The colourful past of the Hotel Australasia

SOME of the earliest photographs taken of Eden have the Australasia Hotel pictured in them and stories from the building’s past have, for the moment, prevented the building from being demolished. 

The doors of the hotel closed three years ago but the hotel, that was nicknamed “the pit”, remains an important element in the township’s history to many people of the community. 

Eden resident Peter Whiter is one man who confesses he has fallen in love with the beautiful building.

“I’ve lived in Eden all of my life and I was connected with the information on the history of the hotel through the historical society,” Mr Whiter said. 

“I have a love for history and a love for this place.” 

“And when I talk about our history there are lots of things in our past that you might not agree with but it is part of our character and these things should not be lost. 

“It’s similar to whaling, I’m an avid whale watcher and would never want whaling brought back but it was part of this community’s history and we should preserve it.” 

Fresh on the minds of many of Eden’s resident is the “snake-pit” days of the hotel only four decades ago in what can only be described as a rough period in the hotel’s history. 

Hotel stood tall for 110 years

However the Australasian Hotel has stood tall for 110 years and Mr Whiter believes that if the building is demolished, important stories will be lost. 

“In the last 30 years the history of the Hotel has been very colourful and people are not fond of that, but that is not the buildings fault,” Mr Whiter said. 

“The architecture of this building is beautiful and is a key feature of streetscape and every community should a sense of their history.

“It’s not something that is in danger of falling down at the moment, if it is left there is a chance that it will.” 

The Hotel Australasia has a close link to Australia’s Federation and was built during a time when the nation’s capital was being debated. 

Back then the community of Bombala was a strong contender for the nation’s capital and if so the port of Eden would become capital’s closest port. 

A female entrepreneur name Sabina Pike decided that Eden would benefit from a modern hotel built to be the epicenter of the soon to be thriving community. 

“She became known as ‘Aunty Pike’, she became an amazing character and I would have loved to have a talk with her and ask her a few questions,” Mr Whiter said. 

“She built the place when an opportunity came up in 1906 at a reasonable price. 

“She left about a third of an acre out the back of the pub for a garden and because there were no supermarkets in those days it was turned into a veggie patch to support the hotel’s food.

“I often wonder what this town would have been like if Bombala had been the capital and Eden would be a very different town.” 

Aunty Pike was the proprietor and licensee for many years and in 1916 the hotel established a garage and service station next door and built the first fine motoring pit on the South Coast of New South Wales, from that moment on it was given the nickname of “the pit.”  

Mr Whiter has been involved in collecting some of the stories that still survive in the Eden community in collaboration with the ABC Open. 

Building with amazing stories 

Mr Whiter said there are amazing stories of the establishment that have all originated in the building from employees of the hotel or just the community. 

“One of the key stories for me was one that dated back to pre-war era in the 20s and 30s the publican of the hotel was George Impee and he happened to cross paths with a keen fisherman by the name of Warren,” Mr Whiter said. 

“Now the Warrens are a well known fishing family but this particular Warren was down on his luck and almost destitute, so the publican had a boat made for the Hotel.” 

In an era before refrigeration, the boat named The Straight Eight was built to provide fish to the Hotel kitchen. 

Warren was hired to be the fisherman and the boat was essentially his however the conditions of the of role was that the Australasia’s cook had the first pick of the catch 

“The rest of the catch Warren could sell around town and another condition was that if the Hotel’s patrons wanted to go fishing he had to take them,” Mr Whiter said. 

“What I find amazing is that without the Hotel this man would never have been able to provide for himself and the community.” 

Stories of the Straight Eight have become something of legend in Eden with boat working in the harbour during the same time as Old Tom. 

“Tom had a bit of a sense of humor and would often find Warren and would recognise the boat when it was fishing and go under the boat to pick up the anchor and pull it out to where ever he wished,”  Mr Whiter said. 

“All of these people on the boat, some patrons of the hotel were at the mercy of this whale and holding on white knuckled for their lives going faster than any engine at the time was cable of going until Tom decided he had enough.

“These stories have become part of Eden folklore. They never ever happened anywhere else and these stories would never have happened if it was not for the Hotel Australasia.”

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