OF the five pubs we visited in the Lake Macquarie area of NSW over the Queens Birthday Long Weekend, the Great Northern at Teralba takes the crown as the most traditional working class watering hole. It’s a ripper.
You know immediately when you walk into its cosy public bar, it’s a fair dinkum pub. When my wife and I pushed open the grand old timber doors of this classic brick corner pub, every one of the dozen or so heads within the bar turned to gaze.
Interestingly, although no one made conversation, except for the barmaid, we didn’t feel at all unwelcomed. I ordered a beer for myself, and a lemon lime and bitters for the wife.
The barmaid asked where we’re from, and why I was taking so many photographs. I explained, and she in turn recommended a few other interesting pubs that we should consider taking time to visit while in the area.
The original two-storey timber Great Northern Hotel, with its cast iron lacework balcony, was opened by John Hodges, after he was granted approval of his conditional license on July 3 1889.
Hodges opened what was the second pub in the coal mining town. The nearby Lake Macquarie Hotel had opened just a couple of years before. That pub’s now shut shop, after its license was transferred to Wangi Wangi in 1955. Today, Hodges’ pub, the Great Northern is Teralba’s only watering hole.
Hodges was an enterprising businessman. He was 42 years of age when he opened the pub, opposite the staion on the Sydney to Newcastle railway line. Born in England, he came to Australia as a boy, and as a young man he was a contractor in Bathurst, afterwards going to Molong, where he spent several years as a farmer.
Hodges, with his wife and six children, left Molong to take over a grocery business in Teralba in 1888. Tragedy followed, when his grocery store was gutted by fire.
Hodges, not deterred, built the Great Northern Hotel, which he hosted for 25 years and which has become a landmark pub in the Lake Macquarie area.
Ironically it was fire again that dealt Hodges another blow just a year into his new venture as a publican.
An employee of the pub, Elizabeth Griffiths, was washing clothes in May 1890 when she left the fire for the water tank. Her apron caught alight, and in a panic she immediately tried to extinguish the flames, but in doing so ignited her dress. She screamed loudly, and several people ran to her assistance, ripping the burning dress from her body.
Described as a hard worker, Elizabeth, who was married with six children, was carried into the hotel. The local doctor did all that was possible, but she died from the burns, which extended from her waist to her bosom.
During Hodges two and a half decades at the pub, he formed and owned Boolaroo racecourse, as well as the Lake Macquarie coursing ground. He also opened the Teralba gravel quarries, which supplied much of the Newcastle district with road base. The Hamilton markets were also built by him.
Hodges became known for his charitable and patriotic gestures. During the Great War he lowered all the rents of his tenants by 50 per cent. Hodges died at the age of 75 in 1922, and was buried in the Wallsend Cemetery. He left four sons and two daughters, and was predeceased by his wife by five years.
A year after his death, the pub’s freehold was bought by brewery giant, Tooth and Company. In 1923, the old timber pub was demolished and replaced with the present brick structure.
While I sank my schooner, I watched as the locals enjoyed their Sunday afternoon banter, talking football, politics, or what ever was making headlines. A tradie shared our table, more interested in the next race on the television screen, than wondering who the ring-in was taking photos of his local pub.
The friendly barmaid offered wisdom to a shortish woman, who listened on intensely. The same barmaid, who had sole control of the bar, also offered us advice: “You should also drop into the Toronto Hotel; it’s a fantastic old pub. Recently restored, it offers great meals,” she said, before a regular whistled her back to the beer taps.
Barmaids are the backbone of pubs like these. This un-named barmaid, who offered a warm greeting and sound advice, while keeping her customers lubricated, continues a valued tradition at Teralba. She was doing much the same as countless men and women have done behind the bar of the Great Northern for over a century. Now, onto the Toronto…
The history of the Great Northern Hotel at Teralba is told in the Ed Tonks’ book Smelters’ Haven To Artist’s Rest, The Hotels of Lake Macquarie. Visit www.edtonks.com.au for stockists.