BEERS, TEARS & PLENTY OF CHEERS
Rival How Rocky stole march on
IT WAS 1857 and the prison hulks that brought convicts to Australia were being retired on the River Thames, the father of Federation, Alfred Deakin, was celebrating his first birthday, and on the corner of Quay and Fitzroy streets in Rockhampton, Richard Parker was building a slab hut called The Bush Inn.
On a September afternoon 160 years later, Kahley Bryson is pulling beers on exactly the same spot, gazing up at the ornate ceiling of the Criterion Hotel and marvelling at the generations that have come and gone.
“It’s kind of cool to be working in a pub that’s 160 years old,’’ says Kahley. “I often think about all the beer that’s been drunk here.’’
The beer-keg count probably passed the 100,000 mark several decades ago, and inside the plush confines of the Criterion, a new generation of drinkers is ensuring the amber liquid will flow on for another century.
The “Cri’’ is one of the state’s oldest pubs if we define oldest by its existence on one parcel of land. Swirling around the pub is a wealth of history reaching back to the greatest Queensland gold rush that never was.
One of Queensland’s grand ladies, Lorna Lorraine McDonald, OAM – the celebrated historian who died last June just weeks short of her 100th birthday – recorded the 1858 Canoona gold rush as one of the biggest fizzers of all time.
Thousands of people arrived from Sydney and Melbourne to what was still the far northern reaches of NSW, armed with picks and shovels to mine gold at Canoona, about 40km north of Rockhampton, only to find rocks and scrub. Yet Dr McDonald found it was Canoona that secured Rockhampton’s future, as disappointed miners retreated to the tiny outpost by the Fitzroy River, many drowning their sorrows at the Bush Inn. In 1859, as Queensland prepared to become a state, Rockhampton was a hive of activity, and the nearby town of Gladstone – hoping to become the state capital – was shunted aside as resources were poured into Rocky.
“In (Canoona) attracting the nucleus of a permanent population to Rockhampton, it forever put an end to hopes in some quarters that Gladstone would become the capital of the new Colony of Queensland (proclaimed in December 1859),’’ Dr McDonald wrote.
As for the Bush Inn, it thrived until 1862, when a knockabout customer became manager and rebranded it “The Criterion Hotel”.
Today’s owners, Megan and Ryan Turnbull, intend to safeguard the pub’s historical integrity.
“There’s a lot of history here and we’re proud to preserve it,’’ says Ryan.
THE 1858 GOLD RUSH WAS . . . ONE OF THE BIGGEST FIZZERS OF ALL TIME