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History

A rich history in the heart of Mount Isa

The Mount Isa Hotel (now known as Isa Hotel)

The Isa & Redearth Hotels are pillars in Mount Isa history, dating back to the early 1900s. Starting back with the establishment of Mount Isa Mines in January 1924, Mount Isa was transformed from a network of miner’s camps into a community.

It was the year commerce began in earnest, and the community began making important investments in infrastructure. This included accommodation, a general store, a school and a hospital.

In 1926 the now-known Isa Hotel was built on the corner of Miles and Marian Street, by Samuel Allens and his team of tradesmen.

Early Mount Isa mining cottages in the 1930s

The hotel originally boasted coffee and dining rooms, a saloon bar and lounge, and a billiard room on the ground floor, with twenty-three bedrooms with balconies upstairs, and stables and a garage at the rear. The grand opening was in September of 1926 with a man named Harry Smith as manager.

Smith went on to install an ice plant to supply the needs of the hotel and the public. The availability of ice allowed several refreshment rooms to be opened, selling cool drinks and ice cream in the blistering heat of the summer.

Locally known as the ‘Top Pub’ or Smith’s Pub the hotel was later named ‘Mount Isa Hotel’. With the extreme heat and social atmosphere, it is no wonder Mount Isa also held the record for the highest consumption of beer amongst similar towns in the Commonwealth.

Aerial View of Mount Isa in the 1950s

In October 1929, the price of beer became an issue in Mount Isa. A group self-named the Beer Strike Committee demanded a 25% reduction in the price of drinks, calling for a boycott of the bars. They picketed the only 2 hotels in town, the Argent Hotel and Mount Isa Hotel.

The boycott lasted just over 6 months, ending with Norm Smith’s introduction of the “tallies” to Mount Isa in May 1930.

In October 1933, Mount Isa Mines shut down the entire plant, permanently terminating production. The shutdown had a devastating effect on workers, their families and the wider community. Around 1,400 people were out of work, and essentially stranded in Mount Isa.

The lucky ones were able to secure train tickets, and Mount Isa quickly came to resemble a ghost town. For those who stayed, the Mount Isa Hotel became the main watering hole for meals, and beer. While the Mount Isa Hotel and Argent hotel saw a roaring trade in the beginning, the gloom soon deepened when both ran out of beer.

The mine re-opened in January 1934, and the town slowly began to return to its normal pace of life. In 1949 accommodation options at the Mount Isa Hotel ranged from a casual nightly rate, to a weekly rate for permanent board.

The bullring, a square wooden floor area located just off the saloon bar, was initially built to provide ventilation to the centre of the large hotel building, but quickly became a makeshift boxing ring, where many arguments were settled with flying fists.

During 1949-1952 the price of lead had sky-rocketed, and the money was being poured back into Mount Isa by the way of 57 new businesses.

One of these was Boyd’s Hotel, build by James Boyd, which we now know as the RedEarth Boutique Hotel.

Redearth Boutique Hotel in early days, when it was still named Boyd's Hotel

Boyd’s Hotel which took 2 years to build, at a cost of over £100,000 and opened its doors for the first time at 2pm on Friday November 16th 1951. By 5pm the bar was crowded with an influx of townsfolk and mine workers, and by 7pm the beer had run dry.

The third hotel in Mount Isa at the time, Boyd’s Hotel was built to serve the ever-growing, ever-thirsty township. Between April and October, 1953, 456 arrests were made in Mount Isa, with the majority constituting public order offences.

It was estimated that there were between 500 to 600 people in each of the hotel bars on any given Saturday night, with approximately 700 gallons of beer consumed per hotel.

Boyd’s Hotel was known as ‘the hotel with a reading lamp on every bed and hot water in every room’ - luxuries unknown in the west at the time. While Boyd’s Hotel was considered a fine new establishment, the same cannot be said for the Pluto Bar and Lounge located at the back of Boyd’s Hotel.

Mount Isa Rodeo Grounds in 1959

Infamous throughout the 1970’s, it was known to locals as the “Snakepit”. This rough-and-ready watering hole got its nickname through popular slang at the time. In the 1970s, a popular term for borrowing money was to “bite you a quid” with those who owed money being “on the bite”.

The Snakepit was known to all as a place filled with people “on the bite”, often indulging in vast amounts of liquor, with many trying to borrow money from anyone who walked through the door.

Following James Boyd’s death, his son Marshall Boyd inherited and ran the hotel for many years, succeeded by his son Graham. Boyd’s Hotel sold in late 2006 to another Mount Isa family owned and operated business – The Hakfoort Group, who had purchased the Mount Isa hotel four years prior.

Renovations started straight away to develop the Queenslander-style building into a boutique 4.5 star hotel. The Hakfoort Group was a family owned and operated group with hotels across Queensland. Shortly after purchasing the hotels, refurbishment to add 26 new rooms (bringing capacity to 40 guest rooms) and updating the d├ęcor and surroundings.

In early 2018 Waymark Hotels, a privately-owned Australian hotel and property group, acquired the Redearth Boutique Hotel, Isa Hotel and Liquor Warehouse.

Waymark's corporate heritage has been built over a period of more than 60 years, originating in the Northern Territory and Queensland outbacks. Waymark Hotels has been leading projects that have brought vital infrastructure and amenities to communities since the 1950’s.

Mount Isa today

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