had their own stools and their drinks appeared on the counter as if by magic as soon as they took a load off.

Matt was The Boss, always perched behind the sticky bar counter ready to tell you why Gundaroo was the centre of the universe, as he wiped it with an even stickier cloth. He loved colourful ties and shirts, all the better if they clashed.

At Crowe’s, you could buy cider, port or something soft, with the port usually kept in the fridge, or, of course, Stone’s ginger wine. Matt’s daughter Kay was always around, mostly in charge of serving petrol out the front or trailing her mother Beat, who was really the one in charge.

The pub was also great fodder for storyteller Prickle Farmer Mike Hayes, who lived in Gundaroo and spread its bucolic word far and wide via his radio and TV stories during the 1980s.

It’s these stories that the Gundaroo Historical Society wants to hear.

As the pub turns 150 this year, the Society is working with the owners of the now Gundaroo Inn to mark the special occasion. It wants to hear from anyone who has a special memory of the watering hole that has hosted so many parties, weddings, wakes, festivals, village celebrations as well as a myriad of other events over the years.

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There are almost as many stories about the wine bar as there are about Matt. Local legend or gospel truth, they range from how he mastered the art of pretending to swat flies while actually scooping up coins left on the bar counter to returning leftover port to its bottle.

No-one knows for sure why the pub lost its beer licence a couple of lifetimes ago, but we do know that Matt got it back in 1994, three years before he died. If you know why, the Gundaroo Historical Society would love to hear from you. Stories, anecdotes, photos … any memories you can share about the Gundaroo drinking hole will be used as part of the 150th birthday celebrations later this year.

President of the Gundaroo Historical Society Sue Burns said they were keen to find people with memories of Crowe’s Wine Bar who could share stories of the bar’s life and times along with its characters.

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“We’d love to hear from people who have reminiscences about events at the wine bar, either as visitors or locals,” she said. “Stories, anecdotes, photos about characters or incidents, small or large, funny or sad.

“The stories and those involved in them created the atmosphere and the legend that is the wine bar.”

The stories, photographs and other memories will play an important role in a special event to mark the 150th to be staged later this year.

If you’d like to contribute to the 150th celebrations, email the Gundaroo Historical Society at [email protected]

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