100 years for Augusta Hotel

THE Augusta Hotel’s 100th birthday celebrations this Friday, Saturday and Sunday are sure to resurrect some of the tall tales about the colourful characters who just called in to “see a man about a dog”. 

Over the century almost everybody who grew up in Augusta has, at some stage, had something to do with the hotel – it was where football, cricket and lawn bowls wins were relived, birthdays and anniversaries celebrated, babies’ heads wet. 

It was also a source of relatively scarce local jobs. Many of the characters, from both sides of the bar, will be back for the celebrations to reminisce and regale.

Augusta Resorts managing director Jim Challis can remember the first time he had a drink – a softdrink, not a beer – in the hotel he now runs.

“I was about 8. Dad took me into the saloon bar, it was a nice little saloon bar, part of the original hotel, and it had a big open fireplace up one end.

“Dad told me to sit up beside the fireplace and be quiet,” Jim recalled last week as he started the countdown to the hotel’s centenary celebrations.

‘It (open fireplace) is still there,” he said, however, these days the fireplace is no longer in the saloon bar and the Augusta Hotel is possibly the only hotel in WA with an open fireplace in its bottleshop.

The hotel is much changed today, but the thick limestone walls of the original building are still there. The foundation stone laid by Henry (Toby) Ellis and his sisters on August 31, 1912, in the wall beside the original front door, is still there under the veranda between the bottleshop and the hotel’s main entrance.

But while the hotel building and range of facilities offered has changed significantly in 100 years, there have only been five families who have run the hotel in that time, Jim said.

The Ellis family built and ran the hotel until 1919 then sold it to the Stanes family who ran it for about 20 years. Then it was owned by Sam Percy and his family and business associates before Percy sold it to relatives, the Robinsons, about 1960 and his nephew, Jim Robinson, ran it until Jim Challis took it over in 1986.

“Most of the changes (to the buildings) occurred during the Robinsons’ ownership,” Jim said. “I can remember my father (local builder Harry Challis) used to do a building project a year, just about every year, for Jim Robinson.

“Coach travel was very big in those days and Jim had contracts with Parlorcars and Pioneer which would stop at the hotel, so he had a need for accommodation, there was nothing else around.

“He would do the building projects in the quiet times, and work around a handshake – he’d pay later when the hotel was busy.”

The first four motel units were built in 1964, the original saloon bar was converted to the bottleshop and the original dining room converted to the lounge bar in the 1970s, and the restaurant added in 1977. In 1979 the lounge bar was extended to take in the views over the Blackwood River and out to the Southern Ocean.

Motel units were added progressively, including across the road from the hotel, and there are now 51 in the complex, plus the four Calypso Cottages below the hotel and next to where the town’s bowling green used to be until the mid 1970s – jugs of water and shots of Corio whisky used to be lined up along the lounge bar for the bowlers between ends.

The model lighthouse that once stood at the end of the public bar and a naked female figure in a glass case called Chloe, may be gone, but they are not forgotten.

Nor are some of the tales, like the hotel’s maintenance man who went to investigate a septic tank blockage during a busy summer holiday period, removed the septic system inspection cover and lit a match so he could see in. The blast took his eyebrows and most of his hair off.

Jim is looking forward to catching up with many of the hotel’s current and former customers and staff at the celebrations. “They’ll be a lot of reminiscing,” he said.

A weekend of birthday celebrations

A WEEKEND of celebrations is planned for the hotel’s birthday, starting with a long lunch, 1-4pm on Friday, with the official welcome, music and memories, short historical presentations, cutting of the birthday cake and the opening of the time capsule.

There are a limited number of places left for the long lunch, cost is $50.

Friday night at the pub will start with happy hour 5-6pm, with chook raffles and prizes and giveaways throughout the evening, football on the big screen and music from 8pm.

Saturday is a community day noon-5pm at the hotel with a bouncy castle, face painting and children’s entertainment on the lawn and a sausage sizzle with hot chips. There will also be Happy 100 Minutes of drink specials, TAB promotions, prizes and giveaways, chook raffles, football on big screens and happy hour 4-5pm.

A twilight dinner 6-11pm Saturday will offer a four-course meal and matching wines, a keynote address, short historical presentations on the Ellis, Stanes, Percy and Robinson families that owned the hotel, and music, memories and mingling. Limited places are available, cost is $75 per person.

On Sunday, the hotel will offer brunch 9-11am, cooked to order from the menu of the day.

Tickets to Friday’s long lunch and Saturday’s twilight dinner are available from hotel reception. Bookings for Sunday brunch can also be placed with reception.

Some of the familiar faces will also be back behind the bar at the weekend and old timers may recognise others reprising former roles.

Richard Apthorpe, who started at the hotel in 1979 and was kitchen cook, yard man, cleaner and barman, will join Blodwyn Flintoff, who retired three years ago after 34 years working at the hotel with her husband Bevis, serving drinks on Saturday.

Search for 1912 time capsule

A TANTALISING scrap of information in a September, 1912, newspaper report about the laying of the Augusta Hotel foundation stone first alerted hotel director Ted Coulter to the possibility of a time capsule.

Ted was researching the hotel’s history in preparation for its centenary celebrations when he came across the report from a “special correspondent” that indicated a “receptacle” containing “several coins of the realm and copies of the papers”, plus the signatures of those present, was placed in the wall under the foundation stone laid by Mr H.C. Ellis on behalf of his sisters.

Ted and Jim Challis called in the hotel’s former bar manager and fossicker Jeff Marshall who has just returned to Augusta after three months in the Pilbara.

On Friday last week Jeff used his metal detector to determine if there might be something under the foundation stone and plaque in the front wall of the original section of the hotel.

“There’s something there alright, right underneath the stone, and something above it,” Jeff said.

Some shelving in a storeroom will be removed and an attempt made to cut into the back of the wall to locate a time capsule.

If there is one, it and its contents will be revealed at the long lunch birthday celebration on Friday.

Growing from humble beginnings

THE Ellis sisters of Augusta had the local hotel designed and built to meet the growing needs of travellers when their homestead became so popular as a stopping off place it could not accommodate everyone.

The hotel originally consisted of a saloon bar, dining room, kitchen and five bedrooms, although information researched by hotel director Ted Coulter in preparation for its centenary, indicates the wide veranda across the rear could accommodate up to 50 beds.

A liquor licence was granted in March, 1913, after the resident school teacher collected petition signatures. At the time it was considered unseemly for unmarried women to run a hotel, so the hotel licence was applied for by their brother, Henry, known as Toby.

Ted’s research also indicated that at the time a premises at Karridale had also applied for a liquor licence and only one was to be granted.

The Ellis family opposed the Karridale application and the Karridale people opposed the Augusta Hotel application, but the licensing court granted the Augusta licence, swayed by the petition and the quality of the hotel building.

Later the Hamelin police station building was moved to the hotel and became the new dining room and kitchen, while the original dining room became the hotel’s lounge.

THEN: The Augusta Hotel pictured in 1931.

THEN: The Augusta Hotel pictured in 1931.

NOW: The Augusta Hotel as it is today.

NOW: The Augusta Hotel as it is today.

TIME PLEASE GENTLEMEN: Jim Challis, John Benbow, 80, who has worked for the hotel since 1952, and Jeff Marshall with a metal detector looking for a hidden time capsule.

TIME PLEASE GENTLEMEN: Jim Challis, John Benbow, 80, who has worked for the hotel since 1952, and Jeff Marshall with a metal detector looking for a hidden time capsule.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Hotel director Ted Coulter, managing director Jim Challis and manager Col Nairn preparing to toast the hotel's 100 years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Hotel director Ted Coulter, managing director Jim Challis and manager Col Nairn preparing to toast the hotel's 100 years.