Jun 04, 2016

Man on a mission for hotel history

Man on a mission for hotel history Author Scott Whitaker.

Meet the man who has been to every Railway Hotel in Queensland.

Railway enthusiast, enjoyer-of-beer and amateur historian Scott Whitaker is working his way through pubs of that name nationwide as he puts in the research for a bar-hopping book series.

Whitaker said he had started out including pubs with railway-related names such as Terminus or Station, but the project simply became too big.

And yes, he does stop for a drink at every Railway Hotel he writes about

“If there is nothing left now, I’ll often come prepared and have a stubbie in the vacant paddock,” he said.

Whitaker began his pub pursuit about seven years ago after retiring from an aviation career that included more than 30 years as an air traffic controller at airports throughout Australia including Rockhampton, Longreach, Charleville and Brisbane.

He said it began as a bit of a hobby and evolved into a writing project.

His Queensland research to date has found a total of 187 pubs that once traded as the Railway Hotel.

“Only 45 are left, the rest are gone.  And of that 45 only 16 still trade as the Railway Hotel,” Whitaker said.

Little remains at some of the towns that his pursuit of Railway Hotel history has taken him to, such as Malbon about 200km south of Mount Isa.

“I go through the remnants with the GPS and go ‘here it was’, in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

“You look around and what it has reverted to – apart from the rusting remains of smelters etc – must be pretty much what it was like before non-indigenous people arrived there.”

The Railway Hotel in the North Queensland gold town of Ravenswood is among those that have yielded good yarns for the author, who said he had “a nice beer and a ham and salad sandwich there” while chatting with the locals.

The Railway Hotel, Ravenswood

“They told me their favourite ghost stories,” he said.

When it came to publicans, Whitaker agreed that the old frontier towns of regional Queensland had attracted some particularly eccentric and daring types.

“I think most people who ventured west were daring. It was a grand adventure,” he said.

“I’ve written about the family who established the Railway Hotel at Longreach.  The patriarch rode all the way from Melbourne to select land, and then returned. Took him six months.

“When he got back, he loaded up his family and all his possessions on a dray and set out for Longreach once again. This trip took him nine months.

“Some were definitely a little odd, but maybe it was the fierce Queensland sun on the pale European skin that had something to do with it.

“When you delve into the real history of people, you realise what is written in history books is largely superficial.”

While there are many Australian pubs called Railway, Whitaker says there are even more Royals and Commercials. However the Railway moniker trumps other common names such as Grand, Exchange or Victoria.

“Some Railway Hotels were even built in towns that never saw a railway.  Blame that on politicians promising but not delivering – sound familiar?” he said.

The Queensland volume of his four-part history is due out in 2017.

The Railway Hotels of Australia – Volume One – Victoria was released recently, telling the story of the state’s 185 pubs that trade or once traded with the word Railway in their name.

For more information visit www.railwayhotelsofaustralia.com.au

Man on a mission for hotel history