Incredible story behind 110-year-old pub
WITH a history full of hard-fought battles, Scotland has earned a reputation for breeding 'em tough and Ellen Bain, who built the pub at Pinkenba, was no exception.
At a time when the settlement 12km east of the city was a bustling port, Ellen, who was no stranger to heartache, took on the Brisbane establishment and after a years-long battle, won a liquor licence in 1910.
Her story begins when she arrived in Brisbane with her husband John from Nairn, north of Inverness, on board the immigrant ship Durham which had left London on October 26, 1881.
Ellen was only 22 when she and stepped ashore on December 17, with baby son, also John, in her arms.
The mail steamer had been quarantined in Suez for 24 hours and missed a stop in Aden because of cholera, but otherwise, the trip was notable only for the oppressive heat as it headed down past Batavia (Jakarta) towards Cooktown.
One passenger had died from sunstroke and to survive the swelter, the bonny lassie from the Scottish Highlands had to draw on the determination that would become her trademark as she fought to succeed in her new home.
Ellen and John had a good nose for business and set to work. He established a grocery store in George St and another two children were born, Robert in 1882 and Ellen, known as Nellie, in 1884.
Tragedy struck in July 1886, when Nellie, 2, and John, 5, died within 12 days of each other. Their cause of death is not recorded. Before the end of the month, John Bain's widowed mother, Elizabeth, also would die.
Ellen set about establishing her own business, trading under the name of Ipswich Poultry and Fruit Mart. It flourished supplying the growing colony's hotels with produce.
In July 1895, John was granted a liquor licence to open a hotel at Myrtletown, a tiny settlement at the mouth of the Brisbane River which had, until recently, been known as Boggy Creek.
While the pub business went well enough, the 1890s depression which slashed real estate values and inflated interest rates along with the 1893 floods and creditor pressure, hit Ellen hard. Her business was liquidated in March 1896.
She denied that her money was supporting the Myrtle Hotel but said her good business had declined when the hotels began getting their supplies from the markets. The creditor's meeting heard that it was "the old tale of the tradespepople being victimised by a secured creditor" and that Mrs Bain had been victimised.
Ellen fought back to become one of Pinkenba's largest land and property owners.
The hotel business picked up, but the big battles were yet to begin. In 1900, they made the first of many unsuccessful attempts to transfer the licence from the Myrtle Hotel to Pinkenba, which was 5km closer to the city and a thriving and busy port.
It was "an absurdity" they argued, "that a place of such importance as Pinkenba, Brisbane's port, should be without hotel accommodation".
Management of the Pinkenba meatworks, the chairman of Toombul Shire Council, church and temperance groups, and ultimately the Brisbane Licensing Bench, did not agree.
When John died in 1904, aged 49, Ellen continued the battle single-handed. She strengthened her case by buying four blocks of land where the Pinkenba Hotel now stands, added three more adjoining blocks in 1907 and another two in June 1910.
She refused to be intimidated by her mostly male antagonists but again and again her application was unanimously refused.
At a 1906 temperance meeting called to oppose the licence transfer, Ellen famously delivered a spirited defence which triggered "hearty applause and laughter".
It was reported that "a feminine orator had provided an unexpected threat when she delivered a good fighting speech".
"Remarking that parts of America had been held up as a pattern in regard to prohibition she caustically pointed out that Americans had also achieved a reputation for rotten meat," the report said.
This "delighted the audience many of whom were connected with the local meatworks".
Ellen emphasised the need for Pinkenba "going ahead and not being Stinkenbar".
But again she was refused. Ellen arranged for the Myrtle Hotel to be broken down, hauled three miles down the road by bullocks and rebuilt on her Pinkenba land.
Finally, in April 1910, the licensing court granted a provisional licence and by November her new pub was ready.
Close to the wharves and Pinkenba Station which had opened in 1897, the hotel thrived.
It was managed by Ellen's son Robert, and boasted first class accommodation, hot and cold water baths, and only the best brands of wines and spirits.
Ellen continued to run the hotel with Robert until her death from heart and lung disease in 1922. She was 63. Robert died four months later from kidney failure, aged 40.
The family are buried together in an unmarked grave at the Toowong Cemetery and their legacy, the Pinkenba Hotel, is now the first port of call from the new Brisbane cruise terminal. It has recently undergone major renovation and been renamed Trade Coast Hotel.
Originally published as Incredible story behind 110-year-old Brissie pub