Claudia Prasser and Christie Clayton enjoy a drink at Hotel Corones in Charleville.
Claudia Prasser and Christie Clayton enjoy a drink at Hotel Corones in Charleville. Adam Head

Best pubs in Queensland: Relic of a glorious past

ATHENS has the Parthenon and Charleville has Corones - and anyone tempted to snigger at the comparison has no idea what life was like in Queensland's wild west when wool was a "pound for a pound”.

With a 63m frontage and what was once reputed to be the longest bar in the Southern Hemisphere, Corones is much like the Acropolis - a towering relic of a glorious past.

Charleville old timer George Balsillie, "pushing 80,” is a living witness to the days when Queensland was economically inverted, with the wealth and power contained within the interior while Brisbane fed off the scraps.

George arrived in Charleville in 1953 to complete his schooling when he was 14-years-old and stayed put, watching the pub and the town fading from their glory days yet retaining an enormous affections for both.

"It's sad in a way - we'll never see those days again,” he says.

Corones was conceived in one of the most robust economic climates Queensland has ever experienced as, in the early 20th Century, Charleville's growing power as an agricultural centre fused with its geography as the western rail terminus.

Into one of the wealthiest communities in the state walked Harry "Poppa'' Corones, the Greek immigrant and fruiterer with a ferocious work ethic whose vision for Western Queensland appeared infinite.

Harry's legacy is deeply entangled in Queensland history - he even hosted dinners for Sir Hudson Fysh as Fysh and others hammered out plans to create the airline which became Qantas.

Harry even came up with the idea to draw on Greek mythology when naming first Qantas aircraft, which went by names such as "Pegasus.''

The energetic young Greek's popularity caught the eye of a Brisbane brewery executive who is widely reputed to have helped set him up in a pub.

Hotel Corones on Wills Streets in Charleville.
Hotel Corones on Wills Streets in Charleville. Lachie Millard

By 1924 that pub began morphing into one of the most impressive hotels ever built in the state with a massive dining room catering for 150 people, Roman Mosaic floors, stained glass windows and even cutting edge communications facilities in the shape of a phone booth.

It was completed in 1929, just as the Great Depression crashed the economy, but Charleville only paused for breath before gathering pace during the war time economy.

The Korean War underwrote an even more extraordinary period of prosperity in the early 1950s as wool was widely reputed to have sold (before the decimal currency arrived in 1966) at "a pound for a pound.''

George remembers a hotel that catered for wealthy graziers, some of whom appeared to have permanent suites at the hotel, while famous visitors walked the corridors, including aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Nancy Bird as well as members of Royalty such as the Duke of Gloucester.

But George also remembers working people were more than welcome in a hotel which he still sees as a symbol of not merely fading prosperity, but a long lost way of life.

As a young bloke in his late teens, he and his mates would often break the law prohibiting alcohol to anyone under 21.

"There was a cop, we called him Scarface, and when we'd nip over the road from the picture show at half time to sneak a few beers he'd always sort of deliberately run into you in the bar, and he'd just stand there smiling at you,'' George recalls.

"And he'd say, 'if you don't cause any trouble, I won't give you any trouble, make sure you just have a one beer then get the hell out here.''

George recalls most young blokes did as they were told, and while he's reluctant to over romanticise the past, he does miss it.

"It really was a different world then,'' he says.

"Now we have that drug out here in parts of Western Queensland - ice I think they call it.''

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