The Momalong Hotel was first built in 1893, and was one of the four pubs that serviced the Berrigan community, alongside the Royal Hotel, Berrigan Hotel and Federal Hotel. With the original pub buildings wooden structures, it was inevitable that fire would damage and destroy the buildings, as it did with many early structures in most towns, and all four hotels were destroyed and rebuilt during the first half of the twentieth century.
In the early hours of Wednesday, 25 March 1931, the alarm was raised that a fire had broken out in the hotel. The weatherboard structure was soon ablaze with no hope of salvaging the building, with fire service efforts directed at preventing the fire from engulfing the surrounding buildings, mainly the Shire Offices and Hercules & Wise’s fruit shop.
A large crowd, which newspapers of the time suggested was the entire 2000 people population, gathered on the street outside the hotel, and Berrigan’s Police Sergeant, George Whiteley, was in charge of crowd control as firefighters worked to control the blaze. Unfortunately, as the fire spread throughout the premises, a large gas cylinder exploded, an explosion that could be heard from six miles away. Cylinder fragments and debris were thrown into the street and crowd, injuring five people and killing Sergeant Whiteley and his loyal four-legged companion, who was standing in front of the Australian National Bank building.
Those injured were Harry Burwood, John Jensen, Miss Elaine Dawson and Miss Elsie McGee, as well as hotel licensee Tom Darcy. Fortunately, Tom, his invalid wife and five guests in the hotel managed to escape the building relatively unharmed.
The hotel itself was rebuilt as a brick structure and reopened under new licensee Gordon Allen on Saturday, 21 May 1932. That building is the one that still stands today, and although the building is no longer the bustling hotel it had once been, it stands as a reminder of the events that took place on 25 March 1931 and the strength of the community to come back from such a devastating event.
Sergeant George Thomas Whiteley was born in Bega in 1888 and joined the police force as a mounted man in 1910. He did duty in Hill End, Forbes, Cudal and Tullamore before his post at Berrigan. In 1914, he enlisted in World War One as part of the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion and worked his way up through the ranks to Sergeant. He was wounded by shrapnel to the face in Gallipoli in 1915.
At the time of his death at age 42, he was married with five children – Walter (10), Catherine (9), Aileen (8), Lorna (6) and John (5). His life, service and sacrifice in the line of duty was honoured as part of the 150th Anniversary of NSW Police in March 2012, with a plaque unveiled in the spot where he lost his life.
Information sourced from Berrigan & District Heritage Museum Facebook post – https://www.facebook.com/BerriganHeritageMuseum/posts/2428394367180107