Words by Tomas O’Malley
Bundaberg is a city synonymous with beverages, but what about the places where we enjoy our chosen tipples, local or otherwise? For most of our history, the pub has reigned supreme when it comes to quenching the thirst of locals and visitors alike.
In the central business district, pubs occupy many of the prime locations. The Metropolitan, the former Royal Hotel, The Grand, The Central, The Queenslander. Many of these still exhibit the classic architectural features of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the iron lace balustrades on the Club Hotel, or the decorative floor tiling on the verandahs of the Melbourne Hotel.
The Old Bundy Tavern, designed in 1915 by local architect FH Faircloth, is a historic building in its own right. However, its Federation era details replaced the earlier Customs House Hotel, one of the first establishments in Bundaberg; unfortunately destroyed by fire.
The old Customs House Hotel is not alone in meeting its demise through flames. The original Tattersalls Hotel burnt down in 1955, while more recently both the Bargara Beach Hotel and Federal Hotel have succumbed. The Federal Hotel was a particular loss architecturally. Its three level 1889 construction was unique in Bundaberg and, despite alterations, was a landmark at the entrance to the CBD. The Federal was also an important reference to the early development of Bundaberg, built to serve travellers on the newly-constructed rail line from Maryborough.
There are also many pubs in Bundaberg that hark back to more recent history. The Globe Hotel in North Bundaberg is a classic example of the corner bar found all around Australia in the era of the six o’clock swill. The central coldroom and taps, with its stainless-steel doors and XXXX signage, is crowned by blackboards announcing the upcoming meat trays and karaoke nights. The exterior facade is austere, but has a strong character common to country pubs. The Tattersalls Hotel is similar in its configuration, however in this case the exterior is subtly mid-century modern. A curved wall addresses the corner and angled hoods over the doors and windows are a counterpoint to the more traditional continuous awning.
This could all be flippantly dismissed as being “retro” or “kitsch”. Here though it holds a sense of community. Major refurbishments to these venues may obscure some of their historical significance. However, the buildings still form a continuum that endures as publicans and patrons come and go.