THE former publican of the Star Hotel, Don Graham, still resents being accused of inciting the riot that marred the closure of his pub.
"I was questioned by the police and threatened with charges of inciting the riot, but I was with a mate from the Ironworkers' Union all night and he told them so," Graham says.
"I stayed in the pub the whole time, having a few beers and just watching it happen."
Graham insists that the riot was entirely the fault of police, although he also retains some bitterness towards the pub's owners, Tooths Breweries, over their decision to close the hotel at short notice.
READ MORE: Heroes plan last hurrah
"The police came through one day in 1979 and told me the pub had to have $45,000 spent on it to make it comply with the law," he says.
"Then the owners, Tooth and Co, came in and said I had seven days to close.
"I offered to have all the work done. I even offered to buy the pub but they wouldn't sell it to me.
"During that whole week I never had a single official visit by the police to discuss procedures for the closure.
"You'd have thought they might have come in to talk to me, but they stayed away until the night itself."
As for the night of the riot, Graham says the atmosphere was happy - if boisterous - until the police arrived.
READ MORE: The night of fighting on the streets
Graham maintains - uniquely, since no other witnesses appear to confirm this assertion - that he looked out of the Hunter Street entrance of the pub at about 10 pm and saw "two columns of 20 police each marching towards the pub from the licensing police headquarters on Hunter Street, near the Union Street intersection".
According to Graham, one column went to each entrance and began "a military style operation".
Where Graham's account does agree with other witnesses, including police, is in the incident where a uniformed officer tried to make the band stop playing by shaking the microphone stand, hitting the singer in the mouth.
"That's when the chant started: 'Piss off pigs, piss off pigs' and that's when the mood of the night changed," Graham says.
"Out in the street I heard somebody say a police car hit somebody and the mob went for the police cars."
Violence broke out there and then and didn't abate for hours.
"The crowd was happy until the police came. The police turned the crowd vicious with their aggression," Graham says.
For Graham, the riot was a tragic end to a highly successful period in his business career.
A former Sydneysider, he came to Newcastle in 1973 to take over the Star, having studied the Sydney hotel scene "to see what was attractive to younger people".
A big part of the answer was live rock music, and Graham put bands in the Star six nights a week.
"Benny and the Jets got us going," he says.
The drag shows that had flourished in the middle bar before he arrived continued to draw big crowds and the Seamens' Bar on Hunter Street was also highly successful.
Although the Star was a Tooths pub and sold plenty of KB, Graham unashamedly sold large numbers of cases of Tooheys cans from tubs of ice behind the bar "because that was what the drinkers wanted".
Graham had a keen eye for publicity, exploiting the popularity of the drag queens and experimenting with other gimmicks including Lily the roller-skating barmaid.
Asked why he launched his notorious campaign to kick out the transvestites in early 1979, Graham rejects the suggestion that it was an attempt to placate community morals campaigners.
"I got sick of the cat fighting, that's all," he says.
READ MORE:In the middle of the mayhem
Graham is not afraid to admit having contact with some heavy and well-known criminals over the years, telling some blood-curdling tales alleging attempted robberies, attempted "hits", exploits of bagmen, political fixers, SP bookies, bent cops, rigged horse races and court cases.
Graham says he had mixed experiences with the police over the years, enjoying an excellent rapport with some detectives who often used the Star Hotel as a source of valuable criminal intelligence.
During that whole week I never had a single official visit by the police to discuss procedures for the closure. You'd have thought they might have come in to talk to me, but they stayed away until the night itself ... The crowd was happy until the police came. The police turned the crowd vicious with their aggressionDon Graham
But he claims to have been prosecuted 18 times by licensing police, winning every case but never having costs awarded in his favour.
"I retired a cleanskin, without a single strike against me," Graham says.
After the riot, police unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Graham taking over the licence of the Bellevue Hotel.
"If necessary I was going to allege a lot of dealings . . . but they withdrew their opposition so I didn't have to," Graham says.
But there's still a chance his allegations may be revealed.
Graham plans to publish a tell-all book about the seamy side of Newcastle in the 1970s.
"It's going to make Underbelly look tame," he promises.
- This article was first published in 2009
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