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The Meaning Behind The Song: A Pub With No Beer by Rolf Harris

The Meaning Behind The Song: “A Pub With No Beer” by Rolf Harris


“A Pub With No Beer” is a classic Australian folk song written by Gordon Parsons in 1957. However, it gained significant international recognition through the popular rendition by Rolf Harris in 1960. The song tells the melancholic tale of a lonely man visiting a pub, only to find that they have run out of beer. With its emotive lyrics and catchy melody, “A Pub With No Beer” resonated with audiences, becoming a timeless anthem representing Australian culture and the importance of community gathering places.

The Story Behind the Song

The inspiration for “A Pub With No Beer” stemmed from a true event that occurred in 1943 in the small country town of Taylors Arm, New South Wales, Australia. The establishment known as the Cosmopolitan Hotel, owned by local publican Thomas O’Reilly, temporarily ran out of beer due to an unfortunate trucking strike. This unusual event deeply impacted the local community, highlighting the crucial role of the pub as a hub for socializing and camaraderie in rural areas.

Song Structure and Lyrics:

The song’s simple structure consists of two verses and a chorus, often followed by an instrumental break. Each verse tells a distinct story of individuals who visit the pub, only to be met with disappointment when they find no beer. The chorus repeats the phrase “It’s a pub with no beer” to emphasize the central theme.

Some poignant lyrics from the song include:

– “Oh, it’s lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night, where the wild dingoes call
But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear
Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer”

– “The swaggie came in, his face beaten in
And he asked loudly for something to eat
But the publican’s eyes, they closed in despair
And quietly said, ‘Man, the supplies are not there,
Mate, it’s a pub with no beer.'”

Significance to Australian Culture:

“A Pub With No Beer” has resonated deeply with Australians over the years due to its portrayal of the pub as a central gathering place for communities. In a country known for its love of socializing, this song struck a chord, becoming an enduring symbol of the importance of shared experiences and camaraderie.

The pub has traditionally held a vital role in Australian culture as a place where friends and neighbors come together to share stories, laughter, and drinks. The absence of beer in the song symbolizes the loss of that connection and highlights the isolation and loneliness experienced without the familiar setting of a pub.

Impact and Legacy:

Rolf Harris’s rendition of “A Pub With No Beer” catapulted the song into the international spotlight, gaining popularity not only in Australia but also in the United Kingdom and the United States. The song reached number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1960, further solidifying its status as an iconic piece of music.

The success of the song also showcased the talent of Rolf Harris as a performer and further reinforced his place in the music industry. Harris went on to become a renowned Australian artist, television presenter, and entertainer, leaving behind a lasting imprint on both Australian culture and the global entertainment scene.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Q: Who wrote “A Pub With No Beer”?
A: Gordon Parsons, an Australian songwriter, wrote the song in 1957.

2. Q: How did Rolf Harris popularize the song?
A: Rolf Harris’s 1960 rendition of “A Pub With No Beer” brought the song to international fame, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart.

3. Q: What inspired Parsons to write the song?
A: The song was inspired by an event in 1943 when a pub in Taylors Arm, New South Wales temporarily ran out of beer due to a trucking strike.

4. Q: Why is the pub considered an important gathering place in Australian culture?
A: Pubs serve as social hubs, where people come together to bond, share stories, and build connections. They are integral to Australian culture.

5. Q: What emotions does “A Pub With No Beer” evoke?
A: The song evokes a sense of loneliness, loss, and the importance of social connection. Its melancholic lyrics strike a chord with listeners.

6. Q: Are there any other noteworthy renditions of the song?
A: While Rolf Harris’s version is the most well-known, other artists such as Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash also recorded their interpretations.

7. Q: Is “A Pub With No Beer” still popular today?
A: Yes, the song continues to be popular and is often performed at pub sing-alongs and Australian folk music events.

8. Q: What impact did the success of the song have on Rolf Harris’s career?
A: The success of “A Pub With No Beer” propelled Rolf Harris’s career, establishing him as a prominent figure in the Australian music industry.

9. Q: How is “A Pub With No Beer” celebrated in Taylors Arm, New South Wales?
A: The town hosts an annual “Pub With No Beer Day” to commemorate the event that inspired the song, including live music performances and festivities.

10. Q: Has the song been covered by any international artists?
A: Yes, artists from various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have covered the song, showcasing its widespread appeal.

11. Q: Does “A Pub With No Beer” reflect the broader Australian drinking culture?
A: While the song highlights the importance of the pub as a social space, it does not solely represent the Australian drinking culture, which is diverse and multifaceted.

12. Q: How has the Australian pub scene evolved since the release of the song?
A: The pub scene has undergone changes over the years, adapting to societal shifts, but it remains an integral part of Australian culture, with both traditional and modern establishments thriving.


“A Pub With No Beer” is far more than just a song about a missing beverage; it encapsulates the essence of Australian culture, emphasizing the significance of communal gathering spaces. Through its emotional power and catchy melody, this song has provided comfort and a sense of connection for generations. Its enduring popularity and continued relevance speak to its status as a beloved musical masterpiece and a testament to the importance of shared experiences.

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