By MICK ROBERTS ©
THERE’S a little country town in the NSW coalfields north-west of Lithgow that I reckon punches well above its weight.
While many towns and villages struggle to survive in the mining settlements west of the Great Dividing Range, the thirsts of the residents of Wallerawang are defying the trend, and are sustaining two pubs. But, let’s get to that later.
A day trip to the once prosperous mining townships west of the Blue Mountains was disheartening to say the least, as we discovered the commercial centres struggling to survive, and what appeared to be a number of pubs hanging on to remain open by the skin of their teeth.
We visited four determined townships – Wallerawang, Portland, Cullen Bullen and Capertee, with a combined population of less than 5,000 people.
Wallerawang and Portland make-up the majority of the population, with just over 4,300 residences. What impressed me on our visit over the mountains though, was the township of Wallerawang – or as the locals call it, ‘Wang’.
With less than 2,000 residences, the town sustains two pubs – The Royal, or the ‘Top Pub’ and the Commercial, effectionately known as the ‘Bottom Pub’.
Both can thank the majority of their existence on the Main Western Railway, which runs from Sydney through the Blue Mountains, Central West, North West Slopes and the Far West regions of NSW. It was opened to Wallerawang from Mt Victoria in 1871, before proceeding to Rydal and then Tarana and onto Bathurst and Orange.
The first building in Wallerawang was the Royal Hotel, opened in 1869 ahead of the arrival of the railway. The pub we see today, although not the original 1869 building has parts of the old establishment within its structure.
Originally a single storey stone building, the inn was opened by pioneer publicans John and Elizabeth Shaw.
Before opening the Royal at Wallerawang, the pair, who married in 1867, hosted another pub about 8km south along the railway track works.
The Shaws opened the National Hotel in the navvies’ settlement known as Tunnel Hill at Marrangaroo in 1867. There were 600 tents at Tunnel Hill accomodating the railway workers when the Shaws licensed their timber inn to help quench their thirsts. No doubt they did a roarinf trade.
Besides the National, there was another pub, kept by Samuel Morris, a butcher’s shop, a blacksmith’s shop, and a post-office.
The Shaws remained providing refreshment for the workers at Tunnel Hill until the progression of the railway and the navies camps towards Wallerawang.
John Shaw was 36-year-old when he opened the Royal across the road from the proposed Wallerawang Railway Station. The township would grow around his pub, where the road from Mudgee joined the railway.
The first train ran to Wallerawang on March 1 1870.
John Shaw hosted the Royal for over 20 years before his death at the age of 57 in 1890. He died at the pub. His widow, Elizabeth continued running the business with her large family of 11 children, until 1909 when the hotel was sold.
Elizabeth Shaw died at her residence, “Warwick,” in Fivedock at the age of 77 in October 1925. The Lithgow Mercury reported on Friday October 23 1925:
The late Mrs Shaw was the embodiment of kindness and hospitality. Many a weary traveller had cause to thank her when, without means, he struck the old Royal. Prior to going into the hotel, Mr. Shaw had a carrying business, and plied between Sydney and Mudgee. On his demise the hotel was conducted by his widow, who was left with a large family. The house was one of the most popular in the district, as it was noted alike for the splendid manner in which it was conducted, and the atmosphere of homeliness that enveloped it… The Shaws were a very fine couple, and represented a high type of citizenship. Interment was made in the private cemetery of Wallerawang House, Wallerawang, on Tuesday.
The Royal Hotel was replaced with the current two storey structure in 1912/13.
The pub was bought from the Shaws by Bert Abbott, who replaced the single storey inn with a large imposing double storey hotel with almost 30 rooms, and a grand balcony.
The Mudgee Guardian reported the new Royal was an “ornament to the old junction town”. It was built by Bert Fox, with publican Bert Abbott, also a builder, doing much of the carpentry work. The pub was completed in February/March 1913.
The Lithgow Mercury reported on Friday October 23 1925 that the greater portion of the old stone building was demolished to allow of the erection of the two-storey brick building, though, some portions of the old pub were used as part of the replacement hotel.
The Royal was drastically altered in 1956, when the ornate façade and balcony were removed and the interior underwent drastic remodelling. It survives, although unimpressive, but functional, celebrating 150 years of trade in 2019.
Within a stone’s throw of the Royal is the Commercial – The Bottom Pub.
This grand old lady is in complete contrast to her sister – The Top Pub or Royal.
The Commercial has retained her balcony and ornate facade, and is arguably a much “prettier” pub.
For me, I like the honesty of the Royal, but aesthetically prefer the Commercial. In saying that though, the Royal’s current appearance is typical of country Australia, presenting practicality, simplicity and functionality. It screams country – the bush.
The Commercial Hotel was built by 44-year-old Robert Estell.
Robert and his wife Rebecca arrived as immigrants from England in 1857 with their four children, Jimima, 10, Jane, 8, Robert, 2 and Thomas, 1.
The family settled in the Newcastle district before Robert opened a pub at Rydal. Like the Shaws, the Estells knew the railway was on its way. They operated the Commercial Hotel at Rydal from 1868 to 1870, ahead of the railway.
Interestingly, just a couple of years before the arrival of the Great Western Railway to Rydal, the couple leased their pub and embarked on a new enterprise at nearby Wallerawang. Robert began building a new Commercial Hotel, opposite the recently completed Wallerawang Railway Station, a few blocks south of the Royal, in 1871.
The single storey brick building comprised of 10 rooms, two private parlours, six bedrooms, a large billiard-room, 30 feet by 16 feet, a “splendid bar”, a “fine stone kitchen”, and a seven-stalled, weatherboard stable with iron roof in a large fenced paddock. Estells’ new Commercial Hotel at Wallerawang was licensed in October 1871.
Lady luck wasn’t on the Estell family’s side though, and within a few months, and within a year of opening his new pub, Robert’s wife, Rebecca fell seriously ill. She was taken back to the Commercial Hotel at Rydal, where she died on October 19 1872, aged just 46.
After his wife death, Robert put his new Wallerawang pub on the market. Less than two years since he had opened his Wallerawang pub, Robert returned to Rydal to continue hosting the Commercial Hotel there. He remarried within a few years, but seems to have never recovered from his first wife Rebecca’s early death and he hit the bottle pretty hard. Still at the helm of the Commercial Hotel at Rydal, Robert appeared in court by police summons in 1876 charged with being a drunken and disorderly person, and unfit to hold a publican’s license.
Robert had been convicted three times for drunkenness, disorderly conduct and obscene language over a 12 month period. The magistrates recommended the publican not continue in his role, and he never held a hotel license again. Robert died at his Rydal pub on September 15 1881 at the aged of 54. His Rydal pub, the Commercial, was completely destroyed by fire in May 1903.
The Commercial Hotel at Wallerawang though has survived to the present day, and is a testament to the pioneering publican. The single storey brick inn that Robert established was demolished in October 1913, and rebuilt as the current two storey hotel.
The new brick hotel with balcony was completed in June 1914 with Michael Considine at the helm. Since white settlement, two other pubs have traded in Wallerawang, but were unable to survive the challenges put before them to trade to the present day.
The Blue Bell Inn operated for less than five years. It was opened in 1872, opposite the Railway Goods Shed in Main Street, by James Smith. The pub had eight rooms and a four-stall stable, and sat in a 12 acre fenced property, near where the Wallerawang Post Office trades today. The pub closed in 1875.
The Railway Hotel, near where the Mudgee rail line branched from the Great Western Line on Piper’s Flat Road, had a little more success than its neighbour, the Blue Bell.
Harry Winters established what was originally licensed as the “Number 7 Hotel”, after the section of railway works, in 1872. When John Clatworthy purchased the pub in 1876 he renamed it the Railway Hotel. Husband and wife John and Sarah Clatworthy hosted the pub for over 20 years before their deaths in 1893 and 1899 respectively.
The Railway Hotel closed as a result of the NSW Government’s 1905 Local Option Poll, which forced its closure in 1907.
Today just the Royal and Commercial maintain the thirsts of the good folk of ‘Wang’. WE would thouroughly recommend a detour of the Great Western Highway to visit this sleepy railway town. While the station closed in 1991, there are many historic buildings to visit, and plenty of natural attractions in the area.
We pushed onto our next destination – Portland.
The town of Portland is of interest as an historic mining town, and also as the place of the first cement factory in Australia. The cement works opened in 1902 and Portland was declared a town in 1906. Many of the original buildings in Portland were built by the cement works company for employees and still stand.
The town supported two pubs until recently, with the Coronation Hotel the soul survivor. Despite a larger population then nearby Wallerawang, it seems as though the good folk of Portland are not as thirsty as their cousins down the road. Although to be fair, there is a RSL club in town.
Since the closure of the cement works in 1991, the town has struggled, with the demise of several businesses, including the magnificent Imperial Hotel located in Cullen Street, overlooking the town’s well-kept sporting grounds.
While Portland turned to tourism as its saviour, promoting its magnificent heritage, it wasn’t enough to prevent the closure of the Imperial. The pub was sold in 2013, and closed for business in 2015. Where its new owner transferred the license (and two poker machine entitlements) is anyone’s guess. But, I reckon it would be a safe bet to say its license has enabled a venue to open somewhere in the Sydney metropolitan area.
It’s about time the NSW Government put in place measures to prevent the transferral of “historic pub licenses”.
The Imperial was licensed in July 1907 by Harry Corbett, from Mudgee who spent £4000 in building his grand two storey brick hotel. The 40-room pub was built by a Mr Milligan and opened for business on April 18 1908.
The Imperial joined the Coronation Hotel, which had opened five years previously.
Interestingly, the Coronation Hotel was named one month before the official crowning of the King of England, Edward VII.
Francis Havenhand’s Coronation Hotel was opened on July 22 1902, with old Ted crowned on August 9 1902.
Havenhand previously had hosted the Courthouse Hotel at nearby Sunny Corner before becoming Portland’s first publican.
Affectionately known as the “Coro”, the place was quiet on our visit, with just two people sitting at the bar on what would normally be a busy Saturday afternoon in a country pub. I would hazard a guess that the nearby RSL club puts up stiff competition for “The Coro”.
The pub is huge, taking up a large corner block in the sleepy township. It’s also well maintained, with comfortable lounge chairs, coffee tables and has a homely, friendly feel. The pool room was the only busy part of the pub, with a young family in there with a tribe of kids.
We enjoyed our drinks on the comfortable sofas, before heading to our destination, Cullen Bullen, where we found a village in decline, and where another historic pub had sadly shut shop.
The Royal Hotel was built in 1889, and almost doubled in size in 1926. The Mudgee Guardian reported on November 15 1926 that Mr Morris, the contractor for the additions to the Royal Hotel, Cullen Bullen, had almost completed his job.
“There are now several new bedrooms, four new bathrooms, and a bar which is stated to be the largest in the west. It is now one of the most imposing structures on the main road.”
I was unaware that this old girl’s taps had run dry when we pulled up under a shady tree in front of Cullen Bullen Public School. I anxiously darted across the road in eagerness for an icey cold beer, only to find the blinds drawn. The words to Slim Dusty’s tune, ‘The Pub With No Beer’, echoed in my head: “What a terrible place, is a pub with no beer”.
The pub closed in 2017 after the local coal mine ceased production.
Disappointed, we pushed on to our last destination – another Royal Hotel – a 20km drive northward along the Castlereagh Highway to Capertee.
Capertee is a village 45 km north of Lithgow, on an elevated site above the Capertee Valley. The town has a population of about 145 people and is surrounded by National Parks and grazing land.
The Royal Hotel is the principal building and business in town. And thanfully it was open for business.
The pub was established by English settler John and Mary Shervey as a stopping place for the coaches to the Sofala, Hill End, and Gulgong gold diggings.
Originally known as the ‘Caper-Tree Inn’, John was 33 years of age, and Mary, 26, when they opened their roadside inn during 1866.
The couple failed to relicensed the inn during 1868, and as a consequence Mary was hit with a hefty fine of £30 for selling spirits without a license in October 1869.
The inn remained unlicensed until John’s younger brother, James, and his wife Martha took over the business during the early 1870s.
James gained a publican’s license for the “Caper-Tree Camp Inn” during 1874, and the couple remained hosts for many years after. An interesting sideline was that Martha was the sister of Mary, the wife of her brother-in-law, John.
The old timber coaching inn and general store was totally destroyed by fire in November 1894. Both buildings were rebuilt in stone as single storey structures at a cost of £2,000 the following year.
Flames again destroyed the pub 40 years later. The inn was engulfed by fire for a second time in 1931, and rebuilt as a two storey brick and stone hotel, that currently graces the highway frontage today.
When we called into the historic pub there were a couple of locals sitting at the bar, a Thai woman ploughing money into one of three or four pokie machines sitting in the corner of the room, and a family sitting outside finishing off their lunch.
We had heard about the pub’s famous “home-cooked” pies, and was disappointed when the barman delivered the news – not that the pub had no beer, but that they had sold out of pies for the day!
“They go quickly,” he said. “You got to get in early, they’re pretty popular.”
Despite missing out on our pies, the drinks were refreshing, and the atmopshere friendly. The Royal at Capertee is worth the drive, if not for the pies, for its historic charm and cold beer.
I washed the dust from my throat with a cold beer, while the wife enjoyed her lemon, lime and bitters, before we jumped back in the car for the long drive back to Sydney.
© Copyright, Mick Roberts 2019