NSW/Qld border divided Hungerford pub’s bar


LEGEND has it that a there was once a pub that sat ‘slap-bang’ on the border of Queensland and New South Wales.

As a consequence the outback pub, located at Hungerford, had its bar half in NSW, with the remainder in Queensland!

Hungerford is located near the Paroo River and still has a ‘border gate’, which doubles as a dingo barrier fence. The population of Hungerford fluctuates, however the town currently has about 10 residents.

For most of last century the two states had different pub closing times – NSW, 6pm, and Queensland, 8pm. After 6pm, it was reported that patrons of the border pub would walk to the Queensland end of the bar, where they could drink until 8pm1.

There are plenty of tall and colourful tales told about the border town’s early days. We known there were two pubs trading in the remote community by the 1920s – The Royal Mail and the Commercial. The Brisbane Telegraph reported on August 12 1927:

Out on the dusty plains of the south-west and close to the New South Wales border is the little town of Hungerford, a place containing two hotels, a store, several shacks, about 35 inhabitants, and an incessant thirst which can only be satiated at a shilling a glass or with the muddy waters of the town dam. The town is isolated by distance, but it is kept in close touch with the cities by wireless. The pastoral industry is the solo reason for its existence.

The Commercial Hotel, Hungerford, 1927. The hotel closed about 1932. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The Commercial Hotel closed about 1932, leaving the Royal Mail to service the thirsts of around 200 residents. The Dubbo Liberal reported on March 7 1933:

It is a shandy-gaff place, 50-50 on the border. The Queensland side has a hotel — the Royal — and store, conducted by Mr. Tom Morrissey. Till recently, the place had two hotels, both weatherboard buildings. The Commercial, that was is now closed. 

The following yarn, headed ‘On the Paroo’ was published in the Charleville Times on February 8, 1935, and clearly reveals that Hungerford and its pub was no place for women.

There is a true story told of Hungerford in its early days, which has its setting in this small weather board building (The Royal Mail Hotel). The tale adds a bold dash of colour to the little border town, and was told to us by a man who witnessed the incident. It happened 50 odd years ago, long before telephones or motor cars had invaded the township. The [border] fence was there; but many moons before its dog-proof days had begun. Then its chief significance in the memory of the story-teller was that all goods passing through the gates suffered a border levy … a big thing when, from the distant rail-head in New South Wales, he would bring his teams loaded with every thing – from cotton to canvas – to fill the wants of the farthest-out pioneers. This distressing drawback to free trade was cheerfully overcome by backing the great waggons up to the fence, where eager dwellers on the northern side accomplished their shopping through the wires! During one of these visits the settlement was more crowded than usual and the little bar-room of Wethered’s hotel was full of a rough, good- natured crowd. They were drinking and laughing in the light of the low-hung kerosene lamps, when – apparently because nobody knew what else to do with her – a white woman was put up for auction. Nobody seemed quite clear how she had come there; nobody, least of all the woman, seemed to care, and most of all, nobody wished to be responsible for her, or her board! At first there were no bids. She stood there, a poor creature evidently quite indifferent as to who would be her purchaser, and it began to look as though she might remain on the hotelkeeper’s hands. Somebody suggested throwing in a bar of soap to make it a good bargain, and the yellow oblong was tossed on to the table beside her. That brought the first and only offer. A big man, shouting his laughter with the rest, bid one and six for the ‘lot’, and for this one and six they were knocked down to him… the soap and the white woman! It is not a pretty tale, yet strangely enough at odd intervals for years afterwards, the story-teller would come across that queerly-mated couple and would invariably find them to all appearances on the best of terms, and well content.

Les Bullock, a Toowoomba school teacher, told the Port Macquarie News, in a story published on January 21, 1939, that the one and half acre paddock behind the pub was six feet deep with empty beer bottles!

“The freight is too heavy to return the empties,” he was reported to have said.

While the legend of the ‘halfway house’ cannot be substantiated, there’s another story in similarity about the pub at Hungerford.

The Royal Mail Hotel, Hungerford, Queensland, September 1927. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The border between NSW and Queensland was not officially surveyed until 1879-1880. When the Royal Mail Hotel was first opened at Hungerford in 1874, it was thought to be sitting in NSW and as a consequence licence fees were paid in that colony up until 1879.

The survey though eventually revealed that the pub was not in NSW, but in Queensland, and from 1880 the licence has been issued in this state. Whether the Queensland Government ever tried to retrieve the lost revenue from NSW for those six years is unsure.

The Royal Mail continues to trade in Hungerford, Queensland (2019).

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

commercial hotel hungerford
Commercial Hotel, Hungerford Queensland. The pub closed about 1932.
Royal Mail Hotel Hungerford Qld
The Royal Mail Hotel, Hungerford, Qld. Picture: Environment Queensland
The Royal Mail Hotel, Hungerford, Qld. Picture: Environment Queensland

The Royal Mail: A History…

The Royal Mail Hotel was granted its first license in 1874, a year before Hungerford was gazetted as a township. The town lies on the border between Queensland and New South Wales, on the east bank of the Paroo River, and was a customs post on an important early stock route running between Queensland and the markets in Victoria and South Australia.

The first license for the Royal Mail Hotel was issued to John George Cooke on November 6 1874. He was also the postmaster following an earlier attempt to set up a service based on a property at ‘Hoodsville’, a few miles away.

The name of the hotel is particularly apt as several publicans served in this capacity over the years, besides supporting a later Cobb & Co mail and passenger service. The first post office was established at ‘Hungerford’s’ on January 1 1876.

The border between New South Wales and Queensland was not officially surveyed until 1879-1880. When the Royal Mail was built, it was thought to be in New South Wales and licence fees were paid in that colony from 1874 to 1879. The survey revealed that the land was part of Queensland and from 1880 the hotel licence has been issued in this state.

Isaac Foster acquired the hotel from Cooke in 1876.

Hungerford was one of the 14 settlements along Queensland’s borders used as customs posts until the colonies were federated in 1901.

The route officially ran between post offices in each settlement, but nearby hotels were commonly used by coach companies to change horses and accommodate passengers and this was the case with the Royal Mail hotel. Isaac Foster died in 1882 and the license passed briefly to two other men before being taken up by Charles Wethered who held it until 1889, when it was taken over by Thomas G. Foster, who was possibly a relative of Isaac. By this time the Royal Mail had competition in the form of the Commercial Hotel, built in 1885. The railway had by then reached Cunnamulla and with the coach link, provided access to larger centres.

Writer, Henry Lawson described Hungerford in a short story of that name which appeared in While the Billy Boils in 1896:

“The town is right on the Queensland border, and an interprovincial rabbit-proof fence – with rabbits on both sides of it – runs across the main street… Hungerford consists of two houses and a humpy in New South Wales, and five houses in Queensland. Characteristically enough, both the pubs are in Queensland. We got a glass of sour yeast at one and paid sixpence for it – we had asked for English ale.

The post office is in New South Wales, and the police barracks in Bananaland. The police cannot do anything if there’s a row going on across the street in New South Wales except to send to Brisbane and have an extradition warrant applied for; and they do not do much if there’s a row in Queensland. Most of the rows are across the border, where the pubs are.”

John Logan died in 1907 and his widow, Margaret, became the licensee. By this time, the town had passed its peak when it had a population of over 100 and a magistrate’s court, police station, post and telegraph office, a school, four churches, several shops and three hotels.

The Cobb & Co service to Hungerford was discontinued in 1904 and by 1915 Hungerford had been bypassed and was merely a turn off on the Cunnamulla to Thargomindah coach route.

The hotel was sold in 1928. The Royal Mail has since had several licensees, the current owners having purchased the hotel in 2000. The town population has in recent years been as low as 10 and the Royal Mail has been the only hotel for most of the 20th century, drawing custom from local people and seasonal pastoral workers.

Following the opening of nearby Currawinya National Park, custom is being increasingly drawn from tourism.

– Courtesy: Environment Queensland

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1. Port Macquarie News, January 21, 1939.

Categories: NSW hotels, Queensland hotels

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