Attunga pub’s 17-year-old publican, who couldn’t drink in his own bar

Railway Hotel Attunga NSW 1924 NBA ANU EDITED
Railway Hotel, Attunga, NSW, 1924. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

A PUB in the New England region of NSW can arguably lay claim to having Australia’s youngest licensee. In fact, the publican was so young he was unable to drink in his own bar!

During the 1930s a loophole in the Licensing Act allowed a magistrate the discretion to approve a hotel license to the son of an owner of a pub – irrespective of age.

Three months short of his 18th birthday, Donald Bernard Harris became licensee of the Railway Hotel at Attunga in 1939.

Now rebuilt and known as the Attunga Hotel, the pub at the time traded as the Railway Hotel.

The teenager held the license from February 13, 1939, until July 1, 1940. The Smith’s Weekly reported on February 1 1941:


“My five-year-old son is in the hotel business!” Because of anomalies in NSW liquor licenses’ Act, a proud father can make publicans out of all his male children, irrespective of their age.

Loophole in the Act allows males under 18 years of age to hold a licence. Yet a clause in the Act states: “. . . publican is obliged to remove any male person, under 18, who enters the bar.”

Some time ago, Donald Bernard Harris, 17 years 9 months, was granted a licence for Railway Hotel, Attunga, few miles from Tamworth (NSW).

Although Harris was proprietor of hotel, the Act forbids him to enter his own public bar! Licensing judge was aware of Harris’ age, but took into consideration fact that his parents were experienced in hotel business.

“In special circumstances, infancy is no bar to issuing of licences,” Judge said.

Law states that a female under 21 cannot enter a public bar. But a widow under that age can hold a licence. Under the Act, she is compelled to eject herself from her own bar!

Regardless of age, a single woman cannot hold a hotel licence. When Mrs Furlong, licensee of Oaks Hotel, Neutral Bay (Sydney), died, her single daughter, Miss Ann Veronion Furlong, who was about 30 years of age, applied for permission to continue the licence. Permission was refused.

Unlike the under-age widow who can hold a licence but cannot serve in her own bar, Miss Furlong can enter a public bar, but is forbidden to hold a license!

These aggravating anomalies should be cleared up when the Government at tempts to settle closing hours’ problem.

The Great Northern Hotel, Tamworth in the 1950s (now demolished). Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The young licensee’s parents, Donald and Kathleen Harris, were experienced hoteliers, and had hosted pubs in nearby Tamworth, including the Club House and the Great Northern.

While Donald Junior held the license of the Attunga pub his parents hosted and owned the freehold of the Great Northern at the corner of Peel and Fitzroy Streets, Tamworth. His uncle, William Harris managed the Attunga pub for a short while until it was sold in 1940.

Donald Harris Snr arrived in Tamworth in 1920, first taking the license of the Club House Hotel, and later the Great Northern Hotel, which the family owned until its closure in 1958.

Donald Senior died on April 20, 1951, and his wife, Kathleen took over as host of the Great Northern until her death on July 23, 1954.

After his mother’s death, Donald Junior – who in 1939 became Australia’s youngest hotel licensee – took the reigns of the Great Northern at the age of 34 in 1955. He was licensee of the Great Northern until its closure on May 17, 1958.

Donald Bernard Harris died at the age of 62 in 1984.

The Railway Hotel at Attunga was established in 1900 by Margaret Carey – eight years before the railway arrived in the town from Tamworth! The single storey brick pub with bull-nose verandah was designed by a Mr Laverty, and built by a Mr. Bowen.

Margaret Carey was granted a new license for the Railway Hotel at Attunga on June 18, 1900. The now closed Barraba branch railway was opened on September 21, 1908, and ran for 99km north along the Manilla valley to the town of Barraba from the Main North railway line at West Tamworth.

The Railway Hotel was totally destroyed by fire on June 2, 1941. The war years prevented the re-building of the hotel, and instead a temporary bar operated from a tin shed on the site for 14 years.

The Railway Hotel, Attunga, 1940, shortly before it was destroyed by fire. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Attunga Hotel temporary bar Attunga NSW 1948 NBA ANU B
The Railway Hotel, Attunga, temporary bar in 1948. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University

The hotel’s sign was officially changed from the Railway Hotel to the Attunga Hotel on January 8, 1947.

A new, unusual circular brick pub was eventually built on the site and opened for business on October 20, 1955. The pub continues to trade to this day.

Attunga Hotel Attunga NSW 1955
The new Attunga Hotel under construction in 1955. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University
Attunga Hotel Attunga NSW 1970 NBA ANU
Attunga Hotel, Attunga, 1970. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University
Attunga Hotel Attunga NSW Google
Attunga Hotel, Attunga, NSW, 2020. Picture: Google Streetview

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Categories: NSW hotels

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3 replies

  1. Worked at Attunga hotel ,never heard this story.tried to email you at accept.i had a lot of details in email.too much to re-write.

  2. pubs the town with no pockies in its pubs

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