Road Trip: Millaa Millaa and beyond

Geoff and Katrina Inglis with three of their children at the Millaa Millaa Hotel. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

OUR road trip to north Queensland in September 2020 provided us with the opportunity of visiting the small rural townships of Millaa Millaa, Ravenshoe and Mount Garnet.

While we’ve visited the Atherton Tablelands in the past, this time we had the pleasure of discovering a number of pubs we missed on our last road trip.

On this Tablelands adventure we experience country hospitality and explore the history of some of Queensland’s most historic bush pubs.

The trip took us from the tropical tourist city of Cairns through magnificent mountain rainforests to the pretty, rural township of Millaa Millaa, onto Ravenshoe, and the dry, dusty former mining settlement of Mount Garnet, before heading back to the coast.

The road trip from Cairns to Mount Garnet. Picture: Google Maps

We talk to ‘first-time’ publicans, Geoff and Katrina Inglis, who have been at the reins of the Millaa Millaa Hotel for the past five years. Just like the McHugh family, who established the Millaa Millaa Hotel a century ago, Geoff and Kat are proud of their family run pub, and the service they provide their rural community.

As has happened previously on our road trips, I became a little concerned while researching this journey, when the first pub we planned to visit was not contactable.

The plan was to visit the pub at Tarzali – a small rural village, an hour and half south-west of Cairns. I had seen pictures of the timber wayside pub, and was eager to pay it a visit. Unfortunately, my worst fears were realised.

The remains of the Tarzali Tavern, destroyed by fire about 10 years ago. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Where once the pub traded sat a few shipping containers, a concrete slab, and fibreglass umbrellas, shading tables that once belonged the beer garden of the Tarzali Tavern.

Leading his horse, a passing farmer informed us that the pub had sadly burnt to the ground “about 11 years ago”.

“Sad, but what can you do. It was never rebuilt,” he said.

The Tarzali Hotel was built in 1917 by the five Williams’ brothers, a successful business family, who had already constructed five pubs on the Atherton Tablelands.

Albert Williams advertised for tenders to build a two storied pub at the terminus of the Malanda to Millaa Millaa railway at Tarzali in June 1917. The Cairns Post reported on September 21 1917:

The Williams Estate are at the present time erecting a commodious hotel at Tarzali, and when opened it will prove a boon and Godsend to those hardy pioneers. 

By the end of November the hotel was nearing completion, with painters putting the finishing touches on Bert Williams’ new business venture.

Albert S. Williams, known to all as Bert, was born in Townsville, and was the third eldest son of Henry Sydney Williams, the founder of the successful Atherton Tableland commercial firm bearing his name.

On his father’s death, Bert and his brothers, Fred and Paddy did much to develop and successfully extend the scope of the family’s business operations, including investing in pubs. The family also specialised extensively in cattle and butchering and became one of north Queensland’s most successful businesses.

Bert remained a bachelor until a relatively late age. He married Lizzie Cameron in 1918, the same year he applied for the license of the recently completed Tarzali Hotel. He was 36.

The Cairns Post reported on January 22 1918 that the Atherton Licensing Court granted a license to Albert Soffe Williams for the recently built hotel at Tarzali. “This new accommodation house,” the newspaper reported, was “built on up-to-date lines”, and was well-furnished throughout, providing “a long-felt want to travellers out Millaa Millaa way and there abouts”.

The original Tarzali Hotel destroyed by fire in 1939. Enhanced by Mouse Productions from an original picture. Picture: Supplied

The Cairns Post reported in March 27 1918:

The Tarzali Hotel, which was constructed by Williams’ Estate, is a very large, commodious building, accommodating about 30 boarders on the top floor, which has a balcony around three sides of the building. On the ground floor there is a dining room, which will seat about forty persons, also a large bar, with three parlors attached, at the back of which is a billiard, room and hairdressing saloon, the whole place being lit by a Quirke’s Air Gas plant, which was installed by Mr. Waugh, plumber, of Malanda. The building was erected by Mr. T. Sharples, contractor, of Atherton. Taken altogether it is a fine building, which, when properly finished, will be equally well with the other five hotels built by Williams’ Estate on the Tableland.

Shortly after the hotel was completed, a cyclone caused extensive damage to the building. The Cairns Post reported on March 14 1918:

Cyclone on the Tableland

Tarzali Suffers Severely

Further reports and examination, of damage done reveal great losses. Tarzali in particular suffered severely, all the construction camp being flattened out. The front verandah and balcony of the Tarzali Hotel was torn off the front and lifted right over to the back of the premises. 

Bert Williams died at the age of 41 in 1923. The Malanda correspondent to the Cairns Post reported on March 24 1923, that “local residents received with surprise and deep regret, word of the death of Mr. Albert S. Williams, which occurred at Atherton Hospital on Thursday forenoon, after a lingering illness of some weeks”.

“He was a man of abrupt and outspoken manner, very shrewd, and keen in business, but generous in character, and he has done many good turns for deserving cases. With his brothers they were fine employers, long service being a general rule with the firm. The employees greatly regret the death of Mr. Bert. He was married to Miss Lizzie Cameron four years ago, and there is one son of the marriage, a child of about 18 months, who resides at Yungaburra…”

The hotel was bought by Cairns’ publican, Martin Rudolph Lehfeldt for £3500. Lehfeldt, who was also licensee of the Post Office Hotel in Cairns, purchased the Tarzali Hotel, and the 18 acres of land it sat on in 1921.

Various people leased the hotel over the years, until it was destroyed by fire in 1939. The publican at the time, Daniel Higgins, was praised for his efforts in saving the only boarder of the hotel during the fire.

When Higgins could not get to the blazing second floor by the two stairways, he climbed the fire escape to alert a school teacher, Miss Jones, who then climbed down the escape ladder.

Lehfeldt never had the hotel rebuilt.

A second pub opened on the site in 1991 when the Round Yard Restaurant, which had been previously built on the site of the Tarzali Hotel, gained a liquor license in 1991. Extensions were made to the single storey timber restaurant, and the Tarzali Tavern opened for business. However, Tarzali’s second pub was short lived.

Within a decade flames would once again claim the town pub. A second fire in the premises almost 70 years later sadly destroyed the Tarzali Tavern.

Less than 15 minutes from Tarzali we come to our next port – the family operated Millaa Millaa Hotel where we meet the Inglis family.

Millaa Millaa Hotel, MIllaa Millaa. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection
Jason at the bar of the Millaa Millaa. Picture: Millaa Millaa Hotel

Like the McHughs, who with their six boys and two girls, operated the pub a century ago, current hosts, with their five children, aged from 10 to 26, also keep the Millaa Millaa ticking over.

And, like the Tarzali pub, the hotel at Millaa Millaa has also burnt to the ground.

Thankfully though, unlike Tarzali, the Millaa Millaa pub, completely destroyed by flames in 1998, survived as a business, and was rebuilt the following year.

Geoff Inglis took over the business in 2015. Geoff, 43, worked in civil construction before he bought the pub after a downturn in his industry.

“There was a lack of work, so I bought myself a job,” he said.

Kat was working at the pub at the time and was invited to stay-on as an employee.

“I had been a casual employee of the hotel with the previous publican, when Geoff bought the pub (and) he asked if I’d stay on,” Kat said.

“About a year later we became a couple; but I was offered full time work at my second job as a teacher aide.”

Geoff and Kat officially started running the hotel together in 2018.

“It took me a while to get used to not being able to have a holiday,” Kat said.

But, Kat and Geoff both agree that buying the pub has brought their family closer together, and they have made many close friends in the small rural township since becoming hosts.

“We enjoy pleasing the locals, by putting on good meals and occasionally some entertainment,” Kat said.

Kat and Geoff’s eldest son, Jason says that working behind the bar of the Millaa Millaa for the past two years has also been a pleasurable experience.

“I enjoy it. I’m a people person and like to interact with the locals,” Jason said.

“I know all the locals because I’ve done a lot of growing up here.”

Geoff says while he has enjoyed his role as a publican, it will probably be his first and last hotel.

“Don’t’ get me wrong. I love the lifestyle and social life associated with the industry. I don’t have to go anywhere. People come to see me.

“But it’s hard work. I’m waiting for the kids to finish school and then we’re out of here,” he said.

The current Millaa Millaa Hotel was built in 1999, but despite its relatively young age boasts a long history. In fact, next year marks its centenary.

The opening plaque of the rebuilt Millaa Millaa Hotel after fire destroyed the original in 1998. Picture: Millaa Millaa Hotel
The original Millaa Millaa Hotel built in 1920 and destroyed by fire in 1998. Picture: Supplied

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Millaa Millaa Hotel on the left, 1922. Picture: Millaa Millaa Hotel

The Millaa Millaa was built by Robert and Theresa McHugh in 1920 and licensed the following year.

Born in 1881, Robert Emmett McHugh was a selector, saddler and sawyer on the Atherton Tablelands when he married Theresa Rooney in 1907.

Theresa was from a wealthy family, a daughter of Townsville businessman, Matthew Rooney. Her early life was spent in comparative luxury, but after a tour of the world in her early twenties, she accepted a marriage proposal from farming selector, Bob McHugh on the Atherton Tableland.

Just four years after their marriage, Theresa’s parents were two of the 142 drowned in one of Australia’s worse shipping disasters. The steamer, Yongala went down in heavy seas off the coast at Townsville in 1911.

Bob and Theresa called a bush humpy home at what is today Millaa Millaa, where they raised six children on their farm, before rearing another two at their yet-to-built pub.

When the Queensland Government resumed the McHugh’s Millaa Millaa holding for a railway terminus, and the Lands Department required what was leftover for a town site, a legal tussle ensured. As compensation, the McHughs were granted property at Millaa Millaa, where in 1920 they began building a fine timber two-storey hotel, costing about an estimated £6,000. Messrs Fawley, Garvey and Hickey of Toowoomba were the builders.

Bob McHugh was said to have been a generous-spirited businessman. He was a councillor on the Eacham Shire Council and was always a ready subscriber to anything that was going to help the district. Bob held with his brother, Pat dairying land in the Tarzali district, and built one of the best equipped of the Tableland cheese factories.

McHugh’s magnificent hotel was completed and operating by October 1921. However, the accommodation section of the pub was not completed until the following month, just in time for the annual Millaa Millaa Agricultural Show. The Cairns Post reported on December 3 1921:

A Well-Managed Hotel

In our business columns appears the business advertisement of the Millaa Millaa Hotel, built and conducted by Mr. R. E. (Bob) McHugh. As an essential adjunct to the progressive opening up of a fine district, this hotel as managed by Mr. McHugh fills the bill. Convenience to the station, electric lighting, and genial attention in every department places the business on a true hotel and high standard. A large number of visitors to last week’s Show are loud in their appreciation of their treatment. Mr. McHugh is assisted by his brothers, Pat and Jim, while Mrs and Miss Johnson see to the housekeeping, cuisine, etc. Millaa is rather fortunately placed, from a scenic point of view, and land settlement is in full swing. The Millaa Millaa Hotel solves the problem of securing certain and comfortable accommodation for those who wish to visit the district.

After the hotel was opened, Bob’s wife, Theresa became known for her charity work, particularly for offering to play piano at fundraising events.

Theresa was an accomplished pianist; her piano was always with her, even in the pioneering days in the bush humpy, where almost nightly her family, nearby settlers and casual callers seeking hospitality, reportedly were entertained to recitals. She never refused a request to play musical entertainment for fund raising events, especially when it came to raiding funds for the local ambulance, hospital, show association, Country Women’s Association (which she held the office of president), and sporting bodies.

While hostess of the Millaa Millaa Hotel, almost nightly she entertained guests and friends with music, assisted by her daughters, who inherited her musical talent.

A brilliant conversationalist, the hostess of the Millaa Millaa Hotel also offered invaluable assistance to her husband as Eacham Shire Council chairman when entertaining distinguished visitor. She was described as having a “quick wit and extensive vocabulary”, which “invariably spelt disaster to the person who would engage her in an exchange of light repartee”.

Sadly, Theresa died relatively young while in her 40s after a short illness in 1928. The Cairns Post reported on Tuesday 24 April 1928:

The untimely death of Mrs. R. E. McHugh cast a gloom over the whole Tableland and Northern districts. The deceased lady, who was the wife of Mr. R. E. McHugh, chairman of the Eacham Shire Council, was deservedly one of the most popular ladies in North Queensland… The large number of floral tributes received in such short notice is evidence of the deceased lady’s popularity. Hundreds of messages of condolence were received in addition to the floral tributes from the following people.

The Millaa Millaa Hospital, of which the hotel hostess was the first president, was named Theresa Cottage Hospital in her honour in 1932. Theresa River, which runs through Millaa Millaa is also named in her honour.

Bob McHugh served as a councillor on Eachum Shire Council from 1913 to 1935, and was chairman from 1918 to 1935. While a councillor he is credited with being the driving force for the construction of many of the roads on the tablelands, particularly the road over the ranges linking Innisfail with Millaa Millaa. McHugh also hosted the Tattersall’s Hotel in Hay, NSW during 1937, living for a time in Sydney, before spending his final years in northern Queensland. He died at the age of 80 in 1961.

After enjoying a refreshing drink and chat with the Inglis family, we push on to our next destination, the 30 minute drive to Ravenshoe.

The next leg of our road trip took us from Millaa Millaa to Ravenshoe. Picture: Google Maps

Definitely make the effort of visiting this pretty township, located 123 kilometres (76 miles) south west of Cairns. There are two Queenslander style timber pubs in town – The Club Hotel, and The Ravenshoe Hotel.

On our visit, the Ravenshoe was the only pub open for business. A sign on the door of the Club Hotel explained that although its drive-through bottle shop continued to operate, the bar had closed due to the Coronavirus epidemic.

The Club Hotel, Ravenshoe, early last century. Picture: Supplied

The Club Hotel is the older of Ravenshoe’s two pubs.

The Club was Ravenshoe’s first pub, built by Queensland pioneer, Billy Gordon and opened for business on September 14 1912.

Gordon had been connected to cattle stations and mining prior to building his grand two storey timber pub. The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on March 8 1912:

More signs of progress [at Ravenshoe] are the erection of private houses, and also an hotel. The Club Hotel is to be formally opened on September 14, for which date the proprietor, Mr. W. C. Gordon has a fine programme of sports. A dance in the evening will conclude the day’s amusement.

Billy Gordon hosted the Club Hotel for over 30 years. He died in 1943 at the age of 60 leaving a wife an adult family.

The Club Hotel, Ravenshoe was closed for business when we visited in September 2020. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection
The Club Hotel, Ravenshoe. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

It was a shame we were unable to visit this historic pub on our road trip. With its broad balcony and heavily shaded bars, it looked inviting from the outside heat. It is certainly on our ‘to do list’ next time we wander onto the Tablelands.

At 930 metres (3,050 ft) above sea level, Ravenshoe is the highest town in Queensland.

Of the town’s two pubs, the Ravenshoe Hotel sits further up the hill, a stone’s throw from the Club Hotel, on the main street, thus enabling it to claim the title of Queensland’s highest pub.

The Ravenshoe Hotel early last century. Picture: Supplied
Ravenshoe early last century, showing the Club Hotel on the left and the Ravenshoe Hotel further up the hill on the right. Picture: Supplied.

The Ravenshoe Hotel (formerly the Tully Falls Hotel until 2014) was built by carpenter, John Ernest Edwards, who was granted a license on September 8 1927.

Edwards was born at Maytown on the Palmer Goldfields, but at a young age left with his parents for Glenelg, outside Rockhampton, where they had cattle.

At 18, Edwards gained employment as a timber cutter at Yungaburra and Tolga on the Atherton Tablelands. He was said to have been an excellent footballer and all-round sportsman. He was 19 when he married Sylvinia Miller at Rockhampton.

Returning to Kairi they took up farming for a while, before he became a carpenter and took up residence at Ravenshoe, where they built their grand hotel in 1927.

The Edwards were closely associated with show societies, as well as taking on active community roles in Ravenshoe.

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John’s wife Sylvania was the first publican in 1927 and, with her husband, they remained licensees at various times until 1940, when they both retired to Cairns, periodically returning to Ravenshoe.

John Edwards died at Ravenshoe on March 24 1952 at the age of 70.

The funeral, one of the largest seen in the town, was carried out by members of the Masonic Lodge. He was survived by his widow, Sylvinia and three sons and three daughters. There were 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Sylvia died at the age of 87 in 1970.

The pub was renamed Hotel Tully Falls in the 1950s when the Koombooloomba Dam was built nearby.

In 2013, Wendy Stanford, the great-granddaughter of John and Sylvania, bought the Hotel with her husband Wayne. They wanted to retire back in Ravenshoe after working in the mines.

When the pub reopened around 2014 it resumed its original name of Ravenshoe Hotel.

Ravenshoe Hotel, Ravenshoe, September 2020. Picture: MIck Roberts Collection

Together they’ve been restoring the old pub back to its former glory. You can now visit the pub, enjoy a meal and a drink in the bar, the old-world dining room or out the back in the gardens. Guests can even stay upstairs in a choice of many restored motel rooms with a sweeping verandah overlooking the Ravenshoe township

Traditionally the main industry in Ravenshoe was timber, but since 1987, when the government made 900,000 hectares (2,200,000 acres) of surrounding rainforest world heritage listed, the main industries have been tourism, beef and dairy farming.

The route of the last leg of the road trip to Mount Garnet Hotel. Picture: Google Maps
Innot Springs Hotel, a little pub on the road to Mt Garnet. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

On our visit we enjoyed lunch in the magnificently restored dining room, and a few drinks in the busy little public bar before travelling 30 minutes onto our final destination, the Mount Garnet Hotel.

Mount Garnet is a remote former mining town, 160kms south-west of Cairns.

Mt Garnet Freehold Copper and Silver Mining Company was producing high grade copper oxide in 1899. The township was surveyed and buildings sprang up making the township the second-largest inland town (Charters Towers being the largest).

Mount Garnet Hotel, Mount Garnet, September 2020. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

There’s the one pub in town – Mount Garnet Hotel. It opened in 1899.

The Mount Garnet Hotel was built in 1898 and the first licence taken out by Denis Joseph Lucey on January 4 1899. It was the first of seven hotels in the mining town.

The builder of Lucey’s hotel was Mark Brazier and wood was sourced from a sawmill near Ravenshoe.  

The great granddaughter of Denis Lucey, Peta O’Connor tells me that after he died in 1910, his wife, Julia held the license, and later his son, Len.

When Len Lucey died in 1963, the women of the Lucey family – Annie, then daughters Sheila, then Erin took over the lease.

“The story goes that Julia and Denis packed up an hotel at Irvinebank that she ran (I have not found anything to corroborate the owning or running of this),” Peta tells me by email

“Anyway, they brought over by dray from Irvinebank, the makings of the hotel, which was a one storey building, with another two storey building being built later.”

The pub’s claim to fame in 1926 was that it possessed the town’s one and only “wireless set”. The Cairns Post reported in November 27 1926:

A closer link with the large centres of population has just been joined by the instalment of a six valve listening in set, at Lucey’s, Mount Garnet Hotel, by which local residents have heard, for the first time in many instances, concerts at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

You know when you have arrived at an outback bush pub when the taps disappear from the bar. No longer is it worth the publican’s while to have kegs of beer transported to the hotel. It’s stubby territory, where drinkers enjoy their beer from the bottle.

The Mount Garnet Hotel marks the beginning of ‘stubby territory’. It also marks the start of road train territory. You could say the beginning of the outback. She’s a beaut old pub, with an ancient juke box, obligatory pool table, and a fantastic, but much abused, upright piano gracing the public bar.

Out the back of the pub is an intriguing large tin shed; a drinking space which is hard to describe. It’s not a beer garden, and it’s far from a lounge bar. You could say it’s one of those drinking spaces that had been designed for an easy early morn hose out.

We, along with a fella drinking rum and coke, were the only customers at the Mount Garnet Hotel. Luckily so, the barman seemed more interested playing games on his phone, rather than chatting with us city folk.

I particularly liked the tree-shaded north facing verandah of this pub. Here we sat and enjoyed a beer, made small talk with the barman, before making our long journey back to the coast.

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Categories: Queensland hotels, review, Reviews, Road Trips

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5 replies

  1. You have incorrect information re Mt Garnet Hotel. Also the Tarzali hotel.

  2. You have also spelled the Lucey name incorrectly regarding the Mt Garnet Hotel.

    • Again… It’s good to receive feedback… However, the spelling of “Lucy” within the story was a direct quote from a newspaper story….

    • The room on the far right was the Mt. Garnet sub-branch on The National Bank of A/asia, Ravenshoe , in the 1960’s . I spent 2 years travelling out to it each Thursday as the Teller.

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