Johnston Hotel Group
Established in 1843, the Oakbank Brewery initially catered for a few local private customers, but to expand their successful malting and brewing business, J & AG Johnston decided to set up their own distribution network for the ales they produced. This decision stimulated the creation of a hotel chain that continues today, firstly through hotels in the neighbouring Adelaide Hills' towns, then further afield. In 2011 the shareholders decided to sell the Company's investment properties-including 17 hotels. The remaining hotels are as follows:
Johnston involvement with hotels began in 1850 when they built the Woodside Inn; James and elder brother William Johnston laid out the surrounding township of Woodside in the same year.
Johnstons' aim was to supply as many of the hotels within a radius of the Brewery as could be reached by bullock or horse-drawn wagons. Their ale became renowned for its consistent quality and they had an excellent transport team, but it was vital that demand for their products was sustained as they continued to expand the brewery through the 1860s, '70s and '80s. By the turn of the twentieth century, J & AG Johnston owned 21 hotels through the Adelaide Hills and Lower River Murray regions of South Australia.
Whilst they owned a number of hotels, all were leased - as they are today - which allowed the tenant publican to serve his or her preferred ale. Johnstons and many of their competitors closed that option by tying the lessees exclusively to their own product through the 'tied house' system, which operated in South Australia from settlement until the 1970s.
The hotels were all located in country towns, but the growth of the group was also closely linked to the 19th century transport systems. Bullocks and heavy horses provided the propulsion for the early drays, trolleys and carts used to carry ale and other goods and of course light horses were either ridden or drew carriages for personal transport. Hotels were required to provide food and resting places for man and beast alike and often towns were positioned not only to meet the needs of the local farming community, but strategic resting places. River Murray towns such as Mannum were also busy ports where goods transferred from river to road transport. Murray Bridge became important as the site where the railway line from Adelaide to Melbourne crossed the Murray.
In the early days, hotels not only had to provide for people and their steeds, but they were also required to take in the dead and were frequently the local meeting place; the publicans' duty prevailed 24 hours a day, as they were also required to burn a light outside all night, no matter how remote their location. As the means of transport changed, provision for animals was removed, but hotels remained the regular resting place for commercial travellers who travelled the state using rail and primitive motor road transport; holidaymakers also stayed at hotels in the Hills and along the Murray for their annual family break.
Substantial changes have taken place since the Second World War. The demand for accommodation in country hotels declined as the more convenient and modern motels came into vogue. As roads and vehicles improved, there was less need for commercial travellers and agents to stay away overnight.
The local country pub has remained a popular gathering place and source of entertainment. Increased social responsibility has seen changes to the 'local' and whilst it remains a pleasant place for a quiet drink or two, typically, the 21st century Johnston hotel offers an excellent array of food, drink and entertainment to meet the diverse needs of modern society in pleasant surroundings.
We invite you to peruse the wonderful offerings of the hotels of the Johnston Group, all located in some of the most picturesque countryside in South Australia.
Please explore and enjoy!