A duel between a publican’s pet death adder and a prospector’s dog was among the tales author Scott Whitaker uncovered from the gold mining town of Ravenswood.
The Railway Hotel at Ravenswood had its beginnings in 1886 and still trades today.
“Gold was discovered on the Ravenswood Pastoral Run in 1869. A rush ensued and by 1893, some 50 hotels were serving a population of 5000 people,” Whitaker said. “But by 1917 the rush was over and the population had declined to about 200.”
The Railway Hotel was established by Mr E A Hawkins to coincide with the arrival of the railway from Ravenswood Junction (now Mingela) on the Townsville to Charters Towers line.
“At first the pub was a modest wooden structure that was relocated to the other side of the street to allow for an expansion of a nearby gold mine,” Whitaker said.
John Moran, born near Sunbury in Victoria, came to the Ravenswood goldfields in 1885 and acquired the pub in 1898.
He had it rebuilt in 1902 as a two-storey brick structure complete with ornate verandas.
Whitaker describes the publican as a remarkable man who could communicate with ease with the indigenous people of the area in their own language.
He also had an interest in snakes.
“A compassionate man, John’s interest in snakes was aroused when he accompanied a friend and their five-year-old child into the bush and the small one was fatally bitten,” he said.
“John felt there must be some way of identifying the poison and making an antidote. He used to milk the snakes with spoon and send it down to Brisbane for research purposes.”
Moran kept a 5m carpet snake as a pet and it was allowed to meander about the hotel freely.
“Naturally, all the venomous snakes he had were held in captivity, however, he did tell people he kept death adders in his safe to help protect his money,” Whitaker said.
“But what most came to see were the two death adders in a glass case on the bar counter.
“One day an old prospector came into the bar accompanied by a dog that was covered in red mud. Calling for a drink, the prospector remarked, ‘I suppose the sting has been removed?’ ‘Put your finger in and see,’ was the curt reply.
“An argument followed, the prospector remarking he had never seen one of those things yet that his dog could not get.”
Little time was lost in arranging a match for £5 a side, the condition being that the owner of the dog was to hold him until Moran got the death adder into a temper.
“The ring was the middle of the street in front of the hotel, while the audience comprised between 600 and 700 miners to whom the news of the match quickly spread,” Whitaker said.
“At the word ‘Go!’ the fox terrier darted at the adder, who reared to strike; the dog grabbed the snake, gave it a shake, and tossed it into the crowd, and, as one man said ‘We got at top speed’.
“However, the fox terrier won, and the owner collected the £5 from a very crest-fallen man. According to John’s daughter, the fox terrier died later that night.”
Whitaker said he had been assisted in his research by Moran’s great granddaughter.
Margaret Lewis, from Melbourne, contacted him with valuable family history details after reading of his Railway Hotel hunt in The Age.