Monday, 14 February 2022

Outback Adventure, Part Four - Pubs of the West

 'Pubs' have very much been a part of the Outback and iconic Australia, especially after the Gold Rushes of the 1850's. It was nothing to have 10 or more in a small town. Towns often grew around the pub, as it served as a hostelery, restaurant, meeting place, post office and sometimes the general store.

Alcohol could only be purchased at a pub until the late 20th century. The opening hours however were heavily restricted. 10 am - 6pm, Monday to Saturday. 

That being said, Besha Rodell writing for Punch, commented that the iconic pubs have "a smell that is a little sweet, a little acrid, a little malty: it's the scent of sweat and cooked meat and old, worn carpet doused in decades of spilt beer. Riotous watering holes and meeting places." 

I don't think any of the pubs we visited lived up to that description, but it was certainly correct not so long ago. City pubs, sorry hotels, are now of a totally different breed trying to draw customers back after the inforcement of drink driving laws of more recent times. 

The pubs were usually large, wooden and imposing structures, lavishly decorated, inside and out. The bars were on the ground floor and accommodation on on the second level. Wide verandahs were a given to cope with the high summer temperatures. It is surprising at how lavishly many pubs were decorated given the distances and availability of supplies.

On our outback visit, we gained a sense of how it was in the past in the pubs in the west. We came to understand very early, that fire saw the destruction of many. Some were rebuilt. Some are just remembered with a plaque.



The Artesian Hotel, Barcaldine  
It seems to have had a few identities over the years. A mixture of Oz and Kiwi on the outside, but a 'bewitching' delicious meal was enjoyed inside.

The pubs, as we call them use, the title of hotel. Popular pub names are Royal George, Railway Hotel, Central Hotel, Grand Hotel, Imperial Hotel, Prince of Wales etc. It seemed very strange to discover The Shakespeare Hotel in Barcaldine.

In 1900, Jack Howe Australia's famous shearer, abandoned shearing and bought the Universal Hotel. A replica has been built on the original site by his grand daughter and houses a small museum and garden centre.
Jack Howe, born in Killarney, SE Queensland, became famous in 1892 when he broke the daily and weekly shearing records across the country. His record of 321 sheep in one day, using hand shears stood until 1950.

This is his physical description, found in an article from the Australian National Museum.

"Howe was a giant of a man with hands the size of a small tennis raquet and wrists as strong as steel. He set records even when other shearers tried to distract him, by tickling or jumping on his back. His presence in a shed was said to lift tallies far above the normal, as men tried to compete with him.

Wide verandahs


And, ornate iron lace at Charters Towers.

Irish influence at the Court House in Charters Towers. The Irish had a reputation as drinkers.

More lace work and wide verandahs at Ravenswood, a magical, gold mining, ghost town - now a National Trust treasure. Two pubs have survived, but on our visit only one was open. 

The Imperial was open.

Ilfracoombe's Wellshot Hotel.
In 1972, Alexander Buchanan acquired one million acres of land and developed a property that could carry more sheep than ever thought possible. It became one of the largest sheep stations in Australia. The railway arrived and the Wellshot Hotel was established. 
[No decent rain for 9 years was wrecking havoc on the community, along with Covid restrictions. Wonderful summer rain has now fallen}

Modest looking from the outside, but it was quite sensational once you stepped through the door. Hats all over the wall, money stuck to the roof and bar stools of a very different ilk!

The Blue Heeler Pub. 
[Blue Heelers are Australian Cattle Dogs.]

The Blue Heeler Hotel at Kyuna, population of 10, is another very special pub a couple of hours from anywhere. Kyuna is famous for the Battle of Dagworth, the last armed conflict between Australians. In 1891, shearers had been striking against working conditions and wealthy squatters, over a period of 4 months. After the shearers burnt down Dagworth Station near here, Lawyer and famous Australian poet, Banjo Patterson, organised a truce. Swagmen and Squatters drank at the bar and then went back to work.

Accommodation block.

Further along the 'track' [Aussie slang] is Mckinlay and its world-wide famous pub, Walkabout Creek. Do I need to write more. It is the Crocodile Dundee Pub, originally the Federal McKinlay Hotel, which starred in the Paul Hogan  movie made in 1986.
Unfortunately for us, longing for some lunch, it had closed for the day at 2pm. We were just a tad late.  The whole town was lifeless so we hit the road north to Cloncuury, over an hour away.

Prairie Hotel
My favourite pub was an unexpected find on our drive from Hughenden to Charters Towers.
It was Sunday morning and not quite 9 am, when we decided to pull over and check the outside of the building.

We were busy discussing how current the baby news was, when the hatch [arrowed] opened and the publican popped his head out to chat. It wasn't long before he had invited us inside to a working 'museum' pub!
His collection of memorbilia was phenomenal but well presented.  We chatted and browsed and browsed finding amazing pieces on and on. There was a photographic book of life in the outback that I could happily of spent an hour or more enjoying.
Tom then offered to make coffee or tea if we were interested. We very gratefully accepted and happily paid for the offer.

Jan's cuppa was delivered through the hatch.

The lounge and restaurant.

The Hotel as it looked when bought by Tom, about 15 years ago.

A page from the photography book. I wrote the name down but have put it in a safe place. 

Australia Day 2020, after some very heavy monsoonal rain. The land is flat for as far as the eye can see, so this was a lot of rain. Typical Aussie humour. 

Nearly every town has an Irish Pub. Alas, this one went broke and was for sale

Art Deco style, Cloncurry.

Mulgildy Pub, central Queensland only has a population of 170. The pub was a very bright spot in a barren, drought stricken landscape. The worst we had seen all trip.  I'm pleased to report that they have now had good summer rains. We wished we had had time to drop in and speak with the locals, but we still had quite some distance to travel.

In sharing these images, I find it is impossible to portray the distances and isolation between each town. 
For example, I have mentioned Prairie on the drive from Hughenden to Charters Towers, a distance of 248 mostly flat kilometres. Google sets a journey time of 2 1/2 hours. There are just 4 very small towns to drive through and vast properties on either side of the road.  This is the same throughout the outback. Internet connection was brief once we left the major centres. Children on the properites learn through School of the Air until high school age, and then they have to be sent to boarding school.
Tom told us that he makes the 2 hr 10 mins journey to Charters Towers, twice a week to deliver and collect his high school age daughter. This is when he must buy his supplies for the week, needed by the pub.

A totally different way of life to that of the City Slickers!

I would love to read your comment.


  1. No wonder the swagman is jolly! A wonderful report, Helen! Thanks for all the work you put into this post!

    1. Thanks, Bill. It's great to relive the adventure.

  2. When we visited Australia, I remember those long drives in the outback. The vastness of the last is impressive and the red soil, familiar.

    There is so much to enjoy about this post. The verandahs for one. I can imagine the heat and the beautiful shade a verandah could provide.

    The Wellshot and its barstools are picture worthy indeed. I wish we could share some regular amount of rain with that area.

    I understand the draw for some to live in small rural communities, without easy access. Those communities are disappearing in many parts of the world. Is that progress?

    1. Hello Marie. Even as an Aussie, I still find the the distances mind boggling. I wonder how long you managed to spend in Australia? Perhaps we could catch up when we visit in June.
      Share the rain but not the icy rain and wind that you seem to have too much of at present.

  3. These pubs/hotels are huge! I love all the memorabilia. I showed Bob the bar stools, and he thinks we need some....

  4. I await photos of your new bar stools, Barb!
    I have enjoyed your One Good Thing post and so happy for you that your family is now able to visit regularly.
    I can fully understand how you have had to adapt to your new view.

  5. Wonderful post and insight into Outback life. I wanted to visit a typical Aussie Pub on our trip but we never came across one