Charleville’s grand Hotel Corones remains a monument to the man who made it.

Story John Dunn  Photo supplied by Hotel Corones

Haralambos Corones walks again the marble halls of the great hotel he built in the 1920s at Charleville, in western Queensland. He ascends the imposing Queensland silky oak staircase to the upstairs bedrooms, which once set new accommodation standards for the outback, and looks longingly at what was the magnificent ballroom, where
600 people could sit and enjoy silver service style at a time when banquets and fine dining were very much part of life on the land.

Harry, as he was known, has returned in the form of Rachel Wilson, an entrepreneurial local. “I was born and bred here, and I’m delighted to continue an association with the hotel that began with my great, great-grandfather, George Barber,” Rachel says. “He was a master builder who supervised the construction, and my great-grandfather Syd Barber was in charge of the painting.” Most afternoons Rachel conducts 2-hour tours of the building, describing its beginning and profiling the near-penniless Greek fisherman from the Mediterranean island of Kythera who tried unsuccessfully to migrate to the USA and came instead to Australia in 1907 in search of a better life.

Rachel takes her visitors on the same journey the adventurous Harry made after landing in Sydney, then moving to Brisbane, where he borrowed £120 from cousins to head way out west in 1909 to buy an empty cafe and set up his own operation. “Harry was a natural businessman,” Rachel says. “He knew what people wanted and he provided it. His tenet was good food, good service and warm, old-fashioned hospitality. The cafe was a huge success and Harry’s personal potential prompted Paddy Cryan, a travelling salesman for Perkins Brewery, to persuade him to take the lease of the Charleville Hotel, which it owned.

“The hotel was later destroyed by fire, but Harry was not deterred. He rebuilt it and operated it for 10 years before he grasped another opportunity. He bought a second hotel, the Norman, and replaced it with the grand establishment that became Corones. It took 5 years to construct and stretched almost an entire block in the main street when completed in 1929.” 

The Norman had been known as the leading hotel in the south-west of Queensland, the home of the pastoralist, the agriculturalist and the tourist, with lofty, cool bedrooms, hot and cold baths, and “good paddocking”, according to its advertising. Harry predicted his new hotel, with its French polished oak, Venetian lighting of different hues, stained glass windows, custom-made furniture, deep leather lounges, copper-topped tables and an attentive staff of 60 would repeat and amplify those claims. The Architectural and Building Journal of Queensland described the hotel as “magnificent … the best-equipped and most up-to-date hotel in the metropolis”. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #146

Outback Magazine: December/January 2023