THE Dora Dora Hotel traded for over 100 years on the road between Talmalmo and Woomargama – in the south east part of the Riverina, close to the NSW and Victorian border – before it sadly closed for business and was eventually delicensed in 1998.
I first sat at the Dora Dora’s small-cluttered bar in 1985, and have fond memories of the historic pub, jam-packed full of memorabilia and character.
The hotel was established by Patrick and Margaret Costello, from the nearby rural settlement of Ournie, in 1888.
Patrick Costello, a carrier, gained a conditional license for a house at Seven Mile Creek, Dora Dora on April 26, 1888.
Pictures of the pub are rare. Here are a few from what many consider is the bible of Australian hotels, Douglass Baglin and Yvonne Austin’s book, ‘Australian Pub Crawl’.
“At the Dora Dora Hotel at Talmalmo, Mrs Wright wears one of her many different faces. Not only is there a wonderful atmosphere and fascination in this hotel, but Alf Wright and his wife amuse customers by disappearing and reappearing wearing different masks. There is a very good feeling in this hotel, and strangers are not strangers for long.”
“Children play on the old relic in front of the Dora Dora Hotel at Talmalmo, on the headwaters of the Murray River in NSW. Built more than 125 years ago, it has a magnificent view of a beautiful valley spoilt only by an ugly telephone exchange. When asked why the exchange was place directly in front of the pub, a local grazier drawled, ‘If you were waiting for it as long as we were, you wouldn’t care were they put it.”
The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 27 January 1965.
THE BEER IS FREE
(but not today)
Nestled in the foothills of the Woomarama Ranges, just 50 miles north of Albury, the township Talmalmo presents, at first sight, a typical scene-a few farms, a post office, a hall, a pub.
BUT stepping inside the wayside hostelry the traveller finds a museum, here in the middle, of the bush.
The Dora Dora Hotel is named after a long-extinct aboriginal tribe.
I drove up to the entrance in a cloud of dust and was greeted by an ominous notice: “BEWARE OF THE AGAPANTHUS.”
I stepped hastily past a tree covered with animal skulls, but received a pleasant surprise when I saw another sign on the door: “Free Beer Tomorrow!”
And there I stood in amazement, eyes agape as I scanned the bar.
For here was a collection of curios, relics, antiquities, and natural history objects of art mingled with war souvenirs, an old-time arsenal among misshapen bottles, foreign coins, etc.
On the wall (and on the ceiling!) were calendars dating back almost a hundred years, visiting cards from passing travellers, and a miner’s right licence certified, copperplate handwriting.
There, too, were World War II color patches and a “Fishermen’s Crying Towel.”
Stuffed snakes and other fauna peeped from odd corners.
Relics of the Kelly era, nulla-nullas, guns, and armor, gold and opal quartz all were here.
A small, jovial-looking man of about forty-odd appeared. The twinkle in his eyes was very evident.
“Alf Wright’s the name,” he said, extending his hand.
I glanced back at the “Free Beer” sign.
“Ah, that’s a pity,” said Alf, anticipating me, “that was yesterday!”
I found out later that this was the answer all hopeful inquirers received … to-morrow never comes.
An ex-serviceman (he served in the artillery), Alf Wright bought the Dora Dora Hotel 18 years ago. He has been a collector nearly all his life.
A heavy native club hangs on the wall. Alf usually hands this to the ladies: “See what the husbands used years ago; much more effective!”
Visitors from all over the world come to the Dora Dora, Alf told me, and most bring some curio or relic.
“You name it, I’ve got it!” Alf said proudly, hurling a bottle at the wall. It bounced back.
Noticing a two-shilling piece on a stool, I casually tried to pick it up. It’s fixed there.
Later in the morning a car and caravan stopped outside, and the occupants, a family and friends, came in.
Alf served them.
Suddenly Alf said in a hushed whisper, “Excuse me, I must have a look at my brother. Sometimes he gets out, you know!”
And he tapped his forehead in a significant manner.
Shortly after he left us the door leading to the counter burst open and in rushed a hideous looking ogre, a wizened and stooped individual with two-fanged teeth.
We reeled back in horror.
This shrivelled Frankenstein grabbed our glasses.
” ‘Ere, ‘ave this one on me mean brother, Alf!” he yelled. “Never been known to shout yet, ‘e ‘asn’t!”
He sloshed beer into our glasses and left as suddenly as he had appeared.
A couple of minutes later, Alf reappeared, breathing heavily. “I caught him!”
For Alf is a renowned “quick-change artist.”
I was invited to stay for tea. Mrs. Wright evidently thought I was hungry, for the meal was a feast.
And there on the table was a little printed card.
Guest, You are welcome here,
Be at your ease,
Get up when you’re ready,
Go to bed when you please.
Happy to share with you
Such as we’ve got,
The leaks in the roof,
The soup in the pot.
You don’t have to thank us
Or laugh at our jokes,
Sit deep and come often,
You’re one of the folks.
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