History of Sedger’s Reef Hotel - (formerly North Head Hotel)
It has always been said that the heart of a village is centred around the church, the surgery or the pub. Sometimes all three, a combination of two, or just one. We have only found the one here in Iluka – The Sedger’s Reef Hotel.
In searching for any history of the pub we came across a wonderful piece written Russell Bellamy of the Iluka History Group:
It seems quite reasonable to assume that the combination of wooden structures, fuel stoves, lamps and alcohol may have resulted in the succession of fiery disasters which have occurred in Iluka over a period of time.
As so often happened, two of Iluka’s hotels which had previously been built on the site of the present Sedger’s Reef Hotel have burned to the ground. There has been a hotel at this site since 1874, making the present hotel the longest continuously operating business in Iluka. John Rush was granted the original licence for a hotel, known as the North Head Hotel, in 1874 (CRE 30.6.1874).
The original building was constructed high up on the edge of the river bank before the town was surveyed (Lands Department Town Design Plan, 1875). It had eight rooms plus a detached kitchen (CRE 1.7.1876). Another building with a store room and extra bedrooms was built a little later (CRE 1.7.1876). Later, when the town was surveyed and a design laid out, Queen Street was placed right through the original building.
In 1875, the first land sale occurred at Iluka and John Rush purchased land immediately behind the site of the hotel (CRE 12.10.1875), presumably to relocate and rectify the building site problem.
A survey, c1886, showed the hotel buildings inside the boundaries of the property purchased by Rush (shown in Sir John Coode's plans for river training works).
Early in the 20th century, a newspaper report of unknown origin recorded memories of a recent visit to the Iluka Hotel as follows:
There is an old-established hotel at Iluka, kept by Mr John Rush (brother of Michael Rush, of sculling fame) where the accommodation is superior to that generally found in such small places, and Mrs Rush leaves no stone unturned to secure the comfort of visitors. The writer ... hopes that his first holiday there will not be the last.
This report refers to the wreck of the "Phoenix" some fifty years earlier. The "Phoenix" was wrecked in 1852. From this, it can be concluded that the report was written c1902.
ANNIE THERESE RUSH recalled at the age of 101:
I was born at the North Head Hotel Iluka in 1892, the youngest of ten children. Father was a hotel keeper and fisherman. We lived in the Hotel which my parents owned, so after the takings were counted on the bed, we children used to look around for any stray coins and we always found something.
The hotel was purchased by John McKittrick in 1912 (CRE 30.11.1912). Harry Meskall was the licensee (CRE 21.6.1913). McKittrick was the first Mayor of South Grafton in 1897. He also owned a large general store there and traded throughout the Clarence Valley using his river steamers, the Iolanthe and Bosker.
He was interested in seeing Iluka prosper and was helpful in promoting fishing excursions and acquired other properties in the town.
A much later newspaper report confirms that the hotel sold to McKittrick was a twin gabled structure as in the photograph above (DEx 26.9.1991).
By 1916, McKittrick had rebuilt the hotel, producing a much grander two story premises (CRE 30.9.1916).
The main part of this building was destroyed by fire in 1921. Only the stables, billiard room, and staff cottage were saved (CRE 17.11.1921).
Another hotel was constructed at the same site and opened in 1923 (CRE 16.5.1923). It was designed by F W C (Frederick) Schaeffer of Grafton (CRE 16.2.1922). Construction was by Edward Crispin (carpentry) and F Manly (brickwork) (CRE 1.7.1922). Frank Clarke was then the licensee (CRE 16.5.1923).
Below is a ‘pub’ story from the memoirs of Linda Payne, born in Iluka in 1904, written in 1988:
Beer for the hotel was taken off the ships onto a pontoon. It was then taken by boat to the riverbank. I remember the men pushing the beer barrels up the bank to the hotel. I don’t think anyone would do that now as the work would be considered too difficult.
Electric lights were installed in this grand hotel in 1926 (CRE 21.12.1926). However, it too was destroyed by fire a year later in 1927 (CRE 28.5.1927) and a temporary bar was established (CRE 24.6.1927).
Iluka resident, Mr Jack Tonkin recalled:
The Pub here had a good reputation too. It was built by the Rushs and commercial travelers would always save up their time and spend spare days at the North Head Hotel. In the 1920s the Pub had a name all over Australia, the most popular thing about the Pub was the oysters they would serve. The prices were good too – a shilling for bed and meals.
In 1928 another new North Head Hotel was constructed by C. Irvine (NS 6.8.1928) to a design by F. J. Board of Lismore (CRE 7.1.1928). This time it was a single story building. The owner was still John McKittrick who had wanted only seven public bedrooms but the Licensing Court insisted on eight (CRE 7.1.1928). The Licensee was George Veall (CRE 19.1.1928).
The next photograph shows the North Head Hotel at a slightly later stage. Note that the palm tree in front has grown taller since the previous photo was taken!
Under McKittrick's ownership, the hotel had a series of licensees. These included William Colburn (CRE 4.4.1914) and William Slocombe.
Herbert Raymond (Mick) Price was recorded as the property owner in 1935 (CT 313-12).
In 1952, Cecil Sedger took over as manager and subsequently became the property owner in 1958 (CT 6625-140).
Around that time, the hotel gained a reputation with the local fishermen as a great place for a drink before embarking on a fishing expedition.
Indeed, numerous fishing expeditions floundered there as anglers spent all day ‘fishing’ at “Sedger’s Reef” and had to duck into the local fish co-op and actually buy a couple of fish before making their way home.
The hotel’s fame as an ‘angler’s nirvana’ spread and tourists began to ask the locals where they could find this wonderful fishing spot. The name stuck and it soon became widely and affectionately known as “Sedger’s Reef.”
The hotel has seen many changes since then including the addition of a public bar. The licensee in 1979 was John Hood.
Ces Sedger pulling the last beer of the night under the watchful eye of Athol Boyle.
Finally, after more than 30 years of management by the Sedger family, the name was officially changed from the North Head Hotel to Sedger’s Reef Hotel in 1983.
In 1984, the property ownership was placed in the hands of Florence Coral Sedger after her husband’s death (CT 6625-140). The property remained in the hands of the Mrs Sedger until 1991 when it was transmissioned to Colleen Hood and Leslie James Everingham (CT 6625-140).
During the property ownership by Hood and Everingham, there were several short term business owners. These are detailed in a report obtained from the Liquor Administration Board and held by the Iluka History Group (LAB, 2015).
Robin Francis Gilmore was the hotel licensee from 1997 to 2003 (LAB, 2015).
William Owen McGeary and his wife Marie are recorded as the property owners of Sedger’s Reef in 1999 (CT 5/2/758525).
By 2000, the McGearys and Robin Gilmore had also become business owners (LAB, 2015) and the planning began for a new hotel shortly after this.
Desma Coombes has identified the patrons in the photograph below as (left to right) Ivan Boyle, John Collis, Jack Elliott, Studie Marsh, Bill Hammond, and Bruce Paddon. These gentlemen were good friends and enjoyed meeting at the hotel. Desma is the daughter of Bill Hammond.
Rowena Drew became the hotel’s licensee in 2008 and remains in this position today (2015) (LAB, 2015).
Sedger’s Reef Hotel 2014
In January, 2015, the 1928 hotel still stands. However, negotiations are progressing and it is hoped that a new hotel will finally become a reality in the near future.
A PUB STORY:
There’s a story about Sergeant Jack Corden, the local Yamba policeman in the 1960’s. He was was bitten by a dog in Yamba so, to be on the safe side, he went to Dr. Bellamy the local GP at that time for a tetanus injection just before Dr Bellamy was to set off on his rounds to Iluka. Dr Bellamy said, “Jack if you’re going to Iluka, don’t get wrecked on Sedger's Reef [the hotel]. No drinks until after 2.00pm.” Apparently it was not a good idea to drink after such an injection. “No worries Doc,” Jack replied. The doctor and his son went over to Iluka later that day and arrived at the Sedger's Reef Hotel about 11.00 am – always the first stop for a quick beer. There, on the floor in the bar, was Jack just coming to. “You were right, Doc. I only had a couple of beers and I did get wrecked on Sedger’s Reef!”
CRE - Clarence and Richmond Examiner.
CT - Certificate of Title.
DEx - Daily Examiner.
LAB - Liquor Administration Board of NSW Licence History Sheet.
NS - Northern Star.
This evening, things at the pub are still going strong.
ALL IN ALL A CORKER
LONG MAY THE HEART BEAT