Most who visit Sydney venture to the Quay and the Rocks, where Jazz is the music of choice,miss the Heroes of the Rocks. They stroll through the weekend markets just a jump off the Harbour Bridge overhead, or simply venture along George St to the Orient Hotel corner, not finding the real Heroes of the Rocks.
Yet the real “Rocks” lies on the other side of the ‘Clothes Hanger’. It is a short walk up Argyle Street through the arched tunnel under the bridge to reach a small church on your right. Turn and head towards the harbour down Upper Fort Street. A short way down on the left hand corner, at Windmill Street, you find a triangular plan stone building jutting out into the corner -look here for the Heroes of the Rocks.
A few locals are sipping a quiet ale at 2 or 3 tables on the foot path, reminiscent of an Italian village piazza where the old men sit sipping espresso or grappa to pass the time away, possibly the key difference is the lack of conversation among the Australian breed – happy to share the company and the cold beer.
A sign up above you says ’Hero of Waterloo’ and jazz music wafting through the double wooden doors most often attends your arrival. The Hero has been serving its clientele since 1840 (and some may have been here since that opening day), so it is not quite the oldest pub in Sydney, but it does have an enduring claim to fame – The Heroes of the Rocks, a term engendered by this scribe.
It has the oldest jazz bands. Geriatricity has been denied by the musicians who, but for their service to the muse of jazz at The Hero, should have parted this world some time ago. These musicians are “living” proof that jazz does not ever fade away, its rhythm improves with time- these are my Heroes of the Rocks.
For thirty years now we have returned to The Hero to find the rotating band of musicians passing through this gate on their way to playing for eternity. Yet today it was different when I strode through the door and accosted the barman with my desire for a schooner of ale. The music was not imposing but welcoming, the atmosphere friendly, and an extensive range of beers. The trio comprised a keyboard (plus singer) a trumpet/Sax player and a bass player who was of about half the age of the other members – a ring-in to the bands of the retired.
But something else arose interest among the newcomers who have come to expect a four or five player traditional jazz band of aged sipping their beers between renditions of the classics. This band comprised three ladies. The trumpet player, the eldest, found the breath to create smooth and resonant jazz from lungs apparently so frail, but with the feeling and expertise from over 60 years of practice.
I ordered a second schooner of ’New’ and settled in for the late afternoon, smiling a little at the unexpected reward. I may meet you there to hear the Heroes of the Rocks.