Both treasurers from the past, but worlds apart

The Tarana and Alexander Hotels

BY Mick Roberts 

 
The Alexander

LOCATED just 15 kilometres west of Lithgow are two pubs that are worlds apart, although both have something very much in common - both owe their survival on the railway.

Only a few kilometres off the Great Western Highway between Bathurst and Lithgow in NSW some fascinating historic inns can be found. On a visit to the famed Jenolan Caves, we decided to give a few of these inns a once over.

The historic pubs, the Tarana and Alexander are only a short drive apart and were established to service the small railway and farming communities during the 19th century. That, however, is where the similarities finish.

As we drove into the remnants of the village of Rydal, I couldn't help but feel time was running out for the Alexander Hotel. Where once a thriving railway community went about their day to day activities now exists a couple of boarded up shops and a well-kept community hall. Sitting imposingly amongst this village in rapid decline is a pub to match.

 

The large two-storey Alexander - which the hostess proudly informed us is "full of history" but was unable to elaborate - is Rydal's last remaining commercial building.

Typical of a pub that serves also as the village's general store, the Alexander was opened early as we drove into the main drag. It's once grand stature, a result of the wealth the railway had brought the region, had given way to age and the loss of its railway station.

Across the road from the pub, between the road and the railway, a dozen young men, watched by a couple of police officers, gave us an unwelcoming glare as they cut the weeds and grass from a reserve.

This pub was strictly for locals and in no way marketed towards the traveller - exactly what I like.

Neglect is the first word that comes to mind when entering the Alexander Hotel's bar. But it's neglect that makes this pub so interesting and such a treasure.

 
The bar at the Alexander Hotel

Original Victorian timber bars, complete in every way, are as rare as free beer and that's why the Alexander's bar room should be placed on the endangered list. Original timber floors, wall fittings, parlour lounges, tables and chairs, and a real working fireplace make this pub very special. Nothing fancy, modern or renovated in this pub.

As we enjoyed a drink at the bar, the owners' son, about 10 or so, watched our every move from the adjoining parlour. Who were these people? where did they come from?, what are they doing HERE?, seemed to be vexing questions he was unable to answer.

The Alexander Hotel, with not one pokie in sight, is a dinosaur - a pub in dire need of restoration, not renovation. I wondered how long this gem from our past would trade in its present state.

In contrast, just 15 k's along a narrow pothole patched road, is the Tarana Hotel.

 
The Tarana Hotel

This historic inn could have had the same fate as the Alexander Hotel, but through enterprising hosts, and the survival of its nearby railway station, has been transformed into a successful tourist pub that continues to service the surrounding rural communities.

The patronising timber beer barrel tables scattered around the bar proudly exclaim that the Tarana was established in 1878, while a contradictory sign on the building fašade exclaims the date 1880. Querying this point the hostess quickly pointed to the some-what over-done barrel tables - "that year's the right one!"

The renovated bars, with pine timber panelling, fresh carpeted floors are modern and inviting, and obviously targeted towards the tourist. Strange, a pub in such a remote area, with quaint little cabins in the back yard, geared towards the tourist trade.

The puzzle was quickly answered as the loud roar of a helicopter broke the quietness of the Tarana.

A woman quietly sipping her beer and puffing on a cigarette at the end of the bar encouraged me to take a look. In the pub's back yard a helicopter landed with a group of Sydney tourists who had been taking in the sights of the spectacular Blue Mountains.

 

The Tarana Hotel is a regular drink and grub stop for tourist flights. With its landscaped beer garden and walls crammed with mementos of times past, the Tarana is a friendly little inn that has successfully diversified for its own survival.

Other country inns or hotels in the area are also worth a visit, including the O'Connell Hotel established in the 1860s, and a couple of days should be set aside to experience these inspiring watering holes from the past.

Look for the Rydal turn-off about 10 k's west of Lithgow, or visit the Oberon Visitors Centre: Phone (02) 6336 0666, email: Oberon@lisp.com.au or visit their website: www.oberonweb.com

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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 www.slackycreek.fcpages.com


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

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