Pub built on Aboriginal burial site burnt to the ground – twice!

The fourth Commercial Hotel, Chinchilla in 2016, believed to have been built over the burial site of an Aboriginal person. Picture: Google Streetview

Four Commercial Hotels on Chinchilla site


IT’S probably not a good idea to build on top of an Aboriginal burial site, as can be contested by a pub on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

The Commercial Hotel has traded from the same site at Chinchilla since 1877.

While there are pubs scattered across Australia that can lay claim to trading for a similar length of time, there are not many that can declare they were built over an Aboriginal burial site.

There’s been four Commercial Hotels on the Chinchilla site, with at least two of the watering holes mysteriously burning to the ground.

Was the Aborigine’s spirit taking revenge for building a pub on his or her last resting place? It could be argued.

We’ll never know. But what we do know is that the Commercial Hotel was built in 1877 about 300km west-northwest of Brisbane. As the railway pushed west across the Darling Downs from Toowoomba and Dalby, the banks of Charley’s Creek was an ideal place for a town.

The Commercial traded quite successfully for 27 years until it was curiously destroyed by fire in 1904. The Queensland Times reported on Tuesday June 28:


(By Telegraph from Our Correspondent)

Dalby, June 23. A fire occurred at Chinchilla early this morning which resulted in the Commercial hotel and a dwelling-house and store adjoining being totally destroyed. The hotel was occupied by Mr. Ernie Fogarty, and the origin of the fire, which broke out shortly before 2 o’clock, is unknown. Fortunately the night was calm, and by extraordinary efforts the Royal Hotel, which is adjacent on the western side, was saved, although the walls were scorched in several places. A cottage and bulk store in connection with the Commercial Hotel were also saved. The dwelling house and store which was destroyed on the eastern side was occupied by Dan Geary, and owned by Patrick Henry. The hotel was owned by Miss Condon, of Dalby, and was insured for £850 (including the cottage and bulk store). The furniture and stock were insured for £150. Henry’s dwelling and store were insured for £170. Geary’s stock was uninsured. Owing to the hold which the fire had obtained on the buildings before the alarm was given, the sleeping children were got out of both buildings with some difficulty.

The second Commercial Hotel, Chinchilla 1905. Picture: Supplied

Within three months the thirsty souls of Chinchilla were watching in anticipation the rebuilding of the Commercial Hotel. It was during this time that what some consider could be the source of two major fires that destroyed their pub was discovered.

While making excavations for the new pub the workmen found a human skeleton under the hearthstone of the fire place amongst the ashes of the old pub.

The Government Medical Officer at Toowoomba was called and the remains taken away for examination. The North Queensland Register reported on Monday September 19 1904:

Friday at Chinchilla on the site of the Commercial Hotel, lately burned down, at a depth of eighteen inches from the surface, in a doubled up position about a foot from where the chimney stood. The skull was petrified. The remains are considered to have been buried not more than twenty years ago, but the buildings were erected over where the skeleton was found twenty-seven years ago. Local residents think the remains are those of a blackfellow.

The theory that the skeleton belonged to an Aboriginal man were soon proved correct. The Western Star and Roma Advertiser reported on Wednesday September 21 1904:

Chinchilla has been robbed of its sensation. A few days ago the dull monotony of the township was disturbed by the discovery of a human skeleton under the fireplace of a hotel which was recently burnt down. Speculation was rife regarding the identity of the skeleton; no one really knew what developments the discovery might lead to. However, most of the interest connected therewith was subsided since the medical man who examined the remains reported that the bones are those of an aboriginal, and had probably been buried for thirty years. Hitherto, Chinchilla has been known chiefly as a place where none but commercial travellers break their journey. Let us hope that the township will derive all of the benefits from the advertisement it has recently received.

Once again, the Commercial was rebuilt on the site. However, within 17 years fire again completely destroyed the two storey timber building and the adjoining Tattersalls Hotel. In fact this time 11 dwellings were destroyed in the massive blaze.

Was it the Aboriginal spirit again taking revenge? Had not the ‘white fella’ taken heed of the previous warning?

The Commercial Hotel, Chinchilla was again destroyed by fire in 1922, along with the  next door Tattersalls Hotel. Picture: Supplied.
Chinchilla’s third Commercial Hotel in the late 1920s. Picture: Supplied.

Chinchilla’s Commercial Hotel was again rebuilt, and this time continued trading on the site for over 35 years before it was replaced with the present two storey brick pub.

The Commercial continues to cater for the thirsts of Chinchilla, despite sitting on an Aboriginal burial ground. Maybe the disturbed spirit has found peace. Let’s hope so.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023  

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Categories: Queensland hotels

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2 replies

  1. Hi Mick, Really enjoyed your write up on the Commercial Hotels Chinchilla…Was wondering are you related to John Spry ROBERTS, who lived Allora.?

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