Homes away from home

The pub crawl to end all pub crawls has come up with the ones that are spe­cial

Central Telegraph - - READ - BY Tony Durkin

COL Whe­lan spent al­most three decades in the rather im­per­sonal role as of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher of Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Rugby League com­pe­ti­tion. Sure he en­joyed what he did. Af­ter all he had the best seat in the house at a sport he re­ally loved, and he met hordes of in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters. But it was still a job.

Then, to­wards the end of his ca­reer in rugby league pho­tog­ra­phy, Col be­came in­creas­ingly dis­en­chanted with the grad­ual de­cline of off-field per­son­al­ity.

“Play­ers, coaches and of­fi­cials were be­com­ing muz­zled, and not voic­ing their true thoughts,” he re­flected.

“Clubs in­sisted a me­dia man­ager was al­ways present to make sure the same tired cliches and empty sen­tences were ut­tered. One of the fun parts of what I was do­ing was grad­u­ally be­ing taken away.”

So, in the off-sea­son, Col of­ten took to the road, and to the bush. He had a motorbike and while he en­joyed the soli­tude of the long trips, he es­pe­cially rel­ished the in­ter­ac­tion with the lo­cals when he stopped over at a pub.

Here, he dis­cov­ered, were real peo­ple, telling it ex­actly how they saw it; un­cen­sored and un­cut.

Soon the ex­pe­di­tions, and the pubs, took on a life of their own and Col Whe­lan has pub­lished a book called Pub Yarns: The Pub, the Whole Pub and Noth­ing but the Pub.

It is, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor and pho­tog­ra­pher, “a large for­mat tome of 90,000 words and sev­eral hun­dred stun­ning im­ages of the bush, its pubs and its peo­ple’’.

Col started re­view­ing pubs for Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cle Mag­a­zine back in 2012, three years be­fore he pulled up stumps as an NRL pho­tog­ra­pher and off­loaded his busi­ness, Ac­tion Photographics, to the game’s gov­ern­ing body. Some of the con­tent of his book dates back to then, but the ma­jor­ity is from his trav­els over the past two years.

But the book “jour­ney’’ ac­tu­ally started in 2010 when he rode his bike from Ade­laide to Sydney. Dur­ing the seven-day trip he was stunned by the num­ber of bush pubs, cafes and restau­rants dis­play­ing the “for sale’’ sign.

“My first night stay was at Too­ley­buc, on the Mur­ray River,” he re­called.

“The lo­cal pub was for sale, not be­cause the owner had made a for­tune and wanted to move on, but be­cause he was go­ing broke. The next night the pub in which I stayed was also for sale, and for the same rea­son.

“And for the fol­low­ing five days ev­ery pub, ev­ery cafe and ev­ery restau­rant I vis­ited was for sale, each of them go­ing down the fi­nan­cial drain.”

Col reck­oned that if he could en­cour­age rid­ers – through his pub re­views in the mag­a­zine – to visit small towns and their pubs, they may be able to con­trib­ute to sav­ing some of these strug­gling busi­nesses.

“From then on my monthly pub re­views were aimed at get­ting city money out into the bush, and the book is the next step in this goal,” he said.

“The book is not the dream. Get­ting peo­ple into the coun­try is the dream. The book is merely one of the ve­hi­cles.

‘‘ Each bloke con­trib­utes. Ev­ery­one takes a turn at light­ing up the laugh­ter and no one shirks their turn.

“My one great hope is that it makes peo­ple home­sick for places they’ve never been, and gives them a sense of miss­ing peo­ple they have haven’t yet met.”

Col es­ti­mates he has vis­ited close to 80 pubs on this par­tic­u­lar book-com­pil­ing jour­ney, but re­fuses to buy into the “which is your favourite’’ de­bate.

“I try to ex­plain just what it is that makes a pub great and for that I give them a very quick history les­son,” he said. He reck­ons two fac­toids hold the es­sen­tials to a great pub. “When you are in a truly good pub, you feel that you’re out, but you also feel that you are at home.

“And one of the ways great pubs achieve this is by not al­low­ing the bar to be a bar­rier. Great pubs have a feel­ing of in­clu­sive­ness where the pub­li­can, the staff, the lo­cals, the reg­u­lars and even the blow-ins are equals.”

Some pub­li­cans, how­ever, take this to ex­tremes. Take 92-year-old Mary Craw­ley, who runs the Tat­ter­salls Ho­tel at Bar­ringun on the Queens­land-NSW bor­der mid­way be­tween Cun­na­mulla and Bourke, for ex­am­ple.

“Most days it’s pretty quiet in this town of just three peo­ple,” Col said.

“Mary, with her ever-present dog Gidgee at her feet, will get you your first drink and then come around and join you in the sun­shine. But when I in­ter­rupted my chat with Mary to ask for an­other, she re­fused to fetch it.

“You saw where I got it and where I put the money, so just go serve your­self.”

Out at Toompine, an hour from Quilpie, Dogga runs the lo­cal whose 6500-acre beer gar­den is veined with yab­bie-filled wa­ter­holes. Yet, ac­cord­ing to Col, he is rarely be­hind the bar.

“In­stead he’ll join you out front, telling sto­ries and laughing at yours,” Col said.

“If a ve­hi­cle en­gine breaks the back­ground si­lence Dogga will track it un­til he spots the ac­tual car or truck. And if it’s a reg­u­lar he’ll duck away and get the “usual’’ for the driver.

“‘Gotta make ’em feel at home’, he says. When they get here in the arvo, they’ve not been sit­ting on their hands all day. They’ve all been do­ing tough yards and need to sit down, put their feet up and have a cold one.”

But there is also a third in­gre­di­ent that Col pas­sion­ately be­lieves is es­sen­tial in the recipe for a great outback pub.

“There has to be a sense of cus­tody.

PHOTO: COL WHE­LAN

◗ The bar at the outback Toompine pub, which is also known as the ‘pub with no town,’ in Queens­land’s Quilpie shire.

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