Best pubs in Queensland: Never-say-die spirit going strong
IT WAS built on a swamp, survived a century of wet seasons and kept the beer flowing as the brown waters of the Fitzroy River crept into the bar, and locals tied their tinnies to the veranda rails.
The Fitzroy Hotel in Rockhampton has a never-say-die spirit best illustrated by the pub manager who once chained herself to a light pole in the midst of a massive flood to stop Energex turning off the electricity.
But the pub which has for decades served the "Swampies” who inhabit Depot Hill in the city's east end, where houses still go by the names of families who have occupied them for generations, may have finally been defeated by a foe far tougher than a Queensland Wet Season.
The Fitzroy's first incarnation was in the 1800 when it was built by a Charles Wakefield who used it to soak up the beer supplied by the neighbouring Fitzroy Brewery.
Rockhampton's east enders, the "Swampies,” wove the pub into the fabric of their community even as it slipped the bonds of its suburban origins and found global fame.
Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow recalls the Fitzroy's growing celebrity as the pub-which-refuses-to-go-under became a staple for prime time cameras, even those of cable television giant CNN.
But Cr Strelow recalls a more humble hotel, "with a no-nonsense bar and a cast of great characters” and one of her favourite memories is of the prelude to the 2008 flood which came after a dry spell of 20 years.
Council workers diligently placed marks on telegraph poles to give locals fair warning of the likely height of flood waters.
"By the following day the telephone pole out the front of the Fitzroy Hotel had about 20 marks of different heights with nicknames like 'Gazza' and 'Bazza' and 'Davo' each having their own bet about how high the floodwater would go,'' Cr Strelow said.
There was one lone voice in council which wanted to prosecute the offenders, but common sense prevailed.
Today the pub's loud, raucous personality has been silenced not by swirling flood waters but a far more implacable enemy - the economy.
Manager Shaun McCubbin presides over what is more a backpacker hostel than a pub as upstairs rooms are let out to travellers.
The Fitzroy no longer trades as a hotel, though there are hopes a local business consortium might revitalise the historic landmark.
And the amiable Shaun, acting as both manager and museum curator, keeps the memories alive, entertaining wide-eyed backpackers from across Asia and Europe with stories of the pub's "roaring days.''
"They love to hear about all the history of the place and the floods and where the waters reached,'' he says.
For Cr Strelow, the Fitzroy is not just a pub but a symbol of the spirit of Rockhampton, one of our oldest regional cities.
"The Fitzroy is just part of the colour and character of a great community.''