The fire that recently destroyed the historic Grand Hotel in Hughenden is thought to have been deliberately lit, ending an era for the Queensland town in an all too familiar way.
Around 9:40pm on Friday 16 November, emergency services were called to the old pub, on the corner of Stansfield and Grey Streets, Hughenden – a town of around 1,000 people, 400 kilometres inland from Townsville.
Built in 1910, the two-storey timber Hotel embodied classic Queensland Federation styling, and was added to the heritage register in 2007 – despite the fact that it had not traded since 2004.
Previous owner Max Wallis sought to tear it down to build a motel, but this was ruled out by the heritage listing. He sold it to Flinders Shire Council in 2008.
The building had fallen into disrepair, and unwelcome visitors increasingly patronised the place. Council say they did “everything in their power” to stop people entering, including recently replacing wire fencing with boarding.
A few months’ ago Council began the project to revive the building, creating Conservation Management Plans ahead of works to make the structure safe, before inevitably applying for grant funding.
Arriving to find the Hotel engulfed, fire crews were unable to save it. Police declared a crime scene and an ongoing investigation suggests the fire was no accident, although the exact cause has not yet been revealed.
A neighbouring home and adjacent business were also damaged by the fire, and SES workers took the precaution of evacuating surrounding properties, but thankfully no-one was injured.
Flinders Shire Mayor Jane McNamara says its loss is felt by the Hughenden community, which has been here before.
“It’s very sad for the community … it’s very sad for the region that we’ve lost an iconic landmark.
“It was built at the height of the importance of Hughenden as a wool and railway town, and was the last of many hotels in Hughenden, which have tragically all suffered the same fate.”
The fate of the site and its heritage-listed debris remains to be determined, with Council consulting the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.