The Bulli Family Hotel

BY Mick Roberts 

Bulli Family Hotel

The Family Hotel is something of an institution in the former coal mining town of Bulli. The pub's 'sign' reflects the way in which it has served the town for over 110 years with some drinkers claiming proudly four generations of family regulars!

The Family Hotel is the last of five pubs that once attended to the thirsty miners of Bulli; a grand piece of Late Victorian architecture, the pub is testimony to the wealth the famous 'black diamonds' brought to the district.

Built at a cost of £3,078 for entrepreneur and large property owner George Croft the hotel boasted a public bar, several parlours, dining room, billiard room, and 28 bedrooms on completion in 1889. A weatherboard entertainment hall, stables and coach house were separate buildings at the rear of the property.

The local newspapers were impressed with the 'modern' appliances on offer such as electric bells connecting the upper floor guests with servants working in the lower portion of the public house.

The Bulli Family Hotel was licensed on September 5 1889 at the Wollongong Court House with William Tory Dickson appointed first publican.

The original Bulli Family Hotel

Dickson had a wealth of experience as an hotelier previously hosting Tory's Kiama Hotel (still trading) and the Brighton Hotel at Lady Robinson's Beach on Botany Bay. He paid the princely sum of £7 a week rent for Bulli pub.

The greatest change to the external appearance of the hotel came in 1910 after Resch's Brewery embarked on ambitious extensions. The Family was almost doubled in size with the addition of a large squat tower, lounge bar and extra bedrooms.

The most notorious of the long line of publicans of the Family would have to be Edward Cullen who's ghost - some say - still haunts the corridors of the popular watering hole.

Fifty-one year old Cullen was found hanged in the first storey bathroom on November 5 1930.

Local legend has it that a heated argument between Cullen and his wife in the public bar - after she threw a mug of beer over him - lead to the suicide. Official reports are not so colourful and reflect the difficulties of those times.

During an inquest at the Bulli Court House the Coroner was told that Cullen was "very depressed on account of the slackness of trade" and that "he was suffering from the effects of drink and nervous depression". Tooth and Company documents confirm sales at the pub were at an all time low because of the Great Depression. Cullen’s death was “due to strangulation by hanging, wilfully inflicted by himself whilst temporarily insane" the Coroner found.

The historic public house was nearly lost forever when Tooth and Company decided it was not worth renovating after failing health and safety regulations. As a result Tooth and Company surrendered the license on April Fools Day 1976.

Wowsers rejoiced and drinkers drowned their sorrows as Bulli lost its last pub… well so it seemed.

On hearing of demolition plans, the local community successfully lobbied for the hotel to be listed on the National Trust  - preserving the Family for future generations as a historic building.

Local real estate agent, Eric Blain purchased the hotel in 1977 restoring it and, to the excitement of many a Bulli tippler, relicensing it on December 19 1983. The hotel was reopened to huge thirsty crowds in January the following year.

The attractive architecture of the Bulli Family Hotel continues to attract customers today as it has for over a century and is well worth a visit.

Present licensee, Col Ritchie has been busy giving the Family a fresh new look since taking the reigns in 2000. The pub's name was officially changed to The Heritage Hotel on August 8 2000 and a new beer garden and renovated public bar have been recently completed.

Try a meal in the affordable bistro or restaurant, tempt your luck in the gaming room or simply relax and experience the atmosphere of yesteryear in the old world charm of the public bar.

Part of Australia's history

 "Family Facts"

George Channell's reminiscences of the Family: A pie oven was placed in the pub during the 1950s and worked on an honesty system. If you wanted a pie you would place your money in a jar beside the oven and help yourself. However, the honesty system soon faulted when the local dunny-carters, who were regulars during their lunch break, fell into the habit of feeling through the oven for the warmest pie. The honesty system was quickly 'canned'.

"Family Facts"

Newspaper article 1899: "Mr Farrell, who is a early riser, espied what at first he thought was a black coat hanging from the spiked gate of the Family Hotel, closer inspection proved that the object hung was a near residents huge retriever. Evidently it had endeavoured to jump the gate and had got impaled by the hindquarters. It was at once released not much the worse. If that dog has any character it may consider such irretrievably lost."

"Family Facts"

William Evans reminiscences of the family and 'the six o'clock swill' in the 1920s: "The Friday night scene at the pub closing time was always attended by the kids. Right on six o'clock the front doors were banged shut but through the side door we could see the police sergeant moving among the drinkers. 'Right oh boys. Break it up. Sink it and get going.' 'OK sarge. She's right.' Out the drinkers would stream and continue their voluble arguments on the footpath…"


Mick Roberts is a journalist and hotel historian. He has had two books, The Little House on the Hill and The Local, published on the liquor industry and, besides other local history publications, is presently working on a comprehensive history of the liquor industry and hotels in the Illawarra region of NSW. His regular history feature, Looking Back, can be read in the Northern Leader newspaper distributed throughout the northern suburbs of Wollongong NSW. These feature articles also appear at his Looking Back website

Mick is always on the lookout for pub yarns, stories, information and old photos and can be contacted by email at or PO BOX 5148 Wollongong 2500.

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