For more than 30 years, every weekend during the football season you could find photographer Col Whelan at Kogarah’s Jubilee Oval and Cronulla’s Shark Park, shooting the Dragons and Sharks games for the NRL.
He loved his football job but most weeks between matches you wpuld find him on his motorbike heading bush for the outback pubs and the country people drinking there who were his real passion.
In the bush he could spend time listening to the stories of people living on the land and photograph their world.
“Probably beginning at the turn of this century, the players, the coaches and the officials of the rugby league became increasingly muzzled,” Whelan said.
“Every time you’d start talking with them there’d be a media prevention officer, standing at their shoulder making sure they said nothing insightful, interesting or even slightly controversial.”
So increasingly Whelan headed to bush pubs, the cultural centre of most small towns, for the uncensored yarns free of political correctness or social spin.
To places like the Warrego Hotel Fords Bridge, literally at the ‘back of Bourke’ where, in a town of just three people, one resident doesn't talk to the other two.
Places like Barringun on the border south from Cunnamulla where Mary Crawley, at 92 is probably the oldest female publican in Australia.
“Mary will usually refuse to get you a second drink. Between serving, she likes to sit out front with Gidgee her dog and if you ask for a chaser she’s likely to tell you that since you saw where she got the first, you can go get the second one yourself,” Whelan recalls.
And places like Middleton in Qld (pop. 2) where Lester and Val run the pub and the ramshackle camping ground across the road which is locally known as the Hilton.
Lester can’t remember the last time he wore shoes and his uniform is a battered blue singlet.
He’s also photrographed places like Toompine where if you catch enough yabbies in the waterholes out back and throw them in for the communal dinner, Dogga the boss will let you stay for free.
In perfect timing for Father’s Day, Whelan has just published a 300-page coffee table book of photos and tales from the people in some of the great outback pubs in NSW and Queensland titled Pub Yarns: The Pub, the Whole Pub and Nothing but the Pub.
It’s published by New Holland and is in stock at Cronulla’s Berkelouw Bookshop and online at Facebook: Nothing But the Pub.