LOOKING BACK: John Fisher stands on the veranda of the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.
LOOKING BACK: John Fisher stands on the veranda of the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.

Looking back fondly on the Federal: Memories from the '60s

SIMILAR to the American sitcom Cheers, the Federal became a place in Bundaberg where everybody knew your name.

It's been just over two months since a blaze broke out, destroying the Federal Backpackers Hostel and Spotted Dog Tavern.

But before the devastating fire occurred on July 20, the historical building was known as the 'local', a popular pub, hotel and disco hotspot, but most of all it was a place that many called home.

 

DEVASTATING: A result of the fierce blaze that destroyed the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers. Pic: Paul Beutel.
DEVASTATING: A result of the fierce blaze that destroyed the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers. Pic: Paul Beutel.

 

UNDER INVESTIGATION: QFES investigators on the scene after the blaze at the Federal Backpackers.
UNDER INVESTIGATION: QFES investigators on the scene after the blaze at the Federal Backpackers.

 

HEARTBREAKING SIGHT: After the fierce blaze that damaged the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers in Bundaberg.
HEARTBREAKING SIGHT: After the fierce blaze that damaged the Spotted Dog and Federal Backpackers in Bundaberg.

 

Publicans Keith and Gertrude Fisher travelled across Queensland throughout their life with children John and Yvonne in tow.

But when they arrived in Bundaberg in the late '60s and took over ownership of the Federal Hotel, the family decided to stay put, drawn in by the town's character and charm.

The late publicans worked hard on the Federal, with Gertrude handling the accommodation side of things and Keith taking on the role of boss and 'leader of discipline.'

"I remember mum met this lady at the hairdressers who had just moved to town and didn't know anyone and mum let her stay because she had nowhere else to live," John said.

"It became a second home for our permanents because mum really looked after them and was a real mother figure to everyone.

"Dad was tough - the guys knew not to act up in his pub or the old fella would chuck them out, but he was a real businessman and very progressive and the place was always spotless too."

 

LOOKING BACK: John Fisher stands on the veranda of the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.
LOOKING BACK: John Fisher stands on the veranda of the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.

 

TOP CLASS: Socials from the Federal Hotel.
TOP CLASS: Socials from the Federal Hotel.

 

The family lived in the hotel upstairs, where footballers from around the country often stayed during the season.

"I remember we had these footy players from inner Western Sydney, so these guys were from pretty tough suburbs and they would act like the unofficial bouncers," John said.

"If someone started misbehaving these big blokes would just tap them on the shoulder and tell them to get out or tell them to start behaving themselves, so there was never any trouble in the pub."

John's wife Helen Fisher (nee Nixon) recalls plenty of special memories from the Federal, from Saturday nights spent at the discos to cabaret on a Friday night.

"It always had this real buzz and discos at the Federal were the "place" to be in the 60s … the dance floor was so packed that you could barely move," Helen said.

"I used to go and clean dishes or wait on tables during my school holidays to make a bit of pocket money, but my dad wouldn't have allowed it so mum would drop me off in secret.

"He wouldn't let me go out with John because he rode a motorbike and his father was a publican, but it didn't stop John from stealing a kiss or two out on the back veranda of the pub."

 

SWEET MEMORIES: Helen Fisher shared fond memories from the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.
SWEET MEMORIES: Helen Fisher shared fond memories from the Federal Hotel in Bundaberg in the 60s.

 

SPECIAL MEMORY: John and Helen Fisher were gifted black and white sketches of places in Bundaberg that were important to the couple, including the Federal pub.
SPECIAL MEMORY: John and Helen Fisher were gifted black and white sketches of places in Bundaberg that were important to the couple, including the Federal pub.

 

BUNDY’S FINEST: Socials from the Federal Hotel.
BUNDY’S FINEST: Socials from the Federal Hotel.

 

But when Helen finished high school, she moved to Brisbane to become a teacher and the pair lost touch.

It wasn't until 21 years later, when they reconnected at their high school (Bundaberg State High) reunion after both their previous marriages had ended and despite marrying each other in 2002, the couple says it feels like a lifetime together.

Fortunately, Helen's dad had come around by this point and thought the world of John.

"A friend of my mum actually did some black and white sketches of prominent places like the Federal, that were important to us and our lives in Bundaberg and gifted them to us as an engagement present," Helen said.

"We didn't know it at the time but the Federal became this real symbol of our relationship because when we connected again after 30 years, we had all this history and wonderful memories that we shared together."

 

HAPPILY MARRIED: It might have taken 30 years and a reunion but John and Helen (nee Nixon) Fisher are now happily married.
HAPPILY MARRIED: It might have taken 30 years and a reunion but John and Helen (nee Nixon) Fisher are now happily married.

So when her son messaged her at 5.30am on the morning of July 20, to deliver the news that the Federal had been destroyed in a fire, the couple were devastated.

"My son actually married a girl in Bundaberg so it's amazing that our connection with the town has continued and when I saw his message I woke John up to tell him," Helen said.

"It was so surreal because we still visit Bundaberg a couple of times a year to catch up with family and share a meal at the Spotted Dog for old times sake.

"It would be just be heart wrenching to see the remains, so I hope it looks a bit different the next time we visit."

A group of old boys who grew up in Bundaberg and moved to Brisbane for work still meet for regular catch ups, where they often share their own memories of the historical pub.

 

HIGH JUMP: John Fisher poses for a photograph on the veranda of the Federal Hotel, where he used to work on surfboards that he would sell in Bundaberg in the 60s.
HIGH JUMP: John Fisher poses for a photograph on the veranda of the Federal Hotel, where he used to work on surfboards that he would sell in Bundaberg in the 60s.

 

The couple said there were many memories that stood out in their mind that still made them laugh.

"Dad actually made the first drive-thru bottle shop in town, at the pub and I remember one Christmas we were so flat out busy that he parked the semi-trailer on the driveway and sold the grog off the back of the truck because we were just so under the pump," John said.

"I used to buy surfboards in Noosa and work on them on the veranda and we got in strife by the health department because I spilt some resin, so we had to sand the timber boards back … dad didn't actually get up me too much about that because he was pretty impressed that I was enterprising."

And it's no wonder with the pair referring to the publican as a very savvy business owner.

"My older brother used to drink at the Federal and he he was so disappointed when he found out the truth because he thought he was a really good drinker when he was 18," Helen said.

"He later found out Keith had been watering the beers down... turns out he wasn't a good drinker after all."

Cabaret nights at the Federal also saw the debut of live performances by Aussie rock band Xanadu, who later performed for veterans in Vietnam, grew a following in the UK and rubbed shoulders with the likes of The Bee Gees, The Sex Pistols, T.Rex and Leo Sayer among others.

Band members Claire, Don and Barrie Morrison came from a sugarcane farm at Moore Park Beach, Wayne Anderson grew up on a North Gooburrum farm and Chris Button's parents also lived in Bundy.

Keith and Gertrude Fisher sold the Federal in the 70s and it is believed to have become a backpackers hostel sometime in the 90s.

Have you got a story that showcases the history of Bundaberg? Email me at rhylea.millar@news.com.au



Covid fragments detected at local wastewater facility

Premium Content Covid fragments detected at local wastewater facility

Residents in number of suburbs are being encouraged to get tested if they have any...

EXPLAINED: How fireys are using water bomber in Fraser fire

Premium Content EXPLAINED: How fireys are using water bomber in Fraser fire

“We’re going to take every opportunity to slow the spread of the fire,” says QFES...

STAY INFORMED: QFES battling Buxton fire

STAY INFORMED: QFES battling Buxton fire

QFES are at Buxton working to control a bushfire burning towards Barretts Rd.