THE Shepherd’s Bush Walkabout closed its doors on Sunday after almost 20 years of serving the Australian expat community in London.
The official closing party was held on Saturday night, and included everything you would expect of the iconic Australian themed pub; live sport, snakebites, sweat patches, and that distinct Aussie spirit.
The party followed a live screening of the Rugby Championship final, which saw the All Blacks defend their title in an epic match against the Springboks.
The huge HD screen, which over the years had broadcast many of the biggest sporting events from the southern hemisphere, was raised to reveal the Bondi Beach Bums.
London’s premier Australian and New Zealand cover band started playing to the packed crowd; a mix of Aussie, Kiwis, Saffas and Brits.
Snakebite in hand, everyone danced and sang along to the Bums repertoire of classic and good-time Aussie rock — covers of John Butler Trio, Crowded House, ACDC and Spiderbait.
“It was quite reminiscent of the glory days,” said Marty Fraser, a Kiwi, who had been working at the Walkabout as an Assistant Manager for two and a half years.
“All the people who used to come to the church sessions were going oh yeah, it’s back.
“Everyone I met had an absolute ball. I can count on one hand the amount of issues we had that night. Everyone was there to have a great time. It was great for the staff as well,” Fraser told Australian Times.
“It’s obviously going to be quite sad to see this place close down. I can’t even count the literal amount of blood, sweat and tears I have put into these walls. It’s the end of an era. I almost feel worse for everyone else than I do for me personally. Where are you going to go to watch your AFL or NRL nowadays?”
In September, Walkabout’s parent company Intertain announced the closure of the venue. They had received a high level of interest in the site of the pub, and after putting it on the market in July they recently sold the property for an undisclosed sum.
Intertain now intends to use the proceeds of the sale to fund a program of refurbishments, and future acquisitions of pubs under the Walkabout brand.
Since the news of the closure became public, the response from the Australian expat community has been overwhelming.
“There’s not a great deal of information being released, so a few people are accusing us of closing the pub on purpose… But all in all it’s been a really positive response. Everyone wants to get their last bit of Walkie memorabilia,” Fraser says.
The closure of the Walkabout in Shepherd’s Bush leaves a gap in West London, not only in terms of the sports coverage it offered, but the popular venue was also a second home for Australians and Kiwis living in the area.
“It’s sad to think people are going to lose that. Come Australia Day next year, come Christmas time where the Aussie/Kiwi communities really pull together. It’s sad to miss that,” Fraser explains.
This sentiment was re-iterated by many of the partygoers.
“It’s an Australian icon in London. It’s the place you come after the church on a Sunday. It’s the place where you view many sporting events, and it’s the place where you down many a snakebite…It’s the end of an era. So you’ve got to say farewell to the old girl.”
Reminiscing on his experiences at the Walkie, an Australian said: “One year all the blokes came down and they all wore white shirts. The competition was the person who had the most white still showing at the end of the night was actually the loser.
The last day of trading at the Walkabout was on Sunday, and coincided with the NRL Grand Final, which saw the Sydney Roosters beat the Manly Sea Eagles 26-18.