Royal National Park’s fake gold rush

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The Centennial Hotel Helensburgh 2015


Mick and son, Peter Hanley at the bar of the Cabbage Tree Hotel, Fairy Meadow in 2003
Mick Hanley and son Peter at the bar of the Cabbage Tree Hotel, Fairy Meadow in 2003

A FORMER police officer, and one time host of the Cabbage Tree Hotel at Fairy Meadow, Mick Hanley was quite surprised, while going about his business as a licensing cop in 1990, to find his family name on the facade of the Centennial Hotel at Helensburgh.

A little research and he discovered his great great great grand-uncle William Hanley established the pub on the opposite side of the road in 1888. He was even more surprised to learn that his great great great grandfather John Hanley built the original pub. The family later rebuilt the popular watering hole in its present location in 1915.

While at the helm of the Cabbage Tree Hotel he said legend of his Irish forebears fabricating a gold rush in Sydney’s Royal National Park in the 1880s to boost business at one of their struggling pubs was common family knowledge.

The Hanley brothers, William, Thomas, John and their three sisters arrived in Hobart from Tipperary with their father William, the ship’s convict guard, and mother Johanna in 1851.

As an 11-year-old William arrived in Tasmania and spent just over 10 years with his family in Port Cynet before they were lured by gold to the Cooma district of NSW during the early 1860s. Deciding on a future as a farmer, William was 23 when he purchased a 40 acre property near Lake Eucumbene in 1863.

In 1866, the same year William married Yorkshire born Annie O’Malley, he and his brother Thomas, were arrested and sentenced to five years “on the roads” for cattle stealing, no doubt trying to stock their newly acquired property.

After the two were released they returned to farming, but later were introduced to the hotel industry when their sister Anora married Cooma publican Edmund Gaulway in 1871.

The Hanleys made their way to the Como district, south of Sydney, in the early 1880s where the Georges River wilderness was being opened up with the construction of the South Coast government railway. The region was a hive of activity and development – a sure place to make a fortune.

William and Annie Hanley licensed a pub, known as the Woronora Hotel, at Como on February 3 1883 to cater for the hundreds of navies working on the railway. As works proceeded further south, business slackened at Hanley’s Como pub and he followed the action, opening another inn at Waterfall in 1885.

The inn, known as the Heathcote Hotel was located near the Waterfall navies’ camp, and was a favourite haunt of railway labourers. William was often criticised for taking advantage of the workers by providing a place for them to ‘liquor-up’.

Hanley’s real notoriety though came in 1886 with the ‘salting’ of a nearby creek with fine alluvial gold. He had spent a number of years in the gold fields around Cooma and knew how the slightest smell of the mineral could spark a rush.

Reports of gold at Garie soon spread to Sydney and hundreds of prospectors arrived in the Waterfall district seeking their fortune. However, the find was proved to be a hoax and Hanley was said to be “the controlling factor in opening up the Garie rush”. It was reported his “very dull hotel became a hive of business while the excitement lasted”.

As the railway progressed further south, so did the Hanleys.

John Hanley began building a 20-room weatherboard inn on the southwest corner of Hume Drive and Parkes Street Helensburgh in 1886.

During construction of the pub, John was charged by police with selling grog without a license after allegedly supplying liquor to his workmen; However the case was dismissed.

William Hanley’s long battle to license the Helensburgh inn began soon after the sly-grog case. He was refused a license for the premises a number of times – magistrates believing another pub in the region would add to the problem of drunkenness in the area. A population increase with the opening of a coal mine in the village prompted the magistrates to grant a conditional license for Hanley under the sign of the Centennial Hotel on February 7 1888.

HB Centennial Hotel 1888 RAHS
The Centennial Hotel, Helensburgh, 1888. Picture: Royal Australian Historical Society.

William moved from his Waterfall pub, placing his brother-in-law Edmund Gaulway, the former Cooma publican, in charge.

William Hanley eventually became a respected and influential resident of Helensburgh and died there aged 64 in 1904 from Influenza. He was buried in the Helensburgh cemetery.

Hanley’s widow, Annie, who continued as host after her husband’s death, entered into a lease agreement with Reschs Brewery in 1914 that would lead to the construction of the present Centennial Hotel.

The brewery secured a 26-year lease of the pub on the condition they replace the old timber inn with a new two-storey brick hotel for the Hanley family.

The new 18-room Centennial was built at a cost of £5,233, opening in May 1915, to coincide with the completion of the duplication of the South Coast railway and Helensburgh’s new station.

Centennial Hotel Helensburgh 1926 anu
Hanley’s Centennial Hotel, Helensburgh 1926. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The 1920s marked the beginning of the end of the Hanley Family’s close ties to the Helensburgh hotel trade with the original timber inn demolished and the death of pioneer publican Annie Hanley in 1923. Although this ended the Hanley’s hands-on association with the Helensburgh community, the family continued as owners of the building up until the pub’s sale to Tooths Brewery for  £5,500 in 1936.

Centennial Hotel Helensburgh 1930 anu
Hanley’s Centennial Hotel, Helensburgh 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Centennial Hotel Helensburgh1949 anu
The Centennial Hotel, Helensburgh 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Footnote: I have been trying to locate an image of William and/or John Hanley for some time, without any luck. Can any of our readers help?

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2014

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