The tale of the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel is not an easy tale to tell but I wish to do so to highlight the resolution of a man and the strength of his family. It all started when my Grandfather, Robert John Wallace, preferably called by his second name John, decided to purchase a rundown hotel motel in the “middle of nowhere” at the ripe age of 76. Now the question you may be asking is “what would motivate a man of his age to do such a thing?” Well many of those in his family, including myself, were asking the very same question. But in order to understand such eccentricities, you need to know a thing or two about my Grandfather. He is quite a rare breed, a mix of go-getter, trooper, dabbler and work horse. He will find an opportunity in just about anything and give it a red hot crack. Some opportunities would flourish and some would flounder but failure to my Grandfather was no more than a sign to move on to the next great venture. Age was certainly no barrier either. Anyone would think he was 25 if it wasn’t for his aging disguise.
Now the Chillagoe Hotel was as enticing a project as any other. My Grandfather saw the chance to create a meeting place where everyone and anyone could engage in a good-ole yarn, something he was well-versed in. He renamed it the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel to pay homage to the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo that was native to the area. He could also tick off being a Publican on his bucket list before he kicked the bucket so to speak. However, just as things were coming along, a tragic turn of events occurred. On the 23rd July, 2016, when taking supplies up to the hotel my Grandfather was in an awful car accident only 10km out from Chillagoe. It was lucky that some passer-by’s on their return trip from Chillagoe had noticed the upturned vehicle amongst the woodland.
On inspection, they found my Grandfather lying half out the car window in a dreadful state but, given the fighter that he is, he was hanging on. A helicopter airlifted him straight to Cairns Base Hospital, where many of the family, including my Grandmother, raced down the range to meet him. Based on his injuries the prognosis was not promising. He had squashed his spine at the neck causing extensive bruising to the spinal cord and broken his arm in multiple places. He was airlifted once more to the spinal unit at the Brisbane Princess Alexander Hospital. My mother travelled with him as my Grandmother was in a state of shock and needed the comfort of her family at that point in time. I myself was shocked on hearing the news as it was only two weeks prior that I had a terrible dream or a premonition of sorts that something terrible had happened to my Grandfather.
Sadly, despite having surgery to try to repair the damage that had been done, my Grandfather had lost all use of his legs. He has been in the Princess Alexander Hospital for 8 months now undergoing rehabilitation. Though for someone who could never sit still he is in high spirits and continues to say, “I am not a religious man but there must be something higher looking out for me who wants me on this Earth for a reason”.
So what of the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel? Well, it went through a few rough patches. The family scrambled to look after the place whilst looking after my Grandparents as well as their day-to-day lives. On the contrary, it made my parents realise that it was an opportunity for them to delve into a completely different lifestyle. Despite a lot of trepidation, they bit the bullet, quit their jobs and decided to run the show full time. It is now going on 2 months and the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel has never been better. It is alive with people from near and far who are quickly becoming regulars just at my Grandfather had envisioned. When they are not run off their feet, my parents have also been giving the hotel a little makeover to bring her back to her former glory. So don’t be a stranger and come out for a visit some time. We would love to host you and have a good-ole yarn.
Until next time…
The Publican's Granddaughter