The pubs of the Atherton Tablelands
By MICK ROBERTS ©
OVER two and a half hours south of Cooktown, we reach the next destination on our Far North Queensland road trip – the village of Mount Molloy and the National Hotel.
Stopping for lunch at the Queenslander style pub, we met publican Shane McElligott, who has been at the helm for just over 14 months. It’s his first (“and last”) pub.
“I was driving road trains before taking the license here,” Shane said.
“I stumbled across this place while on holidays. We weren’t looking at buying a pub, but heard the place was up for sale and made an offer.
“I liked the feel of the pub, and the next thing we knew we were owners.”
Shane, a Far North Queenslander, born and bred at nearby Karai, said while he enjoys hosting the historic hotel, he would rather be on the road, driving trucks.
“I’m not intending to leave the place just yet though,” he said.
The historic timber pub dates back to 1905. The Cairns Morning Post reported on October 18 1905 that the new pub had opened at Mt Molloy:
“Mr. A. Emmanuel of the National Hotel has leased the premises to Messrs Nissen and Buchanan. The hotel was opened on the 4th, and is one of the most modern up-to-date establishments of the kind in the far North.”
The newspaper went on to report that the licensees are “thoroughly experienced hotel keepers, and as they thoroughly understand mining and mining men, visitors and others going to the field should put up at this new hotel”.
An old mate of mine, Pat Adams and myself first took up the offer of the Cairns Morning Post – albeit 91 years later – and “put up” for a couple of cold beers at the pub in 1996, while on one of our ‘pub crawls’ around the country. It would take me almost another 25 years to take up the offer again.
Surprisingly not much has changed at the historic watering hole since 1996. She still holds plenty of charm and character.
Like all good pubs, the National has a ghost story, that Shane was eager to share.
“We have a couple of ghosts at the pub,” he said.
“There’s Leslie, our friendly ghost, who died at the pub back in the 1980s. She was a permanent guest, and died after accidentally taking an overdose of drugs,” he said.
“We hear her at night, making a few noises, but she’s harmless.”
There’s also a former barmaid, Shane says, who also died at the hotel, and who can sometimes be seen wandering the corridors upstairs.
The two storey hotel offers affordable accommodation, with 10 well-equipped and clean rooms, starting at just $50 per person, as well a reasonably priced menu, and – what I was eager to try – their own beer – Mount Molloy Lager, on tap. Not a bad drop.
After a meal, and a beer or two, we continued travelling south towards Atherton, making a few detours before finding a bed at Atherton. On the way we visited a couple of special Tableland pubs, including the Tolga Hotel, and Kairi Hotel.
Arriving at Atherton, we booked into our accommodation at the Atherton Hotel, before exploring the town’s other historic pubs. We wandered into the magnificent Barron Valley Hotel, with all its grandeur, to explore its art deco features.
The Barron Valley Hotel was constructed in 1940-1941 and is located on the main street of Atherton. The site has been used continuously for hotel and accommodation purposes since 1890 and illustrates the role played by early hotels in the development and expansion of regional settlements.
The pub was originally built by pioneer Tom Peake, a cedar structure that typified the timber resources of the district. It was run for many years by a Scotsman, William McCraw, who was at the helm when it was demolished in 1940 and replaced with the current magnificent building. The Courier Mail reported in March 1940:
The Barron Valley Hotel, which is more than 50 years old will disappear soon to make way for a new £20,000 building. The hotel has changed hands on three occasions during that long period, although the licence has been held by seven different people.
The present hotel, with its distinctive streamlined decorative detailing in the interior public spaces, was run by the Nasser family for over 70 years.
Centrally located in the heart of the Atherton township, overlooking the CBD is the appropriately named Grand Hotel. Built in 1936, the Grand Hotel has an imposing balcony, and looked as though it could do with a little work when we visited.
Our base for the night, the nearby Atherton Hotel has undergone modern renovations.
The pub has been a landmark of the Tablelands since the early 1900s.
The original timber Atherton Hotel was built by hotelier, Mark Brazier in 1902. The Cairns Morning Post reported on March 6 1903:
GOING AHEAD.- Mr Brazier believes in the future of Atherton. He has been a prominent member of the business community for many years and now he has backed his opinion of the place by erecting a fine two-storied hotel containing 36 rooms, of which 28 are bedrooms. There is also a, commodious billiard room. Mr Bloom, of Cairns has fitted up the whole place with his new acetylene gas, the first ever seen in Atherton.
In 1941 a fire ravaged the formerly timber building leaving only a charred light pole, which became known as the “black stump”. The Central Queensland Herald reported on September 18 1941:
ATHERTON HOTEL FIRE
ATHERTON, September 16: Ten people, mostly boarders, narrowly escaped when the Atherton Hotel was destroyed by fire early today. The fire began in a store room on the ground floor. The flames spread so rapidly that in two minutes the whole building was blazing. Several inmates lost nearly all their belongings. Others escaped in their pyjamas.
Due to World War II the new building was not completed until 1954 so a temporary bar to satisfy the pub’s loyal clientele was set-up. It became known as ‘The Black Stump’. While times have changed, patrons of the pub still affectionately refer to the Atherton Hotel as “The Stump”.
The hotel today has a public bar equipped with TAB terminals and large television screens. The bistro has a family menu with value for money daily specials. A large conference room is also available catering for entertainment, weddings and any other event. The hotel also has 18 four-star hotel rooms, with off street parking.
Our room, with ensuite was $119 for the night, including a continental breakfast.
We also had dinner in the pub’s spacious and busy bistro. I can thoroughly recommend their steaks. A few beers and we hit the sack early, ready for the last leg of our Far North Queensland road trip – Atherton to the coast, via Malanda, Peeramon, Yungaburra and Little Mulgrave, where we visit a few more legendary pubs. Stay tuned.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019