Regents Park Hotel: The Publican verse the Salvationist

Regents Park Hotel, Regents Park, Sydney. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.
The Regents Park Hotel, Regents Park, August 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.


One of the more notorious incidents in almost a century of trading at the Regents Park Hotel in Sydney’s west was when the publican booted out a Salvation Army officer, who was collecting donations and selling the newspaper War Cry.

The publican had the collecting captain arrested and charged with disturbing the peace, causing a sensation at the time. The local Salvo officer was a returned serviceman, well-liked by drinkers at the pub, and his arrest didn’t go down well just six years after the end of the war.

A ‘black-ban’ was placed on the pub by local drinkers, and red paint splashed over its front doors. But, more on the publican verse the Salvo later in the story.

The history of the inner-west watering hole begins when brewery giant, Toohey’s Limited built the hotel to service a rapidly growing western Sydney suburb almost a century ago.

The first host was well-known Lidcombe auctioneer and council alderman, Frank Freitas, who gained the license on April 16, 1925.

Freitas was a popular publican, who served in the Boer War with the 6th Imperial Bushmen’s Contingent. Prior to opening the pub, he had auctioneer rooms in Vaughan Street, Lidcombe. His advertising slogan was: “Frank Freitas Will Sell Anything For You – Send It Along!”

Frank Freitas was born Old Guildford in 1874 and was well-known all over the Parramatta district. He was elected to Lidcombe Council in 1922 and played an active part in municipal affairs.

Freitas hosted the Regents Park Hotel with his wife, Minnie and son, Frank Jnr from 1925 to June 1929 when he sold the business to W. Hunt of Pyrmont.

Although forced by ill health to retire for a time, he was re-elected to the Lidcombe Council shortly before his death at the age of 66 in April 1940.

At his death he had been a resident of Lidcombe for about 35 years. He died at his home in Vaughan Street, Lidcombe after suffering ill health for some years.

Just three years after Freitas left the hotel, one of the more interesting publicans took the reins in March 1932.

The Regent Park Hotel 1949, and inset publican Eric McLean (left) and Salvation Army Captain, Ivan Rees. Main Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian national University.

Eric Sydney McLean had a relatively uneventful 23 year stay as host, except for one major controversy in 1951 when he had Salvation Army officer, Ivan Rees arrested for disorderly conduct in his pub, attracting national headlines. The Sun Herald reported on Sunday 12 August, 1951:

Lidcombe police yesterday charged a Salvation Army captain with “disorderly conduct” at the Regents Park hotel.

The publican, Mr. Eric McLean, asked police to make the charge after the captain had gone into the hotel with copies of the Salvation Army’s newspaper, “War Cry.”

As a result of the action against the captain, angry customers threaten to place a “black ban” on the hotel.

The Salvation Army officer is Captain Ivan Rees, 30, officer-in-charge of the Army’s Lidcombe district. He has been offering copies of “War Cry” in the Regents Park area every Saturday for six months.

One of the customers, Mr. George Wirdum, of Wellington Road, Sefton, said: “We were shocked and disgusted at Mr. McLean’s action.

“This morning, the captain, wearing his uniform, came into the bar as usual, carrying his papers and a collecting box.

“The licensee later went outside to the street when he saw him. Soon afterwards, the police came in and arrested him.

“A sergeant and constable took him away in a police sidecar.”

Mr. Wirdum said that after the arrest all the patrons in the crowded bar spontaneously walked out. Shortly afterwards Mr. McLean closed the hotel.

Mr. Wirdum said the captain was well liked by the regular customers.

“He is an ex-Serviceman of the last war and wears five medal ribbons on his uniform,” he said.

Rees had defied a warning by the publican not to collect or sell the War Cry in his pub the week before his arrest by police.

Following the Salvationist’s arrest many drinkers maintained a boycott at the hotel.

Newspapers reported that during the usual lunch-time and late afternoon peak hour periods, only a few drinkers defied pickets to enter the pub. The drinkers declared that they intended to boycott the hotel until McLean publicly apologised to Rees.

Newspapers reported that the hotel, usually filled with local factory workers in the lunch-hour, was exceptionally quiet.

The Salvation Army claimed the right of a minister to go into a hotel to distribute religious publications, Murray Robson, MLA, said in Parramatta Court when he appeared for Rees.

The disorderly conduct charge against Rees was eventually dismissed on September 17, 1951.

Parramatta Court House. Inset: Salvation Army Captain Ivan Rees arriving at Parramatta Court with his counsel Murray Robson. Pictures: Supplied.

During the hearing the courtroom was crowded with officers of the Salvation Army, many of whom had to be accommodated in the jury box and on witness benches.

Publican, Eric McLean told the court that it was a matter of principle with him that he did not allow any selling in his bar. He had nothing personally against Captain Rees.

The officer was shaking a box and disturbing the hotel customers, according to the publican.

The magistrate while agreeing that the publican had every right to ask Rees to leave the pub, a prima facie case had not been established and the charge was dismissed against the 30-year-old Salvationist.

It’s not known for how long drinkers maintained their black ban of the Regents Park Hotel. However, publican, McLean remained as host until retiring in 1955. He died in 1974.

Rees continued his ministry in Sydney’s west, reaching the rank of major in the Salvation Army, and died in 1990 at the age of 70.

The Regents Park Hotel continues to trade in a modernised building in western Sydney.

Can anyone help out with a photo of Frank Freitas to include in this story?

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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Categories: NSW hotels, Publicans, Sydney hotels


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