April 20, 2023
10 mins Read
Whether you’re travelling to a tiny settlement in the middle of the outback, visiting a buzzing state capital, or escaping to a bucolic country town, chances are you’ll find one unifying feature across all three. An Antipodean institution that’s practically as old as colonial Australia itself, the humble pub.
While a number of the country’s historic taverns have met an untimely end, either falling into disrepair or being pounced on by developers looking to make a quick dime, a clutch of heritage pubs have survived – some clocking up almost 200 years in the business.
Read on for a taste of the oldest pubs in Australia that will make you step back in time.
As if its location, close to the meandering Hawkesbury River wasn’t enough, this NSW pub also scores top marks for heritage. Having welcomed its first patrons in 1815, the Macquarie Arms Hotel claims to be the oldest pub on the Australian mainland and is said to be the most intact major commercial building dating back to pre-1820 Australian colonial history.
The current publicans have brought things a touch more up-to-date with their steady roster of live music, beer garden with kids’ playground attached, and pub grub menu (think burgers and schnitties aplenty).
But vestiges of the past still linger: marvel at the circular cedar staircase, eye the turned timber verandah posts, and wander through the large Georgian doorway, flanked by traceried sidelights.
Little-known fact: This storied property was built by convicts, who once called the hotel’s cellar home.
Address: 99 George St, Windsor NSW 2756culture
Looking to spice up a drive along the Hume Highway? Make a beeline for The Surveyor General Inn in the Southern Highlands. A picture-postcard watering hole in the heart of the Southern Highlands, The Surveyor General was built in 1834, licensed as an inn the following year, and still proudly bears the architectural features to prove it.
The main building is constructed of rough-hewn local sandstone, and rendered sand stock bricks, with timber and pressed metal ceilings and a carved cedar bar that is close to celebrating its centenary.
Raise a glass to The Surveyor General’s historic legacy with a middy of local beer on the verandah come summer, or pull up a pew at the bar with a glass of red and wallow in the warm glow of the open fireplace come winter.
Little-known fact: The inn was visited by a number of notorious Bushrangers in the early days, and – according to legend – the son of one early licensee captured the elusive bushranger Thunderbolt in 1870.
Address: 26 Old Hume Hwy, Berrima NSW 2577
Established in 1807, the Hope and Anchor Tavern is technically Australia’s oldest continuously licensed pub. Yet one caveat – the fact that it’s experienced periods of closure despite maintaining its licence – means that its New Norfolk cousin, the Bush Inn (more on that below) is often recognised as the country’s most historic boozer.
Whatever its classification, there’s little doubt that this Apple Isle tavern is well worth a visit.
Stepping inside the Hope and Anchor’s upstairs dining area is like walking into a living museum: antique wooden clocks, deer heads, sabres and rifles are mounted onto the golden brocade wallpaper, alongside olden portraits and under the light of chandeliers.
Little-known fact: The Hope and Anchor Tavern does a mean hot buttered rum – the perfect antidote to Tassie’s fresh and blustery weather.
Address: 65 Macquarie St, Hobart TAS 7000
Said to be one of the most haunted spots in the country, Tasmania’s Bush Inn has become something of a ghost hunter’s Mecca. Located in the small town of New Norfolk (pop. 6,153), this 26-room hotel has been operating continuously since 1815 and is arguably the oldest Down Under.
Spooky goings-on is not the Bush Inn’s only claim to fame, however: Dame Nellie Melba stayed at the hotel (and sang there) during her 1924 visit to Tasmania, and in 1888, the first telephone call in the Commonwealth was made from the hotel.
The venue has recently been taken over by new owners who are set to renovate the pub, breathing new life into it while keeping its heritage roots.
Little-known fact: Below the pub lies a hidden tunnel that was used to transport patients from the Derwent River to the Royal Derwent Hospital (originally New Norfolk Insane Asylum), so they wouldn’t be seen.
Address: 49-51 Montagu St, New Norfolk TAS 7140
Endearingly known as ‘The Gully’, this Queensland pub has been serving schooners since 1864; and the bar walls, plastered with memorabilia, stand testament to its different lives.
The property was once used by the sheep shearers that worked at neighbouring Nindigully Station as accommodation, and the Akubras of those same drovers line the walls, alongside vintage beer signs.
From the late 1800s, the Nindigully Pub served as a Cobb & Co changing station, with old black and white photographs that chronicle this period hanging in the cosy pub dining room.
Located down a dirt track road, on the banks of the Moonie River, not far from the border with NSW, this bush pub also features a beer garden dotted with palm trees and an open-air bar.
It offers free camping to visitors on its grounds, provides live country music on most weekends, and even has its own house brand beers on tap – the Gully Gold and Moonie Mud – as well as locally produced wine.
Little-known fact: The age of this Sunshine State venue isn’t its only virtuosity – the Nindigully Pub is also home to a 1.5kg beef patty known as the ‘Road Train’, which is said to feed up to six hungry punters. Those with an even bigger appetite can pre-order a ‘Real Big Mack’ which features a whopping 25kg patty of beef.
Address: Sternes Street, Nindigully QLD 4497
Located in WA’s popular Swan Valley wine region, in the thick of Guildford’s historic – and rather charming – Swan Street, the Rose and Crown is an obvious addition to any gourmet getaway. Built in 1841, it’s the oldest operating hotel in the state and a beautiful example of Georgian-style architecture.
Hole up in one of the property’s 28 ensuite lodge rooms and make a weekend of it, or swing by for a hearty meal (steak and Guinness pie with mash, roast pork with veggies, Cajun style squid and salad) and a chilled glass of local chenin blanc in the beer garden.
Little-known fact: Legend has it that the opening of the hotel led to a rise in drunk and disorderly behaviour, which in turn called for the construction of a jailhouse and courthouse on the next street.
Address: 105 Swan St, Guildford WA 6055
Not only does Merrijig Inn happen to be one of Victoria’s oldest pubs, built in the mid-1800s, but this historic stone cottage is also among the most charming in the state. So charming, in fact, that it’s worth engineering an entire weekend away at Port Fairy just to bathe in all of the Merrijig Inn’s atmospheric glory.
While away an hour or three in the sun-licked Garden Bar with a glass of wine from its celebrated list, along with some housemade charcuterie. Order generously from the farm-to-fork menu, curated daily by acclaimed chef Tanya Connellan. And bed down in one of the ludicrously economical (and wildly cosy) attic rooms that feature antique iron beds and views over the Moyne River.
Little-known fact: This little property in regional Vic has formerly served as a magistrates’ court, a police station and barracks, a boarding house, and an antique shop before its current incarnation as a pub.
Address: 1 Campbell St, Port Fairy VIC 3284
An outback pub with a number of eccentric strings to its bow (or should that be bra?) the Daly Waters Pub is not quite as aged as some of the other venues on this list.
It started out life as a general store in the early 1930s and didn’t receive its publican’s licence until 1938, but that’s not to say it isn’t steeped in many a legend. From murders and drunken brawls to hauntings, main street shoot-outs, and cattle stampedes through this one-horse town (pop. 55), the roadhouse has seen it all.
And as outlandish as it may seem, the tiny settlement of Daly Waters, 600 clicks south of Darwin, was in fact the site of the first international airfield in Australia.
Former publican and Daly Waters Pub founder, Bill Pearce, was not only responsible for refuelling the passengers but also for refuelling the planes. You can still visit the aircraft hangar today – it’s located just a two-minute drive from the pub.
Plastered with all manner of curios, this kitsch pub is a prime example of pioneering Aussie spirit. Drink there, eat there, stay there, and lap up the atmosphere at this quintessentially Antipodean pub.
Little-known fact: The bras that can be seen dangling from the ceiling are said to have started accumulating in the 80s. And because the pub doesn’t have any windows, just flyscreens, these smalls are regularly washed.
Address: 16 Stuart St, Daly Waters NT 0852
Famously older than the city of Canberra itself, this suburban inn began life as a humble timber slab and pole home for Irish immigrants in 1857.
By 1876 it became a mail and passenger coach stop on the Yass to Queanbeyan run, serving beer and food to travellers, before transforming into a family home once again in 1887.
Finally, in 1976, after undergoing sensitive restorations, the property received its licence once again and became known as The Old Canberra Inn.
Today, a sense of the inn’s rich history still pervades its cosy interiors. Between its beamed ceilings, creaky wooden floors, and timber walls you’ll find wood-burning fireplaces and Chesterfield sofas.
And what The Old Canberra Inn’s outdoor area lacks in historical artefacts it makes up for with a family-friendly space that promises a spacious paved beer garden, complete with a children’s play area.
Little-known fact: The Shumack family, who built the original hut on this very plot, is credited with making substantial contributions to the development of Canberra.
Address: 195 Mouat Street, Lyneham ACT 26
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Daly Waters Pub looks really interesting! One day………………
Makes me want to have a beer at each of the pubs .
You probably don’t know about the Red Hill Hotel in Chewton, Victoria. Established in 1854, still trading in our sleepy village where gold was first discovered in Australia. Our town has a rich and varied history.
The Lion of Waterloo in Wellington NSW was licensed in 1841. Slab walls still standing and the best pub west of the mountains.
Love the commentary & insight into the heritage of Australian pubs.
George 1V Inn Picton is older than most here. Built for convicts to stay on way to Berrima.
Thanks for sharing , would like to visit. and see the pubs for myself one of these days.