VIDEO, GALLERY: Hotel 'caretaker' refuses to leave

Source: The Herald

Drama returned to the doorstep of an infamous hotel in the NSW Hunter on Monday as work began to revamp the site.

Workers moved in at Newcastle’s Star Hotel, but self-described ‘‘caretaker’’ David Wilkinson refused to leave the property.

Mr Wilkinson said he had lived at the site for 12 years with Arthaus Newcastle, an artist group which had occupied several other empty buildings in Newcastle previously.

‘‘We’ve been in possession of the building for 12 years through various owners,’’ Mr Wilkinson said.

‘‘The aim of the thing is to have an art gallery here.’’

Police attended the scene, speaking to Mr Wilkinson before leaving.

Built in 1885, the Star Hotel’s place in Newcastle’s history culminated in an infamous riot on its final night of trade in 1979.

The Wednesday night farewell gig, arranged after one week’s notice that the pub would shut, erupted when police arrived to enforce an official 10pm closing time.

That proved the beginning of an altercation between police and part of a 4000-strong crowd who overturned two police cars, setting them alight.

WATCH: The 1979 Star Hotel riot

It inspired two songs that took the story of the night across Australia. Cold Chisel’s Star Hotel is best known, but the band that played on the night of the riot, The Heroes, also had some success with The Star and the Slaughter.  

Greg Hall, who is working on a feature film about the infamous 1979 riot on the site, said Mr Wilkinson was a part of the city’s character.

‘‘David and company represent a very long history of radical elements within Newcastle,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘I think their voices have been drowned out in the complete change of demographic.’’

The hotel is also remembered for a diverse clientele that ranged from surfies to bikies, sailors and students.

Fairfax Regional Media reported last month that the site was sold to new owners, who declined to be named.

Attempts to reach the owners on Monday were unsuccessful.

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