The Parawa Junction Hotel was built by John Bush in 1867. In those early days of bullocks, coaches, packhorses and walking miners, Parawa was a well-placed junction on the Invercargill to Kingston road. It came after the difficult northward climb out of the Oreti and Five Rivers flats and over the Dome, later to be known as Jollies Pass. This was the saddle that separated the Oreti and Mataura River valleys. Parawa, originally called Parrawa, was the junction to the Nokomai Valley where many gold miners sought their fortune.
Shortly after John Bush built the hotel, he leased it along with the large block of land of 330 acres (134 hectares) upon which the hotel resided, to John Gibson. The land was then sold by John Bush to Samuel Butson in 1891. It is probable that the Selwoods arranged a lease agreement with Samuel Butson to run the hotel and accommodation.
It appears that James spent considerable time in the 1892-1893 period upgrading the accommodation to meet the requirements of the Oreti Licensing Court. With a series of advertisements in the early months of 1894 he relaunched the hotel.
James and Helena’s hostelry was well thought of in those days: “Anyone wishing to visit this place (Nokomai) can easily do so and return the same day to Invercargill. Mr Selwood, who looks after the parcels and packages for the miners, has a trap which, if previously advised, he can place at the disposal of visitors, or, if inclined for a few hours fishing, or wishing to take two days, they will find Mr Selwood’s house as comfortable as they could wish.” (From Mining Notes: A Visit to Nokomai, in Southern Cross 30 January 1897.)
In Lyndel A. Soper’s book, Live and Let Live, she records this wonderful Selwood anecdote: “Mrs Selwood took over the hotel, and she was a popular hostess, and it was while at Parawa that her husband died. ‘He was a big and undeniably corpulent man’. There is a story told when Tommy Kitto first came to Parawa and Mr Selwood still living. Tommy had been working down at Donkey Flat down the Mataura River, which was in high flood. Tommy had followed the river up for some distance looking for a safe place to cross, and finally made the plunge. As his horse went deeper and deeper in, it floated, and thus unable to make the proper crossing it was swept downstream for several chains, but just managed to reach a ledge where it clambered out with Tommy still on its back, wet as a shag. A friendly rabbiter living nearby called out “come in and spend the night! The river is pretty high and is rising further up’. However, Kitto said he would make it alright and thanked the rabbiter. He kept going and with two more flooded crossings to make he was half drowned when at last he pulled up at the pub.
“‘Come in’ said Mrs Selwood, ‘I’ll get you a change of clothing till yours dries’. She handed him some clothes and Tommy went into a room to change. He chuckled to himself as he climbed into Mr Selwood’s oversized strides, shirt, etc. and when he made an appearance in the bar the crowd roared with laughter. Tommy said afterwards he looked more like a clown than anything else.”
In the Otago Daily Times of 20 October 1993, writer Noel Guthrie gives some “Impressions of Parawa Junction Hotel”: “The Parawa Junction was presumably established as a direct result of those goldmining days and its pub catered not only for miners, but men of the road. Wagoners stopped here as they slowly conveyed their incredible loads of foodstuffs, mining equipment and other material through the settlement on their way to the Lakes District and beyond. One of those early wagoners who made a regular stop at Parawa Junction Hotel was John Gibson. He had been on the road for many years and I believe he bought the hotel from John Bush around the 1870s. Several years later when the Gibsons shifted into a new house they had built on land they called Rosebank, they leased the hotel to the Selwoods. Unfortunately Mr Selwood, a portly gentleman, died not long after taking over. Mrs Selwood is said to have continued to run the hotel, becoming a most popular hostess.”
John Husband, whose book “Pubs O’ the South” has a lovely drawing of the Parawa Junction Hotel, included here, mentions: “Hordes of fishers have, over the years, told tall tales and drunk tall ales in the Parawa bar after fishing the Nokomai. There have been 15 licensees in this hotel since its beginnings in the early 1860s. The pub changed hand on a regular basis until John and Peg Newman came in May 1961 and finally closed the doors in Sept 1968.”
Patricia Soper, writing for the Southland Times (18 December 2000), captures some of the anecdotes by John and Peg Newman, the last owner-operators of the hotel: “The building had been renovated several times. They used to have boxing matches in a room out the back. There was a ring as well as a billiard table. Rumour has it that the odd patron who couldn’t get a bed for the night often made do with the billiard table.”
The late Sam Buston (the owner after James Selwood) told the story that the bar floor had been replaced at one stage because the miners’ hobnailed boots wore it through to the bare earth.
A lot of the guests came for the fishing: “We had British lords and ladies who came year after year. The Parawa Hotel of the 1960s was a more sedate place, and things became a little more formal. Waitresses wore white and the tables were set for three courses”. However, the rustic atmosphere often prevailed. “One night a guest put his head around the bedroom door to say goodnight and found himself looking at a horse which had its head through their window.”
The Parawa Junction Hotel ceased trading in 1968 but for two more decades it continued as tea rooms and as a Fishermen’s Nest. It still stands somewhat derelict and forlorn, but a symbol of past happy times.