IT SEEMS only fair that Allan Watson, 91st lord mayor of Melbourne, should receive a bureaucratic salute on Australia Day. Watson, awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to local government and the community, has had a hard time of it over the years at the hands of governmental burghers.
After 20 years of service as a Melbourne city councillor, Watson won the mayoral chains in 1993. But three months later the newly elected Kennett government sacked the council and a crestfallen Watson had to hand the chains back. He claims to be the shortest-term Melbourne lord mayor on record.
The son of the legendary Carlton wine merchant Jimmy Watson, Allan James Watson has run Watson's Wine Bar in Lygon Street since his father died in 1962. A sociable character with an impish streak, he once billed the city council $1000 for cleaning the Carlton public statue of Irish bard Dinny O'Hearn. At last report, he was still waiting for the cheque.
Never shy of a barney, he wrangled with the council in 2002 over bud lights that he had
installed outside his wine bar to "brighten up the street".
Watson was a co-founder of the Lygon Street Festival (which began as an art competition with visiting model Twiggy as a judge) and established the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy after his father died, a passing that made the news on Radio Australia. The trophy is now a premier national award for the best one-year-old red wine at the Royal Melbourne Show.
Watson is a justice of the peace and was made a Legend of Melbourne Food and Wine in 1993 and a Legend of Rutherglen in 2002. In his council days he was a board member of the Melbourne Zoo and a trustee of the Royal Exhibition Building.
His wine bar, founded by Jimmy Watson at 333 Lygon Street in 1935, has hosted imbibers ranging from artist Fred Williams and then-trade unionist Bob Hawke to restaurateurs Donlevy Fitzpatrick and Walter Bourke. "Who's Who was here," says the 78-year-old Watson who has recently added a rooftop garden and Bavarian style to his famous hostelry.
Watson said he "felt good" about his award but added modestly: "Actually dad should have got the medal. He was the pioneer, he did all the hard work. I just polished it up."