wining and dining

Australian pubs with a past

Australian pubs with a past
Publican Mr Laurence Storey at the classic country boozer, The Nindigully Hotel (Photo AAP/Dave Hunt)

In Australia, just about every pub likes to play up its heritage. Of course, half of the pubs peddling this tired old 'historic pub' schtick are doing so purely because they've been standing for 40 or 50 years and that makes them stand out from the new, modern and popular bar across the road. But there are some boozers that have genuinely seen a lot over the years — and they have some rip-roaring stories to tell for anyone prepared to look beyond the magic tap at the bar ...

The Star of the West Hotel

Where: Echuca, Victoria
Part of the heritage-listed Port of Echuca, the Star is now a fairly upmarket joint — especially the wine bar facing away from the wharf. But this wasn't always the case. The Star was built in 1867 in an attempt to capitalise on the booming river trade passing through Echuca. It quickly developed a rough and ready reputation, famous for drunken fights, and its licence was taken away in 1897.

That didn't discourage the hotel's owner, however. The Star had an underground bar which was used for keeping cool during the height of summer, and this soon became an illegal drinking den. A tunnel leading from the secret underground room to the outside world was constructed so that when the police came-a-knocking, everyone could scarper. When the hotel was restored in 1973, the tunnels were rediscovered, and now they're a tourist attraction. Head down beneath the bar, and the Star has a small exhibition on its law-defying days. You can also walk through the secret tunnel.

The Nindigully Hotel

Where: Nindigully, Queensland
On the banks of the Moonie River, this pub has been standing since 1864. It was originally set up to give itinerant sheep shearers somewhere to stay in between stints with the clippers on the Nindigully Station and it's fair to assume that it has seen some colourful exchanges over the years. Not to mention the odd post-work brawl.

Nowadays, the Nindigully Pub is a classic country boozer priding itself on its absurdly large steaks. It's a popular with bikers and four-wheel drivers, and is covered in all manner of paraphernalia harking back to the golden days where Nindigully passed as a small town rather than a lonely country outpost.

The Hero of Waterloo

Where: Sydney, New South Wales
The Hero of Waterloo is one of the oldest pubs in Australia, dating back to 1843, and its walls have seen all sorts going on. The popular Rocks hangout was built using convict labour, and if you look carefully you can see the marks engraved into the sandstone blocks used for building it. Each convict would use his own distinctive mark during the digging process to prove that he had been pulling his weight.

But while much may happen in the bar now, the real intrigue lies beneath. The network of cellars and vaults contains hints of past mischief — such as the manacles still dangling down. There are also tales of a tunnel that ran from the pub to the Harbour. The legend goes that a young drunk would find himself pulled through a trapdoor into the cellar, dragged through the tunnel and kidnapped. He'd wake up on board a ship, where he'd be expected to work for the foreseeable future.

The Royal Melbourne Hotel

Where: Melbourne, Victoria
Today, the Royal Melbourne aims towards an upmarket clientele, with five distinct areas and plenty of polish. The main glass atrium and the adjoining beer garden are usually the main haunts, although the public bar and lounge bar aren't too shabby either.

But the most interesting part of this sprawling pub is the cells section. The pub used to be the police station, and these cells were where some of Melbourne's worst criminals of the colonial days were held. Because they are heritage listed, the cells couldn't be ditched when the old cop shop was turned into a pub, so they have been inventively adapted. The original, multi-bolted wooden doors remain and the barred gates add that feeling of having been a very bad boy.

Of course, now you can have a few drinks and a slap up meal in the cell area rather than water and gruel...

The Daly Waters pub

Where: Daly Waters, Northern Territory
Being able to fly from Australia to Europe in 24 hours is only a recent phenomenon. In the good old days, a flight to the other side of the world was a real trek and frequent stops for refuelling were required. And one of those stops, used by a fledgling Qantas, was at Daly Waters. From 1934, the Qantas planes landed at this remote airstrip for some extra juice, and while that was going on, the passengers would often head off for refuelling themselves. Their destination was the Daly Waters Pub, founded in 1930 and now one of the most popular stops on the drive up the middle of Australia. In those 70 years it has collected quite a lot as well — the pub is crammed with sports shirts, ID cards, bank notes and underwear donated by visitors from across the world.

Related: Ten great outback pubs
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