What’s the mystery, Bill? It’s Murphy’s law

It’s been years since Murphy’s Town Pub was this busy.

It’s just gone 11 o’clock on a Wednesday morning. The familiar chime of the nearby Ipswich town clock rings out across the CBD, and already the pub’s bar and dining areas are a hive of activity.

Upstairs is busy too. It’s not the regulars in today. They moved on long ago. Today it’s tradies, architects and heritage restoration specialists.

They haven’t come for a quick schooner or two. Instead, they’re here for the painstaking job of returning the historic hotel to its former glory.

Today we meet two of the Ipswich people behind this incredible project. But first, there’s a mystery to solve.

The mystery of Bill the blocklayer

Bill was one of the tradies who worked on the Besser Block wall next to Murphy’s Town Pub in 1987. He was standing above this mortar so his inscription was written upside down and back to front – no easy task. Bill’s name was revealed when an old window was recently removed at Murphy’s. We’d love to talk to Bill and hear his memories of Murphy’s and the redevelopment of the mall in 1987. If you know Bill ask him to drop us a line at [email protected].

This pub is part of our city’s history and we are taking action to return it to its former glory. The ultimate goal is to reopen the premises as part of the future food and beverage offerings in the new CBD.

Paul Tully

Acting Mayor

A potted history of Murphy’s town pub

1910: The Commonwealth Hotel opens in October under licensee James Brisbane

1911-1924: The hotel is operated by eight different licensees until Stephen Bentham takes over in 1924

1947: Stephen Bentham dies and the license is transferred to his wife Emma Bentham

1960: The hotel is purchased by the McLachlan family

1986: The interior of the building, now known as Murphy’s Town Pub, is rebuilt by new owners Kern Corporation

1991: Murphy’s Town Pub is added to the Ipswich Heritage Study

2014: Ipswich City Properties acquires Murphy’s Town Pub in November, closing it for repairs

2017: Facade retention works begin in July


“I’ve been a volunteer archivist with Picture Ipswich for four years and this project is fairly similar in terms of the processes that I’m using. Instead of images I’m working with a database of timber, steel, windows and doors. Items are numbered, photographed and entered into a spreadsheet so we know exactly where they belong.

“I’ve always been interested in history – my dad used to restore old furniture and my mum was into antique glassware so I grew up around all sorts of history. My family has been in Ipswich for 160 years and this is a really exciting project to be part of.

“It would be good to hear from some of the people who worked on the building in 1986 to get an understanding of the room configurations and gather more of an oral history of the building.”


“What we’re doing here is deconstructing Murphy’s Town Pub in preparation for the return of the Commonwealth Hotel. Facade retention happens all around the country but we’ve never heard of a project that involves removing a facade and returning it in its current state.

“It would be easy to pull the facade apart and rebuild it brick by brick but the important part for us is retaining the original workmanship. We’re reading, understanding and learning about the building as we’re deconstructing it. When it comes to removing the facade the building will tell us where to cut and it will be returned a bit like a big jigsaw puzzle.

“We’re archiving every element that will be returned to the building – timberwork, iron, windows, doors – it’s all being photographed and catalogued and sent to a holding facility in the city before being returned to the site.

“There’s no trial and error here, it’s a matter of knowing what systems we have available to us and how to apply those systems to the building. We don’t have a textbook and sometimes it doesn’t matter how much preparation you’ve done, something will always reveal itself within the building.

“In mid-July we used a drone to examine the roof of the building. While it’s relatively new to our industry, drone investigation was important to get a really clear picture of the possible damage to the roof and determine whether it had moved with the rest of the building.”

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