Hobart’s hoteliers founded Australia’s first industry advocacy group

State Conference of Tasmania Branch of the United Licensed Victualler’s Association in Hobart,1925. Picture: Libraries Tasmania

THE Australian Hotels Association (AHA) had its beginnings in Tasmania when a group of Hobart licensed victuallers, including ex-convict and host of the Tasmanian Inn, David Watson Bush, met to consider how best to promote and protect their businesses.

The AHA is considered the principal body representing most of Australia’s 6,000 hotels, which employ 300,000 workers and continues to be registered as an industrial organisation for employers.

Known today as the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA), an industry body for hotels, accommodation, restaurants, cafes, caterers, community, sporting and RSL clubs, the Society of the Licensed Victuallers of Van Diemen’s Land was formed in April 1839.

The Society formed in response to authorities who saw pubs and taverns as an easy target to extract fines which went directly into police pay packets.

With the motto, ‘Union is strength’, the Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA) had some immediate success in preventing unfair persecution of its members, and went on to establish itself as a key body representing Tasmanian pubs.

The historic event took place when 20 licensed victuallers met at the White Horse Tavern, at the corner of Liverpool and Elizabeth Streets in Hobart.

Although 1839 is considered the foundation date of the LVA in Tasmania, the society can be traced back to as early as 1826.

At the time, Hobart was a bustling town with a growing population, and licensed victuallers played an important role in providing food, drink, and lodging to travellers and locals alike.

The society was formed by a group of publicans who were concerned about the lack of standards in the licensed trade. They wanted to create a united front to improve the quality of their establishments and provide a better experience for their customers.

One of the earliest references to a meeting of Hobart’s publicans and innkeepers appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette on February 25 1826:

LICENSED VICTUALLERS.— A Meeting of the Licensed Publicans of Hobart Town and the Vicinity, will take place on Monday next, at 3 o’clock in the Afternoon, at the Ship Inn, on most urgent Business, at which the presence of every Licensed Victualler is requested.

Ship Inn and Family Hotel, corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, Hobart, C1830. Picture: National Library of Australia

The Hobart Town Gazette reported on September 15 1827 that innkeepers again met at the King George Inn, Liverpool Street, to submit a memorial to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, “representing the injury they and the public sustained from the number of persons unlawfully selling spirits, and to sub-scribe a fund to be employed in aid of bringing such offenders to justice”.

“We hail the disposition displayed upon this occasion with real satisfaction, and most sincerely wish, the measure every success. While we would willingly contribute to the refreshment, the comforts and the enjoyments of those who find it convenient to visit the public inns, licensed, sanctioned and regulated as they are by the law, we would denounce in the most severe terms, the wickedness of those, who evading right and justice, and selling the same, privileged articles, hold forth to their decoyed victims, the addition-al inducements of gambling, revel and vicious dissipation at all hours. Such men are the hornets of society, unwilling to work themselves, or to use any means of getting an honest subsistence, they live by nourishing the vices and inciting the crimes of others.”

One of the society’s early achievements was the establishment of a code of conduct for licensed victuallers. This code outlined the responsibilities of publicans in areas such as cleanliness, the quality of food and drink served, and the treatment of customers. The society also lobbied the government for better licensing laws and regulations, and worked to prevent the unauthorised sale of alcohol.

Interestingly, in August 1827, a meeting of licensed victuallers at the Crown and Anchor Inn was held in Hobart with the object to raise a fund for building an asylum for aged and infirmed publicans and innkeepers.

Again, in 1829, a meeting of 43 licensed victuallers at the Royal Hotel appointed 12 to an executive committee to suppress illicit grog selling in Hobart.

However, the society’s enthusiasm waned through the 1830s, with irregular meetings. Another much-more successful effort was made to formalise licensed victuallers into an influential advocacy organisation when an interim meeting of 20 men met at the White Horse Inn at the corner of Liverpool and Elizabeth Streets, Hobart, with David Watson Bush in the chair.

Another meeting to elect a committee and formalise the society was held at the White Horse on April 24, again with David Bush in the chair. This meeting is considered the foundation of today’s Australian Hotel Association.

At the meeting, 50 in the liquor trade joined the society.

David Bush could be considered the father of the AHA, having chaired the movement and for his keen involvement in its formative years.

Although considered a respectable Hobart businessman, Bush’s background, like many of Australia’s early pioneers, had a shady beginning. He was one of 327 convicts transported first to New South Wales and later to Tasmania for ‘pick-pocketing’ in central London.

Born on Norfolk, England, he was sentenced to transportation at the age of 19, arriving in Tasmania in 1812. He received a Conditional Pardon in 1821 before marrying Ann Guy in Hobart at the age of 22.

Bush found his way to New Norfolk, the Tasmanian namesake of his English birthplace after his marriage, where he farmed and was appointed a police constable. He first dabbled in the pub industry in March 1828 when he purchased the Albermarle Arms Inn at New Norfolk and applied for its license. 

The following year, Bush and his wife, Ann found themselves back in Hobart-Town, where in March 1829 he was granted the license of the Tasmanian Inn on the corner of Campbell and Liverpool Streets.

Bush, who the Tasmanian Despatch newspaper reported had “much exerted himself in forming the society”, was vice president in 1841, a position he held on and off for over a decade.

David Watson Bush hosted the Tasmanian Inn until 1842 before leasing it until 1847. The pub seems to have closed about this time. He died a wealthy man at the age of 74 in 1866.

In addition to their work on behalf of licensed victuallers, the society was also involved in charitable work. They donated money to the Hobart Hospital, supported local schools, and helped fund the construction of the city’s first public water supply.

Over the years, the society’s popularity fluctuated. By 1853 membership stood at about 30, with 180 licensed victuallers licensed in Hobart.

Despite this the organisation continued to play an important role in the Hobart community. They have organised social events for licensed victuallers and their families, and helped foster a sense of camaraderie among members.

In 1856, 17 years after the movement was inaugurated in Hobart, a Licensed Victuallers Association was formed in Launceston. Although known as the United Licensed Victuallers Association, the two remained independent until they amalgamated in 1959 to form the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Hotels Association. This gives Tasmania the honour of producing probably the oldest employer organisation in Australia.

Victoria followed Tasmania’s lead in 1850 when hoteliers in Melbourne established the Licensed Victuallers Society of Port Phillip.

The Society functioned until 1904 when “differences of opinion and petty variances” gave rise to a breakaway group which styled itself the Victorian Hoteliers Association. The two remained divided until 1916 when they merged under the title of the Licensed Victuallers Association.

South Australia formed a Licensed Victuallers Association in 1871 and likewise New South Wales in 1873. In 1885 the Queensland United Licensed Victuallers Association was formed.

In Western Australia the United Licensed Victuallers Association was formed in 1898, after years of regional based associations interested in local issues.

The first national body, the United Licensed Victuallers Association of the Commonwealth of Australia was set up shortly after the new federation pursuant to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1911 and an organisation of Employers in connexion with the Hotelkeeping and vending of wines and spirits. Mr Pat Flanagan of South Australia served as the inaugural National President.

In 1959 the ULVA Federal Committee of Management decided to change the name of the organisation to the Australian Hotels Association (AHA).

The Northern Territory Branch of the AHA was formed in 1991, before which members had been serviced by the South Australian Branch. In 1994 the Australian Capital Territory Branch was formed. Until this point AHA members in the ACT were part of the NSW Branch.

Today, the AHA remains an influential voice in the hospitality industry, representing the interests of thousands of hotels and licensed venues across the country. It continues to work tirelessly to support its members, ensure the sustainability and growth of the industry, and provide a strong national platform for advocacy and representation.

* With thanks Australian Hotels Association

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Categories: Australian Hotel Association, Australian Hotels, Hobart hotels, Tasmania hotels, United Victuallers Association

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