DE­SPITE EV­ERY EF­FORT TO KEEP IT OPEN, RAPPVILLE PUB IS SET TO CLOSE

Bat­tle to mod­ernise 106-year-old pub is over

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - Front Page -

IT’S served a vil­lage of 250 peo­ple for more than 100 years but red tape and reg­u­la­tions have caught up with an­other her­itage-listed coun­try pub.

Not even mu­sos play­ing for free, com­mu­nity fundrais­ers and crowd-sourc­ing could save the Rappville Pub. It’s call­ing last drinks this Sun­day.

“We give up,” own­ers Jayne Fitz­patrick and Peter St Clair said on Face­book as they called time on a two-and-ahalf-year bat­tle to bring the 106-year-old, two-storey tim­ber ho­tel into line with mod­ern-day health, safety and build­ing stan­dards.

Rappville, in north­ern New South Wales, has a pop­u­la­tion of a few hun­dred peo­ple, a post of­fice, ten­nis court, show­ground and school.

It once served as a set lo­ca­tion for a cou­ple of episodes of ABC drama Heart­beat.

It used to have a rail­way sta­tion but that closed years ago. The trains on the North Coast line pass with­out slow­ing.

Rappville is about 30km from the near­est ma­jor town, Casino, and was formed largely around the lo­cal tim­ber and farm­ing in­dus­tries.

Since 1911 lo­cals have quenched their thirst at the pub in Nand­abah St.

‘IT WAS IN PRETTY BAD SHAPE’

Jayne and Peter bought the pub in March 2015.

“It was a bar­gain (when we bought it),” Jayne said.

“But it was in pretty bad shape.”

The tim­ber and weath­er­board icon came with nine bed­rooms, a sprawl­ing ve­randa in des­per­ate need of re­pair, a din­ing room, bar, kitchen, no poker ma­chines and a res­i­dent un­com­pli­cated ghost.

By July 2015 it was go­ing pear-shaped.

Years of ne­glect re­vealed dis­puted bound­aries and a hefty price tag – more than the new own­ers imag­ined – to bring it up to scratch with mod­ern-day stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions.

When they tried to fix the rot­ting front bal­cony, they dis­cov­ered it had been il­le­gally built by a pre­vi­ous owner – on coun­cil-owned “air space”. It could stay but a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion was needed.

That prompted more in­ves­ti­ga­tions from the coun­cil, re­veal­ing prob­lems with the build­ing’s fire safety, kitchen and dis­abled ac­cess, which meant clos­ing the up­stairs ac­com­mo­da­tion and kitchen un­til they could be fixed.

It was the be­gin­ning of a long fight.

In one cor­ner were for­mer forestry work­ers Jayne and Peter, who’d worked in the area and wanted to see the pub re­stored to its for­mer glory af­ter “we’d watched it fall down for 15 years”.

In the other, the coun­cil, charged with en­sur­ing the pub met a raft of reg­u­la­tions un­thought of when the pub was built a cen­tury ago.

The fire con­cerns were valid: tim­ber pubs of the same era in the area – in­clud­ing at Casino, Bon­albo, Lawrence and Mal­lan­ga­nee – have gone up in flames across the years.

“It hadn’t had much done to it in 100 years. In the year be­fore we bought it they’d spent a to­tal of $25 on main­te­nance. We think it was for a tube of gap filler,” Jayne said.

“We knew the kitchen would have to be done. We did our due dili­gence, trou­ble is there was noth­ing in the coun­cil files for this pub.”

Jayne and Peter found a mo­bile kitchen so­lu­tion: rent­ing a van from a lo­cal Li­ons Club for $100 a week to turn out pub meals.

COM­MU­NITY RAL­LIES

By Sep­tem­ber last year, the costs for con­sul­tants, de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tions and work to bring the pub up to stan­dards seemed im­pos­si­ble and they an­nounced the pub was go­ing to close, with the own­ers plan­ning to rent it out as a pri­vate home.

But the com­mu­nity stepped in, band­ing to­gether with a se­ries of fundrais­ers – ev­ery­thing from a char­ity wood-chop com­pe­ti­tion to a cake stall – to help with the bills.

Lo­cal mu­si­cians ap­peared at the pub for free. Tradies helped with re­pairs for noth­ing. Other busi­nesses do­nated goods.

It helped get the most ur­gent work done but a year on it’s still go­ing to take an es­ti­mated $120,000 to keep the place legally open and get it to 2017 stan­dards.

Jayne and Peter are fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally ex­hausted.

“You can’t bring a 106-year-old pub up to the build­ing codes of to­day,” Jayne said.

They’ve man­aged to lodge a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion with the coun­cil but that’s where it ends.

Jayne said the coun­cil hasn’t helped by “con­tin­u­ally chang­ing the goal­posts”.

“We lost our kitchen, we couldn’t of­fer the ac­com­mo­da­tion up­stairs. They put an end to camp­ing be­cause de­spite hav­ing the sep­tic ap­proved a year ago, the coun­cil won’t is­sue the cer­tifi­cate,” she said.

“Some­times we feel like we are be­ing tar­geted. I don’t like to say that but that’s the way it feels.

“The coun­cil has a job to do but this has been a very long and con­vo­luted process.

“I don’t want to be coun­cil-bash­ing but it just wears you out. It comes to a point where you have to stop.”

The coun­cil did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment but has pre­vi­ously of­fered con­ces­sions such as al­low­ing the front bar to op­er­ate if the ac­com­mo­da­tion was no longer used.

As res­i­dents fundraised last year, the coun­cil said it had worked with the own­ers “for more than 12 months” to help them meet the stan­dards at the low­est cost and the own­ers needed to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for pub­lic health and safety.

“We know how im­por­tant the Rappville Pub is to the com­mu­nity and we want it to con­tinue to op­er­ate,” coun­cil gen­eral man­ager Vaughan Mac­don­ald told The North­ern Star.

“These are state-wide re­quire­ments and fol­low a num­ber of fires in sim­i­lar premises, some­thing we all want to avoid.”

LAST SHOUT

The pub is up for sale – for $359,000 – ei­ther as a pub or per­haps a nine-bed­room home (change of use will­ing) and Sun­day, at least for now, is the last shout.

“Los­ing the pub takes the heart out of a town but we’ve done ev­ery­thing that we pos­si­bly can,” Jayne said.

“We will have a good day on Sun­day and close at 6pm like we al­ways do.

“The lo­cals aren’t happy. Our bar staff weren’t real pop­u­lar when the news spread on our Face­book.”

Per­haps the beer price drop to $3.50 a schooner and $2.50 a middy, which kicks in from Fri­day to get rid of ex­cess stock at the pub, might douse their dis­ap­point­ment.

PHOTO: SU­SANNA FREYMARK

TOUGH FIGHT: Rappville Pub pub­li­cans Jayne Fitz­patrick and hus­band Peter St Clair are dis­ap­pointed but have no choice but to close the pub.

The pub’s cur­rent own­ers have given up try­ing to bring the 106-year-old build­ing up to mod­ern stan­dards.

PHO­TOS: FACE­BOOK

There’s a fire­place but the pub falls short of mod­ern-day fire safety stan­dards.

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