Gordon was no ‘hack’ hotelier: A publican who made a coffin from beer cases

Port Hotel Carnarvon WA 1904 The Great North-West December 1 1904 and Gordon Hack inset 2
The Port Hotel, Carnarvon, Gordon Hack’s first pub. Picture: The Great North-West December 1 1904. Inset: Gordon Hack


GORDON Guy Hack was one of Western Australia’s most successful hoteliers during the first half of the 20th century.

At his death he hosted one of Perth’s largest pubs, and was among the state’s wealthiest hoteliers. Hack’s career behind the bar started in the Western Australian goldfields, where, in one town, he was not only the publican and postmaster, but also the unofficial undertaker.

While running the pub in the outback gold mining town of Widgiemooltha, a resourceful Hack made a coffin from timber beer cases for a prospector found dead at the bottom of a mine shaft.

In an interview in 1939, the hotelier put his success down to hard work and “a degree of luck”. There’s no doubt Lady Luck was his constant companion, dishing out plenty of rewards right-up until she deserted him at the age of 47.

Born to Ralph and Jessie Hack in the bustling port city of Fremantle in 1904, his hotel career spanned for almost 30 years, during Western Australia’s boom gold rush period.

There’s little wonder the bespectacled, almost ‘nerdy’ looking hotelier gained his shrewd business sense from his father, who was the accountant for the Brown Hill gold mine at Comet Vale – now an abandoned town between Kalgoorlie and Laverton.

At just 19, Hack secured a job as an office clerk at William Jones’ Royal Hotel in Perth, paving his way for a future in the hospitality trade.

Established in 1882, the ‘Royal’ continues to trade today at the corner of Wellington and William Streets in the Perth CBD.

The ambitious teen shared his spare time between studying accountancy, and playing the piano. By 1926, at the age of 22, he had become the youngest hotel manager in Western Australia.

The Perth Truth reported on August 21 1926 what Hack lacked in age, he made-up for in business acumen.

Gordon (no one dares call him Mr Hack) has been in the hotel business a little over three years. As well as managing a hotel, Gordon has other accomplishments and perhaps there are few better pianists in this State. Then again, to look at him these days, you would never consider he was a pedestrian. He was captain of the Harriers’ Club in North Perth, and a prominent runner when night events were conducted at the Subiaco Oval. Gordon is still single – but engaged. He’s a keen motorist. His favourite saying is, “Come and have a drink,” and his order over the bar will be, “Vichy water, please.”

Hack married Vera Paull in 1927 and together they hosted their first pub together, the Port Hotel in Carnarvon, about 900km north of Perth at the mouth of the Gascoyne River the following year.

The Port Hotel was probably most famous for its host, former Federal MP Wilson “Iron bar” Tuckey, during the 1960s. The Port Hotel today is a backpackers’ hostel.

The Hacks had a short stay in Carnarvon, and in May 1928, they moved back to Perth where their only child, Dawn, was born on May 26. While in Perth, Hack became a hotel broker, buying and leasing pubs around the state.

Hacks passion for pubs and gold led him, his wife, Vera and four-year-old daughter to the outback mining settlement of Widgiemooltha in 1932. Today, Widgiemooltha is an abandoned town, about 630km east of Perth between Kambalda and Norseman in the Goldfields-Esperance region. The Perth Mirror newspaper reported on November 12 1932:

Off to Widgiemooltha

On Wednesday Mr Gordon Hack, the well-known hotel broker, manager and business man, said au-revoir to the Terrace and left for Kalgoorlie, en-route to Widgiemooltha, where he will take over the hotel which for over 36 years has been run by Mr J. Doyle (who has sold out and retired). The Widgiemooltha Hotel is a stepping-off point for the newly found Wannaway [gold] fields. With Mr Hack travelled Mr Weir, who believes that Wannaway’s prospects are excellent. Mr Hack is determined to make his Widgiemooltha Hotel an ideal starting point on the way to the new fields.

hacks hotel
Hack’s Hotel, Widgiemooltha. Picture: Supplied

Widgiemooltha boomed. Hack was not only publican, during his relatively short stay. He was the town’s postmaster and also successfully struck gold. Hack, it seems also was the town’s unofficial undertaker on at least one occasion, according to a report in the Perth Mirror reported on March 25 1939.

Years later while Hack was host of the Savoy Hotel in Perth, a man from Widgiemooltha told the story of how the publican made a coffin of timber beer cases for an unfortunate prospector who was found dead at the bottom of a mine shaft.

“Widgiemooltha didn’t have a police station and it was regarded as the accepted thing that the publican should take charge of the body and make arrangements of the old man’s burial.

“Gordon Hack was up there then and he and others fashioned a coffin out of beer cases.

“Word was sent to the nearest police station and a doctor came over and conducted a post mortem.

“Only place that could be used as a morgue was, of course, the hotel, but Gordon Hack didn’t fancy that at all and he rigged up a tent at the mouth of the shaft.

“A few hours’ later two insurance travellers arrived from Perth, and seeing the tent, walked over to see what it was all about.

“Anybody there,” one of them called out as he reached the tent and a voice from inside grunted, “Yes, come in.” They walked in and you can just imagine the shock they got. There on a rough table the body of the old prospector was stretched out. His torso had been cut up in the usual style for a post mortem and there were bits of him here and there. And right in the middle of the tent the doctor was standing calmly examining the old chaps liver in his fingers.

As you might imagine they left hurriedly. Anyway the old chap was duly buried and there was the inevitable wake at the hotel afterwards. One of the listening group snorted “Hooey”. And the speaker, surprised at having any doubts cast on his good story, retorted, “Alright, we’ll find Gordon Hack and ask him about it.

“Widgiemooltha’s former licensee, Gordon Hack, gave a wry smile, as the story was repeated to him, and then he said: “Yes, that’s about what happened. But you haven’t told the whole of the story. “

“While the crowd were drinking after the funeral someone bet someone else that he wasn’t game to go down the shaft at midnight and recover the old prospector’s pick.

“We didn’t hear any more about it til some hours later when all of a sudden a pick shot through an open window of the hotel and I heard someone shout, “There’s your — pick, now where’s  my quid.” He was paid.

“Another bright idea that same night was a bet that someone should sleep down the shaft where the body had been found. But this fortunately was promptly scotched. Cyanide fumes might easily have killed the man who attempted it.”

Again Hack’s stay at Widgiemooltha was brief. He had heard that another pub in the booming gold mining town of Menzies, about 230kms north of Widgiemooltha was on the market. Hack was in Kalgoorlie at the time, where he had other hotel leases. He was reported to have jumped into his car and drove the 132kms from Kalgoorlie to Menzies to secure the deal. The West Australian reported on November 3 1934:

Goldfields Activities

The only hotel remaining in Menzies, the Railway Hotel, recently purchased by Mr Gordon Hack, is to be rebuilt. There will be an additional 22 bedrooms, alterations to the bars, installation of refrigerator and electric light plant, and general refurnishing. Mr. H. Doust, contractor, of Perth, and Mr G Hack, took over the premises on Thursday, left during the week to visit the hotel in connexion with the proposed reconstruction.

The Railway Hotel, Menzies. Picture: Supplied

Hack’s biggest investment came two years later when he left the goldfields to open a hotel in Perth. He bought the old Shamrock, redeveloping the historic pub into an upmarket hotel. The Kalgoorlie Miner reported on June 6 1936:

The Savoy Hotel, Perth — Gordon Hack wishes to notify the goldfields public that he has purchased the lease of the Savoy Hotel, Perth, as from July 1. This hotel is being thoroughly renovated and extensive alterations are being made. A warm welcome awaits all goldfielders.

The Savoy Hotel, Hay Street Perth. Picture: State Library of Western Australia

The Perth Sunday Times reported on June 7 1936:

There is no part of Perth so redolent of our early history as the region within a few hundred yards’ radius of the Town Hall. In the days of early Perth, when there were no racecourses, trotting and football grounds or tennis courts, much of the social life of the male section of the community was spent in the old inns, such as King Cole’s hostelry, indeed, up to early in this century this part of Perth so remained and to the older hand who moved in city circles of 35 and more years ago, it will be refreshing to recall for a few moments some of the habitués and the social characteristics of the Shamrock Hotel (now the Savoy), which is to be taken over in complete control as from July 1 by the popular Gordon Hack.

Gordon Hack, it should be mentioned in passing, has had a meteoric and highly successful career in hotel supervision, due more than anything else, perhaps, to the fact that he has a fine appreciation of what public taste requires. In conformity with the policy which he has always adopted lie has prepared plans which will be put into immediate effect for the complete renovation and transformation of the hotel, embodying the latest features in modern hotel designing which will express the observations and talent of Mr. W. G. Bennett, Perth’s well-known architect. Refurnishing will include the installation of the latest chromium-plate and cutglass appurtenances, whilst lighting and all other facilities will be completely reorganised to make this not only the most up-to-date but one of the most reasonably-tariffed city hotels in the Commonwealth.

Mr. Hack was for some time manager of the Royal Hotel and secretary of the W.A. Club and acquired the Widgiemooltha and the Railway Hotel, Menzies; the former he sold and the latter’ he still holds. He has a warm regard for the traditions of the Savoy-when it was known as the Shamrock and aims to re-establish it as the cordial social centre that it used to be. It was at the Shamrock where the late Alexander Forrest held a memorable banquet for the citizens of Perth on the occasion of his election as Mayor of the City, and it was at this Shamrock banquet that his illustrious brother, afterwards to be known as Sir John and later, at the zenith of his brilliant exploring and political career, as Lord Forrest, gave a memorable forecast of the young State’s destiny. We are told that in this speech John Forrest predicted the magnificent future of the goldfields and the widespread development and increase of population.

On the only occasion on which Sir Henry Parkes visited this State he stayed at the Shamrock and met the bellman whom some wags in Perth had nominated for the mayoralty at a time when nobody wanted the job, whilst Alfred Deakin also stayed there. Miners, prospector, pastoralists, all went through the old long bar, sang at the famous piano up-stairs and enjoyed the lavish counter lunches.

This vision of the old Shamrock is one which Gordon Hack has concurred up for his future ambitions. With a satisfactory lease and a personal popularity unexcelled he has set out to revive the homely, social and delightfully friendly warmth of those golden days and Gordon Hack has always succeeded in his plans so far.

In a rare insight into a publican of the times, the Perth Mirror, in a series entitled “Private Lives” posed the following questions to Hack, in which his answers were printed on September 2 1939:


We Ask – He Answers

Gordon Hack

Mr. Gordon Hack, proprietor of the Savoy Hotel, and president of the Subiaco Football Club. For Number Four of our ‘Private lives’ series we turn from public life to business, choosing as our subject a young man who has achieved big success by the orthodox, but very effective recipe of hard work and initiative. To our inquisitive questions Mr. Gordon Hack, of the Savoy, and president of the Subiaco Football Club, has penned his answers. And here they are:

  1. What is your full name? A, Gordon Guy Hack.
  2. Where did you school? A. James-street, Perth, under the late Mr. Tom Chandler, to whom I owe a lot.
  3. To what do you owe your success in life? A. To work and a degree of luck, a close application to the job on hand and to detail and punctuality.
  4. What is your favorite color? A. Green; it’s universal.
  5. Are you fond of sport, and what do you follow? A. Yes, all; especially golf, fishing, foot running (once) and fox-killing.
  6. Who is your favorite film star? A. Charles Laughton.
  7. Have you a hobby? A. No particular one.
  8. Do you think the average young man is a weaker, softer specimen than those of a generation ago? A. The young man of today is definitely equal to those of other days and can today attain the highest ambition.
  9. What is your favorite breakfast dish? A. Western Australian fruit.
  10. Supper? A. None – I like to sleep.
  11. Your favorite flower is? A. A sweet pea.
  12. Is there anyone to whom you are partially indebted for year success in life? A. None in particular, but to all who have helped me. The world is full of good people who will help a trier.
  13. What is your favorite music? A. Strauss.
  14. Do you shave yourself? A. Yes, and use an electric razor.
  15. Do you approve of or attend prize fights? A. Yes; I did a bit of fighting myself. It’s manly, makes a man unselfish, plucky, fair-minded, and it’s British.
  16. What books do you read? A. Biography.
  17. Are you superstitious? A. No.
  18. Do you dance? A. A little.
  19. Play a musical Instrument? A. The piano.
  20. Did you ever intend following any other profession other than that which you finally decided upon? A. Accountancy and secretaryship.
  21. What is your height and weight? A. 5ft. 10in., 13st. 4lb., and growing.
  22. Do you agree with women painting their fingernails and smoking? A. Yes, if they like; they mostly do as they please, but there are limitations.
  23. Who is your ideal character in history? A. Disraeli.
  24. Do you know of a “better ‘ole” than Western Australia? A. Certainly not; love of one’s own country is one’s duty.
  25. What work in life have you most liked doing? A. Any job you have on hand. If you don’t like it, you must persevere.
  26. Should women be In Parliament? A. Yes, they add beauty, tone and their help is useful.
  27. To what man does Western Australia owe most? A. Lord Forrest.
  28. Do you believe in politics? Yes, especially when the politicians give of their best. Look today how politicians and the Government are giving of their best under difficult circumstances for us. We should ask ourselves: ‘”Could I do better?”
  29. Will you enter politics? A. No.

This last question was partially proved wrong, when 10 years later at the age of 42, Hack stood as a Liberal candidate for the seat of Perth against Labor’s Tom Burke at the Federal election. Hack came close to beating the sitting member, falling short by just 81 votes.

Labour’s Tom Burke with Liberal candidate Gordon Hack in 1949.

Hack’s last big hotel venture came at the end of 1938 when he secured the lease of the Bohemia Hotel in Perth. The Bohemia Hotel is now part of the Wentworth Hotel on the corner of Murray and William Streets. The Perth Mirror reported in December 1938:

Now the Bohemia has been secured. During all this rush, hurry and hullabaloo he has had as his helpmate Mrs Hack, who looks after the household affairs. Despite all his business activities, he keeps fit, plays golf with great success, is expert at deep-sea fishing, and has lately accepted the presidency of the Subiaco Football Club. Bohemia will be under the management of Mr Allan Shepherd, the well-known footballer, formerly of Perth.

In a tragic end to the tale of Gordon Hack, he died at the young age of 47 in 1951 – but not before Lady Luck, who had been so kind to the successful hotelier, gave him one last departing gift.

While walking along Hay Street, not far from his pub, in March 1950, he noticed a cross-eyed man. Thinking that it was a lucky omen, he bought a lottery ticket, and scribbled the name “Cross-Eyed Man” on the ticket. He won the first prize of £3,000. He told reporters at the time that he would donate £230 of his win to the Parkerville Children’s Homes and £250 to the Red Cross March appeal. The rest would use on a trip to England with his wife.

Just 14 months later Hack was dead. His luck had finally run out. The West Australian reported on Tuesday May 8 1951:


Well-Known Figure in Perth Mr. Gordon Guy Hack, the licensee of the Savoy Hotel, Hay-street, died in the Royal Perth Hospital early yesterday morning. He was 47 years of age. The late Mr. Hack became ill about a year ago and while on a visit to England he underwent an operation. On his return to Western Australia in the early part of this year, however, he again became seriously ill. A well-known figure in Perth, he was the foundation president of the Highgate sub-branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League. During World War 11 he was appointed Deputy-Controller of the Australian Army Catering Corps with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was keenly interested in sport and was a life member of the W.A.C.A. and a past president of the Subiaco Football Club. In the 1949 Federal election Mr. Hack contested the Perth seat against Mr. T. C. Burke and was beaten by a very small majority. He left a widow and one daughter, Mrs. S. Michelides.

A euphonlum dedicated to the memory of the late Mr Gordon Hack was presented to the RSL Memorial Band in the Perth Town Hall yesterday by the Lord Mayor Mr. J. Totterdell, MLA. Mr Totterdall is shown presenting the instrument to Mr Neil Cooper, who will play it in the band. Mrs [Vera] Hack is in the centre – The West Australian Monday June 9 1952.

The value of Hack’s estate was shown on a tentative statement of assets and liabilities as £15,919/17/8. Under his will Hack directed that his half-interest in the Grand Hotel, Boulder be divided equally between Albert Alan Shepherd, of Scarborough, who is the other member of that partnership, and Leslie Pavey, of the Bedford Hotel, Murray-street, Perth. He left the residue of his estate to his widow, Vera who has been granted probate as executrix of the will.

Vera continued as host of the Savoy until 1954. She remarried artist Owen Gard, who became famous for his paintings of remote Aboriginal people. They made their home in Gnowangerup.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2016

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