Oddities Among Australia’s Outback Inns


DESERTED homesteads in the outback country are by no means uncommon, but a deserted hotel – fully furnished – is a novelty, at least in these days.

Yet there is such a hotel near the old mining township at Sunnymount, North Queensland. Not a soul lives in it. There are no locked doors and everything is left for the hospitality of strangers. All the beds have clean blankets and linen ready for any wayfarer who might wish to spend the night there – at no cost.

And those who have used this deserted pub have left it tidy, just as they found it.

Sunnymount was formerly a prosperous mining district. When the mines petered out nearly everyone left the township, and as there was no more business the publican also decided to leave, although he never lost faith that Sunnymount would come to life again.

His licence fee was so small – only a couple of shillings a week – that he continued to hold it in case he should want to start business again some day. But he found that, in order to retain the licence, he must also keep the doors open always for travellers.

So it is that the deserted hotel gives shelter to anyone who wishes to stay there.

Many other unusual inns are scattered throughout Australia. For instance, the “town” of Beetoola, in the far south-western corner of Queensland, consists merely of a hotel, and its population is confined to the few people who live in that solitary building. The hotel, however, is the centre for a large number of outback settlers.

One Tree Hotel in 1922

One Tree Hotel in 1922

In all its history the district of One Tree, in New South Wales, has possessed only one building – a hotel. Its occasional guests are mostly passing drovers and stockmen. When the district was discovered, a solitary gumtree was found standing in this vast, treeless plain – not another tree from the Murrumbidgee to the Lachlan. The pub was built beside the lone tree, and so the place was named.

The tree is now gone. So many campers’ fires were made close to the trunk that it was damaged and eventually a storm blew it down.

The original pub was destroyed by fire in 1900, and the pre-sent one was built on the same spot. The publican tells a good story about its erection. The insurance company in Sydney thought the claim for the cost of rebuilding it was too high and decided to have it done themselves. But they had forgotten that One Tree was true to name, and that there was no timber for miles around. As a result, the company was very much out of pocket.

The prize for our smallest tavern goes to “The Dolly Pot” – a premises 15ft long by 15ft wide, with a saloon 8ft by 8ft and a bar 4ft long, with floor space for two or three customers at a time. If you would like to take a pint or so at ‘The Dolly Pot” you will find it in the Northern Territory, 25 miles from Tennant Creek.

The O'G. Hotel, Klemzig, South Australia

The O’G. Hotel, Klemzig, South Australia

South Australia can boast of the shortest-named pub in the Commonwealth. Located at Klemzig, its title is the “O.G.”Hotel, named after Osmond Gillies, an early settler. The “O.G.” is nearly 110 years’ old, with high-domed rooms and passages, huge bathrooms, massive oaken doors, 2ft thick walls, and bellpulls. Early patrons must have been giants, judging by the coat and hat racks, all of which are fixed 8ft high on the walls.

The little town of Goolwa, on the Murray River, has a reminder of its seafaring days in an unusual decoration on the roof of the Goolwa Hotel. This is a figurehead that once graced along-forgotten ship. The poised figure of a majestic woman came off the bow of the Mozambique, a vessel wrecked on that part of the South Australian coast known as the Coorong, the saltwater lagoon which extends from the Murray mouth for 90 miles down the South Australian coast.

Mine host of the Goolwa Hotel told me the story of the figurehead which has stood above the entrance to the little pub for nearly a century.

The Mozambique, skippered by Captain Corcoran, left London in 1854 for Melbourne. She arrived safely in Western Australia and then continued her voyage with 24 passengers and a crew of 22.

Goolwa Hotel, Goolwa, South Australia

Goolwa Hotel, Goolwa, South Australia

Along the Coorong coast the Mozambique ran into heavy seas and was driven ashore. No one knew of the disaster until a station-hand at Goolwa, who was making camp one night, heard someone coo-ee. When he answered. Captain Corcoran came stumbling through the bush towards him. He told of the wrecked ship and said that the castaways, including women and children, were starving.

The station-hand had a large stock of food (some 401b of flour,tea and sugar), together with a rowing-boat, so was able to take the skipper and the provisions to the shipwrecked people. Some of the women and children were then taken in the boat to Goolwa, where they arrived exhausted after a two-day trip.

Help was sent for the rest of the castaways, one of whom died.

All the survivors were, housed and fed in the hotel – the owner refusing payment. And so it was that the figurehead of the Mozambique came to be placed on the roof. The ship itself could not be salvaged and was a total loss.

There was a further tragedy. The captain, having survived the disaster, sailed for Adelaide on the brig Harry. Just 100 miles away, off Port Willunga, the vessel was wrecked and Captain Corcoran was drowned.

The historic Collector Hotel, on the road to Canberra, not far from Lake George, was the scene of epic events in the bushranging days. This famous hotel is a museum of convict and bushranging relics.

Commercial Hotel, Collector, NSW now known as the Bushranger Hotel.

Commercial Hotel, Collector, NSW now known as the Bushranger Hotel.

Outside the building is a granite monument marking the spot where Constable Nelson was shot dead by the 19-year-old bush-ranger, John Dunn. In 1865, Ben Hall and his gang decided to raid the township of Collector. While the bushrangers were inside the hotel robbing it, John Dunn kept watch outside, and he shot the constable as he approached.

Inside the hotel can be seen the bloodstained couch on which the policeman’s body was placed. The bar and saloon contain cato’-nine tails, leg-irons, handcuffs and a flogging horse, all of which were used for the punishment of convicts stationed in the district.

You can have a drink from one of the fine set of pewter mugs, more than 100 years old, from which the Ben Hall gang drank.

At Surfers’ Paradise, Queensland, is a hotel with zoo-logical gardens attached to the building. Bears, monkeys, peacocks, reptiles, etc., are housed in beautiful tropical gardens.

A reminder of the gold rush days can be seen in an old hotel at Cooktown, North Queensland. Around the walls of the lounge are murals painted by an Italian artist.

The first picture shows people of many nationalities streaming into Cooktown on the way to the Palmer goldfields. This is accompanied by other goldfields scenes.

The paintings are excellent illustrations of the days, more than half a century ago, when Cooktown was a cosmopolitan centre, with, a population of40,000. The town boasted no fewer than 30 pubs, but to-day there are only two.

Queensland has a hotel with a mining museum. Situated on the Mount Garnet Road, 25 miles from Ravenshoe, it is called the Inot Hot Springs Hotel.

Local minerals are included in its museum and there are also specimens from all over the world. Oldest of the exhibits in this £6,000 collection is a set of false teeth-tin teeth made by an old tin-miner living in the district.

Before he made them he used to wear the orthodox type of dentures, but found them uncomfortable and decided to do his own dentistry, although he had no dental training. The tin teeth were a great success, and he wore them for years. Even professional dentists have pronounced them splendidly made and finished.

The old fellow made a fair amount of money out of his tin mining, but he always spent most of it at the pub. When he hadn’t a bob left, out would come his teeth to be handed to the barman as security for a few more drinks. When mealtime came he would borrow his teeth back, but would always return them until the next meal hour-or until he’d paid off his debt.

In his will he bequeathed them to the pub’s museum.

–  The Sydney Morning Herald, Herald Saturday Magazine, Saturday 14 March 1953


MORE on  Beetoota Hotel, courtesy of the website: be2ta.com

Simon Remienko inside the bar of  the 112 year old Betoota Hotel. PHOTO: b2ta.com

Simon Remienko inside the bar of the 112 year old Betoota Hotel. PHOTO: b2ta.com

Simon Remienko owned the 112 year old Betoota Hotel which he managed for 44 years, before shutting up shop in 1997. “I own the place – if you own something and it makes you happy, there is no reason to leave it” the 87 year old Simon said.

A 2002 newspaper interview reported the bar still fully stocked, though bottles were coated with fine desert dust, and not a drop had been sold for 5 years. “I’m too old now, but I still have the liquor licence, just in case”.

The hotel was a fortress – its thick sandstone walls attached to a three metre, locked wire enclosure.   If Simon was not in the mood for visitors, which was almost always, he ignored the doorbell.

He drove to Birdsville for groceries once a month – almost a three hour trip each way. Occassionally, for a change of scenery, he drove 1400 kms to Adelaide to visit friends – four days each way.

Simon never married, smoked or – hotel notwithstanding- drank alcohol. His fiery temper was legendary. Police were contacted after more than one encounter between outback travellers and a sometimes armed Mr Remienko.

He was 25 when he migrated to Australia from Poland and was sent to the dusty town of Boulia, north of Betoota, where he got a job as a grader driver. He set up a contracting business, working long hours to buy the hotel in 1953.

Ziggy died at the age of 88 at a Charleville nursing home on Monday 27th September 2004. 






Categories: barmen, Northern Territory hotels, NSW hotels, Publicans, Queensland hotels, South Australia Hotels

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What's Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: