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19 June, 2022

New life for town’s grand old lady

HERBERTON’S grand old lady, the Royal Hotel, will re-open its doors next month with owner Rick Shirreff determined to bring the historic pub back to life.

By Robyn Holmes

The Royal Hotel was built in 1880 and is still proudly standing today with a revamp underway and the hotel expected to open again next month.

The 142-year-old pub has been closed for some time now, but Rick is working hard to get the popular drinking hole back to its best and is relishing life in the small former mining town. 

“Herberton is a beautiful, chilly historic village full of warm welcoming people – I’ve been blown away by the local support in both physical help and the great one-plus hour impromptu conversations with locals, mainly about their past experiences at the pub,” he said. 

“It's a glorious building with little quirks and turns adding to the feel of a 142-year-old building. 

It's also locally rumoured to accommodate a gentlemanly ghost, still not to be seen but his presence is felt on bitterly cold nights.” 

“I'm more than happy to be here cleaning, repairing and painting – I have a passion to talk and laugh at life, so working in a pub that I own isn't a job – it's my time to love everyday being happy at what I enjoy. 

“The main reason why I chose the Royal Hotel was for the sunsetting daily on the public bar giving the perfect sundowner beer the ultimate golden experience.” 

The Royal Hotel is all timber, first built as a single storey building in 1880, then a second storey added sometime between 1910-15. 

The Royal Hotel was built in 1880 and is still proudly standing today with a revamp underway and the hotel expected to open again next month.

“It is amongst the first licensed hotels in Queensland, and it is one of the longest continually licensed hotels in Queensland,” Rick said. 

The hotel features a traditional public bar at the front and a lounge bar behind with separate entrances “for the ladies and some cautious southern tourists or Cairns daily visitors”. 

“I joke about them being cautious because the local Herberton drinkers can be a handful – they might look rough but have hearts bigger than the sun,” Rick said. 

The dining room is a masterpiece, with original silky oak casement windows and sets of double doors as its main features. 

The dining room, which faces the main street, often hosted town meetings and small functions and Rick intends to broaden its use with movie nights or the occasional footy match. 

The adjacent building to the public and lounge bar is the bistro which was once the Crystal Palace Bazaar.

 “It’s a barn-type feel with exposed timbers and wrought iron roof. It will soon feature a new 20-foot kitchen shipping container arriving in July/August,” Rick said. 

“This will serve directly to the diners, with a further addition of a BBQ smoker arriving in September introducing a 12-hour ‘Low n Slo Sunday Smoke Lunch Sesh’ with acoustic entertainment. 

“The neighbours told me in the 1980s as they built the bistro, they struck a tin vein which paid for the bistro – in today's dollars we could rebuild the entire pub, so I might start digging,” he joked. 

Rick has already opened the divider between the public and lounge bar and given the interior walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint, with plans to adorn the walls with local black and white historic pictures. 

The original fireplace in the public bar built in the 1980s will be moved to the wall between the public and lounge bar, wand that will allow the area currently housing the fireplace to become a small stage to showcase solo gigs. 

“Upstairs we have 11 traditional pub rooms, four facing west along the full length balcony overlooking Grace street and the mountains towards Irvinebank,” he said. 

Rick has had a long history in the hospitality industry, managing hotels in Cairns and Fitzroy Island. 

As part of his commitment to locals, he will “proudly serve” Wild River craft spirits and Billy Cart Breweries fine craft beers, along with regular beers, spirits and wines. 

“I will always showcase and give the local artisan-brewed products first preference every time,” he said. 

“My role here is to be the custodian for the next few many, many years, serving, smiling, laughing and swapping secrets with everyone, particularly our friendly Herberton locals and yes, I am the new (beer n whiskey) ‘Sheriff’ in town,” he joked. 

The hotel will open in July for a few nights a week to start with, then Rick hopes to expand to normal training hours “but let’s see how people respond to the Royal and me”.

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