By MICK ROBERTS ©
IT’S difficult to imagine how The Beaches at Thirroul would have looked during the 1970s and 80s.
Colleen and Barry Gilbert transformed the pub, then known locally as The Rex, into one of Illawarra’s most successful houses of entertainment and hospitality in 1999.
Originally opened as the Thirroul Rex Hotel by pub chain company Rex Investments, The Beaches is a far cry from the male dominated watering hole of the 1950s and 60s.
The history of the hotel unfortunately stems from the misfortunes of a NSW rural town.
The 1950s was the beginning of the demise of many a country pub. The bush was well catered for when it came to pubs, but times were a changing.
The 50s and 60s saw the growth of registered clubs and a mass exodus of country folk, especially the young, to the lure of the larger coastal cities. The Illawarra, with its huge steelworks and labour intensive coalmines, was a magnet for those wanting employment.
The move in population and the competition from registered clubs also prompted the move of hotel businesses as many country pubs transferred their licenses into the more prosperous regions of NSW.
Rex Investments purchased the old Tattersalls Hotel at Murrurundi in country NSW with intentions of transferring the license to Thirroul in the late 1940s.
Murrurundi was once a bustling 19th century settlement along a busy coaching road, but by the early 1950s had become a quiet country village.
Rex Investments and Tooths Brewery had visions for the license and proposed to build a new modern £75,000 tourist hotel on the corner of King Streets and Lawrence Hargrave Drive Thirroul when they were granted a conditional license transfer in 1948.
Thirroul was a thriving coastal tourist resort and supported a busy railway goods yard, brickworks, coal mine and other industries.
Most attractive of all though was the fact that Thirroul’s only pub, The Tooheys tied Ryans, was doing a roaring trade and was the State’s most profitable country pub. Tooths wanted a piece of the action and a deal was struck with Rex Investments so the rival brewery could get a pub into Thirroul.
The Rex was finally completed and opened as a Tooths tied pub on October 19 1953 at a cost of £160,000 with local sporting identity Jack Ramsay as host. Mr Ramsay (pictured) was well known throughout the district and lived nearby at Scarborough. He served in the Royal Australian Navy during World War 11 and had learnt the hotel trade in Kempsey on the NSW north coast.
He had hosted various other pubs for Rex Investments, the last being at Rosebery, before he and his wife and two children took up residence at the new Thirroul Rex Hotel.
Mr Ramsay was a popular host, having played rugby league with the Thirroul Butchers and, no doubt, knew how to handle any unruly behaviour, as he was one time holder of the NSW Railways Amateur Lightweight Boxing Title.
Mr Ramsay later moved onto host a pub at Port Kembla after a short stay at the Rex.
Rex Investments and Tooths read the market well and their new Thirroul Hotel was an instant success. The pub sold nearly 1800 barrels of beer in 1955 – more then any other period up to 1979!
Rex Investments sold the pub to Thirroul Hotel Pty Limited in 1973 and the pub became officially known as the Thirroul Hotel. Part of the new syndicate included well-known boxing referee, Vic Patrick, who became a regular visitor to the pub.
However, old habits die-hard and the pub was known locally as the Rex up until when major alterations and improvements by owners the Gilberts totally transformed the run down pub.
Barry and Colleen Gilbert had leased the the pub for 14 years before they decided to take the reigns of the Rex. They had purchased the freehold in 1981 for $400,000 and decided it was time to give the old pub a much needed facelift.
After a $1 million refurbishment, The Beaches became an award-winning hotel with modern, comfortable surrounds, boasting great restaurants, entertainment venues, and bars.
The new Beaches Hotel was later sold by the Gilberts to Western Suburbs Leagues Club for $5 million in 2001.
The owners of the Ryans Hotel at Thirroul, Mark and Joanne Stead, bought the freehold of the Beaches Hotel from Western Suburbs Leagues Club for more than $5 million in September 2006.
The husband and wife business team already owned eight pubs in the Illawarra and Hunter and had bought the nearby Ryans Hotel in 1999.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015
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