The Leap Hotel north of Mackay .
The Leap Hotel north of Mackay . Lachie Millard

Best pubs in Queensland: Hotel honours its tragic past

THE Leap is a pub with a past and it's determined to own it, honouring a dark period in Queensland history when the pioneers who built the state clashed with those who owned it.

The Leap is an institution in the Mackay district. It was built in 1881 by Francis George Fooks to cater to the Europeans arriving in a district opened up by explorer John Mackay in 1860.

The pub is littered with historical memorabilia and has never lost that bush pub atmosphere that bar tender Kim Archer, (widely known as "Poddy'') maintains with her first-name-familiarity with customers.

But the incident which gave the hotel its name is darker than the cheery atmosphere which permeates the pub, and the tragic story is no urban (or bush, for that matter) myth.

Noted Queensland historian Clive Moore, in a published work, has examined a variety of versions of the story, but it's accepted as fact that in 1867 a group of local Aborigines was accused by settlers of either spearing cattle, or spearing a man named John Greenwood Barnes in the arm.

The group was approached by the Native Police Force and dispersed, with one woman reputed to have been called Kowaha, seeking refuge in caves at the top of nearby Mount Mandurana.

As the police close in, Kowaha jumped off a cliff clutching her baby who was possibly wrapped in a shawl.

The baby survived, the shawl possibly acting as a safety capsule when caught on a bush, and the little girl was adopted by settlers James and Mary Ready.

Many believe the baby was baptised Johanna in a Catholic Church on July 22 1867, married an Englishman called George Howes, bore three children and died on December 28 1887 and is buried in the Mackay cemetery.

Interior of the bar at The Leap Hotel north of Mackay . Photo Lachie Millard
Interior of the bar at The Leap Hotel north of Mackay . Lachie Millard

Professor Moore, in that published work, says only that there "seems no doubt that a massacre occurred at The Leap in 1867 and that the survivor was a female Aborigine, probably about two or three-years-old.”

The Leap has somehow managed to weave that tragic tale of colonial oppression and death into an inspirational tale of optimism and life, respecting all the figures involved.

Professor Moore concedes that the story encapsulates 18th century Aboriginal/European relations with its "combination of destruction and kindness''.

For Poddy, who has worked at The Leap for six years, the story resonates deeply, given her ancestry which reaches back to the Holmes family and the earliest days of European settlement which her grandfather kept alive for her in her early years.

Now owned by Bibi Edgerton from Innisfail, a well-known rugby league player in his youth, and Shiralee Evans, the Leap maintains an affectionate place in the hearts of those who call Mackay and the Pioneer Valley home.

"It's a great pub. People around here all know each around here and there is always a friendly atmosphere,” says Poddy.