The History of the Marree Hotel
(formerly, The Great Northern Hotel)
The town of Marree was surveyed in October 1883 and proclaimed a town on 20th October the same year. The railway was open for traffic on 7th February 1884, after which the town became an important railhead.
The hotel was built at much the same time. Historian Lois Litchfield notes of the hotel:
“In 1883 when the town was surveyed the hotel dimensions were recorded as being ‘a substantial stone two-storey building, eighty-three feet by forty-six feet in area. The bar room nineteen feet by twenty- two feet, larger than the dining room of seventeen feet.”
“Upstairs were fourteen bedrooms and bathroom, also an annexe with eight extra bedrooms, each having one or more air-brick openings to draw the heated air. There was a large billard room and balcony. At the back of the hotel there were stone stables comprising eight stalls and loosebox and an underground tank of 20,000 gallons.”
John Charles Luscombe, a well- known northern identity who at one time was the lessee of the Standpipe Hotel in Port Augusta, had the first lease taken out on the Hotel. On November 1884 the rooms were described as being “…large, lofty, well furnished with the luxury of a bath to indulge in and a pleasant siesta on the balcony afterward to enjoy the cool evening breeze when it blows.”
Indeed in 1885 a report appeared in the South Australian Advertiser newspaper written by a weary traveller whose train had arrived late in Marree.
“I made my way in The Great Northern Hotel, the proprietor of which is Mr C Chapple. This Hotel can only be described as palatial in appearance and comfortable inside. I was told to look for a hotel the size of the York in Rundle Street, Adelaide, but I was fairly startled when I caught the first glimpse of the Great Northern, which does not belie its name. Like monuments in a desert it rears its lofty head high above other buildings, and can be seen by travellers a mile away from the dreary plain. The hotel was crowded when I arrived by a motley collection of men. In the passage way the “superior” lodgers of the house were amusing themselves in various ways.”
In April 1890 the mortgagee foreclosed on Petters and Barker and John Armstrong became the owner. He died in 1892 and his executors David Fortheringham, share broker from Adelaide and Alexander Low, sheep farmer of Yakilo, took over the property in 1897. It passed to William Armstrong Renwick in 1899 and, after his death in 1899, his executors William Muir, Charles H. Winnal and his widow Johanna M.A. Renwick, managed it. Between 1927 and 1939 Winnal, Johanna and John S. Malone managed the property. Eugene G. McMahon and Ada E. Naughton became part- owners and the family retained ownership of the hotel until 1989. Since then owners have included Jojola Pty Ltd (1989) and Douglas and Betty Stuart (1990).
Innumerable travellers have used the hotel, many associated with important expeditions and groups, which have passed through Marree. It has also been the social centre of the town and the centre of the commercial area. The building continues to be used as a hotel and the business is now thriving.
In October, 2021, Arid Air – scenic flight operators, Phil & Maria van Wegen purchased the hotel and the lease and with their passion for outback tourism, makes this a perfect combination.
This is a simple, vernacular – Victorian style building of two storeys. The exterior is well detailed, with ground floor window arch keystones, which are proud. The roof form is hipped and gabled and windows are double hung sash. The building is a very solid structure of sandstone. The roof is of corrugated galvanized iron and there is a cantilevered front floor balcony. (Railway track iron has since been placed under the front balcony as posts).