By MICK ROBERTS ©
YOU can’t help but notice the declining health of the grand old lady from the past when passing through Bulli.
The Denmark Hotel, “The Little House on the Hill”, sits as a dejected monument to one of the region’s entrepreneurial pioneers.
Expectations are high, but not assured that the exterior of the building will be saved after a Sydney developer’s intentions to restore the Denmark as upmarket residential apartments. Work, however has stalled, and word is that the developer is experiencing problems with Wollongong City Council.
The former pub was established by Danish immigrant Jens Peter Oluf Orvad in 1877. Orvad served in the Danish Navy before immigrating to Australia with the fall of Denmark to Prussia in the 1864 war. He arrived in Sydney in 1866 and by 1869 had made his way to Wollongong, marrying Honorah Madden.
Anglicising his name to Peter, he entered the hospitality trade in 1871, purchasing the George’s River punt and setting-up a cottage for meals and accommodation on its southern bank. Later, in 1873, he purchased a block of land three chains in length and 50 feet in breadth for £96 in Bulli village, leasing it to FW Edwards as a bakery.
Orvad hosted his first public house at Appin, where he was granted a license for the Appin Inn during 1874. He had a short stay at Appin and moved to Bulli in 1876, gaining an innkeeper’s license for his little weatherboard bakery building, and giving it the sign of his homeland. The Denmark Hotel – fondly known locally as the Little House on the Hill – was licensed on February 19 1877.
The inn was typical of the day with a tap room (public-bar), sitting room, and a couple of guest bedrooms, besides Orvad’s family quarters. It was small and cramped, and the following year he added a single storey wing to the rear.
Orvad was host to former NSW Premier, Sir John Robertson in January 1879 and of the four inns at Bulli, the Denmark became arguably the most respectable. Peter was said to have never served an alcoholic drink to a drunken man and kept a tight rein on operations at his pub.
Meetings were often held at his inn to advance the community. Deputations were formed to approach the government for a post and telegraph office for Bulli, a court house, a public reserve and road improvements. He even stood for the parliamentary seat of Illawarra in 1880 but was convincibley defeated. Orvad went-up against wealthy capitalist and owner of the Coalcliff Colliery, Alexander Stuart, who later went on to become Premier of NSW.
But the Bulli publican continued working for the community through his active role in the Bulli Progress Association, and he received government contracts repairing regional roads.
On the eve of the arrival of the government railway, Orvad had constructed large two storey additions to the front of his inn during 1886. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Thursday October 28 1886:
Mr. J. P. Orvad, of the Denmark Hotel, Bulli, threatens to surpass everything in the hotel line in Illawarra, by his mammoth two storey premises now in course of erection.
The Denmark Hotel, with its belvedere window used to spot coaches on the mountain pass and steamers arriving at the jetty, was now an imposing building among the other timber business houses in Bulli.
Orvad, who was suffering tuberculosis, had been considering returning to his homeland for sometime “now that Bismark is out of the way and Denmark not so fearful of further attacks of the German whale”, it was reported in 1890. However his health was failing and he never fulfilled his dream of returning to Denmark. He died at the Denmark Hotel on November 27 1891 aged 48.
The local newspapers reported: “The late Mr Orvad was a useful public man in the Bulli end, and took a prominent part in all matters for the advancement of the place. During a long residence in Bulli he had acquired a competence, and his widow and family will therefore be comfortably provided for.”
The name of the hotel was changed to the Tourist Hotel in 1896 and it remained licensed until June 30 1911 when a local option poll – held at State elections to reduce licensed premises within an electorate – forced its closure.
George Aston purchased the old Denmark from the Orvad estate and ran it as a boarding house from about 1913. Known as the Tourist Boarding House it remained in the family until the death of Maurice Bourke.
Frank Gervaise purchased The Denmark from the Bourke estate in July 1998 with intentions of transforming it into a boutique hotel. However, due to difficulties gaining approvals for redevelopment, he was forced to sell the building in 2011 to a Sydney developer, who intended converting the building for residential purposes. However, the project has stalled, and the Denmark has sat empty and derelict for almost a decade.
© Copyright 2014 Mick Roberts
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