Evolution of an old Merrylands’ pub into the Billabong Hotel

The old Merrylands Hotel, corner of Sherwood and Merrylands Roads, Merrylands, 1964. Picture: Tony Maston Collection, Cumberland Council Library Service

THE first pub in the western Sydney suburb of Merrylands traded for less than 25 years before the license was removed to a location closer to the railway station.

The two storey Victorian style corner pub, with balcony, was opened by Sydney hotelier, Henry Qualmer in 1897.

Qualmer, 66, had a life time experience as a publican, previously hosting the Sydney Arms on Gipp Street Sydney, Cambridge Hotel on Pitt St, Sydney, the Riverview Hotel at Balmain and the Royal Hotel at Leichhardt before he was granted a provisional license for the uncompleted pub in April 1897.

Interestingly, Qualmer’s choice to open his pub on the main road between Liverpool and Parramatta, rather than near the railway station, would – within a few years – prove to be the wrong decision; A puzzling choice for an experienced publican like Qualmer.

The Cumberland Argus reported on August 7, 1897:

The Hotel — Mr. Qualmer’s hotel is approaching completion, and in a few weeks’ time will be open to the public. We hear that it is Mr.Qualmer’s intention when the hotel is open to run a coach to and from the station for the benefit of travellers.

Qualmer though had a short stay as host. Within six months of opening his Merrylands pub, he was dead.

After Qualmer’s death, the hotel struggled for business, away from the developing commercial centre, with several publicans failing to spend any length of time as hosts. There were reports that the pub couldn’t be sold for £100!

However, a saviour was on the horizon. The arrival of a large workforce of men to construct a new water pipeline from the Prospect Reservoir would bring new patrons to the pub’s bar and helped restore business.

Merrylands bus outside Merrylands Hotel, undated. Picture: The Broadcaster, July 4, 1972

Margaret Devlin was 54 years of age, and recently widowed, when she was granted the license of the Merrylands Hotel on September 21, 1908. She paid £200 for a three year lease, which included the license, furniture and goodwill.

With her late husband, Devlin had plenty of hotel experience, having previously hosted the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle at Queanbeyan for many years before taking on the Merrylands Hotel.

Devlin also had plenty of help from her three teenage children, John, Joseph and Kathleen, in running the pub, and she would go on to host the Merrylands Hotel until its closure.

After World War I Merrylands central business district continued to develop on the western side of the railway line, and a rescue plan was needed for the old pub’s survival.

That plan came in the form of brewery giant, Tooth and Company, which purchased the Merrylands Hotel in 1922. A decision was made to remove the license into a new building in the Merrylands shopping centre.

On Monday September 4, 1922, Devlin, with the backing of Tooth and Company, was granted permission to remove the license of the hotel to the corner of Merrylands Road and Pitt Street, near the railway station.

The new Merrylands Hotel was estimated to have cost over £7,000 and was designed by Copeland Architects. 

The ‘new’ Merrylands Hotel, corner Pitt and Merrylands Road, Merrylands, C1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The public bar of the ‘new’ Merrylands Hotel, Pitt and Merrylands Roads, Merrylands, C1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Merrylands Hotel, Pitt and Merrylands Roads, Merrylands, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Devlin hosted the new Merrylands Hotel for another three years, until her death at the age of 71, in 1925.

The replacement Merrylands Hotel would trade for another 33 years before it was demolished and replaced by a new hotel in 1958.

Billabong Hotel, Merrylands, 1960. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Billabong Hotel, Merrylands, 2022. Picture: Google.

The new hotel was given the sign Billabong Hotel, and continues to trade from an updated building on the same corner to this day.

After the closure of the original Merrylands Hotel at the corner of Merrylands and Sherwood Roads, the building became a grocery store, and boarding house. It was demolished in 1965 and a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet was built on the site.

Former Merrylands Hotel, when it traded as a grocery store and boarding house. Picture: The Broadcaster, September 22, 1964.
The site of the first Merrylands Hotel at the corner of Merrylands and Sherwood Roads. Picture: Google.

A vanishing landmark

The Fairfield Broadcaster, Tuesday, April 13, 1965

merrylands hotel demoilished

Merrylands’ first ‘pub’ has finally gone under the wrecker’s hammer.

The former hotel on the corner of Sherwood Road and Merrylands Road is being demolished to make way for an elaborate supermarket and shopping block project. Cost of the project is estimated at £120,000.

The hotel has a quaint history which goes back to the pioneer days of the late 1800s.

Mrs Margaret Devlin, grandmother of the present Deputy Mayor of Holroyd, Ald. R. Devlin, held the licence for the hotel for the longest period.


Fairfield Broadcaster, October 24, 1972

Merrylands only hotel for nearly 20 years was once managed by the grandmother of the present Mayor of Holroyd. Ald. R. W. D. Devlin.

The hotel was built about 1897 on the corner of Sherwood and Merrylands Roads It was demolished in 1964 to make way for a $350,000 shopping block.

The hotel was the social and commercial heart of Merrylands in the early 1900s. It was first operated by the Qualmer family who lived in a cottage on the site of the new Coolibah Hotel, which is only 200 yards from the old building.

A former Merrylands identity, the late Mr. Tom Hurst, described the old hotel as a “real bush pub”. He said that at the peak of its popularity from 1907 to 1922 the hotel was a regular stop for bullock teams travelling from the inner city areas to Luddenham and Mulgoa districts.

Unexpected customers

He said farmers returned by horse and cart from Parramatta to areas past Smithfield and would always stop off for a drink to keep them going.

The hotel led a number of owners to bankruptcy in the early stages and about 1907 Mr. Bill Stubbs, the owner at that time, found himself in financial difficulty. He offered the hotel for sale at $200 but was unable to find a buyer.

It was then that Mrs Margaret Devlin came from Pambula on the South Coast and took over as manageress of the hotel. Shortly afterward a work crew of 500 men camped rear the Prospect Reservoir and began work on a water supply pipe from the reservoir through Merrylands.

The men frequented the hotel and soon it became a profitable business Mr. Hurst said that although Mrs. Devlin had fed “a good half of the poor families around about”, he could still remember times when she had kept the customers in line with a revolver.

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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1 reply

  1. I like history and I would like to now more please

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