**See follow up stories at end of this blog post**
On April 27th, 2012 the Calen Hotel tragically burned to the ground.
It was the week before our local Wintermoon Music Festival, and the busiest time of the year for the iconic pub.
Locals came from far and wide, as did passing traffic, to see what all the smoke was bellowing from our Main Street. You could see the smoke clearly from the Kolijo River House.
I was on my way home from work when my daughter sent me a photo of a building on fire. It had been a long week and I was quite tired. At first I thought it was some funny animation, until I realised it was real, and it was The Calen Hotel, Our PUB!!
Of course it was all over the local radio. They were saying it did not look like the old girl would be saved. My daughter was very upset as she worked there, and had actually poured the last beer the previous night. At first she was worried that perhaps something she may, or may not have attended to, caused the fire.
However, it started in a clothes dryer the next morning, whilst the staff and owner Clarrie were cleaning, and preparing to open. With the pub being so old, and basically all wood, the fire extinguishers used initially were never going to stop it from taking hold. By the time the fire brigade arrived it was well alight.
Many thoughts were flowing through me as I rushed to the site of the fire, which was still over an hours drive away.
- Was anyone hurt?
- How will the owners, Marie and Clarrie be?
- Where is my daughter going to work now?
- Where will we go for a beer???
On arrival, my daughter burst into tears as we embraced, watching the fire brigade valiantly working to control the blaze . By now it was into the top story, and everyone was waiting for the inevitable collapse. I saw Marie sitting in a chair surrounded by friends and family. A hug was in order, but what do you say? Then, one of the most heart breaking sights of my life.
Clarrie, Marie’s husband, walking across the road from the pub. A bedraggled sight the ol bugger. It ripped my heart out. He was black from the fire, had a flannelette shirt on with a tea towel over his shoulder. This was from his initial effort to put the fire out apparently. I wanted to give him some space. He looked like he was about to fall over, from heat, exhaustion, dehydration and heartache.
But he saw me, and reached out for a hug. He was sobbing. This frail elderly man with his soul torn out from beneath him. We embraced, standing there in the middle of McIntyre Street Calen, in front of “our” pub burning to the ground before us all.
As it turned out the local paper snapped a photo of our embrace. Lucky for me it was only the back of my head. But it sure felt special, I can only imagine how it looked.
I was impressed how worried they were about the people who have now lost a job, and somewhere to live. Their son was living in the upstairs residence, and a man was staying in one of the rooms, as was the pub’s cook. A local lady who lost everything. It was fantastic to see the community rally around and donate clothes, toiletries etc to help her back on her feet.
It’s strange what survived
We were all amazed as we stood, stunned watching the Australia Flag hanging out the front of the pub. It would not burn! Still at half mast from Anzac Day. A little singed, a couple of days later it was “rescued” and handed back to Marie and Clarrie. I’m sure this flag will be placed somewhere prominent in the new pub. Saved from the ashes.
My Christmas Present.
When I first moved to the area I purchased a “fake” plant for the front of the building. There was a dead one hanging in the corner where we used to sit, and I felt like it was bad Feng shui to have it there. As i was buying fantastic life-like plants from Greenery Designs on the Sunshine Coast, I thought I might buy one for the pub too. It was Christmas Eve and I was a little apprehensive if I should hand it over to Marie and Clarrie.
Would they be offended I bought them a plant because theirs was dead? One of the locals said, “Nah you be right mate!”
I handed over my Xmas card with some nice words, and the plant to Marie and Clarrie, adding “I hope your not offended?” Clarrie disappeared immediately, and much to my dismay he returned with a ladder. He climbed up and grabbed the old plant, threw it onto the ground and replaced it with his nice new one! To this day he still says it is the best plant he has ever had. Low maintenance.
A local sunbird had been building a nest on the plant. alas it all fell to the ground during the fire. However I did manage a rescue operation one afternoon.
It was during yet another visit out the front of the pub, for a beer and a catch up with other locals, that I noticed said plant lying on the ground amid the ashes.
I managed to reach in and save her!
A little victory for the heart.
I cant wait to give it back to Marie and Clarrie on opening night of the new Calen Hotel.
(Sh don’t tell them though)
Most memorabilia from the bar was hurriedly saved as the fire was taking hold upstairs. These included signed pictures by Qld Origin and Brisbane Broncos members who have called in over the years. However many things are not able to be replaced. Like the Mural of the cane farm, and the goodbye graffiti on the front veranda from the back packers.
Naturally the owners and staff were devastated at the loss of their historic building, as well of course, their livelihoods.
It was a hub for our little community. Regulars popping in throughout the day.
- Miners looking to unwind after being away for work.
- Thirsty workers after a hard day in the Cane Fields during the crush.
- Travelers passing through on the main route north or south in Central Queensland.
- Guys on footy trips to Airlie Beach. In fact the pub was the proud sponsor of Whitsunday Sea Eagles AFL team from Airlie Beach.
- Buses would call in on pub crawls through the area.
- Bachelor parties and even the odd hens night.
- Grey nomads on their yearly treks would make it a definite stop on their journey away from the cold southern States during our perfect winters.
- Motorbike clubs on Poker runs or a ride on a sunny day.
- State of Origin, Australia Day and the pubs own festival. “Springfest”. The Calen Fishing Classic, Football Grand finals.
- Anzac day with the RSL Memorial hall right across the road, and the March down the main street in front of the pub with early drinks for the diggers.
Many times throughout the year the community, passing travelers and visitors alike, gathered to celebrate, commiserate or support each other. Like after a cyclone, or the closure of the Bruce Highway due to horrendous accidents or flooding.
With meals, TAB, pokie machines, juke box, pool table, rooms for rent, and of course “ice cold beer”, it was your classic Queensland pub.
Double story old wooden verandas and bars, and an outside area to sit and watch the world go by. There was a bit of an issue when the new smoking laws came into effect, but they were eventually ironed out, and sanity prevailed.
Backpackers were hired on and off for the last couple of years. Some had experience in bar work, and some had little or none. Teaching them how to pour a proper beer, and understand the different names for things was quite amusing to watch. Especially when there were people from all over Australia calling in, with different names for the same size glass of beer. Hard enough for us to keep up!!
What a treat to meet and get to know and engage with these fantastic, mostly young people from all over the world.
We had Italians, English, Canadian, and Germans. Most are still connecting with a lot of the locals through such things as Facebook. It was great to watch as the locals would educate them on mud crabbing, fishing, cattle, sports, cane farming and the like. Of course there was always some wag telling them stories of the local ferocious Koalas for example.
They weren’t on much money, but food and board and the experience is more what backpacker travelling is all about. A few life long friendships were made, and a couple of them have returned for a catch up. Of course many well wishes came in too, when they heard the news about the pub burning down.
From the Ashes, a New Beginning
It was hard to watch the demolition process unfolding before us. One day I was there with my daughter as we watched the excavator removing items such as burnt pokie machines, tables and chairs and oh no!!
“A full keg of beer!”
I am sure the digger driver took great delight in popping the keg right on cue for yet another photo opportunity.
At Christmas we gathered for a few drinks on site and to see the plans for new hotel. The media and the local Member for Parliament came along also. The night before one local larrican secretly placed this Santa on site!! Only in Calen. Gotta love the local spirit.
Calen is a small town, and like other small towns mostly, the locals all get along. However at times people have different ideas and outlooks on issues, and agree to disagree. Which is inevitable. Everyone makes their own choices.
But at times like this, I like to think that even those people would not wish this event on anyone. Communities need to stick together more and more, and I hope that with the new things happening in our area, we can continue to be a strong community, supporting each other as we move forward into a new era.
27th April, 2013 It’s One year today.
It’s amazing how fast time goes by. The builders recently commenced work on our new Calen Hotel. I am sure a beer on site today will be in order for a few locals and catch up with the pub owners, Marie and Clarrie.
Hopefully the weather will play nice, and allow some building to happen.
I believe there will be a memorial wall at the new pub. Make sure you drop in one day and take a moment to reflect on the history of this great classic old Queensland Hotel, and the people of the district.
Be sure to have a glass of beer, whatever you choose to call it, once its built of course.
Read More Calen Hotel Updates Below:
I am sure there are many more chapters for this old girl yet to come. I will try to keep you posted right here!! The pub has a fantastic restaurant called M’Lane’s, TAB, Pokies and plenty of history to be seen including the rescued Australian Flag, scorch marks and all! Be sure to call in and say hi, have a beer and pick up your very own postcard of the old-new Calen Hotel.