Last shout at Weileys
By EMMA CORNFORD
WEILEYS Hotel stands majestically on the corner of Prince and Pound streets.
It is a landmark which has seen tens of floods, thousands of customers and a number of transformations over the years.
But tomorrow evening signals the end of an era. The final beers will be poured and the last jukebox song belted out as the hotel closes for business.
Weileys has a somewhat checkered reputation around the Clarence Valley.
There is no denying many people see it as a rough place, full of unsavoury characters and bar brawls worthy of a western film.
But the reality, says licensee Jane Wolfe, is far from that.
Yes, it opens at 7am and some people don't approve of that. Yes, there are a number of colourful characters who frequent the bar.
But many of those characters call Weileys their 'home away from home'. They are devastated the bar will close and have little idea where they will go next.
One regular, Steven Anderson, has been drinking at the pub for 22 years.
"It's heartbreaking," he said as he sipped his beer yesterday.
"Through my 22 years drinking here I've learnt so much about its heritage and I've met so many great people. The best old blokes come in here and I could write four books about their lives and what they've done."
Lorraine Whelan, who has been drinking at Weileys for 16 years, said the pub was 'like a whole big family'.
"People are like family here; just like brothers and sisters," said Ms Whelan.
"And then there's Cathy -- she's like our mum. She looks after us."
Indeed it seems that barmaid Catherine O'Rell is possibly the most popular person at Weileys -- and had no idea until she was told yesterday.
Ms O'Rell, who has worked at Weileys for 17 years, has developed a special bond with most of the regulars and said she will miss them.
"It's really sad because I'll miss everyone. They really are like my babies," she said.
"I know it sounds silly and a lot of people would laugh at that but ... I love working here. I love the fact that I can be in a bad mood, come in here and they all just pick you up.
"It's funny because they all ask me for advice and that kind of thing. One of our regulars was getting a car loan, and he came in and said 'Cathy, what do you think of this? Is it ok?'. It's just special working here."
Owner of the pub Les Weiley said that closing the hotel was a question of lifestyle.
"I'm a great believer that every three or four months, you should sit down and review your life and what you want to do," he said.
"(Wife) Heather and I have always been involved in a lot of business opportunities and right now we are travelling ... and it's just got to that stage."
The building has been in Mr Weileys family since 1907, so what will become of the space where the pub now stands?
"I can envisage an 'eat street' like they have down in Concord in Sydney ? lots of cafes and eateries. With the park there and as long as you paid attention to the air-conditioning and put up enough shade, I think it would be a great thing for Grafton," he said.
"This area just isn't the right place for a pub anymore."
Nevertheless, regulars maintain that Weileys will hold a special place in their hearts.
"It will flood here on Saturday," said Ms Whelan. "It will be a flood of tears when this place shuts."