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History of
The Rylstone Hotel 

The pub was where Labor leader, Ben Chifley was said to have consumed 14-cups of tea overnight, on his failed 1951 election campaign. But we’ll get to that later. The pub has been trading for over 160 years and is considered the oldest business in Rylstone. The original timber pub was established as the Rylstone Tavern in 1857 by John Walton, about two blocks south of the current site, opposite the old council chambers in Louee Street.

John and his wife Elizabeth Walton ran the pub for over a decade, until their deaths in 1871 and 1873 respectively. The pub fell into the hands of the Farrar family in the 1870s after John Walton’s eldest daughter married William Farrar in 1864. Despite a failed legal challenge from the children of John and Elizabeth Walton to retain ownership, the hotel eventually became the property of William and Mary Farrar. William Farrar ran the pub until his death in 1885 at the age of 49. His son, John William Farrar, at 20, took over the pub after the death of his mother, Mary in 1890. John William Farrar was well-known in Sydney racing circles. He bred many successful race horses, and was closely associated with a variety of sports in western NSW. For years he was on the committee of the Rylstone and Mudgee race clubs, and agricultural societies. The Farrar family owned and continued operating the Rylstone Hotel until 1920, when it was sold to the Starr family. At the time it was described as a single storey brick and stone building, with 10 rooms, three outbuildings, and sitting on a one-acre property.

Interestingly the Farrars bought back the freehold of the Rylstone Hotel just two years later in 1922. However, John William never returned as host. He died in 1928 at the age of 64. After the Farrar family re-purchased the pub, it was leased to one of its most well-known and longest serving host, Jim Foster in 1923. The Foster family, except for a couple of years when William and his wife travelled to Europe in the late 1920s, hosted the Rylstone Hotel for over 40 years. The end for the old landmark inn came when brewery giant, Tooheys Limited, bought the freehold of the historic building for £4,750 in 1935.

News came in 1937 that the hotel was to be rebuilt, two doors from the original site, at a corner position. Work started on the new hotel on April 6 1938. The Mudgee Guardian reported on January 20 1938:

After being a land mark in Louee St. for many more decades than we care to recall the old Rylstone Hotel is to become but a memory, and phoenix like, a new building is to
rise from the ashes of the past, but on the site where McKenna’s confectionery shop
now stands, a few doors down from the site of the present hotel. The order of the court was obtained, last licensing day for permission to erect the new hotel premises, and it is expected that host Foster will be in occupation of his new premises within the next twelve months.
Time Gents, the Australian Pub Project, is a collection of histories, stories, legends, images and traditions, by Sydney journalist and blogger, Mick Roberts.
After the license was transferred to the grand new two storey art deco pub, the original tavern was demolished in March 1947. Today the site of the original tavern is the storage yard for a hardware store. The Fosters had a special guest in April 1951 when the Federal Opposition Labor leader, Ben Chifley and his entourage stayed the night at the Rylstone Hotel in the
lead-up to the April 28 1951 election.

While at Rylstone Hotel, Chifley was reported to have had 14-cups of tea. While that is by no means a world record, it did cause problems for host Jim Foster. Chifley had his tea white, and Rylstone had no milkman. The publican was forced to drive 10 miles to get the milk for Chifley’s tea.

Rylstone, which had a population of about 600 at the time, had been without a milkman for over a month. The milkman, it was reported, had retired from dairying, sold his cows, and now was running sheep.

The incumbent Liberal–Country coalition led by Prime Minister Robert Menzies defeated the Chifley’s Opposition Labor Party at the April 28 election. Chifley died two months later after suffering a heart attack. Jim Foster, who at 82 still called the
pub home, but had relinquished the license to his son, died a few weeks after Chifley’s visit.

The old publican was sitting beside the fire when he fainted and fell forward into the flames. He was rushed to the Rylstone District Hospital, where he died a few hours later. With the exception of a short break, Jim had run the business from 1923, firstly from the old tavern, and later was the first host of the new hotel, where he died in 1951.Foster was known far and wide for his “straight dealings”, the Mudgee Guardian reported on May 24 1951, after his death. “It is not many years since he had to give up his game of golf, which he loved. He was president of the Rylstone club for many years. A keen Freemason, he was a past master of Lodge Rylstone, also a member of the Sydney Masonic Club, where he was held in very high esteem by his brother members….” Just a month after the publican’s demise, the pub lost another guest through death.

Budge Ormsby, a well-known commercial traveller, was a regular visitor to the town and the pub. Budge, 63, had travelled the district’s roads for over 25 years. After chatting beside the pub’s fire one night, he retired to his room about 9.30pm. Not
long after a fellow boarder heard a noise coming from his room and on investigating found the commercial traveller seriously ill. He was taken to the Rylstone Hospital, where he died from ‘natural causes’.


James Robert Foster Jnr continued as licensee of the pub until 1965. When he retired as publican, the family had been at the helm of the pub for a remarkable 42 years. The brewer, Tooheys Limited sold the freehold of the Rylstone Hotel to H. Newell on November 27 1979. The pub is open seven days a week, along with an eatery. The Rylstone Hotel is a must when visiting the historic hamlet, and worth a stop-over for a beer – or, even a cup of tea – whatever takes your fancy. There’s plenty of milk available in Rylstone these days.

Story courtesy of
Time Gents, the Australian Pub Project, is a collection of histories, stories, legends, images and traditions, by Sydney journalist and blogger, Mick Roberts.


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