THE Minmi Hotel is the last man standing in a mining settlement that once boasted a dozen places where one could ‘wet their whistle’. By the late 1870s, the township had 500 men employed at the colliery and business was good at the many pubs.
Minmi, located 19km from Newcastle’s central business district, was an important NSW coal mining centre in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were the Hand of Friendship, a pub kept by J. Strang, the Northumberland hosted by J. Burley; the Miners’ Arms with M. Fryar as publican; L. Watson’s the Duckenfield; the Royal with R. Richards as licenss; W. Wlliams’s Commercial; and the Country Doctor, owned by “Doctor” Adams.
The third pub visited during Time Gents’ visit to the townships surrounding West Wallsend, took us to the historic Minmi Hotel. We had lunch in the large recently built bistro, to the rear of the heritage listed pub, later enjoying a beer in the small, but cosy 1860s public bar, soaking up the history of this survivor from another era.
The Minmi Hotel, established in April 1861 by Cuthbert Heslop, was the township’s only pub right-up until the mid 1870s, when coal was disovered in the area. Andrew Blair, “the oldest townsman”, recalled the pubs of yesteryear in a Daily Examiner (Grafton) story on June 2 1937: “‘There was the Bonnie Doon’, said the old miner, indicating by motion of his hand in which he clutched a pipe the direction of the site.”
The building stands like so many others in Minmi -empty. The hotel was built by Harry Howard… (who) had come to Minmi from Ayr, and had named the hotel after one of Burns’ most popular, songs.
The Minmi Hotel was almost lost when the owner made an application to the Licensing Reduction Board for permission to surrender and cancel the license in 1932.
In 24 years the number of men working in Minmi had dropped from a 1,000 to 70. The population in 1932 was under 200, and the remaining two pubs – The Mini and Northumberland – were struggling to survive.
Thomas Murray Sylvester, the last remaining general storekeeper at Minmi, explained to the court how there had been a serious decline in business during the past few years when fronting to give evidence as to why the Minmi Hotel should close. “The closing of the hotel would not inconvenience anyone,” he said.
William Sneddon, engineer, said he had known Minmi for 65 years and knew it when there were only two other people there. He remembered the first mine and knew Minmi at its peak – about 1905. The decline of the town commenced with the opening up of the South Maitland coalfields. Of the 44 men now working at Minmi about 30 lived there.
Evidence was also given by John Victor Norton that Minmi was little better than an unemployed camp. David P. Anderson, licensee of the Northumberland Hotel, Minmi, not surprisingly said he would be able to cope with all requirements. Constable Rippon, had been at Minmi for three years, and produced his report on the application. There were no objections to the closing of the hotel, and the pub was delicensed.
That’s where the story of the Minmi Hotel should have ended, but in a surprise move, the publican of the Northumberland applied to have the license transfered to the empty Minmi Hotel.
The Northumberland Hotel was described in December 1933 as “not fit to retain a license in its present condition, and if money had to be spent, it might as well be spent on the Minmi Hotel”. When the question of a name for the hotel came up, it was advised that it should not be called the Royal or the Australia, but rather the Minmi Hotel. So the Minmi was given a second chance at life, and it remains trading today, continuing the long tradition since 1861.