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Mona Augustine Minahan (1897–1996)

by Catherine Bishop

This article was published online in 2024

Ron Haines and Mona Minahan, 1978

Ron Haines and Mona Minahan, 1978

Library & Archives NT

Monica Kathleen Minahan (1897–1996), barmaid and entrepreneur, was born on 24 September 1897 in Adelaide, fifth of eight children of South Australian-born William Lott Minahan, railway engineer, and his Irish-born wife Annie Marie, née McDonnell, publican. Growing up in inner-city Adelaide, Mona attended the Sisters of St Joseph School, Pirie Street, and Sturt Street School. Soon after World War I, she was managing her mother’s successive hotels in Adelaide, including the Oxford, Henley Beach, and Buck’s Head. She also invested in local property schemes at Glenelg and Royston Park and started using Augustine as her middle name, only officially registering the change of name in 1955.

In late 1932 Minahan visited her older sister, Eileen Kilgariff, at Alice Springs and found it ‘such a marvellous place’ (Haines 1981) that she decided to stay. She worked for her sister and brother-in-law at their general store and hotels, including the Stuart Arms Hotel—where she established her reputation as Alice Spring’s first barmaid—and the Barrow Creek Hotel. Familiar with the rough edge of the hotel industry from her time in Adelaide, she was able to hold her own in a bar full of men, mainly stockmen and miners. ‘[W]hen I first came up,’ she remembered, ‘they used to play all sorts of tricks. And when I got my little waddy–kept it under my counter—they soon changed their minds’ (Haines 1981). She also sometimes danced with them, much to the annoyance of wives and girlfriends waiting outside. A keen tennis player, horse rider, and golfer, she was a prominent supporter of community sport, particularly the Centralian Football Association (later the Central Australian Football League) after it was established in 1947.

Soon after moving to Alice Springs, Minahan began to default on her loans for her Adelaide properties. She engaged the services of the well-known father and son solicitors Noel and Beecher Webb, and returned to Adelaide in 1935 for bankruptcy hearings. The judge eventually granted her an unconditional discharge, unaware that she held a forty-two-year mining lease for twenty acres (8 ha) near Winnecke, north-east of Alice Springs. When the Kilgariffs left Alice Springs in November 1936 she went to Tennant Creek, and bought a quarter share in the Tennant Creek Trading Co. By 1937 she had returned to Alice Springs and opened the Centralian Cash Store (Centralian Traders from 1945), ‘a glorified tin shed’ (Watt 1973, 10) on Todd Street, with Joe Costello, whom she had met at Tennant Creek. They later opened stores at Wauchope and Tennant Creek. The business was profitable, especially during World War II, when she befriended Brigadier Noel Loutit, who was in town to coordinate the Central Australian transport column. He was under the impression they would later become business partners and allowed her to continue trading even as most other residents (especially white women) were evacuated.

After the war Minahan is rumoured to have rejected Loutit’s appeals to go into business with him. During its heyday, Centralian Traders also included a ladieswear department, run by her distant cousin Pat Clifford (later Holden), and which famously stocked Lucy Secor designer dresses. In the late 1940s Arthur Ronald Haines, a recently divorced telephone mechanic from Adelaide, arrived in Alice Springs and soon joined the partnership. He subsequently moved in with Minahan and they became an established couple, though they would not marry until the 1970s.

Minahan dreamed of opening her own hotel and in 1953, two years after she was granted a publican’s licence, construction began on the Riverside Hotel. Designed by Beni Burnett, a long-time friend and the Commonwealth principal architect for the Northern Territory, it was an extravagant development well beyond her financial means, and progress soon stalled. By the time the Riverside finally opened in March 1960 many locals already had their favourite watering holes. The hotel’s public bar was managed by Costello and it was one of the first in Alice Springs to be frequented by Aboriginal patrons after restrictions on alcohol consumption were lifted with the 1967 referendum. It soon became known as ‘the snakepit’ because of the fights that broke out. Haines was the licensee.

Struggling to run two businesses, Minahan sold Centralian Traders to Woolworths in 1961. Clifford continued to operate her dress shop at the Riverside before moving to new premises as Pat Holden Fashions. Minahan was generous in her support of local businesspeople. She also frequently grubstaked miners with extended credit, a practice that contributed to her financial difficulties since she was unwilling to chase her debtors. In 1973 she sold the Riverside to a local business consortium which renamed it the Desert Inn. She and Haines initially retired to Adelaide, but returned to Alice Springs in the mid-1970s, where they lived comfortably at The Gap. When the Lasseters Hotel Casino opened in 1981, Minahan whiled away many an evening there gambling and socialising. Predeceased by her husband in 1995, she died at the Alice Springs Hospital on 19 September 1996 and was buried in the Alice Springs garden cemetery.

Vivacious, beautiful, and quick-witted, with a generous and fun-loving spirit, Minahan has been regarded as a local legend by some Territorians. Stories are often told about her life, especially her days as a barmaid, and while it is sometimes difficult to separate truth from legend, she left an indelible mark on the business, sport, and community life of Alice Springs. For ‘services to sport and the community’ she was appointed MBE (1980). In 1947 the Central Australian Football League established the Minahan medal awarded annually to the best and fairest male player in the competition, and in 1996 the members’ bar at the Traeger Park Oval was named Mona’s Lounge. Minahan Road was gazetted by the Northern Territory government in 2004.

Research edited by Emily Gallagher

Select Bibliography

  • Brown, Shirley. Legends of the Red Heart. Rockhampton, Qld: Central Queensland University Press 2002
  • Haines, Mona. Interviewed by Josie Petrick, 6 October 1981. Transcript. Libraries & Archives NT., NTRS 226, TS 1927
  • Harris, Rex. Legendary Territorians. Alice Springs, NT: Harris Nominees, 2007
  • King, Gavin. ‘Naught But Nice.’ Centralian Advocate, 13 August 2004, 14
  • National Archives of Australia. D1169, 40/1935
  • Watt, Robert. ‘Pioneer Publican Looks Back: An Interview with Mona Minahan.’ Centralian Advocate, 9 August 1973, 10

Citation details

Catherine Bishop, 'Minahan, Mona Augustine (1897–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ron Haines and Mona Minahan, 1978

Ron Haines and Mona Minahan, 1978

Library & Archives NT

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Haines, Monica Augustine
  • Minahan, Monica Kathleen

24 September, 1897
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


19 September, 1996 (aged 98)
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.