Running an outback pub is hard yakka, but the laughs flow as freely as the beer.
Have you ever pondered the idea of running an outback pub? It’s not a far stretch of the imagination when you think about it. You love travelling and exploring the outback, talking to other travellers, entertaining and performing the odd recovery.
These tasks are not dissimilar to the activities of the average outback publican. To get the inside scoop on the life of an outback publican, we had a yarn to the owners and managers of some of Australia’s top remote watering holes.
And remote they are – some of these destinations are best accessed by those with offroad caravans or camper trailers.
PETER AND PATSY PACE - SILVERTON HOTEL, NSW
Peter and Patsy acquired the Silverton Hotel in June 2010. Patsy had spent many of her early years at Silverton as her parents were drovers, so she knew the previous owner, Enis McCleod, for more than 30 years.
In 2007, seeking their own slice of Silverton, the Paces purchased the old Catholic church, a building that dated back to 1884, plus a block of land that had been a proposed Presbytery site.
Enis, meanwhile, had moved on in life. Her husband had passed away and she leased the pub out from 2000 to 2010. Peter quite literally had a dream one night that he’d purchased the pub, and when he told Enis she replied, “Well why don’t you?” That was in June 2010, and the dream came true.
Peter and Patsy have a real connection with Silverton and consider it a privilege to have been given the opportunity to buy the pub. While it’s a hard grind working seven days a week, they love the lifestyle, sharing the history of the area and meeting new people.
KATE MCDONALD - BIRDSVILLE HOTEL, QLD
Seven years ago, Kate McDonald ventured out to the annual Birdsville Races with a friend – an activity that had always been on her bucket list. With a love for travelling and sharing stories, she enquired about working at the pub.
She started in housekeeping and bar, moved to the tour desk, organising activities, and soon found herself managing the hotel. Her contribution was recognised when she was awarded the 2013 Young Achievers Award of the Outback Queensland Tourism Awards. Joining the celebrations, the Birdsville Hotel picked up the Best Outback Pub award.
Situated next to the airfield and on the eastern verge of the Simpson Desert, the pub is an iconic stop for people from all walks of life, from the rich and famous who roll up in chartered planes to the average family on an outback 4WD trip.
“Nothing is a surprise in this place, whether it’s a big tandem-rotor Chinook helicopter landing in the airfield, to the famous personalities, the fundraising rallies which pass through or the many colourful travellers – each has a story to tell.”
FENN AND CHERYL MILLER - CAMERON CORNER STORE, NSW
Fenn and Cheryl have been running the Cameron Corner Store for nine years, the last four as owner-operators. They first came through the Corner when Bill Mitchell was owner. Fenn liked the way it was managed and they became good friends, looking after the store for Bill when he needed a break. It eventually came up for sale, so they snapped it up.
Fenn and Cheryl come from far north Queensland, where Fenn was in the building trade. They believe in providing hospitality, something which seemed lost in many coastal holiday areas.
Apart from supplying the usual meals, accommodation, camping, fuel, basic supplies and mechanical repairs, they also provide recoveries. Without mains power, all this is achieved via a large solar array and a generator. The closest supplies are 500km away.
“Every day is different,” Fenn said. “We’ve seen rallies encompassing everything from postie bikes, to shopping trollies and ride-on lawn mowers. There are no boundaries!”
MAX AND FAITH NULLEY - LIONS DEN HOTEL, QLD
Back in 2008, Max, Faith and their young family were travelling around Australia in a LandCruiser and a camper trailer, when they stumbled across the Lions Den Hotel.
The pub is on the northern leg of the Bloomfield Track, perched on one of few croc-free freshwater river systems and surrounded by rainforest, pristine beaches and the Reef. It’s a popular tourist route for the 4WD fraternity, which slinks up the coast around the edge of the beautiful Daintree Rainforest en route to Cape York.
Max comes from a manufacturing and engineering background, and Faith from photography. By their own admission, they had become stuck in a rut, drowning in the monotony of their everyday lives. The Lions Den became the elixir they so desperately needed.
“It’s the greatest thing we ever did,” Max said.
“We were leading a very urban lifestyle, despite being country people at heart, and had grown bored. We got up every morning and went to the same job in the same office and interacted with the same people day after day, and felt like we needed to make a change.”
“The Lions Den provided that change. It’s so diverse, with a different job to do every day and a different person at the bar, so there’s no opportunity to get bored.”
JEFF AND KAREN BROWN - MT DARE HOTEL, SA
Jeff and Karen have been managing the Mt Dare Hotel since 2009. A few years earlier, Jeff’s employer had moved their operations overseas, resulting in his redundancy, while Karen had worked in banking and superannuation. Yearning to travel, they hooked up a camper trailer and set off around Australia.
After about six months on the road, they decided to make a go of managing a caravan park. They attended the Australian Caravan Park Training School – developed by Ian Beadel, a founding partner of the BIG4 North Star Holiday Resort at Hastings Point in NSW – to pick up some extra business skills.
With two seasons under their belt at the Macdonnell Range Caravan Park in Alice Springs, an opportunity arose at Mt Dare.
Essentially, Karen looks after the kitchen and bookwork, while Jeff takes care of the bar, campground and any mechanical requirements.
While that may all sound peachy, in reality, these guys are on call 24/7 and really earn their money. If it wasn’t for the love of the outback and sharing stories with other travellers, they simply wouldn’t be there.
JILL AND GREG ROSS - INNAMINCKA HOTEL, SA
Jill and Greg make an interesting case study. They originated from Brisbane, where they ran a financial planning business for 16 years and were semi-retired before the floods of 2011 washed them out.
Feeling the need to return to work, but with a simultaneous desire to explore the outback, they scored the gig as duty managers at the Innamincka Pub in November 2011, and by January 2012 they were instated as managers. No doubt their experience owning a small restaurant helped out.
Unlike some of the other outback pubs throughout Australia, Innamincka is well-supported by contractors working in the gas fields who need accommodation, food and beer.
Otherwise, it’s the Cooper Creek and the historical travels of Burke and Wills that draw the crowds by road and air. One of their latest additions is a boat that cruises up the Cooper twice a day.
Their biggest night so far was last year during a rally, when 400 hungry people came in looking for a feed. The rally was a fundraiser for the Cancer Council, and last year brought in more than $1 million.