Almanac (Pub) History: Walk Like An Historian – the Old Queen’s Head Hotel, Geelong

 

Image:vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/

 

Walk Like An Historian – Impressions of the Old Queen’s Head Hotel, Geelong

 

The Queen’s Head Hotel that was once in the centre of Geelong, in Ryrie Street, has gone the same way as so many Geelong pub buildings during my lifetime: its name, look and purpose have changed. I recall two particular incarnations after its days as a hotel; there were certainly more. One was as a night club called Room 99: the latest is as an Indian restaurant. While I think it’s better that a significant historic building is repurposed rather than razed to the ground, which happens in so many instances, it’s a shame that such a large number of old pubs in Geelong have gone by the wayside, one way or another.

 

The Queen’s Head impressed itself upon me for several reasons, I suppose. On many occasions, I’d walk past its distinctive art deco frontage – a relatively late addition – on the way from my Newtown home to the centre of the city, then, usually, the same way back again. The middle of town was often where I met my mates, and sometimes girlfriends. Also, I had my first legal drink at the Queen’s, on my eighteenth birthday: January 16, 1980. (Where I did my previous, underage drinking is another story.) Some former schoolmates – though not very ‘former’, as we’d only completed HSC months before – Ben and Hugh, had a counter lunch with me there to celebrate the occasion. I know this to be 100% correct because I recently found the information in one of my old diaries. Ben lived in the same street as me. Hugh was your resident Form Six self-proclaimed Maoist – every school should have one!

 

For me, the most interesting aspects of the Queen’s Head pub were its interiors and layout. (Now this is where my recall starts to get a little less clear and more impressionistic, so bear that in mind.) Walking through the hotel from front to back was like uncovering deeper and deeper levels in an archaeological dig. The pub in general felt old, dimly lit and wonderfully run-down – if that makes sense – but there were certainly considerable differences the further one went in.

 

The Front Bar had the best light, due to the large windows that looked onto the footpath. The pub didn’t strike me as particularly popular at the time, but this front room almost certainly received the most traffic. From there, one then stepped through a doorway, down into the Ladies Lounge, which – yes – was on a lower level. It felt a little older in terms of its look and décor; faded wallpaper, ageing pub carpet, that kind of thing. That was where Ben, Hugh and I had our lunch. (What did I have? I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter, anyway … probably fish and chips, or something basic like that.) The lighting in this room was duller, with little or maybe no outside light coming in. As I recall, there were no other diners in the room when we ate our meals and drank our couple of pots.

 

One could walk further back into the building from the lounge, stepping down into yet another level, a kind of back bar, which looked like it was rarely used, or maybe hadn’t seen patrons for quite a few years. It was the dingiest room of the lot, particularly as no lights were on and it was windowless. I picture a plastic cover over the bar area, though I may be wrong. Just a bit of light entered through the doorways at each end. Vaguely, I remember that this section of the building was weatherboard – not brick, like the rest of the structure, though I may be incorrect here, too: at any rate, it felt more ancient. It was almost certainly the oldest part of the hotel, and probably part of the original pub built more than a hundred years previously.

 

Probably the back doorway of the building revealed a closed flywire door. Probably outside the door was a tiny backyard, with rubbish bins and miscellaneous junk. Probably there was also a deep well covered by a heavy metal lid. Undoubtedly, though, if there was a lidded well and you took the lid off and looked in, all you would see was impenetrable darkness.

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Kevin, I haven’t visited this building, but as a lover of Indian cuisine you’ve tempted me.
    Enjoy hearing the history of buildings, let alone old and former pubs.
    I wonder how many old pubs are still standing that are other businesses now in Geelong, let alone the rest of Victoria? And, less enthusiastically, how many current hotels will become former hotels post COVID-19? Hoping for a quick hospitality recovery. As Dan says, “Get on the beers”!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Luke.

    Actually, in writing this piece, I’ve tempted myself to go to the Indian restaurant currently at the old Queen’s Head location! I’ll have to do so soon!

    It feels like every second (former) pub in Geelong has become a different business these days, or apartment housing.

    Interesting question you pose, too, about the influence of COVID-19 on hotels in general.

  3. Kevin- thanks for the journey around this great old pub and back in time. I love a pub that’s “wonderfully run down.”

    Readers such as Smokie will be saddened to learn that Adelaide’s King’s Head on King William Street is a COVID-19 casualty, having closed her doors permanently. I fear there’ll be others.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Mickey. Wonderfully run down pubs are one of my favourite kinds, as is clear – one can feel the history.

    And yes, let’s hope that as few hotels as possible go by the wayside in the wake of COVID-19.

  5. roger lowrey says

    Kevin, I have just posted a follow up story so check it out and see what you think.

    Luke, if you manage to get there that Indian restaurant does the best Butter Cicken in Geelong. Their other stuff is very good too.

    Mickey, it sounds like the king has gone to be with his queen.

    RDL

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, RDL. I’ll certainly check your follow-up story out.

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