The night Gympie lost one of its most famous landmarks
I WAS nine years old when I saw one of Gympie's most historic landmarks, the old Northumberland Hotel in Channon St, burn to the ground.
It was the early hours of Tuesday, January 21, 1969 and, 50 years later, I still vividly recall my mother waking me and my five siblings with the words, "Don't be frightened but there's a very big fire down the road.”
Of course, we were frightened but excitement overcame fear as my parents walked us down the hill from our Henry St house to the corner of Alfred and King Sts.
From there we watched in a kind of horrified fascination as towering flames tore through the majestic two-storey hotel just a stone's throw up the road.
Even from that distance, we could feel the warmth from the fire on our faces and hear, above the roar of the inferno, the windows of the police station opposite the hotel exploding in the intense heat.
It was - and still is - the biggest fire I've seen at such close range.
The Gympie Times of the day, late off the press because of fire damage to power mains in the area, published this report:
"The fire broke out shortly after 1am this morning and within minutes the rambling two-storey hotel became a raging inferno. Occupants of the hotel fled from the building in their night attire. No one was injured. Intense heat caused damage to the police station opposite the hotel.
"Sgt M. Creedy, who was on duty at the time of the fire, said that the two-way radio unit began to melt and he removed it to the rear of the building.
"The roof of the police station threatened to catch fire and firemen had to train hoses on the eaves as they began to smoulder.
"Power lines came down in the blaze and power and telephone lines, both beside the hotel and across the street, caught fire from top to bottom.
"Occupants of the hotel were the owners, Mr and Mrs Bob Garrett, and their 15-year-old son, Dennis, two boarders and a hotel employee. Mr Garrett has been licensee of the hotel for the past three-and-a-half years and Mrs Garrett said she believed that the fire might have started somewhere on the top floor.”
On Thursday, January 23, The Gympie Times followed up with this report:
"Licensee of the burnt-out Northumberland Hotel, Mr Bob Garrett, said yesterday that he had not yet made any plans for the future. He said that he was looking into the costs of establishing a temporary bar, but as yet, the future is undecided. He salvaged little from the ruins.
"The hotel safe, still smouldering at midday on Tuesday was lifted by crane into the police station that afternoon. It will be opened sometime today although it is expected that the contents will be badly damaged. About $80 and all Mr Garrett's personal papers were in the safe. Valuable stamp collections belonging to Mrs Garrett and her son, Dennis were also among the contents as was part of Dennis's rare coin collection.
"The Garrett family are staying at the Royal Hotel and Mr Garrett said the insurance assessors had classed the building as a complete write-off. The hotel and contents were insured for $46,000. Bar stock was not insured and was valued at $2000.
"An early model Holden car which was badly damaged in Tuesday morning's blaze was parked near the garage in the yard of the police station. Its nearside tyres suddenly burst into flames during the fire. These were extinguished but fire broke out afresh in the rear upholstery about two hours later. The car was privately owned and was not insured.”
The Northumberland Hotel was rebuilt as a brick building and reopened in 1971.
In 2009 it was purchased by Gympie Regional Council and now houses the council's planning department.