Legendary Pubs in Australia
Not just a place to down a cold one, plenty of Aussie pubs have stories to tell. Here are just a few of them.
Palace Hotel, Broken Hill, NSW
Erected in 1889 as a coffee palace, the teetotal Palace obviously had little appeal to the hard-drinking miners of Broken Hill and was soon struggling to turn a profit. It gained its liquor licence in 1892 and never looked back. The Palace is all grand Victorian-era architecture on the outside and pure kitsch on the inside. Walls and ceilings in the public areas are covered with what might politely be called “retro” murals, depicting everything from Botticelli’s Venus to Aussie landscapes and a slightly salacious mermaid.
Apart from the mind-boggling murals, the pub is legendary as a setting for the movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. You can even stay in the very over-the-top Priscilla Suite. Plus it’s one of the few places in Australia where you don’t have to wait for Anzac Day to enjoy a legal game of two-up.
Bushranger Hotel, Collector, NSW
The Bushranger Hotel (formerly Kimberley’s Commercial Hotel) was once a favoured stopping place for fortune hunters on their way to the Kiama goldfields. It enjoys a heritage listing, thanks to its association with the notorious bushranger, Ben Hall. On 26 January 1862, Hall and his gang held townspeople hostage in the pub where they hoped to obtain guns and money. Collector’s lone policeman, Samuel Nelson, bravely attempting a single-handed rescue, was shot and killed by John Dunn, one of Hall’s gang. His memorial stands next door to the Bushranger.
The hotel has other, spookier, claims to fame. It’s said to be haunted, not by Nelson’s ghost but by a mysterious lady in red. She has been seen walking through walls. Other eerie phenomena include hysterical laughter coming from empty rooms and mysterious whispers in your ear. Brave guests are invited to stay in the attic – one of the most haunted parts of the pub.
The Royal Mail, Jerilderie, NSW
Although the current building dates from 1927, the Royal Mail traces its history back to 1857. It’s famous as the location where, in 1879, Ned Kelly wrote the 8000-word “Jerilderie letter”, justifying his actions and calling for justice for his family and the poor Irish settlers of Victoria’s north-east. In the letter Kelly colourfully described the Victorian police as “wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs”. He was clearly not a fan of the boys in blue. Kelly threatened violence if his manifesto was not published by the local newspaper. The gang held some 30 people hostage at the Royal Mail, while they imprisoned two local policemen, stole their uniforms and horses, robbed the bank and escaped into the hills with their haul of £2100 ($4200).
Lee’s Hotel, Ingham, QLD
Originally the Telegraph, then the Day Dawn and now Lee’s, this pub has been officially recognised as the original “Pub With No Beer”, immortalised in the Slim Dusty song. The song is based on a poem written by sugarcane farmer Dan Sheehan. He rode 30 miles to the Day Dawn in 1944, only to find the pub had been drunk dry by a passing troop of American servicemen.
There’s some controversy on the subject. The Cosmopolitan Hotel at Taylors Arm, on the Nambucca River, has even changed its name to The Pub With No Beer. They claim the Slim Dusty version, penned by bush worker and folk singer Gordon Parsons, honours their local timber-getters and differs significantly from the Sheehan poem. However, Slim Dusty acknowledged the Day Dawn/Lee’s as the birthplace of the song in his autobiography and there’s plenty of memorabilia on show there to reinforce the legend.
Humpty Doo Hotel, Humpty Doo, NT
This pub around 40k down “the track” from Darwin also has a Slim Dusty song in its honour. The chorus runs: “With sand flies an’ mozzies as swinging companions, We dance to the Humpty Doo waltz.” The song also mentions the real legend of Humpty Doo: a Brahman bull called Norman. The 600kg animal had a taste for beer and was a regular in the bar in the 1980s. According to Don Parmenter, the publican at the time, the bull could put away half a dozen cans or two 2.25 litre Darwin stubbies in a session. He once sculled a whole Darwin stubby in the record time of 47 seconds. Norman is long gone, so shovels and hoses are rarely called for in the bar these days. However, the Humpty Doo pub still offers a true taste of the Territory with barramundi, buffalo, and croc burgers.