Cobar gives a proper send-off to an icon

A large group of locals reunited on the site of the former New Occidental Hotel for last drinks on Saturday evening. Photo courtesy of Klae McGuinness Photography

A crowd of almost 200 former clients, bar staff, bouncers and publicans of the New Occidental Hotel gathered on the old site on Saturday afternoon for “Last Drinks at the Occ’.

With the permission of the current owners of the now vacant land on the corner of Lewis and Marshall Streets, the group toasted the memory of the old icon which had served the community of Cobar since 1930.

The gathering was emceed by former licensee, Peter ‘Payney’ Payne, assisted by a number of his former staff members.

Payney said the idea for ‘Last drinks at the Occ’ came from former patron Trevor Palmer and former staff member Alannah Josephson and he was keen to be involved.

Payney said the contribution of old hotels such as the New Occidental Hotel to their townships were invaluable.

“When a township was built the first buildings put in place were court houses and police stations, followed closely by hotels.

“Hotels provided accommodation, meals and an area for persons to meet, and were very often places where itinerants could pick up work and generally socialise and meet the people of the town,” Payney said.

He also mentioned the substantial financial contributions hotels made to enable sporting bodies such as rugby union and rugby league clubs to survive and, in some cases, flourish.

Payney spoke about the value of the “Occ Pick-a-Card” competition which helped to support the local rugby league and rugby union clubs.

In addition to acknowledging his staff, Payney recalled “some of the old luminaries which frequented the Occ” such as ‘Rippa’ Martin, Barry Grant, Beau Francisco, Lionel and Merle Nicolls, Peter Johnson, Brian Green and Kay McGuire.

He also mentioned Johnny and Betty Edwards who helped “raise his kids” during his tenure as licensee.

He spoke about each of the pub’s licensees in contemporary times, which included his mother Molly Payne, himself, Jock and Vicky Brown, Joe Baker, Gerard Francisco, Ron Weir and Bobby Bruce, who was licensee when “the old place suffered the ignominy of death by burning”.

“Traditionally the first site you saw as one entered Cobar was the New Occidental Hotel and there is still a huge gap when one does enter the town,” he said.

As part of his address, Payney mentioned the notoriety of the Black Beer Club and the fact that the New Occidental Hotel at one time held the world record for bulk Toohey’s Old beer sales.

“The health and almost miraculous qualities of Black Beer were revisited. Alastair McRobert, who owns Meryula, stated that before he drank Black Beer he had difficulty walking, but since the inception of the Black Beer Cub, and drinking the black elixir, he has shorn over 200,000 sheep throughout NSW.

“The patrons stood on the slab at the site of their beloved New Occidental Hotel and drank a toast not only to the wonderful memories of the old icon, but also to the sad passing of Daniel Howard, who lost his life as a fireman attending a callout which was the complete destruction of the hotel by fire.”

Former staff member Wally Schofield also spoke at the event and acknowledged the contribution of Peter’s wife Julie Payne, who, he pointed out, not only assisted in the running of the hotel for 30 years but also raised their three children at the same time. (The inference there was that Peter Payne as licensee, had the easy job!)

“In summary it was an enjoyable afternoon, an afternoon with a lot of laughs and a lot of good memories. There was little bit of drinking as well,” Payne reported.