31 March 2023

Here's cheers to 175 years of raising a glass on the Moruya River

| Zoe Cartwright
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People at benches near a river

People have been sharing a round on the Moruya River for almost 200 years. Photo: Moruya Waterfront Hotel.

If you’ve stopped to savour a beer – or two – at a pub on the Moruya River, you might be surprised to learn you’ve taken part in a tradition that’s almost 200 years old.

The Plough Inn was first licensed in 1848, although it’s possible beer and liquor were being brewed and sold – ahem – off the record well before that time.

It’s been through many iterations since, including as the Criterion and the Pearly Shells, but is now best known as the Waterfront Hotel Moruya.

South Coast author Suzanne Newnham is researching a book about the pub’s history, due in part to her own connection with the establishment.

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“My father was looking for a hotel or motel on the South Coast, and heard about the old Criterion,” she said.

“It only had two weeks left on its licence, so he bought it, suspended the licence for six months, rebuilt and resumed the licence – so it’s been continuous since 1848.”

In memory of her father, who has since passed away, Ms Newnham began to research the history of the hotel, and was amazed at its long history.

She’s hoping to have her book published – or very close to it – in time for the 175th anniversary on 15 December this year.

To bring the pub’s history to life she’s looking for anecdotes and stories from locals about their family connections to the watering hole.

“It’s been there for so long, and I’ve heard stories about floods and fires when it always seems to operate as a community centre, as we saw in the Black Summer fires,” she said.

Three of the Moruya pub's iterations

Three of the Moruya pub’s iterations – the Criterion in 1881, the Pearly Shells and the Moruya Waterfront. Photo: Suzanne Newnham.

“It’s not the first time the hotel has provided emergency shelter not just to people, but horses and livestock too.

“The granite wall of the fireplace, that’s from when the quarry was open and two of the original stonemasons are believed to have fashioned the fireplace.

“To have that feature within a building so long after the quarry had closed, that was really wonderfully surprising information.

“Given its location, the steamships and other ships would have berthed at the wharf near the quarry, so in the early days for people travelling to Moruya and the goldfields the pub was likely their first point of commercial contact, to find out what was happening, rest and get their supplies in town before they continued on.

“I’m hoping some of the families may be able to elaborate.”

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Ms Newnham is looking for all stories, great and small, about what the hotel was like in yesteryear.

That could include family of those who stopped in there on their travels, or the family of those who worked behind the bar or in the hotel.

The information doesn’t need to be extensive – every little bit helps.

“With the stories I’m looking for some people might say, ‘Well, my grandmother worked as a laundress, but I don’t know much more, there’s nothing really to say’,” Ms Newnham explained.

“But what would it have been like in the laundry at that time? Before washing machines, what was that like?

“People don’t have to be a great writer, just provide a few lines of their story and I’m happy to help them edit it.

“Photographs are also really useful.”

She’s already had plenty of help from descendants of the Criterion’s publicans, who were able to provide information about individual licensees going back to the Plough Inn in 1848.

Scholars from the Australian National University were able to provide records of invoices, receipts, schedules of work and correspondence from 1938 up until the 1970s.

The Moruya Historical Society has also provided a great deal of information and assistance.

“People have been quite generous with their time and their memories,” Ms Newnham said.

If you’re able to share any information about the history of the pub formerly known as the Plough Inn, contact Ms Newnham.

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Joanne Allen7:09 am 05 Apr 23

Wonderful that you are putting together the history of this iconic place in Moruya. I have the original receipt for the sale when it was purchased from the Criterion and became the Pearly Shells and will pass it on to you.

SuzanneNewnham3:32 pm 13 Apr 23

That’s wonderful, thanks very much Joanne. I’m looking forward to seeing such an important document 🙂 If you contact me via https://www.suzanne-newnham.com I can let you know how to send me a photograph of the receipt. Enjoy your day cheers Suzanne

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