The village pub has been a feature of community life in inland Australia for almost 200 years.

IT started life as the Caledonian Hotel and was once owned by the early Gunnedah family, the Howes, who came to the Gunnedah district in the 1870s, making their first camp near the old Namoi River Bridge downstream from the (later) main structure over the Namoi, Cohen’s Bridge (1884).

Eldest son Robert (Bob) Howes acquired the Caledonian Hotel, one of the town’s early hotels, on the corner of Maitland and Poe (later Abbott) Streets, a site which had been purchased for 36 pounds 10 shillings in the 1850s after the opening up of land for purchase in surveyor John Hide’s town plan.

The Caledonian had a succession of licensees in its early years. Other early owners are reputed to have included Mark Turner, of Maitland, who built up a vast network of hotels in newly-settled country towns. 

When Turner died in 1881 – he was buried in the Hunter Street cemetery in Gunnedah – his chain of hotels was passed on to his wife Catherine Turner. 

At one time in the 1880s it was reported that she held the licences of 57 hotels.

The 1864 flood, which devastated the Maitland Street business hub of early Gunnedah, cast doubt on the suitability of Maitland Street as the business hub, as it severely damaged or swept away nearly all of the town’s homes and businesses.

The licence of the Caledonian was sold to a Mr Stevenson, who, in the 1880s, built a new hotel in Conadilly Street, naming it the Club House, which remained a fixture as a hotel for more than 130 years.  

Multiple owners for the Royal Hotel

HOTELS were usually the most impressive features of country towns in the late 1800s.

The Royal Hotel in Gunnedah was built in 1890 for TA (Hungry) Johnston, son of first settler/squatter John Johnston. 

Johnston sold the hotel before it had even been built and the Royal had a succession of owners before it was badly damaged by a fire which broke out in the early hours of May 19, 1947.

The fire destroyed an arcade of shops attached to the western end of the hotel, as well as 16 rooms, and also led to water and smoke damage throughout the building. 

The hotel was demolished by the brewing company, Tooth and Co. and rebuilt at a cost of 140,000 pounds, re-opening in September 1954 as the Regal Hotel.  

The hotel has since been rebadged as the Gunnedah Hotel.  

The heart of life in Tambar Springs 1882

THE photograph was taken more than 140 years ago. It shows the White Horse Inn at Tambar Springs – a group of well-dressed women in long dresses and stiff collars, the men and children in their Sunday best.

The photo is believed to have been taken in 1882. Note the dog balancing on the gate post and, obviously, his master standing beside – was it a travelling showman, itinerant entertainers who visited villages and towns all through the back country.

At the time the photo was taken, the licensee was John Henry O’Rourke. Other licensees of the White Horse in the early years were John M. O’Rourke (1885-1890) and John W. O’Rourke (1891-1895).

There was a Tambar Springs inn as long ago as 1867 when the licence was held by Stephen Henry Humphries. Today, the village pub is the Royal, built in 1912.  

Village hotels around district

In the late 19th century, inns and hotels sprang up in small towns in the Gunnedah district.

There were five early hotels at Breeza.

Mullaley had several hotels, including the Mullaley Mountain Inn as far back as 1869.

Carroll had the Little Moulemain Inn and the Post Office Hotel at the same time in the 1860s. Hotels were established as the North West rail line was constructed through Gunnedah and on to Boggabri.

There were hotels at Dubbledah, near Emerald Hill, and the Cowmore Inn, 11km from Gunnedah on the Boggabri Road.

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