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Pub of the Week: The Imperial Hotel, Ravenswood

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It’s almost like a mirage… the grand Edwardian-style pub standing in what’s left of a once-bustling gold mining town. We haven’t come to the tiny settlement of Ravenswood looking for a pub, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find there are two in what is virtually a ghost town.

We’re driving back to Townsville after a day trip to Charters Towers and decide on a whim to take the detour to Ravenswood, just for a look.

Rusting old truck bodies on the block of land beside the Imperial Hotel might have helped keep my expectations in check, because despite the grand Edwardian exterior of the pub, I’m not prepared for what greets me as I push open the saloon doors to the bar.

“Wow!” My mouth falls open. The curved wooden bar is backed by elaborate cedar carved cabinets, grand archways and leadlight windows. It’s all very opulent and unexpected.

Built in 1902, near the end of Ravenswood’s gold-rush heyday when miners had the choice of 30 pubs, the Imperial lives up to its grand name but is still a typical Queensland country pub. It’s a meeting place for local farmers and miners (yes, still) and everyone here is ready for a chat. There’s a juke box in the bar, and a pool room – where legendary Aussie snooker champion Eddie Charlton once played.

It’s mid-afternoon and time for a cold beer. Bar food is served at any time of day – rib fillet, crumbed calamari, steak sandwiches and so on – but this is not a place you come to for the food, which is pretty basic pub grub.

I take a wander to check out the rest of this amazing pub. Two flights of elegant cedar and oak stairs lead to the 15 guest rooms, which run off a hallway painted a vivid shade of green (apparently much-photographed). Antique beds, washstands and ornaments adorn the rooms; the bathrooms are down the hallway.

So who built this striking pub? The name still above the front door is J.M. Delaney, a young and wealthy miner who discovered the rich Donnybrook reef mine and used part of his great wealth to build the hotel. He imported the carved bar and stained glass from England and the leadlight tulip panels from France. Delaney died in Sydney at the age of 28 a short time later, and his two sisters ran the Imperial for many years.

There’s now only remnants left of the once prosperous mining town, which went into gradual decline by the end of World War II. There’s another pub – The Railway Hotel – across the street, a craft shop and lots of mining relics. It’s easy to see why Ravenswood (about 130 kilometres south-west of Townsville) has been classified by the National Trust, but it now seems to be a place that time’s passed by.

However, if what you’re after is a beer and a yarn in a great Aussie pub, you’ll most certainly find it here.

Photos Len Zell

You can check out more of Lee’s pub reviews in the book Great Australian Pubs (Explore Australia).

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