Lounge room for the suburb
THE ROYAL Mail Hotel may be more than 150 years old, but it is staying true to its roots: publican Andrew Cafe is seeing to that.
The Goodna pub has a rich history, stretching back to the early 1860s and possibly beyond.
It has survived six floods and yet retains the ambience and authenticity of the early days.
When Cafe took over in 1986 the previous owners had given the pub a garish renovation. It had false ceilings, the front had been bricked in and the building was covered in fibro sheets.
So Cafe, with a finely tuned sense of history, went to work restoring the pub to its former glories. Now the welcoming verandas, timber walls and airy feel provide what he calls "a local oasis" for patrons. Walk into the pub and you could be in a bygone era, with the leadlights hanging down from the ceiling and the old beer kegs holding up long benches.
"The building itself has got such character," Cafe says.
"It is an instant drawcard for people when they come here and has that point of difference. It is not a laminated new club. It hasn't changed much in 100 years ... literally."
Owing to the thriving blues and roots scene at the Royal Mail, the pub is well and truly ensconced in the 21st century.
Cafe's daughters Ashley and Addie work at the hotel and keep the family tradition intact. He likes it that way, and so do the patrons.
"It is great having the kids who grew up in the pub working here. If the family wasn't involved it would be more difficult to be here," he says.
"Hotels are really a girl thing. The fellas that come in don't want to see a barman. They want to see a girl."
Goodna may have a lot to thank the Royal Mail for. Local councillor and historian Paul Tully chuckles when he relates how "there was a story going around in the 1930s and 1940s that half of Goodna was conceived in the back part of the pub on a Friday and Saturday night".
Tully has plenty of stories.
"Remember the guy with one leg from the Wolston Park mental asylum who would get up in the middle of the bar on Friday nights and start reciting Shakespeare," Tully recalls.
"People were pretty impressed by this guy, until they found out later that he had a vision from the Lord who had told him to cut his leg off with a chainsaw.
"Then in the 1974 flood there was the time Eileen Leoni's cow floated up to the top storey and stayed there for a few days. They reckon upstairs was pretty messy, but as the floodwaters receded they brought the cow down through the central staircase and onto the street. That story went around the world.
"The Royal Mail was also a stopping point for the Cobb and Co coaches of the 1860s and 1870s. They were plying their trade between Brisbane and Ipswich and a lot of people used to stay overnight."
"And it was during the Commonwealth Games in 1982 that this pub became the first in Queensland to have 11am to 11pm trading. It gave the workers at Wolston Park whose shift finished at 10pm some drinking time."
Cafe points out that "in those days the hospital had thousands of workers" and that "originally you had to live within earshot of the shift changing bells".
The Royal Mail is a survivor. Cafe says that in the months leading up to the 2011 flood patrons talked about the impending deluge "with a sense of inevitability" as the build-up was similar to the 1974 flood.
Daughter Ashley likes to tell the story about how her dad was on the second floor "pushing away shipping containers with an oar that were floating down Brisbane Terrace".
"There was a sense of disbelief. No one really told us how high that water was going to come.
"But after the flood we had a lot of support from the Blues Association. They produced an album called Hard Rain and we were able to sell the CD," Cafe says.
Blues and roots artists, including those from the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival and Woodford Folk Festival, regularly play at the hotel.
"Music civilises people," Cafe says.
"We support professional musicians and they want to come and play here. Our acts mainly appear in the daytime on Saturday. It gives a lot of people who don't live in Goodna the opportunity to come out."
Ashley says the success of the pub is because "all walks of life" feel comfortable there.
One hardworking regular customer from out west has been having a quiet beer in his favourite corner since 1986.
"It is his lounge room," Cafe grins.
Tully came to Goodna in 1974 and says the Royal Mail is a lounge room for the suburb.
"If you came in here you could find out instantly who was who, who was dating who, who was pregnant or anything else about what was going on in Goodna," he says.
"It was the starting point for what was going on in the suburb ... and nothing much has changed."