Alpine Hotel Cooma
170 Sharp St Phone: 02 6452 1466
But their style of playing polo was irregular and rash –
They had mighty little science, but a mighty lot of dash:
Now my readers can imagine how the contest ebbed and flowed,
When the Geebung boys got going it was time to clear the road;
And the game was so terrific that ere half the time was gone
A spectator’s leg was broken – just from merely looking on
The Geebung Polo Club by Banjo Paterson
Sometimes truth is overrated.
Sometimes it’s just better to sit back and listen to the yarn rather than pick holes in the story. Better to luxuriate in the myth and the passion of the spinner than try to work out where facts can actually fit in.
The short history of this country has already created its share of myths, folktales and stories including any number of disputed histories and tales masquerading as facts.
Drop into the grandiose North Gregory Hotel in Winton, outback Qld and you’ll see the actual piano in situ where, ‘beyond any doubt’, Waltzing Matilda was first performed. Head a hundred km up the road to the Blue Heeler in Kynuna and you’ll see the corner of the pub where, er, it ‘can be proved’ Waltzing Matilda was first performed.
Or maybe get yourself to Corryong in Victoria and you’ll find an entire town living the dream of its own Jack Riley who was ‘definitely’ the model for Paterson’s Man from Snowy River. Then ride the serpent roads to Bredbo in NSW and stand at the bar of the old pub, at the very spot where their local lad, Charlie McKeahnie, who the locals know for sure was the inspiration for Paterson’s Man from Snowy River, dropped dead.
So what’s the truth?
So why do you care?
For me it’s the colour of the yarn and the passion of the teller that matters. It’s the light in their eyes as they tell it, the conviction in their voice as they detail it. And it’s the way they always seem to rock their heads….slowly…. as they think the tale through. It’s the way they seem to gather the makin’s and roll their thoughts in careful speech in the same measured, practised way their stained fingers roll durries and furl them in Tallyho.
These swirling mists of myth and claims of brushes with fame permeate one of Australia’s greatest poems, Paterson’s ‘The Geebung Polo Club’. Polo clubs from Tamarang in northern NSW to Hobart claim to have hosted the rough and tumble game that the Banjo watched and which inspired him to pen his poem.
And for generations the unfortunately now defunct Cooma Polo Club claimed that it alone inspired Geebung….Ted Litchfield, a founder of the club later told the Monaro Express that in 1892 the club took its ponies to Goulburn for a match and, “as they rode out onto the playing field there was an audible titter from the ladies in the stand as the Cooma ponies and their riders were much on the ‘rough’ side, in stark contrast to the well-groomed Goulburn men and horses. Goulburn won the first chukka, then something roused the visitors’ ire and they carried all before them to decided victory after a hard-fought game. Paterson was a spectator and arranged then to bring a city team to Cooma a little later. The team duly arrived and met the Cooma team on Polo Flat with what result Mr Litchfield could not remember. A dinner was held after the match at the Prince of Wales Hotel. At this dinner Paterson was called to recite “The Man from Snowy River” which was then at the height of its popularity. He asked to be excused from reciting those verses, saying he would give them something better, and delighted the company with “The Geebung Polo Club.””
I don’t really care about the veracity of these various claims – as I said, the value of truth is often overrated – but, sitting in Cooma’s Alpine Hotel under an old photo of a butt-naked bloke skiing down a slope on what resembles a broom, I find the allegations of a certain “rough side” of the local Cooma populace pretty easy to credit!
And on this Saturday arvo, just two blocks up from the site of the old Prince of Wales Hotel, there’s neither cuff nor collar in sight either, and thankfully there’s no screaming TAB! Just a few blokes around the bar enjoying being served by, and chatting with, Michael the publican.
I’d rung the pub from a few kays out of town at Polo Flat to see if they had a bed and when Michael heard me pulling up, he left the bar, came out, and said, “I’m guessing you’re Colin”. He guided me around the back to the covered, lockable bike parking area. Don’t get that too often!
The bar exudes the friendliness of the boss – each of the regulars looks up, nods and says, “g’day”. And there’s an obvious respect and recognition for the place’s heritage. The butt-naked skier photo is not there as some sort of attention grabbing sensationalism but rather as part of a collection of photos of the history of this town and its surrounds.
Michael soon tells me that after 20 years working in the Northern Territory, he and his wife, Kris, were looking for a total tree change and were searching for country pub down south.
Cooma, he reckons, “is the best little country in NSW” and when the Alpine Hotel became available two years ago, they were ‘in the right place at the right time’ and snapped it up.
There’s nine beers and one cider on tap and a schooner of XXXX will set you back $5.20. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week from a varied menu. With all the beef being ‘grain fed’, a euphemism for ‘finished in a filthy unnatural feed lot’, I went for what was a delicious lamb salad.
Upstairs the art deco façade is maintained inside with some tasteful classic touches and again, some beautiful old alpine photos on the walls.
With rates starting at $40.00 a head, the rooms are basic but they are comfortable and not lacking in facilities. There are well placed power outlets, the unscreened widows can be opened and all beds have electric blankets. The hooks were strong enough to take my armour jacket and pants and there was, of course the oil heaters which would’ve dried out any wet gear. (There’s also a washing machine and drier downstairs available for guest use.)
All up the pub can sleep a total of near 50 riders in total of 28 rooms of which 8 are singles and the same number twins.
There is no provision for breakfast and I was glad to have my own makings although the main street sure doesn’t lack for decent places with the Lott Food Store almost directly opposite the pub and the Cooma Turkish and Beatnik Café further down the main drag both do good stuff.
On the down side there is no outside non-smoking area and neither juke box nor pool table but the monitors are tuned to MTV and sport with the volume at, ‘I can hear you talk, no need to shout’ levels.
After tea I get chatting with Michael about bike riders.
The snow season lasts for around just fourteen weeks and for the other 38 when both the cold and the traffic are less intense this pub is a haven for bike riders.
“They are,” he tells me, “our bread and butter. They really do seem to appreciate the lock-up parking out back and the radiators in the rooms for themselves and their gear. And,” and here he pauses for a moment, “ we really enjoy having riders because they all seem to be fun loving people who scoot around the country all day then just want a friendly place for a drink and a decent feed and a good night’s sleep before they head out and do it all again the next day.’
I sit there thinking Banjo couldn’t have put it better!
Oh, and that’s the truth!
The Alpine Hotel, 170 Sharp St, Cooma, NSW
T: 02 6452 1466 (Michael and Kris)
It rated 75 on our MF scale giving it 3 (very nearly 4) helmets and a value of 187 where 100 is the standard.
As ever I thank my HR department for their support with this article.