Homes away from home

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

Life & Style Weekend - - 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.

“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.

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

“A good publi­can al­ways has knowl­edge of the story of the town, and the pub, and has a feel­ing of tak­ing care of a liv­ing or­gan­ism.”

At Yaraka, four hours south of Lon­greach, Chris and his wife Gerry run the pub in a town best known for be­ing on the Outer Bar­coo and near the site of the shanty men­tioned in Banjo Pater­son’s A Bush Chris­ten­ing.

Col fig­ures Chris and Gerry are across ev­ery part of the his­tory of the town – the floods, the droughts, the dust storms. He says they know the story of the pub and they know the en­tire Pater­son poem and the lo­ca­tion of the shanty ru­ins.

“Ev­ery per­son in ev­ery pub has a story but so too, ev­ery pub has its own sto­ries,” he said.

For me, a good publi­can will know these sto­ries and will be able to share them with his pa­trons.”

Some­times, Col dis­cov­ered dur­ing his trav­els, a pub doesn’t even need to be open to cre­ate a great at­mos­phere.

“Ev­ery morn­ing at the El­lan­gowan Ho­tel at Au­gathella, a group of blokes known through­out town as the Tree of Knowl­edge will con­gre­gate on chairs out front of the pub,” he said.

“They are mostly re­tired shearers who get there at 9am, be­fore open­ing time, and tell sto­ries, stretch the truth, em­broi­der facts, make stuff up and gen­er­ally just have a laugh. Blow-ins are wel­come too, so long as they con­trib­ute to the en­joy­ment. You can’t just be a sponge.’’

For Col this as­sem­blage was akin to a group in­volved in a “shout’’ at the bar.

“Each bloke con­trib­utes. Ev­ery­one takes a turn at light­ing up the laugh­ter and no one shirks their turn,” he said.

“Of all the jour­neys out to the bush to re­search the book, this was one of the best starts to a day that I had.”

Among the many other mem­o­rable anec­dotes in the book: at Mid­dle­ton, which is in the ab­so­lute mid­dle of nowhere, Lester, who runs the place with his wife Val, makes visi­tors feel at home by hang­ing out in a blue sin­glet, shorts and no shoes

the busi­ness card for the Prairie Pub does not just have the names of Tom and An­drea, but also their three young daugh­ters. And at night only one meal is served, with ev­ery­one sit­ting down at the huge ta­ble to­gether like guests of the fam­ily

Hunger­ford (pop­u­la­tion 11) is the small­est town in Aus­tralia with its own po­lice of­fi­cer. For publi­can Gra­ham and his wife it’s not un­usual for the other lo­cals, in­clud­ing 90-year-old Mac, to all be in the bar to­gether. Each lo­cal has their per­ma­nent perch at the bar, with a stool al­ways re­served for a vis­i­tor

the new own­ers of the his­toric Royal Ho­tel in Ley­burn were half­way through a lap of Aus­tralia when they re­alised pubs were the high­lights of their trip, so they de­cided to get one of their own. The for­mer owner, ex-NRL player Shane We­bcke, said if he had de­signed the per­fect peo­ple to take over his pub he could not have dreamed of a bet­ter pair

in Ing­ham, the Royal is owned by Alan Quagliotto and his wife Sharon. Alan’s dad bought the place in 1959 and it’s been in the fam­ily ever since

and at Texas, on the NSW-Queens­land bor­der, He­len and her staff make a point of ask­ing ev­ery new face where they’ve come from and where they’re headed. It’s like drop­ping in on cousins.

While Col may have vis­ited 80 great pubs in his trav­els, Pub Yarns: The Pub, the Whole Pub and Noth­ing but the Pub had room for only about 60 of them.

But he says that’s not a prob­lem be­cause he al­ready has a list of 20 ready for Vol­ume Two.

A good publi­can al­ways has knowl­edge of the story of the town, and the pub...

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.

PHO­TOS: COL WHE­LAN

Lester, who runs the pub, in front of the the Mid­dle­ton Ho­tel, which is about 160km west of Winton in Queens­land.

Hav­ing a feed on yab­bies at Toompine.

The wel­come sign at the Bar­ringun Ho­tel.

An­other view of the Mid­dle­ton Ho­tel.

Pub Yarns: The Pub, the Whole Pub and Noth­ing but the Pub, RRP $29.99, is out now through New Hol­land Pub­lish­ing.

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