Home' Greymouth Star : February 25th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 7
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Johnny Rubbo with his latest batch of home-brewed wine.
Greymouth identity and mine host at the old Cobden Hotel for 40-odd years, Johnny Rubbo could almost be
considered the 'godfather' of the West Coast's little Italian community. Reporter PAUL McBRIDE talks to Johnny
about wine and growing up as an Italian West Coaster.
ohnny Rubbo is in the process of
bottling his latest batch of home-
grown wine and it is obvious he is
well versed in the traditions of his
"If I told you the secret of this
wine I would have to kill you
afterwards," Johnny chuckled.
" e recipe for making it
originates back to my homeland
and is special to me. It has been handed
down through the generations --- a very
good Italian wine."
Johnny cherishes his bloodline traditions.
As well as wine he also brews Italian
Grappa, Limon Cello and for good measure
he makes traditional salami and collects
and processes his own honey from the three
beehives located on his back section.
"Italian tradition is you don't waste
anything and that is how the grappa
originated, it's made from what is left over
after making the wine. Grappa is actually a
clear spirit but cherries can be bottled with
it to give a taste and colour, or you can use
prunes for a di erent colour and taste. It is a
very potent brew," the former Cobden Hotel
publican added with a grin.
"I got the recipes from my father
(Giovanni) and it has travelled the family
chain. In turn his father gave it to him and
so on. It has been in the family for many
generations. e grappa was originally made
in a place called Bassano De Grappa and
the Limon Cello originated from Capri and
" e secret for making good salami is
having the right pig. It must have the right
fat content, most important."
e Rubbo family came from Santa
Caterina village, in Lusiana, an hour's drive
"Dad (Giovanni) came out in 1927 from
Italy together with his good mate Amando
( Joe) Soster --- he was young Joe Soster's
father. ey went to Aussie rst and then
came across to the West Coast and dad
settled in Snowy River, up the Grey Valley,
where he worked a goldmine. He left my
mother (Teresa) back in Italy and she came
out eight years later with my older sister
Rosina. I was born in Reefton nine months
later. A year on and we moved to Runanga
and then my younger sister Maria joined the
"Mum and dad had a fruit shop on
the corner of Carroll and McGowan
streets. Growing up in Runanga has many
memories for me," says Johnny. "I went to
St Joseph's Primary School and then to the
Marist High School for a couple of years
before working in the fruit shop. I did a lot
of hunting and shing with my good mate
Clive Barker back then. I started my own
mobile fruit run soon after working at my
father's shop, using an old red Fordson van
before progressing to an A2 Bedford when
the business grew and the Fordson got too
Working alongside his father, the young
Johnny would travel south to pick up tree
ripened plums, peaches and fresh apricots,
and with the Apple and Pear Board then
holding a ransom on apples they also tapped
into the blackmarket, overcoming the tight
restraints imposed by 'moonlighting' to
"We'd sell fruit by the case --- people made
their own jams then --- and, of course, the
old sack of spuds. We'd get rid of six ton
on a Saturday, get them on the rail wagon
from Christchurch. If the growers knew you,
which they did, we did the old cash jobs, buy
up the fresh fruit.
"Most of the time, though, our produce
came from Baillie and Neville, or we had
two markets in Christchurch --- McFarlanes
and Market Gardeners. I worked in the fruit
shop for 12 years or more before Morrie
Smith o ered me a job in his hardware
department at Gri en and Smith."
Johnny says he always had a fascination
for pouring beer and was soon up at the
Australasian Hotel pouring brown ale after
being o ered a full-time job by publican
Billy Bud. So started a long career in the
He had been married to his wife Pat (nee
Hill) just six weeks earlier when as newly
weds they took over the Cobden Hotel,
which soon became the family home, and
there they raised their children, Stephanie,
Jennifer, Geo rey and Brent.
"Pat was a school teacher in Westport and
I met her while playing badminton --- it was
love at rst sight. Pat moved down to teach
at Paroa the following school term and not
long after that we got married.
"It was 1964 when we took over the
Cobden Hotel. It was very run down, on
its last legs. Ron Baxendale took over the
Rapahoe Hotel at exactly the same time.
When we went into the hotel there were
17 pubs in the Greymouth area at the time,
plus three clubs."
e Rubbos ran the Cobden Hotel o
and on for over 40 years, in three separate
"Pat and I always came back. We loved
the hotel, loved the people, and we made
a few changes to the place along the way.
In 1971, we leased the pub to Ron and
Noreen Hay and when they took over the
Criterion Hotel in Westport, 18 months
later, Pat and I moved back and ran it until
1986, before selling it to Jack Schaefer, from
Marlborough. Jack was killed in a tractor
accident and the hotel came up for auction.
We thought we would stay in it for three
years but ended up there until 2002."
Over the years the pub was an oasis for
the Cobden-Kohinoor Rugby League Club,
and players and their supporters made it
their home away from home. It was also an
attraction for players from other clubs.
Johnny says that in the days of 6 o'clock
closing, police raids were regular. e front
door bell would send a startling one, long
ring that was a kickstart for after-hours
"It was quite common and an annual basis
of getting caught, and before 10 o'clock
closing came in it was a regular happening.
I remember all the pubs around town had
been caught and the patrons knew we were
due so they wouldn't drink there. In the end,
I rang the sergeant of police at the time
and said 'come and get me, I'm losing all of
my trade'. ey came over and booked me,"
"Every day was di erent in the pub, even
though there were the regular jobs that
needed doing. We ran the hotel at our pace
and kept strict hours, which made it easier
A bikie gang arrived en masse one day out
the backyard, and I thought 'here comes
trouble'. ere was a mob of them, a pretty
bad lot. I rang George Rutledge, who was
the sergeant of police at the time. George
came over with a couple of others, and
without going into detail, sent them on their
Every hotel has its regular patrons and
characters and Johnny says the Cobden
Hotel certainly had its local identities, each
of whom has left a lasting impression.
"Old Dusty Rhodes, the artist, he did a
beautiful painting for me for a bottle of
whisky. Dusty was a brilliant artist and he
was a regular there. Fred Manson was the
local taxi driver. He'd call in to pick up a
passenger, charge them two and sixpence,
then buy a double whisky with the fare
before driving away in his taxi.
"You start mentioning people and you are
sure to leave someone out but Billy Mitchell,
A J ompson, Peter and Graeme Rae,
Ted White, Brian McGrath, Jock Malone,
Frank Blake --- all characters, great people.
Barry Williams, Barrie Rutledge, Lyell
Jones, Joe and Ritchie Stewart, Claude
Stewart, Johnny Miller, Tony Furness, the
Sweetmans, the Twists, the Gardners --- the
list goes on."
Johnny Rubbo has worn many hats in his
life. He is a past-president and life member
of the Westland Hotel Association, a former
president, life member and patron of the
Cobden Bowling Club, and a former vice-
president and long-time member of the
Greymouth Trotting Club. He coached the
Cobden-Kohinoor colts teams for a number
of years and remains a keen follower of West
Coast rugby league.
"I love playing 45s and I suppose while I
may be retired I'm always on the go. I never
stop scheming, and having inherited all
the traditional homeland recipes ensures
I'm kept pretty busy. I've got a range of
fruit trees down the back, that's why I got
the beehives initially, so as to keep them
"It's good to get back to Italy and meet all
our relatives. To date I suppose we have been
over there eight times. I certainly appreciate
where I came from but I've lived basically
all my life on the West Coast and it is my
home. Where in this world would you get a
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