By Mick Roberts ©
ESTABLISHED on the back of mining and the thirsts it created, there’s a pub about 20kms from Orange, in central west NSW that survives from those heady days when gold raised the hopes of many, and brought disappointment to many more.
The story of the Forest Reef Tavern revolves around two families – the Noonans and the Slatterys. At different times they owned and operated the historic watering hole for a combined 170 years.
Interestingly the pub was never owned by one of the two big breweries, and only for a short time did it become tied to one of them. The pub has been in the main family run and operated, and that tradition continues to this day.
Located in the Cadia Valley, the miners’ thirsts have been replaced mostly by farmers, although 14kms to the north of the sleepy village can be found one of Australia’s largest gold mining operations, owned by Newcrest.
The Forest Reef Tavern is one of two pubs that has survived in the village from the gold rush days, and continues to be the heart and soul of the farming community. That heart and soul was on show during our visit earlier this month, when the annual ‘Camp Oven Cook-Off” was underway.
Eighteen cooks brought their camp ovens to the pub yard on a chilly winter’s day to be judged. About 400 people attended to eat the creations, purchasing a bowl for $5, with proceeds going to children’s charity Little Wings.
The event raised more than $2,000. Tavern owner John Clemens said it was the biggest crowd yet and partner Monica Donnelly said they were happy with the funds raised for the charity.
The pub is an absolute ripper. We ventured inside to enjoy a beer in front of a warm fire place, before hitting the road to our next destination, the Railway Hotel – a half an hour drive down the road at Spring Hill.
The Forest Reef Tavern was established in 1881, but its history goes back a lot further.
John Noonan was just short of his 40th birthday, when he and his wife, 29-year-old Mary, and their three children had the license of the Royal Hotel at Cadia, 20kms to the west, transferred to Forest Reef in September 1881.
Cadia had seen it best days by 1880, with most of the gold petering out, and its prosperity wavering.
The Royal Hotel was originally licensed as the Bon Accord Hotel in the early 1860s by Humphrey Hicks, who named it after the Bon Accord Mine at Burra, South Australia.
Bon Accord Hotel Licensees
1863 – 1870: Humphrey Hicks
Name Changed to the Royal Hotel
1870 – 1872: Bernard Bogan
1872 C1874: – Patrick Maroney
1874 – 1876: John McKenna
1876 – 1881: John Noonan
Hicks remained as licensee until 1870, when the sign was changed to the Royal Hotel. Hicks died at the young age of 44 in 1877.
The family continue to have grazing property in the area, once also an orchard, in an area called ‘The Carbine’, close to Forest Reefs.
Meanwhile, John Noonan had been searching for his fortune on the Cadia goldfields since the late 1860s. He married local girl, Mary McKenna in 1870.
John and Mary Noonan, with their four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and two-year-old son, John, moved into Cadia’s Royal Hotel, after taking over the license from his father-in-law, John McKenna in 1876.
With the declining prosperity of the goldfields around Cadia, John and Mary Noonan, with their seven-year-old daughter and two sons, aged three and seven, shifted the licence of the Royal Hotel to Forest Reefs in September 1881.
They renamed the business the Forest Reef Hotel. Gold had been found in the area, and mining leases were granted and shafts were sunk.
The Noonans monopoly on the beer trade in Forest Reefs came to an end after three years, when another pub opened in the village. The Slattery family opened the Royal Hotel in 1884.
The Noonans meanwhile had their fair share of tragedy while hosting the Forest Reef Hotel. Mary lost a baby during birth at the pub in 1882, and the matriarch herself, died there at the young age of 36 in 1886. The children at the time were aged between 14 and 9.
Deaths – By the untimely decease of Mrs. Noonan, wife of Mr. J. Noonan, hotelkeeper, of Forest Reefs, the residents of that locality have lost a good kind-hearted friend, and a charitable neighbour. The deceased lady after a wearying illness expired at her residence on Friday, last, and the great love and respect she had been held in, was demonstrated by the large numbers from all parts of the district, who followed her remains to the Orange cemetery, a distance of 14 miles, through the heavy rain on Sunday last. The members of the Hibernian Society also joined in the cortege.
– Freeman’s Journal Saturday 31 July 1886.
John stuck it out as publican for another two years before moving to his property, Garry Owen, near Millthorpe where he continued successfully as a grazier and farmer, dabbling occasionally in gold prospecting. He died at the age of 64 on December 23 1906, and was buried at Orange on Christmas Day.
Patrick Slattery, who owned the nearby Royal Hotel, bought the Forest Reef from Noonan in the 1890s. As a result the Slattery family owned both pubs in the village. However, their Royal Hotel was forced to close in 1921 by the Licensing Reduction Board.
Slattery hosted the Forest Reef Hotel for 20 years before taking over the Royal Hotel at nearby Millthorpe. He died in 1954 at the age of 88.
For a short time during the 1920s the pub became a Tooheys’ tied house, and sold only that brewery’s beer. It reverted to a “free-house” when Patrick Slattery’s son, Adrian became licensee in 1931. Like his father he had a long stay at the Forest Reef Hotel and remained licensee for 20 years.
Patrick Slattery, 85, was in ill health, and in 1951 sold the Forest Reef Hotel to Rupert Maxwell. His son, Adrian Clement Slattery retired from the pub business and died in 1985 at the age of 85.
Rupert Maxwell owned and operated the Forest Reef Hotel for many years before he sold the freehold in the 1960s to Hubert McNamara.
After failing licensing requirements, the Forest Reef Hotel was forced to close for business for a short period on July 30 1971. The pub had no accommodation as required by law however it reopened two years later after it was sold by the McNamara family to David Hooper on May 31 1973.
Hooper gained a tavern license for the pub – the first in the central west of NSW. He re-opened the pub for business without accommodation on June 8 1973.
Like many country pubs, the Forest Reef Tavern remains a crucial social meeting point in the rural communities surrounding Orange and the small villages that dot its outskirts. Events like the annual “Camp Oven Cook-Off” would be impossible to run without small country pubs like the Forest Reef, and thankfully their like survive – albeit sometimes by the skin of their teeth – to continue the tradition.
The next stop on our road trip is the Railway Hotel at Spring Hill.
Forest Reef Hotel Licensees
1881 – 1888: John Noonan
1888 – 1889: Thomas W. Bowie
1891 -1911: Patrick Slattery
1911 – 1912: George Jenner
1912 – 1913: Benjamin Franklin Hamill
1913 – 1917: Ernest H. Bendall
1917 – 1919: Patrick O’Brien
1919 – 1920: Michael T. Slattery
1920 – 1921: R.G. Anderson
1922 – 1924: H.F. Phillips
1924 – 1926: O.B. Hunter
1926 – 1926: John Hayes
1926 – 1927: F.G. Pyke
1927 – 1928: Cedric Wilson
1928 – 1929: Timothy Byrnes
1929 – 1931: T.W. Hager
1931 – 1951: Adrian Clement Slattery
1951 – 1954: Rupert Maxwell
1954 – 1955: Theresa Veronica Green
1955 – 1962: William Gibson
1962 – 1962: Paul McAnally
1962 – 1967: Albert McAnally
1967 – 1971: Rajko Vogel
1971 – 1973: Hubert McNamara
Name changed Forest Reef Tavern
1973 – 1976: David Hooper
1976 – 1977: Thomas Webb
1977 – 1979: Neil Douglas
1979 – David Hooper
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018
Steve Baker, a member of the Time Gents’ Australian Pub Project Facebook Group, posted on June 4 2020: “My favourite pub is The Forest Reefs Tavern, south of Orange NSW. As a young fella, myself & 2 mates frequented the place that often we had our own table (we were christened the 3 schooner boys by the publican Dave Hooper because we wanted the 3 largest schooners when we walked in and the littlest middies when we staggered out). We had many a night with the legend of the reefs, Moleskin Adams. About 8 years ago I took my 2 adult sons there and was telling them about how you had to travel 10 miles on a Sunday to legally drink – way before the drink driving campaigns and a back packer who was working there overhead me talking and pulled out the old travellers registers and I found my signature many times back in the mid 70’s.”
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