Maureen Thornett has owned The Royal Oak Hotel in Balmain for more than 35 years, but her life in hospitality began long before. In the 60’s, when you could smoke on planes and the all-female crew (apart from the pilots of course) were hired based on their good looks and single status, Maureen worked as a flight attendant.
When she married in 1965, Maureen traded the skies for the pubs. This was no easy trade because in those days women weren’t allowed to drink in the pub, let alone be the boss! Together with her husband, Maureen ran several successful pubs including The Dolphin in Surry Hills for almost a decade.
After the couple parted ways, Maureen swore she’d never set foot in a pub again! But she’d found her calling and in 1987 she bought the 144-year-old Royal Oak Hotel and Maureen has been at the heart of this community ever since.
Back then, the pub, just like the rest of Balmain was working class. It was rough and blokey, and in her first week Maureen didn’t see a single woman in the pub. She took it all in her stride and began to add a woman’s touch to the place. She fixed up the food, greeted everyone with her infectious smile and made sure the language in the bar was kept in check.
Maureen was a trailblazer who proved her worth in a man’s world by working harder and longer and just being better than her doubters. It didn’t take long to gain the respect of the community and over the years The Royal Oak Balmain grew into a thriving business. In a very competitive market, Maureen has created something all great pubs aim to be – a home away from home.
Maureen could have retired a long time ago, but she’s still serving meals and working the bar with no sign of slowing down. This dedication and love for her community and business has now been officially recognised by the Australian Hotels Association (AHA). Last month, surrounded by her three daughters Maureen was inducted into the AHA NSW Hall of Fame and awarded the Cyril Maloney medal.
In her usual humble fashion Maureen says, “To receive this award is a great honour. My daughter Sophie kept it all a secret and I had no idea – it was a wonderful surprise.”
36 College St, Balmain