The North Gong Pub: From wayside inn to imposing tourist hotel

The North Wollongong Hotel, North Wollongong, 2003. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.
North Wollongong Hotel Wollongong 1924 ANU
Bode’s Victoria Hotel, 1924. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.


The Royal Victoria Hotel C1910. Inset: Theodore Bode. Pictures: Mick Roberts Collection

ALTHOUGH the North Wollongong Hotel has changed considerably in appearance since German immigrant, Theodore Bode opened his little wayside inn on the site in 1878 its principal purpose of providing hospitality remains unchanged.

Now a favourite haunt of university students, the North Gong Pub – as it’s affectionately known – originally opened as the Royal Victoria Hotel. It was a popular watering hole for local farmers, travellers and tourists visiting the unspoiled scenic splendour of the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, during the mid to late 19th century.

The pub’s history revolves chiefly around Australia’s favourite pastimes of gambling and sport. Even the pub’s founding was based on a gamble when Theodore Bode took a punt and traveled to the Victorian goldfields to seek his fortune.

Born in Hanover, Germany in 1838, Carl Theodore Bode arrived in Melbourne in 1854 during the height of gold fever, and soon found his way to Ballarat where thousands had gathered seeking their fortune.

Just a teenager, Bode witnessed first hand the infamous Eureka Stockade – the riot between troopers and gold diggers over the government’s proposal to incur a tax on prospectors. But his adventurous spirit soon seen him on the move again.

Bode was an adventurer from an early age, according to his listing in the 1890 addition of Australian Men of Mark. In fact he was just 15, when he first left Hanover for England.

“He went to England to see if he could do any good for himself in that country. After a few months stay he returned to Germany, and afterwards made up his mind to sail for Australia, in order to seek on these shores the fortune which he could not win at home.”

After witnessing the Eureka Stockade, Bode – still a teenager – made for Tasmania before heading to Beechworth in southern NSW on his quest for gold.

“He seemed to be possessed of a roving disposition, as he travelled over much of Australia, and he is found at one period in New Zealand,” said Men of Mark. “But this latter country did not suit him, and he again returned to the continent as the place where his fortune lay. In his travels he put his hand to everything that he could do, and amongst other things he taught music in many places.”

Bode was naturalised a British citizen in 1862 before he married Mary Anne Anderson the following year.

Mary was the daughter of a large Fairy Meadow land holder, George Anderson, who had died in 1857. After their marriage Bode purchased 50 acres of land on the northern banks of Fairy Creek from his mother-in-law. The land would later become the site of one of Illawarra’s most famous sporting venues, the Centennial Grounds and one of the region’s best known and longest operating pubs – the Royal Victoria Hotel, later to be known as the North Wollongong Hotel.

Bode and Mary hit the high seas almost immediately after their marriage, travelling to Europe and eventually his homeland, Germany. When Bode returned to Illawarra in 1866 with Mary and their infant child, Auguste, he established the first Wollongong brass band, providing instruments and lessons. He was also the conductor and also wrote music.

Bode also began making arrangements to open a wayside inn on the property they had bought at Para Meadows. The purchase of the land sparked a family dispute that would end in an assault charge when Bode and his brother-in-law, James Anderson came to blows.

In October 1879 James Anderson pleased not guilty after he was charged with having assaulted Bode after a quarrel over who owned the land at Para Meadows. The two came to blows after Anderson claimed the land Bode had purchased belonged to him and was his inheritance. Both were ordered to keep the peace and ordered to pay a recognizance of £40 each at the Wollongong Court House.

Bode’s first attempt at licensing a single storey inn along the Bulli Road on Fairy Creek at the Wollongong Licensing Court in 1878 was unsuccessful due to strong opposition from Police Sergeant Ford. However, his second attempt on Tuesday June 10 1878 was a success and he opened his inn beginning a hospitality tradition that prevails to the present day on the site.

The Royal Victoria was doing such a roaring trade that the small inn was replaced with an impressive two-storey building in 1882 (pictured above with inset of Bode).

Although Bode is known for establishing one of Wollongong’s longest operating and most loved pubs, the enterprising publican is also remembered for developing one of Wollongong’s premier sporting facilities.

The Centennial Grounds, or Bode’s Oval as it became better known, was developed near the pub in 1889. The grounds became home of Wollongong’s major sporting events and boasted a large pavilion and grandstand. The grounds were described as “about the best out of Sydney” in 1912.

Horse racing was Bode’s next venture. He commenced building a half mile round race track at his sporting grounds in 1890 and the Illawarra Pony Club was formed at the pub in February 1901.

By January 1907 the Centennial Grounds had been registered as a six furlongs course under the Betting and Gaming Act and the club was given approval for six day’s racing each year.

Bode, a keen gardener, placed a great deal of effort into the hotel’s surrounds. The beer garden was one of the most picturesque in the state and became famous for its scenic beauty, ferns, palms and tranquil settings. Guests and patrons could hire boats to explore the heavily forested banks of Fairy Creek. It was reported in 1912:

“He was always a hard worker, and took pride in laying out his extensive grounds, and making them appear to the best advantage. The gardens surrounding the hotel have for years past presented a beautiful sight, and the thousands of people that have visited them from time to time have always been loud in their praise of the energy and taste displayed everywhere by the grand old man [Bode].”

It was no wonder than that Bode decided to pursue the Wollongong Gas Company through the courts after the company allegedly polluted Fairy Creek in 1910.

Bode, represented by Andrew Lysaght sued the Wollongong Gaslight Company in the State Supreme Court for “alleged nuisance” by allowing waste liquor to flow from the works into the creek. Damages were laid at £1000. The defence was that the pollution did not come from the gasworks, and that similar pollution existed at other places along the coast where there were no gasworks. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on June 17 1910:

“The damages were claimed in respect of a nuisance said to be caused through the pollution of Fairy Creek which flows past plaintiff’s hotel and grounds to the detriment of plaintiff s and his family’s health, and the injury of his business. The jury awarded plaintiff £500.”

Theodore Bode died aged 74 in September 1912 leaving his widow, Mary and a son, George managing what had by this time become known as the Victoria Hotel. The Illawarra Mercury’s obituary reported he died from heart failure after a bout of pneumonia: “The business of the hotel was conducted by deceased for over 30 years – a record for any hotel on the coast…”

The Mercury again reported in April 1923 that Bode’s widow was retiring from the pub: “Mr George Bode, who takes the hotel over from his mother, is a popular citizen, having been his mother’s business manager for many years, and his wife, during her stay in Wollongong, has proved that she will become a popular hostess of the Hotel Victoria. The grounds of the Hotel Victoria have always been admired, the late TC Bode being an enthusiastic horticulturist as well as a musician”.

Mary Bode died at the age of 80 in November 1926, the same year the old pub was renovated with a brick façade.

North-Wollongong-Hotel-Wollongong-1930-ANU 2
Victoria Hotel, North Wollongong, in 1930, after a brick facade was added. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The Bode’s connection with the Hotel Victoria ended after 55 years in July 1933 when the freehold was sold to Patrick O’Neill. That same year O’Neill had the old watering hole completely rebuilt, doubling it in size.

North Wollongong Hotel Wollongong 1938 ANU
Hotel Victoria, North Wollongong 1935, after it was doubled in size by Patrick O’Niell. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The hotel’s present appearance came about in 1939 when new owner, Arthur James modernised the Hotel Victoria and added a balcony that continues to grace the building today. With the changes came a new name. The landmark watering hole’s name was officially changed to the North Wollongong Hotel that same year.

North-Wollongong-Hotel-Wollongong-1939-ANU 2
The North Wollongong Hotel 1939. The balcony and other additions were made to the North Wollongong Hotel after Arthur James purchased the freehold of the premises. The original 1878 coaching inn can be seen to the rear of the hotel. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

 The North Wollongong Hotel was owned by the Laundy Group in 2010.

The North Wollongong Hotel, North Wollongong, 2001. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

First published 2013. Updated 2021

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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