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billinudgel hotel historical

Billinudgel History

The following has been compiled as a history as we know it. We welcome the knowledge of all folk with further information. Left out of this historical breakdown are the famous flooding events, which are too repetitious to count. They deserve a segment all of their own. Original photographs and further information can be found at the Billinudgel Hotel.

Billinudgel History

The following has been compiled as a history as we know it. We welcome the knowledge of all folk with further information. Left out of this historical breakdown are the famous flooding events, which are too repetitious to count. They deserve a segment all of their own. Original photographs and further information can be found at the Billinudgel Hotel.

cedar getters
Photo Source: Byron Bay Historical Society


Early Days

In the years before 1840 the area was predominately inhabited by the local indigenous Minjungbal tribe, part of the Bundjalung. The few Europeans in the area mainly consisted of escaped convicts and a handful of "cedar-getters." These folk grew in numbers throughout the next half century and were joined by numerous bullock teams that harvested and milled the cedar trees and dragged them to the river. Once there, they were rafted to Brunswick Heads where they were loaded onto schooners and shipped to Sydney. The treacherous river mouth at Brunswick Heads prompted a new technique where the logs were "surfed" out through the breaking waves and loaded onto ships with cranes. As the number of cedars rapidly declined, the teams switched their focus to other timbers like tallow wood.


The Railway

In 1884 the NSW parliament voted a sum of money for construction of a railway to connect Grafton and Tweed Heads. Shortly after an inquiry reduced the planned rail to only go from Lismore to Murwillumbah. Locals mockingly referred to it as "the railway from nowhere to nowhere."

mullumbimby station
Photo Source: Brunswick Valley Historical Society
hainsville store
Photo Source: Mullumbimby Boom & Bust Book



At the turn of the decade the region’s colonies were experiencing high unemployment and were sinking into a depression. This turned around in 1892 at the announcement that construction would begin for the Mullumbimby to Murwillumbah section. A large railway camp was set up for the "navvies" over the hill at Hainsville (aka Williamstown, now referred to as The Salad Bowl) and supported a population of approximately 200. This increase in employment and population prompted the construction of the first hotel in Billinudgel, the Tramway Hotel. It was situated down the road at the location of the present day child care centre.

The following year in 1893 the population of Hainsville skyrocketed. Many claimed it to be higher than Tumbulgum, Tweed Heads and Cudgen combined. This was supported by the school in Billinudgel (Tuckaburra School) having enrolled 119 pupils that year. The settlement had three pubs, halls, a butcher, baker, general store, saddler, barber and drug store. It is also believed to have had a thriving illegal booze trade.

billinudgel public school
Photo Source: Billinudgel Public School Book
billinudgel train station


Billinudgel Station

Construction didn't last long, however, and the opening of the line in 1894 caused most of the population to vacate to seek other work. In December of the same year, the train station opened in Billinudgel which signaled the beginning of the boom of industry that was to follow. The reason for locating the station at Billinudgel rather than Hainsville was because Hainsville was situated between two rises and there was fear that the loaded trains would not be able to make the climbs if they halted. Hainsville more or less dissolved overnight. We salute and thank the folk of Hainsville for they laid the foundation for the rise of Billinudgel. A local paper at the time noted about Billinudgel:


"The advent of the railway peoples is working a transformation that is truly marvellous. So far the only working being done is clearing three chains of scrub on the line of the railway, but more extensive operations will be carried on immediately. There is a great influx of people of all sorts and denominations eagerly looking for employment, while business people are making every preparation to supply public wants in good hotel buildings, stores, butcher shops, smithies, right on to billiard rooms and barber shops."

The introduction of the train station enabled an increase in the variety of work available as the goods created could easily be transported from the area. One such example was the rise in dairy farming. 1895 saw the construction of the Norco Butter Factory. Farmers were able to switch to dairy farming as the train station enabled quick transportation of the milk and cream to the factory before it spoiled. Dairy farming continued to the 1960s when soaring beef prices, bulk milk production methods and the rise of table margarines reduced the need for localised dairy farming.

norco dairy farm
Photo Source: State Library of New South Wales
tramway hotel historical


The Tramway Hotel

In 1898 the Tramway Hotel in Billinudgel burnt down. The local industrious folk weren’t too happy to have lost their beloved establishment, so construction began straight away on the new Tramway Hotel which stood on our current site. Tragically it lasted a mere 8 years before it too burnt down in 1906. Ever the proud townsfolk, construction began again to create the current hotel we have today. 

As the population continued to grow, folk looked towards the neighbouring area of New Brighton and envisioned it becoming a bustling resort town. This prompted a name change of the hotel in 1914 to The New Brighton Hotel, as the station was seen to be "The Gateway to the Pacific." This name would carry on for several decades until a change to its present name in 1995.

new brighton billinudgel hotel historical
pub with no beer


Pub with No Beer

Disaster stuck the town in 1916 when the new proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Parker, neglected to renew his liquor licence. As Christmas approached, he was unable to restock his supplies and the grog dwindled. Unfortunately the licencing court didn’t sit again until January, so in short, there was no beer for Christmas. 

Cartoon Source: Billinudgel Public School Book


The Bananas

Another form of farming was that of the banana growers. Much of the hillsides in the region were set aside for bananas. In 1920 a case of bananas was returning one pound. Labourers were paid 2 pounds per week. Production was at a peak in 1922. By the late 1920s, aphids carrying the Bunchy Top virus decimated the local industry and it took many years to control the outbreak. Some farms survived, however the industry would take decades to only partly recover.

banana farming nsw
Photo Source: New South Wales State Archives
ma ring billinudgel


Ma Ring

1929 saw the arrival of Margaret Alice Ring (Ma) in Billinudgel who was a previous partner at a hotel in Barcaldine, QLD. She was travelling through to look at a pub in Casino when she stopped in Billinudgel. After inspecting the pub in Casino, Ma returned to Billinudgel and bought here instead. The first few years were tough as the world slipped into The Great Depression. Money and employment were both scarce. To make ends meet, Ma ran the hotel mostly by herself, with only the aid of a housemaid and a cook. Several "swaggies" occupied the village at the time and would exchange their labour on occasion for a meal. After grinding through several tough years, the economy began to rise again and the town still had its beloved watering hole.

Photo Source: Billinudgel Public School Book

Prior to Ma’s arrival, the hotel had seen an array of licensees in its roughly 30 year history and longed for some continuity in the town’s only establishment. Ma provided just that. Her reign as licensee lasted 53 years until her death in 1983, aged 101, the oldest licensee in Australia and possibly the world.

new brighton hotel flood
parlour door

During the second world war, several members of the community were drafted off to war; one of whom was Private Paddy Budgen who received the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium. Fortunately though, the region consisted mainly of primary producers, so much of the population remained. There were also American military settlements in the area to add to the population and maintain a somewhat steady economy. It is thought that at the time the hotel was unofficially used as a brothel for these officers. This is supported by the remnants of "Parlour" signage visible in one of the upstairs rooms. Upon vacating the area, the officers presented Ma with a military batten as a token of their gratitude. 

During the late 1960s construction of the resort style retirement village of Ocean Shores began, and with it brought an influx of approximately 200 workers. These workers were paid in cheques on a Thursday which Ma would happily cash. Recounts from locals say that it was impossible to move in the bar on a Thursday. After the initial infrastructure of Ocean Shores was established, the hotel became the afternoon meeting place for builders, workers and would-be investors to debrief and discuss the happening developments. Business was good.

ocean shores
Photo Source: Billinudgel Public School Book
marjorie barnham



One of the unsung heroines of the hotel’s history was Ma’s niece Marjorie Barnham. From the early 60s, she took over the daily runnings of the hotel from Ma, but always lived in her aunt’s shadow. It was Marj who kept the hotel running even though she never received the accolades of her work. 


The Boomstick

It was during one of Ma's shifts in the early 1970s that the infamous "Boomstick" tale was born. During that afternoon, euchre was being played in the bar, one of Ma’s favourite pastimes. The game was being played by Bob "Springy" Spring, Col Loomes, Mick Wilson and a fourth gentleman. Col Loomes recounts: 


"The stakes were set at 20¢ per round. After loosing several hands, 'Springy,' usually a quite bloke, produced a would-be stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and sat it on the table. Panic erupted and beers and coins went flying as players and patrons rushed to the door. Marj kept a broomstick behind the bar which she used to separate 'blues' and made for the burning stick. When Marj swept it out the door onto the verandah, the patrons rushed back inside for cover. Several seconds passed with fingers in ears… but nothing happened. 'Spring' the cheeky fella, was collecting the scattered coins on the floor when it was realised that the 'dynamite' was but a piece of broomstick with some fancy wrapping and a fuse."

billinudgel train station
Photo Source: Billinudgel Public School Book


Closure of the Station

The end of an era dawned on the 11th of November 1980 when the station at Billinudgel was closed to passengers. Motor vehicles were common and the use of the station for passengers had dwindled. Cargo continued to be loaded in Billinudgel for a few years following the closure. In May 2004 services connecting Casino and Tweed heads ceased entirely at the same time as the commencement of construction of the Brunswick Heads - Yelgun bypass, part the the Pacific Highway upgrades. Arguments in politics continue to this day to convince the government to reinstate the once prosperous rail line.


Ma's 100th

The following year on the 2nd of July 1981, Billinudgel hosted a party the likes of which had never been seen before. The occasion was to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ms. Margaret Alice Ring. Locals who flocked from near and far were lucky if they found themselves a space in the bar. The street was cordoned off to provide space for the overflow of patrons swarming the village to celebrate the occasion. 

ma ring 100th birthday oldest publican
ma ring death oldest publican

Ma Ring carried on her legacy until her death in 1983 upon which her niece Marjorie assumed the licence and continued running the hotel with her sons. Sadly, soon after, Marj was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1988. During this time, the licence was passed on to local Barry O’Donnell and his wife Jan. The two ran a thriving establishment that would leave their predecessors proud. To this day we give thanks to the effort of Barry and Jan, not only to this pub, but to this community. 



In 2000 the lease and licence was purchased back by Marjorie’s son Ken Barnham who still holds the licence and runs the hotel to this day along side his sons Craig, Jordan and Mitchell. From our family to yours, 

Welcome to Billinudgel.

mitchell craig jordan ken barnham
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