The centre of a country town is often the local pub, and Camden has had many such establishments. They may conjure the image of farmers and labourers quenching the thirst of a day’s labour with a beer, but in country towns the pub is more than a watering hole.
In the early days of the colony when the land was still wild and undeveloped, many of these establishments would have been sly grog shops, unlicensed premises that catered to travellers. As land grants and townships developed, many of these became licensed, but to a large extent still served a similar function as accommodation and a spot for some recuperation before continuing a long and hard journey. As they became licensed and towns developed around them they began to serve as meeting places for community groups and locals as well as travellers. During the first two years of the town, one of the rooms in The Camden Inn even held court petty sessions, until the then licensee, Joseph Goodlucke, complained that it got in the way of the business (Wrigely, 2007).
They were, as would be expected, the site of some drama as well. The Camden Inn provides one of the best documented dramas of tavern history in the area. The second licensee, John Lakeman, was ‘a bloody big-headed bugger’ as described by one of his contemporaries. He had a clear disdain for any authority that wasn’t his own, having little respect for magistrates and police, choosing instead to administer his own ideals of ‘justice’. This lead to many quarrels with both customers and employees. He once nearly strangled a man for a ‘nobbler’ of whiskey, and immediately fired one of his employees, Margaret Little, after finding her under her bed with a half-dressed man (Atkinson, 1999). In 1855 the full extent of his nature was displayed, when he was involved in a notorious rape case and sentenced to serve his term in Cockatoo Island Prison in Sydney Harbour (Wrigley, 2007).
Many of the establishments that serviced Camden are still operational. But some have not survived the changing times. The Woolpack Inn, built in 1853, was located on the corner of Argyle and John Street. It was by all accounts a handsome building, and was only used as a Hotel and Inn until 1868, when it was re-purposed as the Camden branch of the Bank of NSW (Oliveri, 2009). Like many pubs it hosted meetings for community groups, and one of the regular meetings was for The Southern Cross Masonic Centre. The building received a make over in 1882, the most notable feature being its striking entrance way. Unfortunately the building was demolished in 1936, with the only remaining part of the building being two pillars from the main entrance that were used as a gate at Camelot.
Of the inns that have survived many are now receiving make overs. Some of these include the Camden Valley Inn’s motel extension, the Plough and Harrow being renovated and returning to its original name from the Argyle Inn, as well as the Crown Hotel. With as many tales to tell as there are visitors, the hotels and inns of Camden will remain a centre for story telling and community for a very long time.
Atkinson, A. ( 1999). Inns of the West. Back Then. The District Reporter.
Oliveri, R. (2009). The Woolpack Inn-a handsome building. Back Then. The District Reporter.
Wrigley, J. (2007). Inns and hotels-from rest spots to petty session courts. Back Then. The District Reporter.
Thompson, S. (2012). Watering hole’s revival. The Macarthur Chronicle.