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Murray McHenry

Pubs and football – great community meeting places and tribal gatherings. Both create a sense of belonging to a place and a group of like-minded people.

Murray McHenry has been deeply involved in both over the course of his life’s journey.

Owner of iconic Nedlands institution Steve’s, Chairman of the WA Football Commission and former Chairman of the West Coast Eagles, McHenry wears many hats.

At 65, he is urbane and indefatigable. He is also a vigneron, with a family winery in Margaret River, and a hospitality supply business.

Steve’s is known to generations of Nedlands residents and the wider Perth community. First opened in 1908, it was called the Nedlands Park Hotel and holds an important place in the hearts of many of us.

During the Second World War, the verandahs were divided up using canvas and lattice and used as dormitories for American servicemen stationed here. After the war, the government of the day required all hotels to accommodate returned Australian servicemen at a rate of 10 shillings per week for full board.

The pub became known as Steve’s after Mr McHenry’s father, Stephen McHenry. McHenry senior was the licensee of the hotel from 1935 until his death in 1958. Locals named it Steve’s – “we’re just going down to Steve’s” – as Steve was considered a friend and the pub an extension of their homes.

After Stephen McHenry died, his wife Hazel took on the licence and continued to run the pub until the owners, the Swan Brewery, decided to divest its hotel properties to fund its new Canning Vale brewery, which eventually opened in 1977.

Mr McHenry grew up at the pub and rode his horse, Silver, around Nedlands foreshore. Silver was stabled behind Steve’s along with the local policeman’s horse.

Rather than walk the distance to school – he attended pre-primary at a church on Elizabeth Street and later Nedlands Primary School – he rode Silver through the streets, surely the best way for a child to get to school. He later attended Christ Church Grammar School.

The Swan River is also an integral part of Steve’s, sitting as it does close to the Nedlands foreshore. As a young lad, McHenry would swim to the other side of the river to Applecross Jetty and back – a fair distance!

In the old days, before the redevelopment of the property, you could sit in the beer garden and watch whatever was happening on the broad stretch of water.

Steve’s was always the “uni pub”. A generation of uni students would have many tales to tell of Wednesday nights and Sunday sessions at Steve’s.

Such was its popularity, Steve’s was almost a victim of its own success.

“There would be twice the amount of people trying to get in as we could fit in,” he said.

While the licence held about 1,900, “We’d set out to get about 1,000 people, but there’d be at least 1,000 waiting to get in. People would be the jumping over fences. It was crazy,” he said.

It was also the site of one of the first gigs ever played by the Farriss Brothers – the founders of INXS. 

Mr McHenry eventually decided to redevelop, which solved the problem of hundreds of patrons pouring out of the pub and disturbing the neighbours at closing time. Steve’s is now a boutique wine bar and bistro, with a stylish development of 58 apartments and townhouses.

The old pub, though, remains and has been reborn as four modern apartments, but with the original verandahs, pressed metal ceilings and the grand central staircase.

“It was a privilege for to me to restore the old building,” he said.

Football has also loomed large in Mr McHenry’s life. In his youth he had to make a choice between football or rowing.  Rowing won after he was selected for the crew for the interstate championship the King’s Cup, an important fixture on the national rowing calendar.

Later though, he returned to football, though not as a player.

He was part of a consortium that financed the West Coast Eagles’ entry into the then VFL. He was involved with the Eagles for about 13 years as Director and Chairman.

He has now returned to football as the Chairman of the WA Football Commission after many of his former football connections urged him to return to football to tackle a range of issues critical to the future of the sport in Western Australia.

His role is to build on the relationship the Commission has with the state government over the new football stadium.

So what does he think has changed in Nedlands over the years?

While he thinks the foreshore itself is much better used today, he thinks people don’t use the river as much as they used to.

“We used to live in the river as kids,” he said.

“All the large yachts don’t live on the river anymore, they live on the ocean. We’ve now developed marinas up and down the coast. When there weren’t any marinas, everyone came up the river somewhere to house their boat.”

“To see a Saturday afternoon on the river in summer with all the spinnakers flying about 4 or 5 o’clock was a massive sight – you almost couldn’t see the water,” he said.

He divides his time now between Nedlands and Margaret River, working at the winery – “It’s a great lifestyle, but we do work!” – and eventually sees himself moving down there when his involvement in football ends.

The wine business has a pretty impressive pedigree – his brother-in-law David Hohnen started Cape Mentelle. In the 80s they went over to New Zealand and started Cloudy Bay. The wine in both was of such high quality that the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton group came in as shareholders.

They eventually sold those businesses to Moët Hennessy and started McHenry Hohnen Wines in 2004.

He constantly refers to his life and achievements as “the journey” – and that journey has had its roots firmly in the life and community of Nedlands.