by Jenny Golding
Updated 23 March 2023
Dardanup’s popular and historic hotel, quietly dominating Charlotte Street, opened in June 1905 and is the second built on that site, the third tavern to grace the town. It is with pride and affection that locals refer to it simply as “the Dardy”.
In Federation Free Style, it is a single-storey brick building with a corrugated iron roof. The hotel replaces the weather-board and iron Wayside Inn, opened in March 1895, which burnt to the ground on the night of 28 December 1904. That Inn replaced a small, typically Irish pub in what is now Venn Road, when that road was used by travellers, by horse or on foot, between Bunbury and Dardanup.
Ellen Coonan (nee Brennan), wife, mother and eventually licensee was the link to all three.
Irish families settled in Dardanup from around the 1850s and it was Irish-born men, Thomas Coonan and his son Michael Coonan, who established the original Inn on their 80-acre property in Venn Road.
Ellen was the daughter of early settlers, Irish-born couple, Peter Brennan and Patience (Maguire) Brennan. She was born in Wonnerup but her parents, with friends in Dardanup, became residents there before her mother’s death in 1863.
Ellen was twenty-one years of age when she married Michael in 1881 at Dardanup, destined to raise eight children in the little Inn in which she honed her business skills.
In the Southern Times of Tuesday 11 December 1888, the Annual Licensing Meeting of December 3 was reported. Michael Coonan, farmer at Dardanup had applied for a license for the sale of Wine and Beer. His application was supported by ‘a memorial numerously and influentially signed, and was granted, subject to the completion of two additional rooms now in the course of construction, and which Inspector Back was requested to inspect before first of January next.‘
Enterprising and hard-working, Michael and Ellen realized that the burgeoning timber industry in Wellington Mills and the Ferguson Valley and the establishment of the Dardanup Railway Station and timber yards in Charlotte Street would attract many workers to the area. They were quick to take up the land on the corner of Charlotte and Doolan Streets, to build the Wayside Inn and to transfer the licence from their original Irish Inn.
At its opening in 1895, a lavish lunch was served “with tasteful adornment of the tables”. Mr George Forrest, chairperson, testified to “the civility and kindness accorded to visitors by Mr and Mrs Coonan at the old Dardanup Inn”. He also acknowledged that “the sole management of the business was now left to Mrs Coonan” in whom he had confidence. Illness prevented Michael from attending the luncheon.
The licence was in Michael’s name when the timber Inn was opened but, as already expressed, Ellen was recognised as the publican. Timber mills thrived, Dardanup thrived, the beer trade thrived. The railway from Wellington Mills brought thirsty men to town by railway trolley and open railway truck.
Houses built in the street for men employed at the timber yards near the rail line meant a steady close-at-hand clientele.
In February 1895 Michael Coonan had advertised the original Inn on the Bunbury-Dardanup Road and eighty acres of “good agricultural land” for sale or to let. He had been suffering partial paralysis and died just months after the opening of the timber inn, laid to rest in what is now the historic Catholic Cemetery in the town.
Michael had applied for his annual Wayside House licence at the Charlotte Street Inn. This lapsed because of his death but the Wine and Beer licence was transferred to Ellen and she was invited to apply at the next Licencing Bench for the Wayside Licence. This was granted.
Ellen’s application for a Wayside House license on 7 August 1895 read:
“I, Ellen Coonan, widow, now residing in Dardanup, in the District of Wellington, do hereby give notice that it is my intention to apply at the next Annual Licensing Meeting to be holden for this district, for a Wayside House license for the sale of fermented and spirituous Liquors in the house and appurtenances thereunto belonging situated at Dardanup, opposite the Railway Station, containing eight rooms — two refreshment rooms, two sitting rooms, and one bar, besides rooms occupied by my family. I have not held a license before”. The licence was granted.
Acknowledgment of Ellen’s character appeared in the “Bunbury Herald” on Saturday 24 August 1895/Page 5:
“Householders’ Certificate or a Wayside House License – We, the undersigned, householders residing within the District of Wellington, do hereby certify that the above ELLEN COONAN, of Dardanup, is a person of good fame and reputation and fit and proper to be licensed to sell Wine, Beer and other fermented Liquors (as the case may be). Witness our hands this seventh day of August, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-five, James Maguire, Frank Johnston, Forbes Fee, James Cleary, Thomas Larkin”.
Ellen married Albert Edward Skipworth in 1897, and two daughters were born, Ellen Myrtle in 1899 and Dorothy Stella in 1900. She would have welcomed his support through the years, particularly when a fire destroyed the timber building on 28 December 1904, necessitating the building of the present hotel.
At the time of the fire, Ellen had leased the hotel to Mr Henry Thomas Belcher for a period of five years from 4 March 1901 and he had sub-let to Mr and Mrs Stapleton.
Ellen, living a little distance from the hotel, had taken Mr Belcher to a Bunbury Court and was then in a Court in Perth because she was not satisfied with the standard of repairs completed by Mr. Belcher as part of his lease.
At an enquiry in Bunbury regarding the fire and reported in Bunbury’s Southern Times Ellen said that the building which had burned had cost her between five hundred and six hundred pounds when it was built and that she had lately submitted plans to the Licensing Court for improvements. Her licence was renewed but suspended from the 31 December until she could put up a new house to the satisfaction of the Court. She had agreed Mr Belcher would continue his lease.
A jury returned a verdict that the fire had started in the bar of the hotel but there was not sufficient evidence to show how it originated.
Dardanup-born Mr William (Bill) Prout, interviewed many years ago, said that the brickwork for the new hotel was done by the Littlefairs of Bunbury.
George Fee’s diary May 16 1905 “The new Hotel which is being erected for Mrs Skipworth on the site of the Dardanup Hotel, is now nearing completion”. Soon afterward, on June 30 1905, he records that “The new hotel, which has lately been built by Mrs Skipworth, is now opened”.
Handsome though the new hotel was, it apparently had an early problem underground with beer kegs in the cellar floating whenever it rained heavily!
The hotel was leased for only a short time and Ellen and Albert and family returned to management of her hotel.
Ellen raised her first family in a pub, a Wayside Inn and a tavern/hotel peopled very largely by men, many of them single, many standing at the bar, some even claiming their own bar stool.
Now “the Dardy” is popular with families. Men and women sit at tables to meet with friends, to enjoy a meal, music and the comfortable social atmosphere while their children play in a lawned area. Ellen would surely be content.
Bill Prout said that Alfred Ernest Godin, from Southern Cross, accompanied by his wife and three sons and two daughters, leased the hotel in 1922 and bought the three acres close by for a cricket pitch. Mrs Hussy later leased the hotel and bought the three acres. When Jack Laming leased the hotel he sold the land to the Dardanup Shire.
Albert Skipworth died in 1950 and Ellen died in 1955
- Shire of Dardanup Local Heritage Survey 2016
- Flynn, N (ed.) Fee’s Dardanup Diaries: George Alexander Fee 1886-1942 of Roseland, Dardanup, WA (2002) in 2 volumes, Milligan House. Transcribed by Marilyn Jones, Patsy A. Middleton and Lyn Adams – May 1905, June 30 1905
- Mrs Gwen Wells notes
- Mr W Prout interview
- Mr Kevin Keeley notes
- WA Births, Deaths, Marriages
- Southern Times (Bunbury 1888-1910): 11 December 1888; Thursday 6 June 1895 P3; Tuesday 7 December 1897 P3; 12 January 1905 P5.
- Bunbury Herald (WA:1892-1919): Saturday 9 March 1895 P2: Saturday 16 March 1895 P3; Saturday 1 June 1895; Saturday 8 June 1895 P3; Saturday 24 August 1895 P5; Saturday 7 December 1895 P3.
- The West Australian: 30 December 1904
- 1914 image of hotel – caption information was taken from an interview with Mrs Ellen Reynolds, daughter of Ellen and Albert Skipworth who built the current Dardanup Hotel in 1905 after an earlier hotel burnt down in 1903. From: Wood, Paul; Former Dardanup resident recalls those early days, South Western Times Tuesday May 1984.
- Railway Station and stacked timber, from Gwen Wells
- Colour image of Dardanup Hotel, from Barbara Rae
- Photo of original Irish Inn, courtesy of June Craig.