Railway Hotels of Australia

Join author Scott Whitaker as he journey’s around Australia investigating the life of the Railway Hotel, beginning with his multipart work, Volume One – Railway Hotels of Victoria.

In the early days, Railway Hotels (along with Terminus, Junction and Station) were quickly established to service the railway construction workers, or navvies. Some publicans stayed in the new town, others moved on with the navvies to the next camp. Some existing hotels were renamed to celebrate the arrival of railway communication, and some were moved to a new site nearer the railway station. Inevitably, the Railway Hotel was the haunt of the local railway workforce.


There was once over 600 Railway Hotels in Australia, but by the 1920s many had gone. Some had been burnt down – deliberately or otherwise – or even levelled by an earthquake or washed away in a flood.

Nevertheless there could have been more. Would–be publicans at Mt Gambier in South Australia, Cook on the Nullarbor Plain and at Alice Springs in the Northern Territory as well as at many other places, announced their intention of opening a Railway Hotel. Some of these people were refused a licence, some had a change of heart or some simply opened their hotel under a different name. And what about the Railway Hotels in towns that never had a railway. How could that be?

The book, $69.95, can be ordered at railwayhotelsofaustralia.com.au

Here’s cheers to the Railway (Hotel) man

His name is Lenny and he’s the ghost of the Railway Hotel at the tiny town of Elaine. Locals say he was a miner, murdered in his room at the rear of the pub in the late 1800s.

Publican Bevley Townsend says he usually lingers harmlessly in the halls, but when he’s in a bad mood, he’ll slam doors, fell glasses and chill the air.

A new book about pubs that are named Railway Hotel tells how Lenny’s wasn’t this pub’s only murder. Publican Henry Gray shot dead customer Michael Fahey in 1922, after Fahey drunkenly attacked Gray with an axe.

The pub, on the Midland Highway 30km south of Ballarat , opened in 1874, when there was a railway station across the road and regular passenger trains between Geelong and Ballarat.

The pub was a brothel in its early life. Locals say the town of Elaine was named after the madam, as were nearby towns Maude and Meredith.

The very unpretentious pub is now a watering hole for farmers, motorcycle and sporting enthusiasts, hunters and tourists named Elaine who take selfies with the hotel sign.

The railway station opposite is long gone. There is the odd freight train or Sunday tourist train but they don’t stop.

The pub is among 185 establishments profiled in the book. Author Scott Whitaker thought it would be ‘‘ a nice little project’’ , after retiring as an air traffic controller to trace the history of – and have a drink at – 20 or 30 Railway hotels, but it got out of hand.

He now has a database of 680 pubs. This book, Railway Hotels of Australia Volume 1 – Victoria, has entries in alphabetical order from Ararat to Yendon, and there will be three more volumes: on NSW, Queensland, and the rest of Australia. He has visited and photographed all 680. Often they are just a paddock where the pub burned down or was demolished.

Nationally, 191 Railway Hotels are still open, 88 of those still named Railway Hotel.

Mr Whitaker’s Victorian favourite , which is still trading as the Railway Hotel, is at Warragul, which ‘‘ has the classic lines of an old fashioned, two storey wrought iron verandah pub’’ , and the stylish Yarraville one, which recently reverted to the Railway Hotel after a stint as The Blarney Stone.

The book, $69.95, can be ordered at railwayhotelsofaustralia.com.au

Source: Here’s cheers to the Railway (Hotel) man | Carolyn Webb