52 Pubs in 52 Weeks: The Railway Hotel
Is The Railway your favourite pub in FNQ? Vote now at cairns.com.au/52pubs
IT IS no secret that Queenslanders love an underdog. And when it comes to the watering holes of the Far North, there is no greater underdog than the Railway Hotel. Watch our final audio slideshow.
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Perched on the corner of McLeod and Shields streets, across the road from Cairns Central shopping centre, it was long considered a corner to avoid.
But three years ago siblings Wyatt and Jared Lemke purchased the pub and since then have set about restoring it to its former glory and upgrading its image to reflect the 75 years it has stood on this Cairns corner.
Kelly Job started at the Railway as a cleaner four years ago, but worked her way up through the ranks to duty manager.
"It actually used to be my local," she said. "I just love liaising with the customers. It’s definitely got
Ms Job tells the story of Dorothy "Dotti" Darwen, the 87-year-old bar maid and institution who can still be found serving up a cold stubbie on a Sunday afternoon.
A formidable woman, Dotti, used to brandish a stick behind the bar in her younger days to ward off unruly patrons.
"They’ve actually named the beer garden after her. She’s a very much loved member of the community," Ms Job said.
Sticks and stones are no longer the tools of the trade for the current employees, though, and bartender Jessica Raikuna said she would come to the pub even if they weren’t paying her wages.
"When I go to other bars and drink, I just want to come back to the Railway," she said.
The qualified hairdresser moved to Cairns about 18 months ago and was sitting across the street one day when she saw the "staff wanted" poster going up in the window.
"(What I like best about it is) all the people I get to work with on both sides of the bar and just the lifestyle of it," she said.
Part of the Lemkes’ makeover has included the second floor of the historic building, constructing a new veranda, adding a Queenslander-style corrugated iron roof and upgrading the accommodation.
Rob Robinson travels back and forth from Cairns for work and has been using the Railway as his Far North base for the past 15 years.
"Every night (I’m here) I’ll come down for a beer," he said. "It’s really that type of hotel now; it’s very family oriented. There’s always people coming in with their kids."
Once a hardened working man’s hotel, there has been a subtle shift in the clientele that frequent its interior, according to Kowanyama dancer Mary Jane Holness, who comes back to the pub whenever she returns home from Sydney.
"You meet various different people, from different cultures and different countries," she said.
"I’m 44 now and I’ve been coming here since I was 18. It’s a real meeting place and I think it should be heritage-listed."
It was the sense of familiarity that brought Royal Flying Doctors nurse Lee Masters back too.
"Most of the people that come down from the islands come here and I know a lot of them (from work), so I feel safe here, especially in the evenings" she said.
"But there’s lots of tourists coming in now, even just from Cairns Central, I’ve met a lot of tourists here."
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Loads of character: Emma Wilcox plays pool at the Railway Hotel opposite Cairns Central. Inset: Kaia Takarua is all smiles behind the pubís bar counter. Pictures: BRENDAN FRANCIS