Coonabarabran’s Imperial Hotel is going strong after 140 years and much change in the area it serves.
Story By Ken Eastwood
Like a grand old matriarch sitting on Coonabarabran’s main corner, the Imperial Hotel has seen a lot of things come and go over her 140 years. She’s experienced bumper times – when crowds stood three deep around the bar – and quieter periods, when she’s been virtually neglected. She’s seen out two world wars, watched publicans come and go, and overseen many changes as this central New South Wales town has adopted Warrumbungle National Park and become known as the astronomy capital of Australia.
Although much quieter than in her heyday, the ‘Impy’ still breathes a quiet old charm in the vast upstairs wooden verandahs, the extremely high ceilings and rambling living areas that lead to myriad tiny rooms. Downstairs, the modern and excellent Gecko Red restaurant pumps on a Saturday night if there’s an event in town, and the bars are full when the rugby club is playing at home, but much of the time it holds just a few quiet drinkers by its cosy indoor fireplaces and a younger crowd out in the beer garden or around the blue pool tables.
The Imperial’s history is surprisingly confusing. It was first licensed in 1872 and called the Royal Oak Hotel. Then it became the Old Royal Hotel. The hotel that is today called the Royal Hotel, just up the road in this three-pub town, was originally called the Courthouse Hotel. “Because there was so much confusion with so many royal hotels, the publican William Field changed its name in 1890 to the Imperial Hotel,” says Joy Pickette, of the local historical society. When William died in 1896, his widow Catherine took over, and photos credit it as both “Mrs Field’s Imperial Hotel” and (incorrectly) “Feild’s Imperial Hotel”.
Not surprisingly, the old pub has undergone many internal and external makeovers. “It changed in the 1930s – it started with slab walls and a shingle roof, but became brick in the 1930s,” Joy says. According to current manager Jakki Brody, the hotel is in the process of yet another makeover. “We’ve done one side of downstairs and will do the other side soon,” she says. “We have a lot of truck drivers and regulars who come and stay here, but I want anyone to come here and have a good time and not be intimidated.” Most of the accommodation rooms are small with shared facilities, but a couple have been renovated and modernised with ensuites.
This story excerpt is from Issue #86
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2013