The year in review

Fighting the Bushfire:
Reinventing the East Brunswick Club

A creative journalism thesis


Steinar Ellingsen

Submitted July 2007
La Trobe University

Part five: The Year in Review

Part one: “The end of an era, the beginning of another” | Part two: “Reinventing the East Brunswick Club” | Part three: Part three: “Long journey to the (new) East” | Part four: ”Fighting the bushfire” | Part five: “The year in review

A year, minus a day, had passed since You am I announced the official reopening of the East Brunswick Club, giving cause for a modest celebration. For the occasion, Luke had got his good friend Johnny Spittles aka Johnny Casino and The Secrets to come and play. Local Kiwi representatives and regulars at the pub, Turbines to Speed, were on as well. There was no particular buzz about the night, but that was how it was planned. Nothing had been advertised; it was a humble private function. “It’s not like it’s all over or anything,” Luke had emphasized. “The idea is to not make too big a deal out of it, because then you’ll get disappointed. I think it’s important to just be a bit Captain Goodvibes about it. Something organic and natural. I mean, you can pay heaps of people to come and hang out with you, but it’s better to have people that want to be here.” A few friends, a free show and a few drinks on the house in the kind and relaxing, though sometimes a bit smelly, environment the East has to offer on a mid-week night.

200 shows had played over the year, featuring everything from a Capella, Irish fiddle music to African drummers and black metal. Music had come from all the corners of the world. The turnout had been quite good all year, and only one show had gotten less than 15 payers. Most gigs were in the 200+ range and the 300+ nights were becoming more frequent. April had been particularly good. Angus and Julia Stone’s brother-sister-in-love chemistry sold out two days mid-week, and My Disco and Ground Components made a monumental weekend in the same month, with another 15 gigs running strong.

At noon on this cloudy second Wednesday of May, Max Kohane, atypical descendent of Jewish royalty and extravagant drummer of grindcore heroes Agents of Abhorrence, approached the East to open up the pub. It was not going to be a day out of the ordinary, only a little different. When he got there, the usual group of seven VIC Tech students were waiting for him outside to have their $6 lunch parma. “Always on a Wednesday.” He shrugged and smiled. Today, they had two soups as well, and the usual round of pots and soft drinks. He put down the chairs, put out the ashtrays, checked the beer garden, put the A-frames out on the street, talked some shit with Pete and giggled, and began rolling the cutlery.

Funny that he should enjoy this job so much. He had never, ever, ever, associated with the Australian drinking culture on any level. He grew up playing punk, most of his friends were straight edge, and the only reason he would really go to a pub was to play a show. But here he was serving drinks, and in this particular place, too. He had grown up just around the corner and used to hate the East. Some of the kids that were tough enough would come in to play pool, but he wouldn’t go near it. He realised people could bond in such places, but it had never appealed to him. Perhaps that was exactly the reason why he was doing it now. Max was one of the bar staff that had stayed at the East the longest, almost the whole year. People in the bar trade have a certain ability to float around in the landscape a bit, and never seem to stay in the same place for very long at a time. But Max felt comfortable at the East, and he could easily see himself working there another year into the future. He wouldn’t be cut if he wasn’t, but he was really enjoying it at the moment.

In the year that had passed, a lot of people had come and gone behind the bar. Some of them obviously wanted to do the job, but didn’t quite fit in, and somehow their names had vanished from the rosters. Others simply couldn’t cope with the stress on a busy night or cope with the, sometimes, tedious day shifts. And then, there are the ones who quickly find they can’t stand it, because they realise the job to some extent kills their social life. Particularly the combination of late Saturday and early Sunday shifts can be tough in that regard. In one case, and despite the guy’s talent for bar work, one staff member ended up getting himself fired for coming in to work on an early shift straight from an all-night acid bender. It wasn’t a dramatic scene, really, only a young guy whose Saturday washed away his Sunday, and he was sent home. Similar things can happen to the best of us in life when you really come to think of it. Max, on the other hand, had a healthier attitude towards the job, and an easier professional relationship to the products he’s selling than a lot of people in the industry. And, he admitted, he had always been a bit introverted Perhaps, he pondered, being regularly ‘on stage’ in a bar room had somehow helped him become a more sociable person.

When I came in a little before one o’clock, the pub was empty and Max was behind the counter, still rolling cutlery. He was suitably dressed in his favourite black Godflesh hoodie and wore a blue shirt with a yellow neck underneath. He made me a coffee and I sat down to shoot the breeze. I asked him how long he had been working there, and he told me he started two or three weeks after it opened. “I heard Luke was doing it and I thought it was sweet. I didn’t really know him at the time, but I knew of him and we had met briefly a few times. And, I mean, there are plenty of Luke-stories going around on and off. You know, him getting pinched by cops, Luke the crazy guy who used to run The Tote. Nothing brutal or anything, you know just funny shit. We were just playing around the city and met him at The Tote and then later at Ding Dong. But I never knew him well. But now I do,” he giggled, straightened his glasses and looked up with a kind of naïve seriousness.

“I think Luke’s really flexible. We’re a live venue, and I think I have a good idea about how bands wanna be treated because, you know, I’ve been treated so shit by other venues. I guess it all kind of correlates when you get to be a part of it in some ways, like working behind the bar. Really, I’ve worked so many shitty jobs and this is the only one that I’ve ever really enjoyed, to be honest. And this is the only one I can actually see myself doing for a while. I guess people don’t really say that about bar work, but this pub I like in general. I mean, you meet different people, and I really like it when it gets really busy. You know, when you just break down and laugh because it’s so ridiculous. Like that Airbourne concert or something, when it’s sold out and people are just going nuts at the bar. It’s a different kind of exhaustion, really. I mean, you can do it, no worries, but you get really tired at the end. But, then you get to sit down and have a drink and relax and everything’s all good.”

Three guys came in for parmas and then the pub was dead again. Day trade is a bit like that at the East.  Particularly, before three or four o’clock when the tradies and the last of the pub’s residents come in for their early afternoon beverages. London Calling was playing on the stereo when Luke came in to the bar in a good mood. His humming to the music was accompanied by a subtle air-guitar. “Do you know this song, Max?” Max giggled. “No, who are these guys?” “Oh, they’re called The Clash. In Japan they’re known as The Crash.” Luke said he was going down to Carlton and asked me to come with him to get some stuff for the night. He was booking a holiday too. We got in Luke’s car, a vintage light blue and rusty Magna, and rolled down Lygon Street in heavy traffic. He needed that holiday. It was important to get away from the place and away from Pam and Pete, for a little while. Especially now, after he had moved in upstairs in the pub for a couple of months while house hunting. Too much was going on under the one roof, and they had perhaps spent a little too much together lately. It was going to be a useful break for everybody. He decided on a few days in solitary in Port Douglas, and we went by the supermarket to pick up some limes and mint leaves, and some fruit for a massive bowl of punch. On the way back, we stopped to pick up some flowers for Pam.

Back at the pub there was still not much going on. A couple of guys were sitting at the bar having some beers and a few of the regulars were in. Pam was stressing about Pete having a run in with one of their tenants, who had been dodging rent for some time and had acted a bit out of the ordinary earlier. Luke calmed her down and said he had checked on him and everything was fine. There was no need to call Help Line. Today was a day for positive thinking only. He would have a shower and come back down and get the bar ready for the night. Well, after a quick beer in the front bar.

We ended up sitting around at the bar for a while doing nothing. The other guys at the bar had left. Five guys were sitting around one table without talking. Max was watching TV and writing an sms under the counter and Luke was reading Beat and commenting on other venue’s ads. “Are you fucking texting at work, Max?” Luke looked up from the paper. “Yeah I keep getting calls from the same people.” Luke shook his head and gazed back into the street press. “What’s this new place – Roxanne? Man that’s fucking weird. It’s a toss.” Right next to Roxanne’s ad was one for Geddes Lane. “Now you’re gonna have this place and that place, and Ding Dong, all in the city doing the same thing, basically.” There was no response from anyone, and Luke continued flipping through the pages. When it’s this quiet at the East, there’s really not much going on.

“Henry Rollins talk show!” Max jumped up and pointed to the TV showing a Channel V ad. “The funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s, you know, intellectual. He takes himself so fucking seriously that guy. You know how he is…” Max got himself ready for a parody. “‘All right! Now this is Fucked! And this is Shit! Fuck You, Man, I’m not gonna fucking do that or conform to your Shit!’” It was a good execution of Rollins’ character and I complimented his efforts. “It makes you wanna press pause or something to have a break for laughs and not miss anything. It’s hilarious. I reckon it’s so American, so Henry Rollins. He’s all like, ‘Fuck! Look at Me! Listen to what I have to say!’ Everything is just so overstated. It’s interesting to watch.”

Time lit itself another cigarette and kept on burning slowly. At five, Johnny Casino arrived in a cab and started setting up his gear in the band room. Dorje, the head chef, made an appearance from the kitchen and brought out his new ‘inventions’ for Max to be the vegan test pilot. The next add-ons to the already so extensive menu of chicken parmas, were two vegan alternatives – the ‘classic’ and the ‘spicy’ tofu-parma. “This is good man,” said Max after lingering on the culinary differences between the two options. “Well, it’s hard to compare the spices with such a classic number, but it’s definitely got a bit more kick in the aftertaste. It tastes the same, but then you get that ‘whoa!’ sensation at the end of it. I’m sure it would go well with some soy bacon. Get a real imitation parma.” Dorje said he had already tried it with real bacon and laughed and said he thought it was a brilliant combination.

Pete swung past the bar on his way somewhere and sat down for a chat. He had decided to rest his impressive wardrobe of multicoloured surf-shirts, in favour of a tidy black number. I complemented him on the selection and asked him about the occasion, and if he had anything on the agenda for the night. He hesitated a bit and said he’d probably go for a walk and go early to bed. “I don’t have to run things here tonight. That’s what I hire people for you know. I really just want to take a step back.” He cocked his head and assumed a smug face. “I know Pam enjoys it. But they’re all inflated egos and fucking tree climbers as far as I’m concerned…” On came a wave of laughter from us both. “Hey! Don’t write that down!” “It’s OK, I got it on tape,” I told him and gestured at my Dictaphone on the bar. Pete looked at Max and pointed at me. “It’s like talking to a bloody cop this one, you gotta watch what he writes down. You might go to jail for life or get death in the fucking chair. ‘You said this, you said that.’ Do you really work in licensing?” Max handed him a resume someone had dropped off earlier in the day. “Why are you giving me this?” asked Pete. “Oh, I’m just letting you know that I’m letting you go. We hired this guy.” Pete sat himself up and ordered his usual flat white with no sugar. “Coffee, boy. Quick! Make it snappy!” It is tempting to say that he’s sweet enough, but not really. He just doesn’t take sugar in his coffee. But at least he has kept his sense of humour intact.

Putting jokes aside, Pete begun reflecting on the year that had passed.  “No, seriously, I’m really proud of the last year. The first year we were here, we leased the place and when we marked the first year, one of the old regular said, ‘there goes another sucker.’ He reckoned we would go broke and get out, leaving the previous owner with a stack of money for our lease. That’s how it worked. You know, if you leased a place and lost it, you lost all your money. At the time, the staff tried to do it, you know, they wanted the old back. It was shocking…” He shrugged.

Pete told me life had become a lot more comfortable in the last year. And Pam and he could finally spend more time in Gippsland, and away from the East. He said he had entered a time when he finally could sit back and enjoy himself more. The fact that the pub was empty at the moment didn’t even worry him too much. “I know it will be busy again later, and if not tonight, then tomorrow night, or the next. Now I can relax. All the books I haven’t read… Now I want to read them.”


The clock was creeping towards seven, and slowly people started coming in. One of the older regulars announced he had called his work and told them that if he showed up on time the next day, they’d better send him home again. “Tonight’s gonna be a late one. I heard there’s free piss!” he said, and sported a random power stand. “Johnny Casino! It’s gonna be great. That’s how I like my music – Rrriffin’!”

The back bar was setting up, and the punch was being made. I brought a glass of it to Pam, who had just finished the day’s paperwork, and just started on her fifth cup of tea. In the comfortable chaos of their office, Pam and Cherie were on YouTube, watching Airbourne’s video clip from the East. “Ah, there they are! Go boys!” Pam said, humming along to the music. “It looks good doesn’t it?” She sipped her tea and the two girls were wagging in their chairs. “Look at the atmosphere. It was electrifying, wasn’t it? Just about blew the roof off, didn’t it?” The video ended, but Pam kept her eyes on the screen. “How cool is that?” She shook her head, and immediately clicked on ‘Play again.’ “It’s just fantastic!”

After the second screening, she got up and walked out to the back bar to greet Ruth and Annabel who were getting ready for the doors to open. “How are you girls? I hope none of you are going to work early in the morning.” She gave each of the girls a big hug and gazed over at the punch. “How many of these can you have, Steinar?” I told her not to worry too much about it.  It wasn’t that strong, but she told me later she needed four extra cups of tea that night to straighten up after the first one. “Phew!”

From the stage, Johnny Casino greeted the humble crowd. “Happy birthday to the East! It’s been a year, and my mate is still running it.” He pointed to Luke in the crowd, who lifted his Mojito in reply. Pam gestured to the stage with a happy face, and turned towards me in the corner of the back bar. “After the first year, you think the next ten will be easier.”

I had asked her a few days earlier about their retirement plans, and she had perished the thought immediately. “We talked about how long we should continue on. I had to ask Pete if he could do without it now, after all these years and we’ve finally done it. How could we walk away after twelve months? Don’t think we could, darling. It’s been a hard and long journey, but it’s been worth it. Now I am so proud of it. The main ambition is to have three or four days off in a week, and if we get that I think we could keep going forever.” And with the supply of free booze per head on that night, the anniversary party could have easily done the same or, at least, washed the mid-week well into the weekend. But, at 1 a.m. the doors were shut. And, after a good night’s sleep, the East would wake up ready to take on another year, and continue the quest for the 3 a.m. license.

Read more:

Part one: “The end of an era, the beginning of another” | Part two: “Reinventing the East Brunswick Club” | Part three: Part three: “Long journey to the (new) East” | Part four: ”Fighting the bushfire” | Part five: “The year in review

5 Responses to “The year in review”
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  1. […] Part one: “The end of an era, the beginning of another” | Part three: Part three: “Long journey to the (new) East” | Part four: ”Fighting the bushfire” | Part five: “The year in review“ […]

  2. […] Part two: “Reinventing the East Brunswick Club” | Part three: “Long journey to the (new) East” | Part four :”Fighting the bushfire” | Part five: “The year in review“ […]

  3. […] Part one: “The end of an era, the beginning of another” | Part two: “Reinventing the East Brunswick Club” | Part four: ”Fighting the bushfire” | Part five: “The year in review“ […]

  4. […] Filed under Features & essays · Tagged with East Brunswick Club, feature writing, Honours thesis, Steinar Ellingsen ← Long journey to the (new) East The year in review → […]

  5. […] Posted by sellingsen on December 15, 2007 · Leave a Comment  […]

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