Innamincka’s heritage listed ‘dead marines’

Innamincka hotel 1930
The Innamincka Hotel. The photo was taken by Alice Hopewell (nee Hiddle) when she visited in about 1909. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

NOT many countries can claim to have a ‘pub dump’ – made-up of rum, whisky, gin, brandy and beer bottles – with a government heritage listing. Australia can.

At Innamincka, a small settlement 821km north-east of Adelaide – with a population of about a dozen people – there’s a monument to the thirsts of outback Australians.

The bottle dump, behind the Innamincka pub, grew to be 200 metres long and two metres high, during the 1920s. Today though it is far reduced in size. The pile of ‘dead marines*‘, as empty beer bottles were commonly called during these times, became a tourist attraction, known far and wide.  The Queensland Times reported on Saturday 8 January 1927:

MONUMENT IN BOTTLES
Innamincka, consisting of a hotel and three tumble-down shacks, with population marked “nil” in tile official lists, has a unique feature. It lies in five acres of empty bottles, heaped as as high as a man’s head. The settlement is in the great sand belt of South Australia, west of the corner cut out of Queensland above tile New South Wales border. It serves also as a break in the long stages between Hergott Springs and Broken Hill, or between Thargominah and Hergott Springs. The heap would set any bottle-oh up for life as a wealthy man, but it might just as well be at the bottom of the sea. Bets between overlanders as to the favourite bottle in the heap never have been settled. It is said that the most numerous are rum bottles, with whisky next, and then a sprinkling of gin, brandy, and beer. There are no cordial bottles. Most started their journey at Adelaide, and were entrained to the railhead, whence the Afghan camel driver took them across hundreds of miles of spinifex and sand to thirsty Innamincka.

Innamincka bottle heaps c1930
The bottle pile behind the Innamincka Hotel C1930. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

Not long after pastoralists and their workers started to populate the Innamincka area in late 1882, a police outpost was set up on the banks of the Cooper Creek, followed closely by a general store. Soon after, in 1885, Howard Christopher Kearns of Farina lodged plans to build the Innamincka Hotel on the banks of the Cooper Creek.

Kearns hosted the outback pub with his wife and six children until 1891 when while on a visit to Adelaide in April 1891 he died aged just 47 years of age.

The Innamincka Hotel thrived as a refuge for drovers, pastoral workers and shearers who, believe it or not, used to ride their bicycles up and down the Strzelecki track looking for work.

Among the landmarks that mail planes from Darwin to Adelaide picked up were the White-ant Matterhorns, a cluster of huge termite mounds in a region where they are the chief feature of the landscape, and the glass at Innamincka, which were said to be the largest bottle-heap in Australia. The gleaming beacon, glistening in the sunlight, and could be seen from miles away.

Innamincka Hotel C1930 2
The bottle pile behind the Innamincka Hotel became a landmark for the mail plane. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

The Innamincka Hotel survived until 1952 when the entire town virtually closed when modern transportation methods meant the town was no longer a viable concern. It became a ghost town in 1956 when a massive flood swept through the area wiping out the pub and other buildings.

With a surge in tourism and people wanting to explore the outback, the pub was re-established in a new building in the 1970s. The new Cooper Creek Hotel opened in 1973, which was later re-named the Innamincka Hotel in 1983 after its licence was briefly suspended and a new licensee appointed.

What’s left of the ‘dead marines*’ – the slang term for empty beer bottles – are located within the heritage zone behind the ruins of the original pub.

* The term ‘dead marines’ is believed to have been first used by William IV (known as ‘The Sailor King’) at a dinner with with the Duke of Clarence. During this meal he ordered the steward to ‘remove the dead marines’. When a live marine he was having dinner with asked what he meant, he replied that he was referring to the empty bottles which, like marines, had nobly done their duty and were ready to do it again. Bottles were often refilled during these times.

Innamincka Hotel
The Innamincka Hotel today. Picture: innaminckahotel.com.au

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023


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Categories: beer bottles, South Australia Hotels

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2 replies

  1. Just for your interest, the photo you have of the Innamincka Pub (top) was taken by my great grandmother Alice Hopewell (nee Hiddle) when she visited in about 1909, not 1930.

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