6. Willyama Hotel -1905

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The first Willyama Hotel was an iron and timber structure with 20 rooms and separate stables, built on the same site in 1887 for Philip Harvey. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1905, and the Barrier Miner printed a dramatic retelling of the fire the next day, describing ‘a jumbled heap of charred remains, old iron, blackened bedsteads, and broken bottles’. It seems the licensee, Mr. Birdseye, heard crackling not long after retiring and before long all the lodgers in the hotel were standing outside ‘clothed in nothing but a quilt, a blanket, or just the nether garment of a pair of pyjamas.’ 

The Miner’s story is also a glimpse at the social history of the time. The cook at the Willyama, Mrs Machul, lost her sewing machine that evening, worth £14 10s, and all her money: £3 10s in cash, kept always in a skirt pocket. But the skirt was left hanging on the bedstead taken by the fire. Other boarders and guests also lost everything. The licensee himself was insured and much of his personal and business property was covered. 

At midnight, the roof of the hotel went in ‘like a piecrust’ according to the Miner. Another detail noted was: 

 the ‘curious fate [that] met the bottles of whisky, rum and brandy on the bar shelves. The extreme heat gave the liquor an additional force of character, and the corks all blew out, leaving the bottles unbroken and the spirituous contents a little smoky, but still spirits. 

The hotel was rebuilt in brick and stone after the fire, and then extensively remodelled in the 1960s 

Audio transcript available.