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Road Trip: Far North Queensland, Part 2

The disappearing pubs of Gordonvale

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Tony at the bar of the Great Northern Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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The Great Northern Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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The Great Northern Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

By MICK ROBERTS ©

SITTING at the end of the bar on his usual stool, ‘Pop’ gave me a cautious glance when I walked into the Great Northern Hotel at Gordonvale and started up a conversation with the barman. It didn’t take long though for Tony – as is Pop’s real name – to share his knowledge of a town with an inquisitive journo from the big smoke.

Once a separate town, the urban sprawl of Cairns is nipping at the heels of Gordonvale as the great northern city sprawls to the south.

Gordonvale is located 23km of the Cairns’ central business district, and is just east of the Gillies Range, which leads to the Atherton Tableland.

Pop, as the locals call him, has frequented Gordonvale’s pubs for five decades. As a young man he worked in what was the town’s lifeblood – the sugar cane mill. He remembers when the thirsty cane-cutters and mill workers kept five pubs running along profitably. Those days are long-gone, and within the last five years two of the town’s remaining four pubs have shut shop.

The Ye Olde Gordonvale Hotel, established in 1899 and rebuilt in 1929, closed for business in July 2019, while before in about 2016, the Commercial – the town’s oldest – also put up the shutters.

“The Commercial closed about three years ago,” Tony said.

“It’s a gym now. I suppose it’s needed these days. I reckon though the cane cutters never needed a gym. They got enough exercise in the cane fields.”

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Tony at his favourite position at the Great Northern Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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The former Commercial Hotel, Gordonvale is now a gymnasium. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

The closure of the Ye Olde Gordonvale and Commercial has left just the Great Northern and the nearby Parkview Hotels to service the thirsts of the inhabitants of the historic township.

“A bloke came in and bought the town’s three pubs,” Tony said.

“They closed the top pub (Ye Olde Gordonvale Hotel) three weeks ago because they want to boost business in the other two pubs.”

The new owners are now in the process of renovating and upgrading the Parkview Hotel, previously known as the Central Hotel. We stopped by the Parkview, which seemed the most popular of the town’s remaining two pubs.

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The Parkview Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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Renovations underway at the Parkview Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

The old-timer seemed to have a far away look in his eyes as he took another sip of his beer. He welcomed the interest from a prying journo.

“When I was a lot younger there were five pubs all doing a healthy business. They were all full to the brim during weekday evenings. You couldn’t move inside, and the crowds spilled out onto the footpaths.

“Now we’re down to two.”

Asked whether he was afraid the new owner may close the Great Northern Hotel, Tony didn’t seem to show much concern, and said he believed there remained space for two pubs in Gordonvale.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes. The town’s getting a second wind, and there’s a lot of new faces around. People from Cairns are buying property here, and the town’s a popular tourist destination these days.”

From Gordonvale, our next destination on the APP Far North Queensland Road Trip is to another sugar mill town, this time further north to Mossman, where we chat to a few local drinkers and publicans in part three in our series.

Read the story: The pubs of Port Douglas and Mossman

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The former Ye Olde Gordonvale Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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The former Ye Olde Gordonvale Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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The bat-wing doors on the former Ye Olde Gordonvale Hotel, Gordonvale. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019

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Categories: Queensland hotels, review, Reviews, Road Trips

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