MORBID SIGHT: This photo shows the ruins of the original Grand Hotel at Goomeri which was destroyed by fire on December 24, 1939. Eight people lost their lives. Photo John Oxley Library.
MORBID SIGHT: This photo shows the ruins of the original Grand Hotel at Goomeri which was destroyed by fire on December 24, 1939. Eight people lost their lives. Photo John Oxley Library. Contributed

A CHRISTMAS NIGHTMARE: Goomeri Hotel burns down, kills eight

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WHAT was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year soon became unimaginable horror for the wider Gympie region in 1939.

Goomeri's iconic Grand Hotel, which was first built in 1930 and stood alongside the Boonara Hotel for nine years, burned down and took eight souls with it in the early hours of Christmas Eve morning.

 

Grand Hotel, Goomeri ca1939. Photo Contributed
Grand Hotel, Goomeri ca1939. Photo Contributed Contributed

 

Summary:  Exterior view of the Boonara Hotel, Goomeri. The proprietor is A. A. Connolly. Some cars are parked in the street in front of the hotel.
Summary: Exterior view of the Boonara Hotel, Goomeri. The proprietor is A. A. Connolly. Some cars are parked in the street in front of the hotel.

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Pictures of the grisly scene cast a pall over The Courier Mail on December 26, along with the lonely faces of those taken in what was described as the "state's most tragic fire".

"Ten people now are believed to have perished in the fire which destroyed the Grand Hotel, Goomeri, early on Saturday," the Page 3 article read.

"Remains of at least eight people have been recovered, but so far only three bodies have been recognised by relatives and friends.

"The bodies were so badly charred that the police are continuing the work of identification by studying positions in which the remains were found in relation to rooms occupied by missing people, and sifting the ashes for trinkets known to have been owned by the boarders.

"Hundreds of sightseers, taking advantage of the holidays, crowded the town on Sunday and yesterday, sometimes impeding the work of the police among the ruins of the hotel."

 

Gympie Pub Feature.  Joe's Grand Hotel at Goomeri.   Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times
Gympie Pub Feature. Joe's Grand Hotel at Goomeri. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times Tanya Easterby

Among the identified victims of the inferno was Mrs Gladys Edwards, 24, who "threw her seven-month-old baby from the balcony to a spectator, and went back into the building to rescue a friend", never to be seen again. Another image showed 25-year-old hotel barmaid Mrs Pearl Frahm, who also lost her life.

Licensee John William Parker, a licensee who was employed in building the hotel, managed to escape the burning building but later died from burns and shock.

Mr Parker's wife Eva, Mr George Eddie, Mr Thomas Robert Rickson, Mr Allen Gordon Carter and Miss Bridgett Eileen Eisentrager were all confirmed dead by the December 26 report.

Grave concerns were held for guests Mr Walter Herbert Stewart and local tractor driver Mr "Pitch" Taylor, but the pair were later located along with three others initially reported missing.

 

Gympie Pub Feature.  Joe's Grand Hotel at Goomeri.   Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times
Gympie Pub Feature. Joe's Grand Hotel at Goomeri. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times Tanya Easterby

An eye-witness account described the fire's savage impact, which left the entire building in complete ruin.

"It was a matter of seconds, not minutes, before the entire building was in flames.

"We could only stand as though stuck to the street, watching it all, listening to the screams of those within, and feeling entirely powerless to help them."

Coverage of the fire continued into the new decade, and it was eventually determined through a coroner's inquest that "blinds between the upstairs verandah and the fire escape had been nailed", trapping guests inside the burning building.

The deadly fire would go on to have a landmark impact on safety regulations at hotels, with later articles stating Licensing Commission inspectors were "instructed to give particular attention to fire escapes in hotels" and "told there must be no obstruction to escapes and the number should be sufficient for the safety of occupants".

The hotel was eventually rebuilt in 1942 and stands as the centrepiece of Goomeri's main street today, but the horror of December 23, 1939 is never far from the minds of staff and community members alike.

 

Emma and Sally outside Room 11 of Joe's Grand Hotel in Goomeri.
Emma and Sally outside Room 11 of Joe's Grand Hotel in Goomeri. Troy Jegers

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Talk of ghosts roaming the hotel's halls after dark has added a spooky sheen on the story, but none in Goomeri show disrespect.

Seventy-nine years on, the fire and its victims has maintained a tragic yet important place in Gympie region history.

Gympie Times


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