Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The South Pacific Rugby Club — rest in peace old comrade

I am sorry I haven't posted for a while, especially since these are dark days us drinkers are ... well drinking through.

The seriousness and stupidity of the attack on the right to abuse yourself with alcohol has been so extreme it has left me a little stunned. Four drinks is binge drinking?!? Jesus christ, four pubs maybe, as a friend of mine, who should know, put it.

I'll take that up in good time. I have established a Facebook group entitled "If you think four beers is binge drinking, you should get out more" that should be joined, if you haven't already. In a mere matter of weeks no less than 90 people have joined.

Yeah! To get a sense of perspective, that is about four times more than my Give Stephin Merritt a Nobel Prize for Clever and Witty Songwriting group has managed to join in around a year.


And, through this group, I have waged a mortal battle (to the death!) with an anti-drinking bastard (was he lost?) on the "discussion wall", as these things are called. (His name is Luke McDermott, and if you know where he lives, please let me know.)

It goes without saying I won.

But, while I work up the energy for a serious counter-offensive to the federal/state/cop/media assault on our fundamental right to get wrecked ("I will determine what I drink and the surroundings in which I drink it"), I thought it might be useful to find strength by harking back to a different time and place — a place where binge drinking was not just welcome, but the entire fucking point.

Yes, I am talking about the great, late South Pacific Rugby Club, affectionately known to all as the Southpac, in our capital city of Canberra Town.

Don't flinch.

The Southpac did not just tolerate, or even encourage, binge drinking. It was binge drinking.

It doesn't exist any more, no doubt the prevailing political winds were far too frosty for it to survive. Some tame and lame club has taken its place in the centre of Civic, and we are all a little poorer for its passing.

The Southpac could have entered any competition for "seediest drinking hole". Opposite God's Gift to the Drinker (known as The Phoenix), it was a regular retreat when that establishment had closed.

The best thing it had going for it was it was open when everything else was shut. Sometimes, that is what counts.

Advertised with neon lighting, it was down a series of ripped up, stained carpeted stairs.

The Fijian bouncer would not let you in if you were wearing torn jeans or otherwise ratty clothes, which was really quite ironic when you considered the state of their establishment.

They had standards, you could not get in unless you were a member. Membership was difficult to get, you needed a full $5, which would give you a year. Then some big Fijian bloke would take your picture and print out your card. The pictures would always be the same, it would turn you into a dodgy looking bum/serial killer.

But not just me, everyone.

You inevitably looked really wrecked. It was a bit like the camera was a time machine – it photographed you on the way in the way you looked on your way out.

The Unknown Drinker

Then you would enter its dark and dingy premises. And what a sight it was. To your right, a few dozen pokie machines that ran all day and night. To your left, about four pool tables, in various states of disrepair, all in a row before, past the cigarette machine that specialised in eating your notes there was the glowing lights of toilets best avoided if you had a particularly weak stomach.

Straight ahead was the wooden dance floor, with a cage for the DJ at its front. An actual wire cage, to protect the poor bastard. The worst of the top 40 dance tunes played incessantly while a disco ball sent it flashing multi-colour lights across the planks.

The pokies were home to the most desperate layer, with the odd gaggle of students putting in their dollar coins "just for laughs" and giggling when they got a $5.50 return.

The hardcore drinkers/regulars tended to congregate around the pool tables, attempting to maintain some dignity playing on its treacherous, cigarette-pocked top. Generally, this layer of serious alcoholics kept a bemused distance from the dance-floor crowd, who grew in number on Friday nights. Far from the middle-aged public servant alcoholics of the former, the latter tended to be late-teens furiously pounding the wooden dance floor.

And, past the dance floor and pool tables, there it was. The bar.

It was cheap and it was nasty. Who would have thought that combination could coexist?

There were more than a few stories claiming poisoning resulting from the club never cleaning its beer pipes. And it is true, sometimes, at a certain time of the early morning, a jug might have a certain strange smell about it. Rotten eggs.

But, on the upside, they never, ever refused you service.

The Southpac and binge drinking. Yes.

The Southpac was famous for its binge drinking rules. Knowing and paying proper respect to its core cliental, it rewarded the heavy boozer.

It was famous for its deals. Standard on any given night would be, say, between 9pm and midnight, 2-for-1 beers (already pretty fucking cheap) and $2 shots or spirit with mixers.

But, going back even further, I am assured by older hands that they even had a deal so explicitly tied to binge drinking that they gave a free drink for every 10 you consumed. The law eventually stepped in, the story goes, and quashed that one.

But perhaps the most notable of all its binge drinking specials was the one it maintained for a while: every Thursday, between 8 and 9pm, drinks were free.

Entry that night was $1 for students, $5 otherwise. It is not hard to imagine, if you have been to Canberra, just how popular such an offer was. Especially as it was followed by its 2-for-1 deal with two buck spirits.

Full is one way to describe it. Full of young flannel-wearing rednecks would be another, equally accurate, statement.

It was completely packed, with a huge queue to get the free drinks.

There were two types of drinks you could get: a schooner of beer or a schooner strange red shit involving some kind of alcohol. The exact details of what the alcohol was, to say nothing of the contents of the red mixer, was never made clear. It was mixed in a giant plastic basin at the bar, from which the bar person would scoop up a schooners worth for the lucky customer to consume.

For the hour of free drinks, you were only allowed to get two drinks, per person at a time from the bar.

This meant that the hour was spent with people in a giant queue in front of the bar that stretched all across the wooden dance floor, pushing back into the pokie machines.

People would queue, get their two schooners of beer or strange red shit, and then go to the back of the queue. They would drink their two drinks in the time it took to get to the front again and the process would repeat until the offer ended.

During this entire time, off to the side of the queue, a big Fijian guy in a bad shirt would play soft rock classics on an electric guitar over backing tracks.

It was an odd gig, playing to a queue, but he didn't seem to mind. "I like pina colada!" he would sing, and people would swing strange red shit in the queue.

The hour would suddenly end and the queue over the dance floor disappeared, transformed by a DJ playing top 40 dance tracks to now quite smashed students. As drinks were still ridiculously cheap, that was not a situation about to get any better.

It was an odd dance floor, because it had just been home to an increasingly drunken queue, spilling strange red shit everywhere. The wooden floor was sticky enough to make dancing extremely difficult. You would put your foot on the floor and extreme effort was required to raise it again.

On the upside, it was a great equaliser. It made even the finest booty shaker look like a member of the New Zealand All Blacks.

On one of these nights, the always dodgy toilets got even dodgier. You needed to keep your wits about you to avoid the ever-growing piles of bright red-coloured vomit on your way in.

Oh the Southpac, will we ever see the likes of you again?

There was one night that brought home to me what the Southpac was truly about. That made me realise the fundamental truth that they really did not care how out if it you were, as long as you had the capability to get to your wallet, you were welcome to keep on boozin'.

To understand this night, you need to understand something particular about Canberra. As boring and dull as it no doubt is, this is mitigated by the fact that its key university, the Australian National University, at a certain time of year (late autumn) grows, on its grounds, an ample supply of magic mushrooms.

Thanks to a hippy friend, I happened to know what to look for and where to look for them.

One night at the Phoenix, I had eaten a few of them while drinking (as is the only way, they go very well with beer) and offered them to drinking partners Bazza, Tory Sexpig (as he likes to be known) and Dan the Man (who featured in an earlier tale).

Tory and Dan looked to me for guidance in terms of how much to consume. Unfortunately for them, I had eaten mine about half an hour before and the affects were kicking in. I kept telling them to eat more, before I finally burst out giggling.

They stared stony faced at me as, laughing uncontrollably, I tried to inform them they had consumed too many. Not just that, but the dire consequences would be a severe bout of diarrhea, as had afflicted on me in a previous experience. They stared at me with a horrified look that was a mixture of fear as to their fate and something between bemusement and anger at my cold-heartedness in encouraging their mushroom consumption, only to collapse into a fit of laughter at how much they were about to suffer.

Well, plenty more beer was consumed at the Phoenix and at closing time, home was not on our minds. The Southpac beckoned.

Being a Tuesday night, we were more or less the only customers they had. However, we were very good customers indeed.

As Dan the Man was the only of the crew involving me, Bazza and the Sexpig to have what could be considered decent, regular income, it was his job to, with an increasing stagger, approach the bar for fresh rounds of gin and tonics.

Positioning ourselves at the pool table nearest the toilets, we attempted to play pool.

Dan, for one, was insisting that while he might be a little pissed, the mushrooms were not working for him at all.

"I don't feel anything. You know you hair is so beautiful", he said, running his fingers though it gently. "These pool ball colours are so bright and cool!"

"You don't feel anything?", I asked, but he was busy holding his hand up to the light and slowly moving them about commenting, "Look, they are like sausages!".

"Your turn at the bar, Dan".

"Oh, okay". And off he would stagger.

Dan is a big guy and he wore a long black leather jacket. He could drink a fair bit but drank very quickly, meaning when he was drunk it was hardly subtle. He had gotten so drunk on top of being stoned that he was almost horizontal as he approach the bar. And still they served him unquestioningly, placing our drinks on a tray, which would require one of us to rush up and assist in carrying.

At one of these adventures to the bar, Sexpig stood next to me and watched in marvel. "I can't believe they are still serving him!"

We proceeded to play our game, but it was Dan's shot and we couldn't see him. I found him on a chair at the edge of the empty dance floor starting out at disco ball lights jumping around.

"Your shot Dan."

"Look at those colours!"

Every now and then, Dan would declare he was leaving, as he did have to get up for work early and it was already the early hours of the morning. He would stagger gently in the direction of the exit, looking like Laurence Fishbourne in the Matrix from behind, and with a big wide, soft grin on his face from the front.

As he was the guy with the cash, I would go after him, stop him and suggest maybe one more. He would grin and say "Okay!" and slowly turn, stagger to the bar and return with fresh drinks for all.

The nights fun was ended very suddenly when Dan, for reasons that will forever remain unknown, pulled out and threw away some plug near our pool table that turned off all the lights in the near empty club.

As it was, from memory, a total of us and the staff, there really wasn't anywhere to hide.

We made a rapid exit up the stairs and, our g + t's still in our hands, right into the back of a cab that took us away to Dan's place to await the morning, where we stared at the stars from the balcony and Tory scared the fuck out of me by getting Dan's genuine samurai sword out and waving it around demanding a fight.

That was the South Pacific Rugby Club. It was an experience unlikely to be repeated -- not with the Moral Police governing us.


  1. I can't believe it's gone!

    They impressed me most when a certain Will W got so plastered that after sculling a schooner he threw it backwards over his shoulder, smashing it against the wall.

    When the bouncer came over we expected to be thrown out. Instead he just swept up the glass.

    The next time Will went to the bar they even served him another beer - but this time in a plastic kids cup with pictures of happy fishies on it.

  2. Then there was the famous incident when football player Noa Nadruku assaulted 3 women including his wife outside the Southpac after drinking 40 schooners of beer, a six-pack of stubbies and half a bottle of wine.

    He was aquited after the court decided he was too drunk to have deliberately committed the offence.

    Yet the poor Southpac came under heavy media and police criticism for selling such cheap beer.

    But as we all know, Noa only drank 8 schooners at the Southpac and had already consumed the other 32 schooners, the 6-pack and the half bottle of wine elsewhere. Anyway it seems unlikely that charging extra would have stopped a millionaire football player from drinking to excess.

    Despite this, the Southpac was eventually forced to install video cameras outside and to up the price of their schooners from $1.20 to $1.30.

    As the staff bitterly complained later - Noa ruined it for everyone.

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  4. A "certain Will W" commented:

    "oh my god, that's so sad. i remember the resistance execs (strategically seated under a downlight so we could see enough to write notes) with the 60c schooners that lasted only a few weeks because too many people passed out under the pool tables.

    but my fondest memory is having three southpac id cards with my photo. the first in my name, the second in the name of julius erving (my basketball idol), and the third in the name of magic johnson! i was so pissed off when they tightened the rules on how to get a card, you actually had to produce id (outrageous) on top of the $5.

    RIP indeed... "

  5. A "certain Will W" added:

    "ctually, i tell a lie. my fondest southpac memory is playing pool with my sister. she went off to get us a $1.30 schooner each and i broke (i probably won the last game). after my cracking shot, she yelled from the bar, 'ay what's down brutha'??. i swear she stopped the whole pub, everyone looking around for someone with an afro, most not knowing that we were playing pool and asking 'what's down' is perfectly normal; and most not knowing that i am in fact, her brutha.

    we played on, hoping (as always) that nadeem would have a win on the pokies, because you knew he was paying if that happened...

    ps. love the 'unknown drinker' id card :)"

  6. Sniiiff I remeber it well.
    As UC students, my buddies and I who lived in Kaleen where happy to make the trek to the SPRC. Once I met a dynamite girl on the bus from Sydney and invited her on a first date to the SPRC with my buddies. Our jaws dropped when she told us that upon entry the the bouncer asked' Are those puppies real' to which she replied 'of course'. What a romantic evening for her huh? She even got those puppies out later at my place. Thank you SPRC!!!

  7. I loved that place. I still have my card. I was there quite late in the scene, but I remember Thursday's as Jugs night.

    You had to get in before 9pm and buy a "drinks card", the card cost $5 and was good for two jugs of some nondescript mixed spirit.

    We'd then drink the two jugs, you weren't allowed to drink from the jug, so you used a straw.

    Then the top forty started, and we'd all spend hours o the dance floor. And they'd play eagle rock, and we'd take off our pants, and dance in a fucking great circle.

    Or 500 miles would place, and another big circle was required, and you'd come out with a few bruises from charging inwards into a mass and then out into anyone who was within range during the chorus.

    We all looked out for each other, it was fun, and it was safe.And Tony was a bloody gentlemen who was always there to scrape you off the floor, or find your jacket, or carry you to a taxi.

    At 3am we'd stumble back home to our university residence, and the next day our rooms, our clothes and our skin would have that distinctive overpowering Southpac smell.

  8. Ah, we all have our own SouthPac stories to tell. It has clearly touched the lives of many people deeply.

  9. God I miss Southpac, id made my 2 years in Canberra bearable. Why did they close it does anybody know?

  10. Who knows, Jarrod. I'd say their cleaning bills get too much for them, but that is clearly not true. Perhaps the health department stepped in after a cholera outbreak?

  11. Myself and a mate carried a friend to the SouthPac. I do believe he was the only person to be asked to leave, well, they asked us to remove him after he fell asleep standing up with his head on one of the benches in a puddle of rum and coke

    1. Was he also, like, not wearing any pants? Coz usually simply being unconscious would not warrant ejection from the SouthPac.

  12. Thank you William Wyatt (if that is your name and I guess you have no reason to lie).

    Your advice on how to play rugby safely is very much appreciated and entirely relevant to this post, which, if it is about anything, is about achieving sporting excellence whilst staying safe.

    Yours in athletic safety,

  13. The most delightful trip down memory lane, thank you!