Dooen Hotel publican ‘pulls a swifty’ on local police

Dooen Hotel, 1955. Picture: Horsham Historical Society.


ALTHOUGH briefly at the reins, some publicans leave an indelible mark on the history of a hotel.

One such host was a bloke by the name of Albert McGee.

McGee, who died back in 1956, held the license of the Dooen Hotel, 10km north-east of Horsham, Victoria, for less than two years.

The publican’s short stay though left a colourful yarn in the 145 year-old bush-pub’s history, and earned him a place in local folklore when in 1929 he cleverly outwitted the local police, who had charged him with selling grog after hours.

In retrospect, McGee’s prank was probably not very wise when you consider he made fools of the police. Within a year he had left town and was hosting the Railway Hotel, over 300km away in Haworth.

Once six-o’clock closing was made law in 1916, the Dooen Hotel had a history of “looking after” railway workers and other drinkers by selling beer out of hours, prompting a number of police raids and “undercover” operations.

McGee landed in court after he sold a couple of bottles of beer to two undercover police officers. Spectators in the Horsham Court were reportedly “convulsed with laughter” in January 1929 during the hearing when McGee pleaded not guilty to selling beer in prohibited hours.

McGee, suspecting a police trap, had filled two beer bottles with distilled water. The Court ordered the bottles to be opened, and, to everybody’s delight, clear water instead of beer, was poured into glasses!

The magistrate immediately dismissed the case.

Embarrassing the local police, no doubt had dire consequence for McGee, who would have experienced a greater police scrutiny, and within a few months, the publican had sold the lease of the hotel.

The Dooen Hotel was established by Robert Grant who gained a license on June 15 1876, on three acres of land at Dooen North.

Grant arrived in Australia from Scotland at the age of 16 in 1852, and later in his life, at the age of 40, along with his wife, Ellen, hosted the weatherboard pub, which sat about 700 metres south of the Dooen School Road, on the western side of the Henty Highway.

The railway was extended from Murtoa through Dooen to Horsham in 1879, placing Grant’s pub a fair distance from the newly opened station.

Not to be outdone, Grant hired a bullock team, moving his pub 1.5 kilometres south to its present location at 861 Henty Highway, in late 1879.

This brought his pub close to Dooen Station and many more customers. A special temporary licence had been granted in September 1879 which suggests that other premises were used near the railway station prior to the hotel building being moved.

The pub’s founder went on to hold a number of public offices, including as a councillor on various local shires. He was also commissioner of the Wimmera United Water Trust, and founder of the West Wimmera Irrigation Trust. He died at Korumburra in 1907 at the age of 71.

Grant owned the Dooen Hotel until 1889 when it was sold to James Thornett, who with his wife Mary, hosted the pub through the depression years of the 1890s. After leaving Dooen in 1900, Thornett and his wife relocated their business ventures to Perth, Western Australia, where tragedy struck the family. Their son, Job, who worked as a shunter at Midlands Railway Yard, was accidently killed by a train after his foot was caught in a junction point. The one-time Dooen Hotel publican died in February 1903 at the age of 51.

A number of licensees controlled the Dooen Hotel over the following decades, until the first of the breweries became freehold owners. Richmond Brewing Company purchased the Dooen Hotel in 1937. Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) purchased the Richmond Brewing Co in 1962 and took over ownership of all their properties, including the Dooen Hotel.

Under the ownership of CUB, the verandah of the pub was removed and part of the front wall moved out to align with the rest of the facade. The interior had several internal walls removed to make a more open-plan style of hotel.

To remain open, the Victorian Licensing Commission ordered major renovations to the pub in 1969. CUB, however, was not willing to pay for the improvements and proposed to close the pub.

Thankfully, the licensees at the time, Martin (Snowy) and Margaret Nunan purchased the freehold from CUB in October 1970 and, with community help, carried out the renovations necessary to bring it up to the standard demanded by the Commission. The Nunans hosted the pub for just short of a decade.

In recent years the late legendary barman, Billy Hobbs made quite a name for himself at the pub. He was barman from about 2003-2016 and became known for having his customers’ preferred drinks ready, sitting on the bar, before they could get through the front door. He died in 2018.

For the past 20 years the Dooen Hotel has been owned by Mick and Helen Harris.

-With thanks Horsham Historical Society.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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