Obituary: Bulli businessman, and ‘the man who saved Bulli pub’, has died aged 91

Eric Blain with a historic photograph of the Bulli Family Hotel. Picture: Supplied

KNOWN widely as the man who saved Bulli pub from demolition, former businessman and community worker, Eric Blain has died at the age of 91.

Eric Blain died on Friday, August 13, 2021, at Bulli Hospital where he was on the board of directors for almost a decade.

Eric Blain was born at Corrimal on January 16, 1930, one of nine children. He helped on the Ziems’ family farm, riding horses to round up the cattle. As a young man, he enjoyed rugby and surfing. It was playing rugby he earned the nickname ‘Puffer Blain’, when pulling on the hooker jersey for Corrimal. He once played in an exhibition match against France.

Eric enjoyed his time surfing with his mates, like Jack Wilson and Stan Moore, and together they founded the Towradgi Surf Club, where he became president from 1947 to 1951. Later Eric became secretary for a short time.

Eric Blain (centre) with mates on the beach, and surfing. Pictures: Supplied

Through his work ethics he was given an apprenticeship in the building trade and became a carpenter. Eric helped build the migrant Nissan huts at Fair Meadow, and later worked at the Port Kembla Steel Works.

He meet and married Thelma Elaine Heidtman in 1951 and they had three children, Kristine, Jo-Anne and Paul.

Together they operated mixed businesses in the northern suburbs, and continued to serve the community from their shops in the ‘Woonona Circle’. Eric would take food packages around to people’s homes who were in quarantine due to an outbreak of scarlet fever. He continued to help the community and joined the Masons

Due to his increasing Asthma attacks, Eric was advised to go to Queensland’s Surfers Paradise, where he set up a bakery. He befriended Keith Williams and helped set up a canteen to supply food and cakes at a tourist attraction called Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens, later to become Sea World.

While living in Southport, the family’s house was flooded by a local river, so in 1960, Eric moved back to Woonona, where he bought into a real estate business, which he continued to operate for over 50 years. He sold and managed countless properties around the northern suburbs of Wollongong during that time, and was well respected by the community.

He was also a Justice of the Peace for over 56 years.

In 1965 he ran as an Independant candidate for Wollongong council and also joined the Austinmer Lions Club. In 1962 he became president of the Lions club.

In 1967 Eric instigated the first Japanese exchange student program, which still continues and became the youngest District Governor for the Lions Club. He was given letters of recommendations from Premier Bob Askins, and Prime Minister Harold Holt for courtesy to be afforded him when travelling anywhere overseas.

Eric Blain as a young man, and when he was an active member of the Austinmer Lions Club in the 1960s. Pictures: Supplied

In 1971 Eric ran for state parliament, then in 1972 he came within six liberal party pre-selection votes of beating John Howard for the seat of Bennalong. He then ran for federal parliament as a liberal candidate for Hughes. It was a strong labour seat, and was won by Les Johnson, but Eric only lost by a small margin.

In 1975 Eric was appointed on the board of Directors for the Bulli Hospital. He continued in this role until they amalgamated with Wollongong in 1983.

At this time Eric heard that the Bulli Family Hotel was about to be closed. He bought the de-licensed pub, which had been closed for business, and set to work restoring it back to its former glory, enlisting his son-in-law to restore its landmark spire.

Eric had the pub re-licensed in January 1983 and had the building listed under the National Trust, ensuring its protection from demolition.

To keep the local workers entertained, he allowed a two-up school to operate for a short time in the pub.

The hotel reportedly had the honour of having the longest bar in the southern hemisphere, restored by local surfboard manufacturer, Theo Happel, at that time. Sadly the bar was shortened in 2002.

Eric went on to rebuild his Bulli real estate office, and continued to serve the community.

In 1989 he became a foundation member of the Black Diamond District Centre. The group of volunteers restored the historic Bulli Railway Station, and establishing a museum and heritage centre on the eastern platform.

In 2004 Eric once again ran for mayor at Wollongong council against one of his old mates from the Towradgi surf club, Alex Darling.

Eric Blain at the bar of the Bulli Family Hotel, 1983. Pictures: Supplied

The NSW Government resumed the property Eric’s real estate business operated from, for the extension of the Northern Distributor (Memorial Drive), so he and the family then shifted his business to Corrrimal, where he continued to work doing sales body corporate work, until his retirement in 2019.

Eric continued to drive around to the places he looked after to check all was well, and get a wave, and kept in touch with owner’s right up until his death earlier this month. He leaves three children. His wife Thelma died on November 30, 2020. Both they’re remains will be placed in the columbarium at Saint Augustine’s Anglican Church, Park Road, Bulli.

Eric Blain will be sadly missed by the many who he helped, befriended, and met during his productive life.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be no public funeral. However, the family are considering a celebration of his life at a later date at the Heritage Hotel, Bulli.

Eric Blain. Picture: Supplied

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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick managed several community newspapers. He has been editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.


2 thoughts on “Obituary: Bulli businessman, and ‘the man who saved Bulli pub’, has died aged 91

  1. was ‘Eric’s real estate business’ at the intersection with Hospital Road? next to (in my time in Bulli) Maison Jeanette,a children’s wear store and a butcher?,


    Posted by Willemina Szabo | August 16, 2021, 10:46 pm

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