Australia’s largest timber pub, The Malanda Hotel. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection
Exploring the pubs of the Atherton Tablelands
© By MICK ROBERTS
THE last leg of our Far North Queensland road trip brought us to the historic pubs of the Atherton Tablelands’ and the towns of Herberton, Malanda, Peeramon, Yungaburra and Little Mulgrave.
Our first stop was at the quiet little village of Herberton and its two pubs, the Royal and the Australian. It was early, and as a consequence we missed-out enjoying the insides of these two pubs.
The single storey Australian Hotel has been rebuilt sometime late last century, however it has been trading from the site for well over a century. The more impressive Royal Hotel next door though is full of character.
The original Royal Hotel was granted a license in May 1880 as a single storey timber structure. It was rebuilt as the current two storey hotel in 1914, and is the oldest licensed premises on the Tablelands.
George Hides and Duncan McColl established the Royal Hotel in 1880 after striking it lucky on the Palmer River goldfields, on Cape York. The pair had also prospected on the Victorian and New Zealand goldfields before they went into partnership in hotels.
Hides and McColl built the Royal Hotel at Herberton, which they kept for many years. McColl managed the Herberton hotel until his death from a stroke in 1889, while Hides took control of a grand new pub they built in Cairns in 1884. That pub became a landmark in Cairns, and continues to be known today as “Hides”.
After snapping a few photographs, we continued onto a pub that I’ve been waiting to visit for a long time. And it didn’t disappoint, living up to reputation.
Half an hour from Herberton, we arrive at the Malanda Hotel, in the town of the same name. The iconic pub is reportedly the largest timber hotel in Australia, and what I sight she presents when you drive into town.
Built in 1911 from local rainforest timbers, she demands your attention. She has a huge ‘long bar’, a grand dining room and magnificent ball-room with an ornate timber staircase leading up to the second storey guest rooms. As you enter the restaurant of the hotel, you can’t help but notice the prominence of timbers, seen in the floorboards and the Silky Oak staircase. She’s indeed a grand old lady.
The hotel serves a range of counter meals, reasonably priced, along with a selection of beers, wine, spirits or soft drink. At the bar enjoying his pot of beer we find Indigenous elder, Ernie Lamont.
Ernie’s family have called the Malanda Hotel their ‘local pub’ for generations.
“The family was given our surname by the property owner who we worked for,” Ernie said.
“The Lamont family were one of the first white settlers on the Tablelands; a French family. They ended up going back to Europe, leaving Australia, and our family with our name.”
Asked whether he knew his Indigenous name, Ernie was a little more evasive on the history.
“Yes, of course. It’s a bit of a tongue twister though. Don’t worry about it.” And with that he went back to his form guide.
Leaving the magnificent Malanda Hotel we travelled onto to Peeramon, and its famous pub. Although some sources claim this to be the oldest pub on the Tablelands, established in 1908, my research has found that it opened in 1911. The hotel was granted a provisional license at the Herberton Licensing Court in April 1911. The Cairns Post’s correspondent reported a trip to Peeramon in the issue of December 1 1911:
Arriving at Peeramon I was warmly welcomed by Host Frank Hyde, who was just putting the finishing touches to the outlying portions of his fine two-storey hotel. The balcony affords a splendid view and when I found that the Lake beautiful was distant less than half an hour’s walk I hurried my lunch and enjoyed the stroll.
The Peeramon Hotel was badly damaged by Cyclone Larry in 2006, and since has been repaired and renovated. The original front section of the hotel, the front bar, dining room, and the antique telephone collection appear to be the only survivors of the cyclone. Despite this, she still holds plenty of charm and history. The old fridge mounted taps are still in use.
The Peeramon Hotel was built with local timber in the tongue and groove method, which locks the timber together for strength. The method was said to have helped the pub withstand the winds of the Category 4 cyclone.
Just over 20kms from Peeramon we reach Yungaburra, where we discovered another magnificent hotel, built from the timbers of the surrounding rainforests.
The Lake Eacham Hotel was opened in 1910. The Northern Miner reported on Friday 2 September 1910:
The new hotel for Messrs Williams Bros, at Yungaburra is nearing completion. It will be a fine structure, containing 38 rooms, and overlooks the railway line. The contract price for the hotel is £2,000, and Messrs Sydes Bros are the contractors. It is intended to cater tor the tourist trade, as Lake Eacham is only situated about four miles distant. There is also a new store, ironmongery shop, and auctioneer’s office erected at Yungaburra, which is steadily growing.
We found Yungaburra a busy tourists centre on our visit. The pub, which was receiving a fresh coat of paint and despite it wearing a cover of scafolding and safety fencing, was busy with visitors, eating, and enjoying its historic charm.
After refreshments at Yungaburra, we continue our road trip through 30km of mostly lush rainforests, and winding mountain passes, onto our last destination – Little Musgrave and the Mountain View Hotel.
The Mountain View Hotel was built at the base of the Lamb Range to support the opening of the Gillies Highway. It was licensed on April 7 1926 by Frances Ethel Roos, who remained as host for about two years. It’s a magnificent two-storey structure – a Queenslander through and through.
The timber hotel, with wide verandahs, is set in a scenic location, surrounded by thick forests, with a beer garden overlooking the Mulgrave River.
The hotel became the favourite social venue for the American 503rd Parachute Regiment, stationed at Gordonvale during WW2, but today is a popular stop-over for travellers visiting the Atherton Tablelands. The pub is also well supported by the large housing estates developing on the outskirts of Cairns and Gordonvale.
Tony Radford, from Gordonvale, has been drinking at the Mountain View Hotel for 30 years.
“I’m semi-retired, and I’m up here at the pub most days,” he said.
“It’s got great atmosphere, and, of course, cold beer. I prefer this pub to the others because it’s out of the way.”
Publicans, Sherrie and Lance McDonald have been at the helm of the Mountain View Hotel for just over a year.
“We seen the pub was up for lease, and thought it had plenty of potential,” Sherrie said.
Despite the long hours, Sherrie said she is enjoying her new role as a publican.
“I’m a people’s person, and one of the best part’s of running a pub like this is meeting someone new everyday. We have plenty of passing trade.
“Lance and I live and breathe this pub. We’re an important part of this community.”
The busiest night of the week for the McDondalds is Fridays and Sundays when they can have over 150 people gathering in the bar and beer garden.
We enjoyed our lunch at the pub, sitting under the cool rainforest canopy in the beer garden to the sounds of the peaceful flow of the Mulgrave River. Batteries recharged, refreshed, we farewell the Mountain View Hotel, and complete the 40 minute drive back to Cairns.
Our journey, visiting the region’s historic pubs, their publicans and customers has been memorable, and has whetted our apatite to explore more of the interesting watering holes of Far North Queensland. ‘Til next time FNQ.
For the previous Far North Queensland Road Trip posts visit:
Road Trip: Part 1 – The Pubs of Cairns City, Stratford, Redlynch and Edmonton
Road Trip: Part 2 – The Disappearing Pubs of Gordonvale
Road Trip: Part 3 – The Pubs of Port Douglas and Mossman
Road Trip: Part 4 – The Frontier Pubs of Cooktown
Road Trip: Part 5 – The Pubs of the Atherton Tableland
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019
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