The pub on the edge of the Nullarbor: The Globe Hotel, Fowlers Bay

Fowlers Bay 1909 State LIbrary of South Australia.jpeg
The Globe Hotel, Fowlers Bay (centre, facing bay) 1910. Picture: State Library of South Australia


NESTLED in the shadows of the ever-shifting sand dunes, on the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain, once traded a South Australian pub frequented by thirsty camel drivers, teamsters and merchant sailors.

The Globe Hotel, Fowlers Bay traded for almost half a century in a gateway town to the great western reaches of Australia. Besides the camel drivers, teamsters and merchants, prospectors, on their way to and from the Kalgoorlie goldfields, were also regular visitors to the Globe Hotel.

Fowlers Bay, formerly known as Yalata, is about 658km (409 miles) north-west of Adelaide. Among the first settlers of Yalata in 1890 was James Creighton Riddle.

Jimmy and wife Amelia Riddle ran over 3,000 sheep from their small two-room stone cottage on over 2,000 acres near Fowlers Bay. Jimmy, who was born in Echunga, South Australia in 1857, married 18-year-old Amelia Ford in 1881 before the couple made their home on the fringes of the Nullarbor Plain. They would go on to raise five children in the frontier town.

Jimmy’s first attempt at gaining a liquor license for Yalata failed when his application for a wine saloon in 1890 was unsuccessful. However, in June 1891, at the age of 34, he lodged plans with the Port Lincoln Licensing Bench for proposed premises in High Street, Yalata to be known as “The Globe Hotel”.

Jimmy’s business was up and running the following year, just in time to take advantage of the Kalgoorlie gold rush of 1893, when thousands of prospectors from the east made their way past his pub in search of their fortune.

Camel Train front of Globe Hotel Fowlers Bay
A camel team pulling a wagon carrying bagged grain is waiting near the Globe Hotel at Fowlers Bay, South Australia, 1910. Picture: State Library of South Australia

The Globe Hotel was the last watering hole before the dry 1,300km trek to the goldfields. In a column published in the Mount Barker Courier on January 9 1936, ‘Sister Donoghue’ tells the story about Tommy West, the last host of the Globe Hotel, who was a “mine of information on the early days in the back country”.

Sister Donoghue spent a morning on an upturned beer case in the shade of the Globe Hotel’s bar door chatting with Tommy West, who was at Fowler’s Bay during the Kalgoorlie rush.

He watched the rush to the gold fields, when, as he says, ‘everyone from nine to ninety’, plodded across the practically waterless plain; some with only the scantiest of provisions, and in the most unsuitable of conveyances, and yet all some how getting through. He remembers the successful ones who came back, sleeping at night with the fruits of their labour under their heads for safety, and he also remembers the unsuccessful ones, so greatly in the majority, who having spent all they possessed on the trip out were a tragic band on their empty handed return.

The Newcastle Morning Herald reported a “strange occurrence” at Jimmy’s pub on August 18 1893 when one evening about 9pm a customer walked out into a passage, which ran the full length of the hotel, and saw what he thought to be “a person in disguise”.

He walked up to accost it, when to his surprise an enormous seal raised himself to his full height and roared. Other persons came on the scene, and the seal was got outside, and immediately made for the sea. It was, however, soon cut off, and after a short chase was dispatched with an axe. The seal was a large one, and measured 8 feet from nose to tail and 6 feet in girth.

The Globe Hotel received new hosts in 1894 when Henry C. Darby and his wife, took control. Darby, 12 years later, would also have an encounter with a large seal visiting his pub. He took a picture of the seal in the backyard of the hotel, which was published in a number of newspapers around the country at the time. Darby wrote: “This is what I found in my backyard the other morning waiting for a drink. After some persuasion we induced the old fellow to return to the sea. This snap was taken on the seaweed.”

seal pub
PICTURE of a Seal which was found one morning lately in the back yard of the Fowler’s Bay Hotel. The landlord (Mr. H. Darby), writes : “This is what I found in my backyard the other morning waiting for a drink. After some persuasion we induced the old fellow to return to the sea. This snap was taken on the seaweed.” – Adelaide Observer November 25 1905.

Meanwhile Jimmy and Amelia Riddle retired to their farm before leaving Fowlers Bay in 1896. With so many prospectors calling at Riddle’s bar, it probably was only a matter of time before he too was struck with gold fever.

Riddle went prospecting to Tarcoola, Western Australia. He later opened another pub, the Bee Hive at Cuddingwarra in 1908, before it was destroyed by fire in 1910.

Riddle went on to host the Commercial Hotel at Cue and undertook further gold mining ventures before his retirement. Amelia died in 1939 at age 76, while Jimmy died two years later at the age of 84 near Geraldton, Western Australia.

Harry Darby
Harry and Sarah Darby, hosts and owner of the Globe Hotel, Fowlers Bay, with his family. Picture: State Library of South Australia
fowlers bay hotel
Fowlers Bay and jetty 1905. The building on the left in the above photograph is the old Fowlers Bay Post Office (owned by Robert George Law in the 1960/70s, after the Post Office was closed). The building on the top right is the old Fowlers Bay Hotel [Globe]. The out-buildings of the hotel have since disappeared under encroaching sandhills. [Information supplied by H. Law]. Picture: State Library of South Australia

Meanwhile 31-year-old Harry William Darby took over the license of the Globe Hotel in 1894. Born at Uffculine, Devonshire, England in 1863, Darby sailed from Plymouth, arriving in Australia in 1879. He first found employment at Port Lincoln, where he later opened a general store.

At the age of 25, Darby was appointed Streaky Bay Council clerk, when the local governing body was established in 1888. In 1891 he resigned the position and afterwards went to Fowler’s Bay, where he opened a general store.

Darby with his wife Sarah hosted the Globe Hotel from 1894 until 1910 when he, along with his brother, John acquired the pastoral holding known as Hundroo Station. He retained an interest in the hotel, and returned as host from December 14 1922 to June 26 1936.

Camel Train outside Globe Hotel Fowlers Bay
A camel team behind the Fowlers Bay Telegraph Office, South Australia 1913. Picture: State Library of South Australia

During the last years of the pub, Darby employed legendary bushman, Tommy West as its manager. Continuing Sister Donoghue’s chat with Tommy West, published in the Mount Barker Courier on January 9 1936, she reveals more information about the famous bushman and the hardship he and his wife endured in the frontier town.

For some reason, there is something of a sense of adventure in approaching Fowler’s Bay. Perhaps because it is the last South Australian outpost before the border, excepting, of course, the stations that take in the vast stretch of the Nullarbor plains, or perhaps because it is so alone. The township, a post office, a police station, a store and a ‘pub’, stands practically on the sea weed that fringes the water; and at the back rise the sand hills that shelter the bay from the full force of the rollers that sweep into the Bight from the frozen lands of the South Pole, and away to the north west spread the plains. Everyone In Fowler’s Bay naturally knows everyone else, and any stranger, who breaks the journey long enough sit awhile and talk, is accepted with that casual but kindly hospitality that marks the true ‘out-backers’. The little township, itself is on the overland route, to Western Australia, but almost all its inhabitants are men and women who have spent their lives in the more isolated, regions of our station-lands. Tommy West, who keeps the hotel — ‘pub’ really sounds much more friendly and appropriate, is a mine of information on the early days in the back country, and a morning spent on an upturned beer case in the shade of the bar door, provided a better history lesson on the foundation of Australia than one could ever glean from books. This old bushman has, although born in Adelaide, not been to the city for about 40 years. His years have been spent on the open country this side of the Western Australian boundary… In those days too, the shooting of the natives was more or less general, and although most of the station owners used the permission, as it was meant, for protection only, there were others who were not so restricted and it was within quite recent years that a skeleton of a native, showing two bullet holes, was exposed by the shifting sand in the hill at the back of the hotel. Poisoning was, however, the more usual method, as bullets were scarce. If it were a rough life for the men in those days, one wonders what it was like for the women. Mrs West, a gentle and kindly soul, who has not been to the mainland since her early childhood, spent long and lonely weeks, as a young married woman, while her husband was away on station work. She talks, in a matter of fact way, of a man who had gone mad from the loneliness of the bush—”They did that sometimes”—and who wandered around her home for several days and nights lighting a ring of fires to keep off imaginary dangers; of a man just released from two years in gaol for the attempted murder of a woman in Hindley Street, and with a long list of other evil doings to his credit, who each morning, while her husband was away, chopped her firewood, ate the meals she provided for him and then went quietly to Ms camp. ‘They wouldn’t hurt me’, she said, ‘there was nothing to be afraid of’. But one wonders how we, used to the nearness of others of our kind and the sense of protection that is in companionship, would have fared far out where the nearest neighbour was 100 miles away with all sorts of wild folk, both black and white in between.

Tommy West and his wife would be the last hosts of the Globe Hotel. The licensing inspector reported that the old stone pub was in “general bad repair” and Darby was arranging to have the license transferred. Several attempts at transferring the license to different centres in the region failed. Eventually approval was given to transfer the license of the Globe Hotel to Port Neil.

The pub closed for business in April 1936. While addressing a Rotary dinner in 1948 District Inspector of the Department of Lands, Mr. W. G. Gibb, revealed the closing night of the Globe Hotel in 1936. The Border Watch reported on August 16 1947:

On the final day of the licence a public Holiday was declared, and the people, usually temperate, “let their heads, go”. One old chap, with a wooden leg, soon became the worse for wear and was put to bed by the police officer. The old chap’s determination to have the last drink in the pub was fulfilled next morning when he was awakened and given a good five fingers of real Scotch, definitely the last drink at the Fowler’s Bay Hotel. Another anecdote concerned an elderly man who was a guest at a dinner tendered to the Governor, Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey. When he was asked if he would have braised lamb as a dinner or an “entrée”, he said to the waitress: “No bring it to me on a plate. What do I want with a tray?”

The West Coast Sentinel also reported on the closure of the iconic pub on July 3 1936:



Another institution of this great West Coast of ours has gone the way of many others and has become a thing of the past. But only recently, for was not the old hostelry at Fowlers Bay under the auctioneer’s hammer. And the auctioneer was a grandson of the grand old pioneer who with Messrs Riddell (Riddle) and Darby, established what was a veritable Gate of the Golden West. And no one pass-through that gate without a halt at the famous old hotel. What reminiscences of olden times are brought up in looking back at the happy times which have always characterised the old inn. Pioneers, prospectors and explorers have all swapped yarns around the festive bar and board. Many are the tales of success or failure, of hopes realised or blasted, that have been told in the last stopping place in the State. The hotel was opened by Messrs Riddell, Darby and the late Mr. W. H. Betts and with their well known energy, it soon became a by-word with all travellers. The Darby family had much to do with its progress and celebrity, till the craze for speed and the motor cars took a good deal of the glamour from the place. My memory goes back to Fowlers when I was there over a quarter of a century ago. The Betts still ran it and the Murrays had a strong interest in the place. It was lively then and everybody did everything in the comfort of everybody else. But the swift cars coming on later, gave the old hotel the go-by and the interest gradually fell off, though the later landlord Mr. “Tommy” West did everything to keep the traditions of the place alive. A perfect boniface, with a never ending supply of wit and anecdote, he became a household word with everybody in the district and beyond. Many are the journeys that have been broken, and stays prolonged so that Mr. West’s genial company and his tales of trials and tribulations might be thoroughly enjoyed. And now his reign is over, and so is the hotel. Speed and more speed has driven a perfect host and a picturesque hostelry out of the running and he, and it, will be regretted by all. The furthermost western hotel has been sold lock, stock and barrel and with it will go the regrets of all who have received genuine hospitality, such as was wont to be given by all who have been in charge of the quaint old hotel.

By the following year Tommy West was dead. The Adelaide Chronicle reported on February 25 1937:

FOLK on the Far West Coast are mourning the passing of Tommy West, genial host of the Fowler’s Bay Hotel. “At one time,” H.E.N.N. writes, “this hotel was quite a busy centre, but, as the years marched on, it has become of less and less importance, until recently a visitor found it a picturesque building, its central court and long verandahs with their boarded floors, practically deserted; yet echoing foot-steps, and half-opened doors showing spotless, well-cared for bedrooms, a glimpse of the sea beyond and the long wash of waves. “Tommy, immaculately dressed, and his wife with her sweet charm of manner, seemed to be encompassed about with a host of ghostly moving figures of exciting colourful history. And Tommy West was of that history, his figure one of the few that have remained in that great Fowler’s Bay district, the centre of which has always seemed to be the hotel.

Another story on the death of Tommy was reported in the Adelaide Chronicle on March 4 1937:

JEFF Miller, of Penong, pays a tribute to the late Tommy West, the last genial host of the now closed Globe Hotel, Fowler’s Bay, who died recently. “Tommy,” he says, “landed at Fowler’s Bay before the advent of the stump-jump plough, and therefore was a real pioneer. “He was a walking encyclopaedia, and could tell instantly what weight Glenloth carried when it won the Melbourne Cup, what time Peter Pan did the same race in, how many wickets Spofforth took on his first trip to England, what Bradman’s highest score was, where he did it, and how long he took over it; of Bunny Daly’s feats on the football field, and Peter Jackson’s exploits in the boxing ring. “I called to see Tommy on New Year’s Day. He was a sick man in bed, with a radio receiver alongside, listening in to the third Test, Jotting down the scores, and commenting not too favourably on our tailenders as batsmen.”

Also meeting his maker shortly after the pub’s closure was long-time licensee, Harry Darby. Darby died in Adelaide at the age of 77 in 1940. By the late 1940s Fowlers Bay was almost a ghost town. It had seen its best days. The Land reported on October 20 1948:

Fowlers Bay, 19 miles from the highway. This picturesque little cluster of dwellings, built low against the winds which sweep that lonely shore on the Great Australian Bight, is now almost forgotten, excepting for the monthly visit of the steamer which brings stores for the stations out on the Nullarbor and picks up wheat and wool, and the bi-weekly mail service. The better to enjoy the lovely view of the bay, we parked the caravan right on the waterfront in the open, grassy patch that had once been the courtyard of the Globe Hotel, when Fowlers Bay was a thriving little town serving the farmers and settlers along the coast. A benevolent South Australian Government had subsidised the settlement of marginal wheat areas way back in 1912, and while scrub-cutters, fencers, well-sinkers, and other subsidised workers had taken their earnings to the only place of amusement within 70 miles – the Globe – Fowlers Bay flourished. Most of the farms have long since failed were redistributed into larger holdings, about 1921 —but, as the population dwindled, the hotel licence was transferred to a more profitable spot, and Fowlers relapsed into the sleepy little fisherman’s paradise it is today. With the licence, all the flooring, roof iron, window frames and fittings of the hotel were also removed, and only the crumbling ruins of stone and rubble are left for the starlings to nest in and the rabbits to play hide and seek in the cellars. One room only, ironically labelled “Temperance Bar” across its dirty window, to-day remains intact, used by a fishing enthusiast during the summer months, and locked against intruders. We avoided the ruin, partly because of the danger of falling masonry and the possibility of snakes and spiders, and partly because it was “spooky,” especially at night. We were to be glad of its shelter a little later on.

The former Telegraph Office, Fowlers Bay, South Australia. The hotel was located to the extreme left of this picture, roughly where the shed can be seen in the distance.  Picture: Kerry Raymond, Wikipedia

The ‘gateway pub’ to the western reaches of the continent – once South Australia’s most westerly watering hole – where camel drivers and teamsters gathered with merchant seamen to wet their dry and dusty throats, today, sadly remains in ruins. At the 2016 census, the population of Fowlers Bay stood at about 50.

© Copyright 2020 Mick Roberts

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Categories: South Australia Hotels


6 replies

  1. Mick,
    I’m reliably told that the colour photo you’ve shown from Wikipedia is the Telegraph Station, not the Globe Hotel which in your article was described as a ruin.

  2. Great article, could I have permission to include in the FLeurieu Peninsula Family History quarterly journal please. I am a member of the group. Ros Dunstall.

  3. Nice read. I took my first steps at the old post office. I am the grandson of George Law(how is was know).

  4. Great read as I’m a descendant Riddle spent a lot of time at Fowlers bay as a kid in the fifties and remember what was left of the Globe. My grand parents and father lived in Fowlers at that time!

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