Shepherd's Bush: What happened to the Walkabout pub and the most Australia suburb in London?

Here's the thing about the Shepherd's Bush Walkabout: if you remember it, you probably weren't there. It's basically the '60s in pub form.

I don't remember the Walkie, really. I have vague memories of boozy Saturday afternoons spent yelling along with terrible covers bands, being laughed at by older Kiwi girls and trying to convince myself that pints of half-beer and half-cider tasted good. I have a fuzzy recollection of lying face-down on Shepherd's Bush Green one evening, most probably smelling of that beer-and-cider combo.

But that's about it. The rest of my memories have been consigned to the bin of history, far better in the exaggerated retelling than they ever were in reality.

That goes for the memories, and it also goes for the venue. Whatever happened, you might wonder, to the infamous Shepherd's Bush Walkabout, London's original and iconic Aussie theme pub, the beloved refuge for the homesick, the lonely, the horny and the thirsty during its heyday in the 1990s? Well, they knocked it down.

Most of it, anyway. To wander past the Walkie today is to see its brightly coloured facade partially hidden by fencing, held up by steel bars in the now empty void of what once was the pub. The Walkabout is dead. Long live the Walkabout.

It does, however, beg another question: whatever happened to Shepherd's Bush? Clearly, the Australians, Kiwis and South Africans have mostly upped and left, just as so many people have upped and left both before and after them in this historically transient part of London. The modern culture among Antipodean expats these days includes the spreading of wings and the mixing with England's general populace – not the hanging out at theme pubs.

So Shepherd's Bush was left behind, inevitably. But in doing so it also moved forward. It became better. It got grungy, and then it got cool.

And I'm in "SheBu" today to discover just how grungy, just how cool. What's happened here in the past 20 or so years? What is the Shepherd's Bush of today?

Put simply: it's everything. It's everything and everyone. It's Jamaican hair salons next to celebrity-chef bistros. It's hijab stores beside high-end coffee roasters. It's experimental theatres just up the road from Palestinian felafel shops. It's North African diners in the shadow of a sprawling Westfield mall.

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It's the world in a postcode, with not a Wallabies jersey in sight.

Here's where everyone used to stumble out of the Walkabout, or get pitched out by a bouncer, and Albertine Wine Bar is just a few doors down the road. Albertine is owned and run by Allegra McEvedy, a celebrity chef with a slew of cookbooks and an MBE. Her restaurant serves dishes like pea and marjoram ravioli with sage butter, and lemon and olive poussin, both of which sound even better than beer mixed with cider.

Things get more interesting the further you wander from the old Walkie, however, as you hit Goldhalk Road and you pass Liz's Cafe, with its high-end coffee, then see BrewDog, a craft brewery, and then on to old-school fabric shops and Middle Eastern eateries and a Taiwanese joint that doubles as a karaoke bar.

Shepherd's Bush has a multicultural vibrancy that's classic London, a mix of influences and ethnicities – more than half of its residences were born outside of England – that is far removed from the cloistered Antipodean booze culture of old.

For proof, just turn right off Goldhalk Road and make your way into Shepherd's Bush Market. Here is another world. Or rather, here is the world. People from across the globe sell their wares here, from North African fashions to Asian cooking equipment to world music CDs to fruits and vegetables you've never seen before.

At the northern end, on Uxbridge Road, Mr Falafel serves the best Palestinian-style cuisine this side of Ramallah. Two doors down there's Bush Theatre, an experimental arts space and coffee house. A few doors the other way there's a hijab shop, then a Polish supermarket, then a Syrian store, and then a Victorian-era music hall – complete with chandeliers and ornate ceilings – turned hipster concert venue. And then there's a Lebanese bakery.

Gentrification is nibbling at the edges here. The old BBC Television Centre on Wood Lane has been partly turned into luxury apartments. The largest shopping centre in Europe, the £1.6 billion Westfield London, is just around the corner. There's an outlet of Soho House, the private members club, in White City.

You get the feeling, however, that the current version of Shepherd's Bush will take a long time to change. The disparate communities who have found themselves here – the North Africans, the Middle Easterners, those from the Caribbean, and even the few Australians and Kiwis who tenaciously remain – have become part of the fabric, part of SheBu life.

They'll take longer to get rid of than a dodgy old pub.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

visitbritain.org 

traveller.com.au/london 

FLY

Singapore Airlines flies multiple times daily from Australia's major ports to London, via Singapore. See singaporeair.com 

STAY

The K West Hotel & Spa is a converted BBC recording studio walking distance from Shepherd's Bush Green. Stylish rooms start from $220 per night. See k-west.co.uk 

The writer travelled with assistance from Visit Britain

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