History: Looking Back

Looking Back: Riley’s Thirroul wine saloon

Riley's wine saloon at the corner of The Esplanade and Lawrence Hargrave Drive Thirroul.

Riley’s wine saloon at the corner of The Esplanade and Lawrence Hargrave Drive Thirroul.


AFTER last drinks were called at Thirroul’s Ryans Hotel, in the days of the “Six O’clock Swill”, swards of men would trudge down the road to Riley’s wine saloon.

The wine bar, on the corner of The Esplanade and Lawrence Hargrave Drive, hit its peak in popularity during the 1920s and 30s becoming a social institution at Thirroul until its closure in 1962.

Australia suffered terribly as a result of the Great Depression of 1929-33, with exports falling by 50 percent, businesses failing, unemployment becoming widespread, but there was always a quid for a drink to forget the hardships and establishments like the Thirroul saloon prospered.

A regular of the saloon, Dick Oakley would sit in the bar with his mates at crude timber benches enjoying ‘noggins’ of wine, entertained by popular hits of the time, such as ‘I Got Rhythm’, on the upright piano.

The bar was a popular place on a sunny Saturday, well lit by a large north facing bay-window, 81-year-old Mr Oakley recalled in a 1996 interview.

It was a time when patrons of the saloon would gather around the radio listening in awe at the feats of cricketing legend Don Bradman, when a small glass of wine would set you back six pence, a large a shilling, and a bottle of house wine six shillings.

Caldwell’s wines were fashionable, Muscat or Port a favourite with the men, while the ladies preferred the socially acceptable Sweet or Dry Sherry in their own segregated bar on the southern side of the building.

Read more about Riley’s wine saloon at the Looking Back website.


About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.


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