If Lithgow Court House Hotel's walls could talk

THE REGULARS: Mitch Vandervelden, Patrick 'Nicko' Ryan, former publican Ray Smith,  Heather Thompson, Bill Thompson, Bill Boundy, Kevin Rowe and Tom Legge. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY
THE REGULARS: Mitch Vandervelden, Patrick 'Nicko' Ryan, former publican Ray Smith, Heather Thompson, Bill Thompson, Bill Boundy, Kevin Rowe and Tom Legge. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY

The current publicans of the Court House Hotel will be serving the hotel’s last drinks on Sunday, March 19. With the much-loved pub closing its doors for the transfer of ownership to Mount Victoria resident, Mak Rana, it’s an apt time to take a walk (or stumble) down memory lane. 

Four permanent residents of the hotel’s accommodation have had to find new lodgings due to the closure. Des O’Connor, who has been living in the pub’s rooms for over four years, said he was sad to go.

“I've made plenty of friends here. But I guess I'll see them around, it's just a change of scenery.”

Kevin Rowe has been boarding in the pub for five years. His first drinks at the ‘Court House Corner’ were in the ‘70s when the bar still served counter lunches. 

“I'm very upset about it. I can't see it being a pub again the way things are going.”

Regulars of the ‘Naughty Courty’ have long-lasting and even inter-generational memories of the bar.

Patrick 'Nicko’ Ryan has been drinking at the Courty since 1956. He played rugby league for the Court House Dragons.

“I can remember playing quoits of a Saturday afternoon with my father. Whoever lost shouted everyone a drink. It was my pub, all my mates drank here.”

Mr Ryan can recall the Court House’s ‘six o’ clock swill’ before 6pm closing times were repealed in 1954, as well as the ‘drunks’ bus’. Mr Ryan said his brother moonlighted as an ‘SP Bookmaker’, running an illegal betting business through a hole in the hotel’s wall.

If the hotel’s walls could speak they would tell a lively tale of a pub that saw a myriad of entrepreneurial owners, meetings of ‘men of commerce’, political speeches delivered on the hotel’s balcony, licensee infringements and more than one criminal caught on its premises escaping trial at the court next door.  

A particularly gruesome story from the hotel’s early days is that of Patrick Gorman who was struck by a truck of coal at the Eskbank Colliery in 1885, cutting off both his legs at the knees. He was carried to the hotel to be treated, but died an hour after. 

“It is said that the poor old fellow, several times after the dreadful occurrence, was heard to cry out, 'Take off my boots',” wrote the Bathurst Free Press. 

The hotel’s first licensee began in 1882, and is among Main Street’s oldest original hotel buildings with the company of the Commercial and Tattersalls Hotel.

The Court House Hotel has undergone numerous structural changes. In 1917 licensee Harry Bloom opened the saloon bar, “thus making provision for customers of all classes”.

In 1938 the hotel lost its balcony. Licensee Bill Jensen is credited with extending the hotel backwards and into the shop next door, creating a section for the poker machines.

Tom Legge, who has been drinking at the Court House since 1979, can still remember the ‘Hen’s Bar’, a segregated area for women drinkers.  

The oral history of the hotel, kept alive by its current patrons, are telling of the hotel’s changing politics.

“One thing about it is that it used to be a very strong Labor pub,” said Ray Smith, the publican of the hotel between 2007 and 2015.

“So I think it's had about five prime ministers through its doors: Ben Chifley, Whitlam, Keating, Bob Hawke and I can’t remember who the other one is.”

The presence of prime ministers has diminished as the price for a beer has increased. 

Bill Jensen and Bob Hawke at the Court House Hotel.

Bill Jensen and Bob Hawke at the Court House Hotel.

“When I first started drinking here we'd just switched to decimal currency,” said Mr Smith.

“A middy used to be one and five, and then it became 16 cents. They bumped everything up the cheeky buggers.” 

Mr Smith’s time as the publican of the Court House Hotel is remembered fondly by many of the hotel’s regulars.

Ben Hidding used to come to visit the hotel with his wife who has since passed. 

“We had a damn good time with Ray. On Sundays I liked the folk music and poetry which went on for years and years, it was relaxing to listen to.”

“Ten years ago, this is where all the young people came, Ray had bands and music. You would have your back against the wall before you could even see the bar,” Barry Hawkin said.

Ray Smith chuckles when he shares the story of “the worst drummer in Lithgow”, Egsy Ellroy.

“He was playing one night and he fell off his stool and rolled out onto the footpath.”

Apart from booking bands such as ‘Sound Surgers’ and ‘Out of Order’, regulars acknowledge Mr Smith’s effort in deterring bikies by banning gang colours and building loyalty through team sponsorship.

Patrons were loyal for other reasons. For a time it was the only pub on Main Street with Guinness on tap. 

“I have been drinking here for a long time. There's always nice people here, that’s why I come,” said Tom Legge. 

Bill Thomspon began visiting the pub when he was 25.

“I remember on St Patrick's Day it would be absolutely packed.”

Heather Thompson, Bill’s partner, admits that she just really loves the U-shape of the front bar. 

"No pubs have a bar like this,” Mrs Thompson said.

 “It's one where great personalities can really talk to each other."

Patrick Mahoney-Cross, the Court House Hotel’s current licensee and outgoing tenant, will be hosting St Patrick’s Day celebrations on Friday, March 17, and a car boot sale on Saturday, March 18.

Sunday, March 19, is the hotel’s last day of trading.