Publican to the miners: ‘Bold Mac’, of the Murchison goldfields

John McManaway’s Excelsior Hotel, Cue, Western Australia.

John McManaway was a famed Western Australian publican, who hosted three pubs to the heavy drinking miners of the Murchison goldfields. Known far and wide as ‘Bold McManaway’, or simply ‘Mac’, the Irishman was said to have feared nothing, was always up-for-a-fight – well, at least in the verbal sense – and was an inveterate practical joker.

Once, Mac reportedly threw a clergyman out of his pub for allowing a dog to enter his dining room.

The story was told in the Kalgoorlie Sun of how he replaced the glass eye of a dignitary – who fell off a horse and jolted out his artificial optic – by utilising the stopper out of a lemonade bottle and a few dabs of paint.

The newspaper reported on January 29 1911 how the operation was performed while the man was asleep, and he didn’t discover till two days afterwards that he had a new eye, locally manufactured.

Mac was reportedly a curious and interesting paradox of a man.

Although a publican, he was said to have the warmest regard for any person who confined himself to water as a beverage. To encourage temperance principles among the patrons of his pub, a water bag, always kept full, hung temptingly on a nail close to the door of every bedroom.

Drunks found sleeping off the effects of their liquor within his pubs were barred from the premises.

Among other things that come under the ban of Mac’s disapproval was the local union, which sometimes retaliated by boycotting his pub, “but”, Mac told a newspaper of the day, “they always come back to me whin they want a drop of good liquor.”

John McManaway was born in Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland in 1863 where for generations his family had been agents on the estates of Lord Mount Wills Sandford, and were both well known and respected.

Mac immigrated to New South Wales at the age of 17 in 1880, where he tried his hand at boundary-riding, before making his way to Victoria, where he became a drover.

At the age of 21, he married 33-year-old Mary Glover, an old Irish school friend, in Melbourne in 1884, and they would have six children together.

While in Melbourne, Mac tried his hand at brewing and bootmaking before a run of business failures lured him to the west.

The couple packed-up their belongings and five children in 1894 to sail for Perth, where a gold rush was creating plenty of opportunities.

When he landed in Perth he reportedly had only £4 in his pockets.

John McManaway as a young man

Mac secured a job as a steward and manager of the Freemasons’ Club in Perth, before the Murchison Goldfields lured him in the latter half of 1895.

The Irishman purchased T. Harry Marshalls, Excelsior Hotel in Cue, a gold-mining town 620 km north-east of Perth, in 1895. Marshall had been declared bankrupt, and advertised the pub for sale in August.

Mac was about to embark on a career as a hotelier and become one of Western Australia’s most celebrated publicans, after taking over the role of Cue’s most Irish pub on December 6 1895.

The hotel had a front and saloon bar, a billiard room dining room, three parlours, 12 bedrooms, bathrooms and also a large cellar. Stables were also attached to the property and a well was sunk at the rear of the premises for clear water for his Aerated Water factory. The Geraldton Express reported on March 26, 1897: 

The Excelsior Hotel is the oldest licensed house in Cue. It is getting on for five years since the Prendergast Brothers astonished the dry-blowers, diggers and fossickers of Cue’s rush by building what appeared to be, at that time, a solid iron house, with large brick chimney and store attached. It looked so far ahead of the times. Then a year later McNamara and Weatherup repeated the procedure and spent a thousand pounds on an iron and match-board building on the front and turned the old building into kitchen and bedrooms at the back. The well-remembered concert, in which the Warden himself took part, on the eve of the first St. Patrick’s Day sports held on the field, was celebrated on the vacant space between the two buildings, the old and the new, the front and rear blocked up with loose sheets of iron and a rough improvised of boxes and boards for the occasion. And what an enthusiastic audience it was, with all the female population of the new settlement (there were three of them) present, when the Warden spoke of St. Patrick and the Halls of Tara whence “the Harp that once ” evolved Tara-ra-boom-deay. There has always been a touch of the Irish spirit about the house, the present popular landlord, Mr John McManaway, being a West of Ireland man himself, though before his well-patronised bars the real Scotch spirit (in ample glasses) mixes and blends with the aforesaid Irish ditto on all occasions… On 6th December, 1895, we find Mac the landlord of the Excelsior Hotel, Cue, with as good a house as there is in the town, the best liquor in the place and hosts of customers and friends, who like the hotel from the treatment they receive and the absence of anxiety about any next morning’s head. A word of praise must be given to Mrs McManaway, who attends to the comfort of visitors staying at the house, and makes them thoroughly at home. The chef employed in the kitchen receives the salary of a mine manager and can cook a dinner unexcelled by any hotel in the colony. Shower baths are a feature worth mentioning in connection with the Excelsior, and also the lounge adjoining the dining room, with its cane deck chairs much frequented by lovers of the post-prandial smoke. Mr McManaway was for some time a councillor, and it is largely owing to his efforts that the fire brigade was started and aided by the substantial Government grant that has placed it in its present prosperous financial position. Mac is an ardent supporter of all sports and matters of a public nature, and well deserves the popularity that rests with him and with the Excelsior Hotel. 

Mac’s reputation as a “roarer, whose bark was worse than his bite”, soon landed the Irish publican in hot-water when he came up against the local constable. The Murchison Times reported on June 27 1896 that McManaway had been charged with using obscene language to Constable Walker.

While on patrol, Constable Walker heard swearing coming from within the Excelsior Hotel, and, as a result summoned Mac outside on the verandah.

“You are the most impertinent policeman I have met in my life, and you can go to (hell),” the publican was reported to have told the constable.

“I’ll have you know I’m the proprietor of this establishment, and I don’t care for the police department,” he said.

Mac, beside some extra colourful language, then reportedly told the constable that he would use his influence to have him transferred or sacked. Mac’s heated exchange with the law ended with him paying a fine of five shillings, and court costs of 11 shillings and six pence.

After this conflict with the local constabulary, Mac likely thought it best to lay low, and he subleased the Excelsior Hotel for a while to manage a pub at the holiday town of  Mundaring, about 35km east of Perth.

Mundaring Hotel, Mundaring, Western Australia, where McManaway had a short stint as host. Picture: Weekly Times September 10 1898.

Mac had a short stay at the Mundaring Hotel and by August 1898 he was back in the goldfields hosting the Excelsior at Cue.

McManaway changed the name of the Excelsior Hotel to the Roscommon in August 1898, after his birthplace in Ireland.

While hosting the Roscommon, Mac lost a housemaid from heat exhaustion in February 1899. The young woman, Mary Thomas, had only arrived in the colony from England when she gained employment at Mac’s pub. The outback heat must have been too much for the housemaid who was found collapsed in one of the rooms and died shortly afterwards.

The following month, Mac was fronting the courts again in an effort to gain a license to sell liquor from his billiard room. The Murchison Times reported on March 7, 1899 that hotelkeepers were allowed to keep their billiard-room bars open until 12 o’clock for the accommodation of billiard players, while the others bad to be closed at 11 o’clock. The court found that Mac’s billiard room was too small for a bar, and the request was rejected.

By the turn of the century, 40-year-old Mac had found himself in financial trouble, and he advertised the Roscommon Hotel for sale.

McManaway fronted the bankruptcy court in 1902, and was discharged as bankruptcy the following year.

In 1904 he was granted a liquor licence to build the Club Hotel at Nunngarra (Nungarra). Nunngarra, originally known as Black Range, about 730km north-east of Perth, was a service town for a nearby gold mine.

Mac changed the name from the Club Hotel to the Palace Hotel in 1905, and the following year he found himself fighting bankruptcy proceedings once again.

During the proceedings his land dealings in the south of the state came under the spotlight. It seems, to escape bankruptcy, Mac had placed properties under his wife’s name.

The court was not impressed with the publican’s shrewd business tactics.

Mac had a remarkable come-back from financial ruin, after his eldest daughter, Annie McManaway, married the manager of the West Australian Bank at Black Range, Mr. C. Lowrie in November, 1906.

Gold had petted-out at Black Range and the residents moved to the new settlement of Sandstone, about 12kms south of the old town. Sandstone was closer to the new Oroya Gold Mine – a name derived from a prickly desert plant, originating from Peru. The name comes from the Peruvian town, la Oroya, where the first plants were discovered.

Mac was back in business, and purchased the first town lots to become available in Sandstone in October 1906. He paid £500 for a central town lot, where he built the Oroya-Palace Hotel.

McManaway’s Oroya Palace Hotel under construction on July 19, 1907. The buildings covered 92ft x 165ft, C. W. Arnott was the contractor. Picture: State Library of Western Australia.

The Oroya-Palace Hotel opened on Tuesday, October 1 1907. The hotel was the largest on the northern goldfields, and was constructed as to provide the maximum of comfort for patrons. The main bars, dining room, billiard room and lounges were all capable of accommodating large numbers of people. A fine hall was also built, which was used as a sample room.

McManaway’s Oroya Palace Hotel, C1910. McManaway can be seen on the extreme right. Picture: State Library of Western Australia. Inset: John McManaway. Picture: Western Argus, February 11 1908.
McManaway’s Oroya-Palace Hotel, Sandstone, Kalgoorlie. Picture: Western Argus February 11 1908.
Delivering beer from Hannans Brewery, Kalgoorlie to Lake Way, located in the Mid West region of Western Australia, approximately 15 kilometres south of Wiluna and 1,000km north-east of Perth, 1908. Picture: Western Argus February 11 1908.
Beer being loaded from Hannans Brewery, Kalgoorlie, for delivery to the remote pubs of the goldfields, including Mac’s pub at Sandstone. Picture: Western Argus February 11 1908.

In a reminiscence published in The Kalgoorlie Sun on June 10 1917 a retired “backblox representative of Hannans Brewery”, described how the biggest order he delivered was 50 tons, despatched by camel team from the railway-head, Leonora, to Mac’s pub at Sandstone.

The Kalgoorlie Sun reported on December 20, 1908: 

IN thee last couple of years a few enterprising men have pushed the field of Black Range ahead in a wonderful way. Capital has poured in for the development of the mines, two of which, the Black Range G.M. and the Oroya-Black Range, are now ranking amongst the State’s leading producers and dividend payer. The progress of the field is no less remarkable than the progress of the town of Sandstone.

A couple of years ago, where Sandstone now stands was a dense scrub — today you see rows of well-built shops and all the appurtenances of a prosperous community.

Standing out conspicuously in the middle of the main street is McManaway’s Oroya-Palace Hotel, a magnificent structure, replete with all the conveniences of a first-class modern hotel.

Mr. McManaway previously ran a similar business at Nunngarra, but noting that mining thereabouts was on the decline, and shrewdly concluding that the days of Nunngarrg were numbered, he soon set about getting the Government to proclaim the townsite of Sandstone, Nunngarra, being nine miles away from the big mines, was utterly unsuited to the requirements of the working population at Sandstone.

Despite much opposition from persons with vested interests in other portions of the fields, and particularly from the old residents of Nunngarra, who, naturally, wanted no more towns to share the business of the Range, Mr. McManaway, and a few other intrepid citizens, were successful in the agitation they had set afoot.

Sandstone has come to stay; Nunngarra is practically abandoned — a thing of the past. At the big land sale that soon followed the proclamation of the town, Mr. McManaway secured four central blocks, now covered with his spacious hotel. Although outwardly of no great architectural beauty, inside it is commodious, and possesses a large lounge conservatory; a cool retreat in which Sandstone generally lolls in the scorching days of summer.

The hotel has over thirty nine, lofty bedrooms, two extensive bars, numerous sitting and commercial rooms, and a spacious dining-room, easily the best in the town.

The arrangements in the cellar to keep the drinks cool and good are excellent. Mr. McManaway’s experience of hotel management has stood to him in the appointment of this cellar. Casks are ingeniously arranged in rows, one above the other, ready for immediate use, and admirable provision in the way of gutters and troughs is made to carry off the waste liquids.

The cellar has the landlord’s unremitting care, and is consequently sweet and wholesome, as all hotel cellars must be if drinks are to be fit for public consumption.

Associated with the hotel is a livery stable — the finest on the Murchison. One could expatiate at considerable length on the Oroya-Palace, on its general equipment, and the hospitable character of its management, for host McManaway is no grab-all publican, who wants you on the premises only for the booze you buy. At the Oroya-Palace you are perfectly at home. whether your principles run in the direction of cold tea or the more punrent beverage of malt and hops.

An ideal host is Mr. John McManaway, in the furtherance of the general welfare of the community. Sandstone has no more strenuous grafter.

McManaway’s Oroya Palace Hotel, Sandstone, 1912. Picture: Western Mail June 17 1937.
Oroya Palace Hotel, internal lounge, C1910. Picture: State Library of Western Australia

By this time Mac was known far and wide throughout the goldfields of Western Australia. While at Sandstone, the story of the only Jew who ever was buried in the town was recalled by a reader in the Kalgoorlie Sun newspaper on August 31, 1913.

Mac approached the “boss Jew of the town”, Barney Fienberg who was said to have not wanted to be bothered with the expense of a proper burial.

“Then we’ll bury him in Presbyterian ground,” said Mac – a strict contravention of the Jewish religion.

Mac’s threat brought Barney to a sense of his responsibilities, and the Hebrew corpse was planted with the rites of Judaism.

As the earth fell upon the coffin, Mac was reported to have glared at Barney, addressing the mourners: “This is the first Jew buried at Sandstone, and I hope to —– it will be the last!” 

There’s no doubt ‘Bold Mac’ was a determined character. On another occasion he reportedly had the Mount Magnet-Sandstone train stopped in the midst of ‘The Never Never’ to search for a person who had been thrown from a sulky somewhere near Anketell Siding.

Mac was described as had never let anybody go either thirsty or hungry. The story is told of when one summer afternoon in 1910 a sorrowful looking woman came down Hack-street, Sandstone. Her old spring cart, the wheels of which were tied up with chaff bags and fencing wire, was drawn by a horse “so poor that the wonder is that he stood up to the strain”. In the cart there was a woman of about 35 years of age with three children ranging from one to seven years. Also in the cart there was a bundle rolled up in a rug. Her husband. He had died that morning about six miles out from Sandstone. The Western Mail reported on December 31, 1936:

The woman tied the horse to a tree, left the two elder children under the cart, and, with the younger one, made her way to the police office, where she told her tale.

For the past 10 months they had been on the road from the Eastern fields. Her husband was a very sick man when they started, and could do no work, but he thought if he got near the western coast where he could get sea air and fish he might get better.

The woman did the battling on the way. The husband looked after the children, while the woman did whatever jobs came her way, washing, scrubbing, and odd jobs round hotels and boarding houses. By this means she earned sufficient to carry them from place to place. It was seldom she had cash to spare to buy horse feed, and the animal had to do the best he could on what he could pick up.

When camping along the road the horse was hobbled out and the woman hunted him in the morning. He was so poor that travelling was slow. A few miles a day. Teamsters and travellers, seeing the woman’s plight, gave her what food they could spare.

As the months went by matters became worse. She was out of range of any Work; the husband was getting weaker and the children and she were not only poorly clothed, but often nearly starved.

In this state she reached Maninga Marley, about 20 miles east of Sandstone, where she got her last helping. It took five days to do the journey to Sandstone, where she hoped to get her husband into hospital. He died early on the morning of the fourth day, and she took until late in the afternoon to complete the journey.

Immediately she told her story there was a transformation scene. Arrangements were made to have the dead husband taken to the morgue. The horse and cart were taken to the police yard where the horse for once could put his nose into a manger well filled with plenty of good forage.

The woman and her children were taken in at the Oroya-Palace Hotel (Although the account says incorrectly at the Roscommon) by Mac, who provided them with the best of everything – bed, bath and food.

The woman had scarce a stitch to wear, but the deficiency was soon made good by the womenfolk of the hotel. Mac saw to it that ample new clothes were sent from the store for the use of the children.

By 1910 McManaway, his wife and daughter left the goldfields for a six month holiday to Ireland. The Kalgoorlie Sun reported in January 1911 that the Black Range publican, Mac, “is back from Erin, footing rejuvenated by 10 years at least”.

Indeed he was rejuvenated. The Mt Magnet Miner reported in August 1911 that Mac was likely scouting for a new pub site. Mac had been visiting Payne’s Find, a gold rush settlement about 430km northeast of Perth.  “John has fixed the townsite and marked off a number of business areas”.

In October 1911, he advertised the Oroya-Palace Hotel for lease. Whether he was embarking on another business venture is not known. However, he remained in Sandstone, until September 1915 when Mac and his wife, Mary moved to the Goldfields Club Hotel in Perth. It was here on November 13, 1915, Mac died, aged 52 years. He left behind four adult children, and his widow, and was buried in East Perth cemetery.

Mac’s only boy, Lance took over the Oroya-Palace from 1915 to 1920 when the pub closed for business. The Murchison Times reported on September 24 1920:

One of Cue’s visitors this week was an interested young man named Lance McManaway. Many Cueites will remember him as a schoolboy years ago and will more readily recall his father, Mr. John McManaway, as the proprietor of the Roscommon Hotel. The family later migrated to Sandstone where Lance, his father having died, is now the proprietor of an hotel. Motoring from Sandstone to Cue his stay was brief but lengthy enough to allow him to visit a few old haunts and to find out that Cue had hardly altered.

The end came for the Oroya-Palace Hotel when Mac’s widow, Mary, sold the pub to Mr. P. Coyne, of Yalgoo in late 1920. The Mount Magnet Miner reported on January 29, 1921:

Sandstone, Monday.


A considerable gap has been caused in Hack Street, by the removal of McManaway’s Hotel, which occupied a central position in the town. Built by the late Mr. John McManaway about 13 years ago, this hotel was one of the most popular amongst the travelling public, chiefly on account of its design and comfort. The “Bold John” knew how to run an hotel on modern lines, and had it built according to his own ideas, whereby he was able to cater for Bill Dryblower over a few pots in one portion, and Claude Overdraft, the bank “Johnnie,” over a little drop of “waine” in the other. Towards the end of the year Miss M. McManaway disposed of the property to Mr. P Coyne, of Yalgoo, and the “wreckers” immediately got to work, and nothing now remains to remind one of the good days, when beer flowed incessantly on pay days, and many convivial meetings were held.

Mac’s pub and surroundings were built of wood and iron, and when it was demolished Coyne reportedly “made a fortune”. A reminisce published in the Western Mail on October 29, 1936 reported, “there must have been 100 tons of it”.

Mary McManaway died at Northam at the age of 67 on June 27, 1925. The last publican of the Oroya-Palace Hotel, Lance McManaway died in Melbourne, at the age of 72 in 1960.

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