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Sydney's oldest barmaid still pulling beers at 91

“I’ll keep going,” said the diminutive great-grandmother, even though the Sydney pub scene has changed vastly from the wild days of the 1970s when big spending sailors and dockside workers kept the hotel busy.


Lil Miles has no plans of retiring and says the best barmaids are those who listen. Pic/AFP

Was it wild? “Oh yes it was,” said Ireland-born Miles, reflecting on her time at the hotel that has brought its joys as well as personal tragedy. In those days, some hotels in the area allowed prostitutes to be ‘raffled’ to the highest bidder on their premises. “It wouldn’t happen today,” she added.

The Hotel would see its own action, said Miles, with sailors competing in relay races around the block with burning rolls of newspaper stuffed down their backsides. “One night there was three sailors leaving... one was lit, he’d been around the block, and he’d light the next one. Oh, it was so funny,” she said.

“They were just homeless boys, away from their homes,” said Miles, her silvery-white hair held neatly back with pins. Miles and her late husband John took over the Bells Hotel in 1973, living upstairs with their six children. Despite the changes she has witnessed, Miles says the qualities of a good barmaid haven’t altered much.

“You’ve got to be a listener I think. Because all the old blokes tell you about their aches and pains,” she chuckles. “It’s been really great.” She does the jobs she says ‘the others don’t want to do’ such as taking the money out of the pool tables and making sandwiches for the lunch crowd. “If they get a delivery, I pull the beers,” she adds. “I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s been a good life.”

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