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History Stories from Billinudgel
Billinudgel Hotel Centenary Celebrations

On October 14th 2006, the Billinudgel Hotel celebrated its centenary with a ball held on the premises. During the formal part of the evening, guest speakers relived stories from the past and named many of Billinudgel’s pioneering families, who shaped our local community to what it is today.

The current hotel owner and licensee, Mr Ken Barnham has had a long association with the hotel through his mother Marge and great aunt, Ma Ring. Following is an account of some of Ken’s memories of life at the Billinudgel Hotel.

The original Billinudgel Hotel was situated near the site of the Billinudgel Primary School (now Billi Lids Daycare Centre). It was a shanty-type hotel whose clientele included local farmers, timber-getters and those working on the construction of the Lismore to Murwillumbah railway line.

After the railway line was completed in 1898, a site near the new railway station was selected for the hotel and construction of this building was completed towards the end of 1898. The newly built hotel provided refreshments for travelers waiting for trains and for locals after they delivered cream cans and bananas to the trains for transportation.

In early 1906 this building burnt to the ground and the hotel didn’t reopen until the end of 1906 – early 1907. The hotel still stands on this site today. Mr Gerald O’Connor was the publican from this time until approximately 1910. After Mr O’Connor’s departure, the Billinudgel Hotel went through a succession of approx. twenty publicans in the space of twenty years.

In 1929, New Zealand born Margaret Alice Ring (Ma Ring) took over as the licensee and remained in this position until her death in 1983. (aged 102 years) Ma had lived in New Zealand and was married around 1900. She had one daughter who was born in 1907. Sadly, Ma lost her husband in 1909 after he had fallen ill with typhoid. Ma came to Australia in the late 1920’s, leaving her adult daughter in New Zealand. After working in hotels in Queensland, Ma took over as the licensee of the only hotel in Billinudgel in 1929.

Running a hotel in a Australia may not have been the easiest of tasks for a young New Zealand woman but Ma Ring took on the challenge and succeeded. During her time at the hotel she brought nieces and nephews out from New Zealand, giving them employment in the bar. Ken Barnham recalls his mother’s story of Ma bringing out her nephew, Reg Hollows in the1930’s. Reg had won the New Zealand Amateur Wrestling Title at the time and so was chosen by Ma to be a bouncer. This was just one of the many ploys Ma had to keep her hotel running smoothly and free from trouble.

In 1946, Ken Barnham's mother Marge (who was a niece of Ma Ring) came to Australia to work in the bar. Even after her marriage to Ernie in 1957 Ken’s parents and their three sons lived upstairs at the hotel.

In 1961, when Ken was born, Marge was still working in the hotel and remained there until her retirement in 1984. Ken recalls stories when he was a small boy. He remembers being served dinner in the dining room at 6.30pm then taking up his place sitting on the end of the bar until it was bedtime at 8.00pm. Each night Ken’s routine was to chat to the locals at the bar, watch as the patrons unwound after work and listen to the events of the day as discussed by the clientele. This must have been quite a unique kind of education for a young child. One that could never have been taught at school! Also, Ken recalls pulling his first beer at the age of ten and coming home from school to do his chores which were to pick up glasses in the bar and wash them by hand in the sink out the back of the hotel.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s clientele at the Billinudgel Hotel changed slightly from farmers and banana growers to include construction workers and earth movers working on the new development of Ocean Shores. Later, as the development took shape, sales people and developers rubbed shoulders with locals at the bar as a new era of community life began.

One story Ken recalls from this era was that of a group of farmers and construction workers who enjoyed regular card nights at the hotel. One particular night, one of the card players who worked in the earth moving industry had a particularly bad losing streak, which attracted plenty of sarcastic comments from his “mates.” Pretending to be extremely angry he stormed out of the hotel and obtained a wrapper from a stick of dynamite. He then wrapped this around a piece of broom handle and completed his task by adding a wick. Returning to the hotel he proceeded to light the wick and threw the stick into the bar. What ensued was nothing short of complete mayhem. Patrons left everything and ran in all directions outside onto the street via any doorway or window they could find open. Marge, who was in charge of the bar at the time, grabbed a broom and approached the burning stick. With a few accurate sweeps of the broom handle, she managed to sweep the “dynamite” out the door and onto the street. As she did so the patrons began yet another stampede back inside to avoid the ensuing blast. This has been recounted many times as one of the most hilarious and colourful stories in the history of the Billinudgel Hotel.

The 1970’s also saw a new class of people arrive in the area. Known at the time as “alternates” or “hippies” many of these people had chosen to leave stressful jobs or university life in the cities and made their way to the beautiful Brunswick Valley in search of a relaxed lifestyle. Some of them found lodgings in the deserted farmhouses and dairies that were no longer in use. Later, this became useful for farmers who were able to charge rent on these properties to supplement their income. The Billinudgel Hotel remained a meeting place for people from all walks of life and as Ken reports, all mixed well with each other and any sign of trouble between the varied groups was extremely rare.
Another story from the 1970’s is that of the Good Friday raid. Marge was working in the bar, however, as Good Friday trading was not allowed, all doors and windows were shut tight and from the outside the pub looked to be closed. At the time Marge’s eldest son Robert, was outside on the main street when he noticed the local constabulary drive into the village. Immediately he ran to tell his mum. As soon as the word was out, the bar, that happened to be almost full to capacity with patrons was immediately evacuated. Patrons scattered in all directions. Some found hiding places in the cook’s bedroom out the back, others concealed themselves in the wood shed while a few less fortunate scrambled on their stomachs into the chook pens.

As the local police entered the bar they found Marge making the most of the “closure” to clean up behind the bar. On top of the bar were half full glasses of beer and cigarettes in the ashtrays, still burning. When they asked if she knew anything about illegal trading she simply asked if it might be OK for her to tell a lie. The local police explained that the Licensing Board “might” be in the area that day and that they had called in just to check all was fine at the hotel. Half an hour later, by complete coincidence, the officials from the Licensing Board did happen to arrive to find a completely empty and very clean bar in the totally closed Billinudgel Hotel.

During this time, Ma Ring was still the licensee and remained so until her death in 1983. After Ma passed away, the hotel was left to her niece, Marge Barnham. Having managed the Billinudgel Hotel for most of her life, Marge was familiar with all of its operations. Sadly, in 1984, Marge was diagnosed with cancer and so retired from her work in the hotel. It was in 1985 that Mr Barry O’Donnell took over the lease of the hotel. Barry remained the licensee for the next 15 years. During this time the hotel continued to attract patrons from all walks of life. In fact, the historic building, furniture and photographs viewed on the walls made the Billinudgel Hotel a unique piece of living history.

In 1987, Marge Barnham passed away. The hotel was then left to her three sons Robert,Colin and Ken. In 1999, Ken purchased the freehold of the hotel from his two brothers and in 2000 he became the licensee.

The Billinudgel Hotel still stands as a proud old building today. Recent refurbishments have enhanced the look and functionalism of the bar and beer garden without losing the essence and character of this much-loved watering hole. Local bands and TAB facilities now add to the character of the hotel and make it a popular venue for locals and visitors alike. In fact, a visit to the Billinudgel Hotel is often described as a rich cultural experience that is not to be missed.

For more information on the history of the Brunswick Valley
visit the Brunswick Valley Historical Museum at Mullumbimby.

* We practise responsible service of alcohol & responsible conduct of gambling.

* Is gambling a problem for you call G Line(NSW) confidential, anonymous & free counselling service
Free Call 1800633635
Billinudel Hotel 2015