Born just about 10 miles from the Tavern in 1929, Mel Jurd became a legend in Wollombi folklore through his various escapades, the most notable of which was his purchase of the Wollombi Wine Saloon in 1957.
The Wine Saloon was a quiet sort of place with nothing much happening, just the usual locals dropping in for their fortification. Oh yes, there was Clarence the Clocker, Jackhammer Jim, Arthur the Carpenter, and a few others who you might call the “regular” crowd. The odd traveller who would venture up the rough dusty track from Sydney might also visit the Wine Saloon. Then there were those times when things around the Wine Saloon were anything but quiet. Take Christmas night 1959. Mel and his wife Rose threw a large party for visiting relatives and their local friends. A feast of great magnitude, of which Wollombi had rarely seen took place. Now in those days, Wollombi did not enjoy the benefits of electricity and beer and food were kept cool in kerosene refrigerators. As the party dwindled and the those staying with the Jurds in the Saloon went off to bed, Mel attended as best he could to his publican’s duties which included topping up the kero in the fridges. On this occasion, it seems that Mel got his kero confused with his petrol, both of which would have been stored in 44 gallon drums. It was around midnight when the alarm was raised and the result of Mel’s swapping the petrol for kero in the fridges became apparent. The Saloon was on fire.
Despite the valiant efforts of those who fought the blaze, Mel and his family sat under the big camphor laurel tree outside the courthouse and watched the Saloon burn to the ground. The Jurds were suddenly transformed from their high status of leading public figures to homeless waifs. They had only their bedclothes that they slept in and everything in the Saloon was lost.
But Wollombi is typical of the Australian spirit and soon all the locals were pitching in, offering help. Soon timber was being felled and milled as a local builder worked to build the family a new house and bar. Within just six weeks, Mel Jurd was back in business. There was still a lot of work to be done to build up the business and to finish off their home and Mel, always the adventurous looking for new ways to make a “quid” was struck by the idea of creating his own special brew that could be sold only through the new Wine Bar. A mate of Mel’s had told Mel about one of his old bush remedies for a sick tummy. He believed a double nip of port with a nip of brandy was just the shot. Mel, being the sort of entrepreneurial fellow he was expanded upon this idea. He had heard of stories of similar vain from troops that had served in the tropics during World War II. The soldiers called their concoction “Jungle Juice”. The notion appealed more and more to Mel.
Legend has it that Mel, in his efforts to keep costs down and revenues up would save all the leftovers from the night before and pour them into a single container. Port, brandy, wine, you name it, Mel saved them all and experimented with various brewing techniques. Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice was created. This was eventually followed by a “spirited” marketing campaign. But, you could only obtain this special drop at Mel Jurd’s Wollombi Wine Bar, which stands by the old convict built Great North Road about 100 miles north west of Sydney town. The product has remained the trademark for the establishment ever since.
Then in 1976 Mel sold his interest in the Wollombi Wine Bar and entered semi retirement setting up Friar Jurd’s Restaurant just a stones throw from his previous enterprise.
You can get the complete history of Dr. Jurd, along with a glimpse of life in Wollombi from the book “The Halcyon Days of Dr Jurd – in a stagnant backwater” written by local Gillian James. The book is of course only available for sale in Wollombi.