The Life and Death of the Johnburgh Hotel



Goyder’s Line, South Australia. (Source: Wikipedia.)


The Life and Death of the Johnburgh Hotel




The town of Johnburgh, close to the Flinders Ranges and forty kilometres north of South Australia’s Goyder’s Line, was proclaimed on 10 July 1879, as a consequence of the intended expansion of the wheat industry and a general desire in the colony to open up more farming land. Goyder’s Line proved to be highly accurate in terms of indicating the area of the colony suitable for agricultural purposes such as the growing of crops, as, typically, places north of it proved unsuccessful in those terms, in spite of initial hopes. Johnburgh itself has struggled ever since it began and is virtually as a ghost town now, a fate shared by many other places in the semi-arid areas of South Australia. Some early Johnburgh families, however, have stayed on in the district, and made a living out of activities such as grazing.



A picturesque landmark in Johnburgh is the one-time Johnburgh Hotel. (It’s one of the few buildings there that still stands, actually – and one of the small number of buildings actually constructed in the central area gazetted for the township.) A great-great grandfather of mine, Henry Reynolds, a local farmer, was publican of this hotel in Johnburgh’s formative years (1883-1891) and his daughter Lucy, a great-grandmother who I remember as a youngster, was born there in 1884. Henry and his family moved from the characteristic red sandy soil of the area to – literally and metaphorically – greener pastures in 1891.



The Johnburgh Hotel had a relatively short public life, less than forty years, opening around the beginning of 1882 and ceasing to operate as a licensed pub near the end of World War 1. Like country town hotels in general, and particularly one-pub towns in that era, it was a hub for the surrounding community and the location of many important activities: public meetings, balls, marriages, inquests, auctions, farewells to locals moving to other areas, and the like. For a few decades after its public life, the one-time Johnburgh pub functioned as a private residence.



Below is a brief ‘life story’ of the hotel, mainly told through extracts from the newspapers of the era. Oh, if the walls of today’s much photographed ruin could talk!



(Notes: the correct spelling of the township is Johnburgh. It was named after Major John Jervois, son of the Governor of the colony of South Australia. Particularly in its early period, though, the name was misspelled in various ways, as will be seen in the newspaper material to follow. This newspaper material is generally in the form of short excerpts selected by me. [I could have included many more newspaper items, too] – for the full article in each instance one can search the Trove archives online and consult the particular paper and date concerned.)



The Johnburgh Hotel, forty kilometres north of Goyder’s Line, these days. My great-great grandfather, Henry Reynolds, was publican here from 1883-1891. (Thanks to Nic of the South Australian history website for permission to use the photo.)





JOHNBURGH HOTEL PUBLICANS AND THEIR ERAS (placed between asterisks below)







William Henry Tremaine was a large-scale farmer and businessman/entrepreneur. He came to Australia as an infant and spent much of his boyhood in Kapunda, South Australia. (Source: Barrier Miner [Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954] Sat 15 Aug 1914 )




South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Fri 10 Jun 1881



NOTICE.— Pursuant to Section 23 of the Licensed Victuallers Act, No. 191 of 1880, we DEPOSITED with the Clerk of the Northern Licensing Bench, on the first day of June instant, PLANS of an HOTEL to be erected on Allotments 24 and 25, JOHNSBURGH, and for which we intend in due course to apply for a Publican’s Licence. Dated at Orroroo this 9th day of June, 1881.










South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1881 – 1889) Saturday 13 August 1881



The hotel at Johnsburgh is rapidly approaching completion; it will have a very imposing look when finished.




South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900)  Sat 17 Dec 1881





Before Messrs. Geo. Donaldson, SM. (Chairman), J. B. Ooodiar, Geo. Cobbin, J. Scott,

and R. Smith, J.P.’s]

Applications for Publicans’ Licences.

Plans for which have been approved.

W. H. Tremaine, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg. Mr. Bright for the applicant. Inspector Besley reported the house nearly completed, and would not oppose granting of licence, as the house would be a great convenience. Granted.



The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922) Tue 7 Feb 1882



To LET on LEASE, the JOHNSBURG HOTEL, Johnsburg, about 20 miles N.E. of Orroroo. A new house and free. For terms, etc., apply to G. H. Catchlove and Co., Burra Brewery: or, Williams and


Tremaine, Orroroo or Johnsburg.




The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889) Thu 10 Aug 1882



A ball was held at the Johnsburgh Hotel last evening, which passed off well.



Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904)     Sat 12 Aug 1882




On SATURDAY, August 26, at 2 o’clock.

ELPHICK & YEATES will sell by auction—HORSES. Cattle, Farm Implements

And anything offering. Entries received by Mr James, Storekeeper, Johnsburgh; or the Auctioneers, Orroroo, up to 12 o’clock of day of Sale.

Entries for publication must be sent in before Wednesday 16th inst.






*JAMES PEARCE 1882-1883*




James Pearce, the Johnburgh Hotel’s second publican, is a figure about which I have so far discovered little.




The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889) Wed 9 Aug 1882





A meeting of the Johnsburg branch of the Farmers’ Association was held at the Johnsburg Hotel on Thursday, July 27. Mr. Roeunfeldt presided. A prospectus of the Farmers’ Co-operative Association, copies of the farmers’ reserve fund scheme, and a price list of implements from Messrs. Weisner & Graife were received. Some discussion took place on the Farmers’ Co-operative Association, and it was decided to wait and see what action the central and other branches were likely to take in the matter. The secretary was instructed to write to Dr. Schomburgk[my note – h?] thanking him for sending his yearly report, and asking him to forward a few specimens of grasses and Jagosasta seeds for distribution amongst the members of the branch. The question of the seed of the Dharra Dharra was then discussed, and it was decided that the secretary should write to Mr. Pearce to ascertain if the branch could procure the seed as applied for, it being generally thought that it ought to be planted next month, as the rainfall in the locality was so uncertain, and the chances of success would be very small if the planting were left too late. Some extracts as to the growth of the Dharra were read and commented upon, and it was thought very desirable to cultivate it as a food for stock.





South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1881 – 1889) Sat 26 Aug 1882



FRIDAY, September 8.









are instructed by Messrs. Williams and Tremaine to sell by public auction, at Williams’s Hotel,

Orroroo, on Friday, September 8, at 2 o’clock—

ALLOTMENTS Nos. 23, 24, and 25, in the Flourishing TOWNSHIP of JOHNSBURG on

which is erected the well-known Substantial and Commodious Hostlery, the JOHNSBURG HOTEL, containing 14 rooms, and with excellent Stables, convenient Stockyards, and all the usual appointments of a first-class country house.





The Johnsburg Hotel is a Free House, and will positively be sold Without Reserve.

Stock and Furniture to be taken at a valuation.

Note the place, day, and hour of sale. Buyers from Adelaide must leave the City by 4.45 p.m. North

train on Thursday, the 7th.



Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) Sat 17 Mar 1883






J. Pearce, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg.







*HENRY REYNOLDS 1883-1891*



Henry Reynolds was a great-great grandfather of mine, and spent the early years of his married life to Mary Jane (nee Duance) as a farmer and publican in the Johnburgh area. Four of their five children were born there, and two of them died very young and are buried in unmarked graves in the Johnburgh cemetery,  which is now a desolate dusty place.


Johnburgh Cemetery in contemporary times. Source: South Australian History website.




The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858-1889) Friday 2 March 1883



REYNOLDS.-On the 24th February, at Johnsburg of convulsions and teething, Ethel May, the dearly beloved daughter of D. [my note: misprint – it should be H.] and M. J. Reynolds, aged nine months.




The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858-1889) Thursday 14 June 1883






Henry Reynolds from James Pearce, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg.




South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839-1900) Saturday 16 August 1884




[By a Special Correspondent ] 

Leaving the Terowie and Port Augusta line at Carrieton the traveller journeys for the first twelve miles through very hilly country infested by rabbits and other vermin in a south-easterly direction, when the little township of Johnsburg is reached, and finds here a nice-sized hotel kept by Mr. Reynolds, a store, and several other houses. The township is situated at the foot of the ranges in a very nice position, with a three-chain road running through it. Abundance of fresh water is had by sinking, and altogether Johnsburg now seems in a fair way of prospering, although, like many other townships, it has greatly suffered by the poor harvests which the North has had so much of lately. [This is the beginning of a much longer piece.]




The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858-1889)          Thursday 2 October 1884



REYNOLDS.-On the 29th September, at Johnsburgh, after four hours’ illness. William Henry, only and dearly beloved son of H. and M. J. Reynolds, aged 3 years and 5 months.



South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839-1900)) Thursday 26 February 1885




A meeting of this branch of the Farmers’ Association was held at the Johnsburgh Hotel on Saturday, February 14, after a recess of twenty-one months. Mr. C. Williamson presided. The following officers for the ensuing year were elected : – President, Mr. C. Williamson ; Vice-Chairmen, Messrs. H. L, Chalmers and A. Clapp; Auditors, Messrs. W. R. Axford and H. Reynolds; Secretary, Mr. T. Johnson.



South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1895) Saturday 21 February 1891



OLADDIE, February 18.

The weather keeps very dry, and nearly every one is anxiously wishing for rain, dams and tanks being empty. Stockowners find a heavy task in pulling water for their stock. Wheat-carting is over, and stubble-burning is now the order of the day. In one or two cases ploughing has begun, and it will be general as soon as the ground is softened by a fall of rain. The Johnsburgh Hotel has changed hands, Mr. Reynolds being about to leave the district.



South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1895) Saturday 14 March 1891



On THURSDAY, March 26



W. R. AXFORD instructed by Mr. Henry Reynolds (who has disposed of his hotel), will sell by auction, as above

WAGGONETTE (hooded) pole and shafts

Pair first-class Buggy Horses

Set S.M. Double Harness, almost new

Large Quantity superior Household Furniture Chaffcutter. Horseworks

And a lot Sundries.

No Reserve.

Other stock admitted.

Terms— Approved acceptances for sums over £30.






*PATRICK McNAMARA 1891-1892*



Patrick McNamara’s short time as Johnburgh publican was marred by family deaths – of his wife, a daughter and his own. On a much brighter note, one of his daughters got married during this period.



South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839-1900)                 Monday 15 June 1891




 Reynolds to P. McNamara, Johnsburgh Hotel, Johnsburgh;



South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1895) Sat 11 Jul 1891



OLADDIE, July 6.

Since my last we have had a few showers, but the fall has not been heavy. Considering the cold weather we have had our rainfall since April has not been heavy by any means, and were it not for the April floods things would not look very cheerful here. Some of the dams are dry. A good downpour would be very acceptable now to fill up dams and keep the subsoil nice and moist. There is a marked difference in the early and late sown crops. Fallowing has begun; as fallow is the surest there will be a good bit turned over this year. I think feed is plentiful and stock in good order. I regret to chronicle the death of Mrs. McNamara, of the Johnburgh HoteL The deceased lady had been ailing some time. She leaves a husband and grown up family. The deceased lady was interred in the Carrieton Cemetery.



The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922) Thu 27 Aug 1891



McNAMARA.—On the 21st August, at Johnsburgh Hotel, of inflammation of the bowels, Kate, the third and beloved daughter of Patrick McNamara, aged 28 years. May she rest in peace.



The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922) Wed 6 Apr 1892



FITZGERALD-McNAMARA.-On the 16th February, at the Johnsburgh Hotel, by the Rev. Father

Doyle, Joseph, fourth son of the late John Fitzgerald, of Tarlee, to Ellen Mary (Nelly), fourth daughter of the late Patrick McNamara, of the Johnsburgh Hotel.



The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922) Wed 6 Apr 1892






McNAMARA -On the 10th March, at the Private Hospital, North Adelaide, of ichoritus of the liver,

Patrick, relict of the late Mary McNamara, formerly of Undalya and Clare, and late of Johnsburg, aged 64 years; a colonist of 47; leaving eight children and 21 grandchildren.-R.I.P.





*mid 1892 Johnburgh Hotel licence temporarily lapsed*



The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931) Thu 26 May 1892





ORROROO, May 25.

Mr. Moody, auctioneer, offered on behalf of Messrs. Elder, Smith, & Co. the Johnsburg Hotel by public auction this afternoon at Patterson’s Hotel. There was a good attendance, but the bidding did not exceed £600, and the property was passed in. The Hon. A. R. Addison bought the right of grazing on the Jockey Club Course, the amount paid being £15 for the term. The weather looks more like a change than it has done for many days.



South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Wed 15 Jun 1892




[By Telegraph.]

Port Augusta. June 14.

The Northern Licensing Bench held its quarterly meeting to-day. Nine transfers to publicans were

granted, and one for the Johnburg Hotel lapsed.



The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931)  Tue 20 Dec 1892



On the evening of December 14 a representative meeting was held at the Johnsburgh Hotel for the purpose of taking steps to have Johnsburgh connected with Carrieton by telephone. Mr. T. Thomas occupied the chair. Some correspondence from the Postmaster General was read, which stated that before any steps could be taken by the Government it would be necessary for the residents to sign a guarantee for £60 per annum for five years. Several gentlemen present volunteered to become guarantors, and a committee was appointed to carry out the decision of the meeting. Mr. J. Duff was appointed secretary to the committee. A vote of thanks to the chairman brought the meeting to a close.






*EMIL HOFFMANN 1893-1894*



The Hoffmann family’s short time at the Johnburgh Hotel was marked but a tragic case of arsenic poisoning. They were a farming family.



Kapunda Herald (SA : 1878 – 1951)  Fri 10 Mar 1893



ARSENIC FOR BAKING POWDER.-A sad case of poisoning happened at Johnsburg,

about twenty miles from Orroroo, on Saturday. Mr. Louis Hoffmann gave his housekeeper, who was baking bread, a tin of arsenic instead of baking powder. She put about two teaspoonfuls in the flour.

The bread was heavy, and was eaten sparingly by all the members of the family, Mr. Hoffmann eating most. Mr. Hoffmann died six hours afterwards, but others of the family, who were very ill, have recovered. The deceased, was about to retire from farming, having taken the Johnsburg Hotel on the day previous to the poisoning, and had instructed an auctioneer to sell his farm and plant.



[My note: the jobs of the local Johnburgh publican were many and varied. Below, the task was to provide a meal for hungry cricketers.]



Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954)  Fri 29 Sep 1893 



CARRIETON, September 23.


The cricket match between Yanyarrie and Johnsburgh took place to-day at Johnsburgh.

The day was very sultry and hot, although heavy thunder clouds were visible all day, and

at any moment a storm was expected. On arriving at the cricket ground we found it was

covered with grass, and it was amusing to see the fielders during the match turning all sorts

of somersaults, for as soon as they would start any way quick after the ball they would lose

their footing, and over they would go. The appointed time to start play was 11 o’clock, but as the local men were slow in coming to play, a start was not made until half-past 11. Yanyarrie won the toss and, took the wickets, and made 35 runs before the first wicket fell, the total of the first innings being 91. As there was was still 15 minutes to play before dinner, three of the local team were out for 10 runs. An adjournment was made for dinner, when an excellent repast was provided

by Host Hoffman [my note – the son of the man who died from arsenic poisoning, it seems], of the Johnsburgh Hotel, which was much enjoyed. After dinner the Johnsburghs played well, and were not disposed of until the score had reached 83. In the second innings the Yanyarries had some hard luck, and were all out for 55. As there were only ten minutes to play it was impossible to complete the match, but to give the local team every show, we decided to play until half-past 5: and they scored fast, Smith and Fulwood making a good stand, but they had lost two wickets, and were a good many runs to the bad. The match was decided by the first innings, Yanyarrie winning. For the winners T. Nugent 23 and 12, T, Gleeson 20 and 4, were the highest scorers. Mr. J. Nugent and Mr. Parsons acted as umpires, and gave general satisfaction.






[ … ] On going a few miles further we arrived at the great city of Johnsburg, which consists of a pub, blacksmith’s shop, and store. One would imagine that the people there were very disunited, as there is nearly a quarter of a mile between the business places. I omitted to mention that there is a post-office, which is kept by the storekeeper; but if it was dark, and with a good horse, you could easily ride over it and would not notice it. Recently a telegraph line was erected between here and Carrieton.









One interesting newspaper snippet from Zanker’s time as publican shows him with a publican’s booth at the Orroroo show. Such booths were a common thing in that era. Orrooro is about 20 miles from Johnburgh.



The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 – 1916)  Fri 14 Dec 1894






Carl Frederick Wilhelm Zanker, holder of a magistrate’s certificate, to Carl Frederick Wilhelm Zanker, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg.—Granted.



The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931)  Sat 29 Oct 1898






The publican’s and refreshment booths under the management of Mr. W. Zanker, of the Johns

burg Hotel, did a splendid business throughout the day. Altogether the show was a successful one.



Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904)  Sat 6 Feb 1904



[Zanker’s time as licensee, according to a range of impeccable sources, was 1894-1899, but it seems that the licensees immediately following him used the contents of the building, which actually belonged to Zanker, and he had decided to sell this stuff by auction in 1904]




FRIDAY, February 12, at 1 o’clock,



Removed to Orroroo for convenience of sale,



has received instructions from Mr. W Zanker whose lease of the Johnsburg Hotel has expired [my note: this seems, very clearly, to be an error, as indicated above]

to sell by auction as above, without the slightest reserve- –

CEDAR DINING TABLES,- Cedar Sideboard, j

Handsome Overmantels. A.B. Chairs, Fen-

ders and Irons, Venetian Blinds, Curtains,

Table and Bedroom Linen, Sofas, Cedar Loo

Tables. Easy Chairs, Linoleums. Ornaments,

Pictures, &c., Bedding and Furniture for

Four Bedrooms. including Cedar Wash-

stands and Dressing Tables, Double and

Single Beds und Bedding &c


Bar Fittings, Iron safe. 3-Pull Engine, Forms,

Slate Skittle Table 2 Beer Extractors, Iron

Gates, Tools, and an Immense Number of Sundries.

Goods must he cleared, and may be

inspected for several days before the Sale at the

auction room of N. O’Halloran, Fourth Street, Orroroo.



*BENJAMIN CRABB 1899-1900*



The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 – 1916) Fri 9 Mar 1900




Benjamin Crabb, Johnburg Hotel, Johnburg, and billiards—Granted






Francis Thornton, as well as being publican of the Johnburgh Hotel for a few years, was publican of other hotels reasonably close to Johnburgh: 1920-1921 Orroroo Hotel, Orroroo, 1923-1924 Black Rock Hotel, Black Rock. (The latter pub was run by another relative of mine, Fred Reynolds, and his wife, Lilian. Fred was the son of Henry Reynolds, mentioned above.)



South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) View title info Tue 11 Dec 1900



Publicans’ Licences Transferred.—  Francis Thornton (holder of a special magistrate’s certificate), from B. Crabb, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg



Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954)  Sat 15 Mar 1902





The annual meeting of the Northern District Licensing Bench was held at the Port Augusta

Courthouse on March 5. Applications for Renewal of Publicans’ Licenses, with Billiards. Francis Thornton, Johnburg Hotel, Johnburg;









The Gillard family, local farmers, were the last custodians of the pub.



The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) View title info Fri 5 Jun 1903




The quarterly meeting was held at Port Augusta on Wednesday, June 3.

Applications for Transfer of Publicans’ Licences

Granted.—Margaret Gillard from F. Thornton, Johnburg Hotel, Johnburg, and billiards.



The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929)  Tue 24 Nov 1908



JOHNSBURG, November 20— A number of friends assembled at the Johnsburg Hotel last night to bid farewell to Mr. Patrick Caughlan on the eve of his departure for the west coast. Mr. G. H. Dunn

occupied the chair, and spoke in eulogistic terms of what Mr. Caughlan has done for the district. Messrs. T. Potter, J. Goorty, F. W. Smith, and McLean supported. Items were rendered by the Misses M. Silvy, E. Jones, and M. Fenessy, and Messrs. F. W. Smith, G. Gillard. J. Pratt.  A. Reed, McLean, and W. Gillard, and Master Eric Smith; and Mr. Caushlan gave a step dance. Supper was provided by the ladies, and a dance followed. Mr. A. Reed provided the music, and Mr. William Gil

lard acted as M.C. Mr. Caughlan is to be presented with a marble clock from his numerous friends.





*WILLIAM GILLARD 1910-1917* Hotel Closed



The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) View title info Wed 28 Sep 1910




The quarterly meeting was held at Port Augusta on Monday, September 28.

Transfers of publicans’ licences were granted to W. Gillard from Margaret Gillard, Johnsburg Hotel, Johnsburg;



[My note: I presume the assembly room referred to below was in the Johnburgh Hotel.]



The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929)  Sat 26 Nov 1910





JOHNSBURG, November 23.-A public meeting was held in Mr. W. Gillard’s assembly room last night to form a branch of the Liberal Union. Mr. Arthur Brook presided. Mr. E. H. Warren (organiser) explained the aims and objects of the union to an appreciative audience. A branch of 21 members was established, which those present estimated could easily be increased to 50. Mr. A. Brook was elected President; Mr. R.  Sampson, Vice-President; and Mr. J. Chalmers, Secretary. The outlook for liberalism here is very encouraging.



Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931)  Sat 25 Mar 1916



—Applications Granted.—

Renewals of Publicans’ and Billiard licences.—

Gillard, William, Johnburg Hotel, Johnburg;







The end of the Johnburgh Hotel is referred to in bold type [my bold type] in the article below. It is clear that the demand for a hotel in Johnburgh was not enough for the pub to be maintained as a going concern.



The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931) Saturday 4 January 1919








A report of the work done by the Licensing Department since its inception in March, 1916, was received by the Attorney-General (Hon. H. N. Barwell) on Friday. The document sets out that the President, State member, and Chief Inspector visited over 300 hotels in the country districts in order to have a personal knowledge of the premises licensed under the Act. It was found that in a number of houses where there was a permanent supply of water the old, obsolete and unsanitary pit system had been abolished and the septic tank system had been installed in about 50 of them. The officers of the Licensing Department wore always careful to co-operate with those of the different local boards of health in all matters relating to sanitary conveniences connected with hotels, and they had been on several occasions complimented by travellers and local residents on the general improvement, of licensed premises within the past three years. Obviously those premises, had been much neglected previously, and the general public had been the sufferers. Fly-proof doors and window screens had been insisted upon for doors and windows of dining-rooms, kitchens, and pantries on licensed premises. Receptacles for kitchen refuse were also being used, and strict attention was paid to drainage.  Thirteen persons had been refused certificates on the ground that the applicants were not desirable persons to conduct hotels, and 32 persons had been called on to show cause why their licenses should not be forfeited, as they had been convicted twice within two years. Four licenses had been forfeited, and 19 applications dismissed and seven withdrawn. Although not successful in all cases, the Chief Inspector was satisfied that the procedure had an excellent effect on licensees in general. One licensee was notified that the application for the renewal of her license would not again be granted, on account of the bad condition of the premises which were situated in a hollow. The building was very damp, and it was impossible to keep it in good condition and fit for habitation. Extensive improvements and repairs were required to be carried out at hotels at Johnburg, Mannanarie, Glenloth, and Gibson’s Camp, but rather than comply with the orders given by the inspectors the owners decided to close them. One publican’s license was declared to be forfeited on account of the licensee, who was also the owner, neglecting to comply with directions as to additional accommodation. Enquiries had been made in the licensing districts of Willunga, Strathalbyn, Kapunda, Clare, Gawler, Willaston, Burra, and Adelaide whether there was a redundancy of hotels, but proceedings had been temporarily suspended owing to a test case having been taken to the Privy Council.





Ultimately, a hotel is very much like a living thing, I believe, with a life cycle of birth to maturity then death. And if one goes beyond the idea of the pub as a building, which feels entirely reasonable, it is a living entity, in the end the sum total of all the human experience that occurs within its walls.


Vale, Johnburgh Hotel.


All that remains is a hollow shell, full of ghosts.







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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. 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.


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Really interesting read Kevin. I’m endlessly fascinated by abandoned buildings, ovals and towns. What were once bustling, busy places now almost devoid of people. Yet our major cities continue to expand.

    Love the photo of the Johnburgh Hotel. Guessing it would be a somewhat eerie place to walk through.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments, Luke. I share your fascination with abandoned things.

    As well as eerie inside, the old Johnburgh pub is almost impossible to set foot in, as many of the floors have fallen in and in parts it would be a fair drop to where the cellar once was. If you Google Johnburgh pub, or maybe join a Facebook group like South Australia in Ruins, you will see photographs of the interior – it’s a real wreck inside now, though very much an atmospheric one.

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