Source: News Corp Australia
City slickers find a rural welcome in country pubs
ON January 3, temperatures in Coonamble hit 47C. It’s the kind of place where tyres melt as your car belts along the Castlereagh Highway. It’s the kind of place where publicans become barflies themselves, sitting out back of their country hotel tending to their thirst.
But Coonamble, in central western NSW, and hundreds of rural towns like it, has a magnetic draw for some, who leave their jobs and their homes and move, taking over derelict pubs and hoping to become part of the community. This is what happened to Mark Wakefield and his son Jayden, who left the “smell of the sea breeze” and headed west three months ago.
Wakefield, a halfback for the Cronulla Sharks in the 1980s, already had some pub experience. He’d managed one in Currumbin then again in Mooloolaba, both in Queensland. Then he’d headed for Tamworth, then Gunnedah, in NSW. Yet even he had doubts about taking over the Bucking Bull Hotel in Coonamble, hesitant “to come this far west”.
“We came out and had a look and the pub was pretty run down, but when we walked around the town, everyone said hello and smiled,” he says. “These were good country folk. As we drove back, we knew.”
David Turner of NSW Hotel Brokers is a pub broker, the man who bought the Bucking Bull and the Wakefields together. He says people approach him from all walks of life, from experienced hoteliers to those who have never been in hospitality, looking to find the perfect country hotel.
“I find people are looking for a lifestyle change,” he says. “There are a lot of inquiries from city folk and from mining communities where people have managed to save.”
“In smaller country towns, like Nyngan and Walcha, the pubs are still the social hub, the locals want their traditional pubs, and there’s a great opportunity to join a tight knit community.”
He spends his days criss-crossing country NSW, from the wheat-belt town of Forbes to the western plains of Dubbo, out to pastoral Narromine to check a listing and through the mining town of Parkes on the way back.
He says small country pubs are still financially successful because they are town landmarks with regular customers. Few large hotel syndicates bother opening pubs in regional Australia.
“A hotel provides opportunities for living arrangements and a business combined. Small freehold hotels, out in the central west, you can buy them for $500,000 or $600,000, a prime piece of real estate in town with a business on it. For that money on the coast you just get a home that doesn’t generate any income.”
Brothers Terry and Simon Peavey bought the Fish Creek Hotel in Fish Creek, the southeastern tip of mainland Australia, thirteen months ago. Although originally from the Gippsland town of Sale, they had been looking to take over a coffee shop in Melbourne, but after seeing a pub for sale in a newspaper, they decided to look for a hotel instead. Built in the art deco style of the 1930s, the Fish Creek Hotel is known best for the large fish reposed upon the roof. Fish Creek is not an ordinary country town. Although it only has 250 residents, it’s on the tourist trail to Wilsons Promontory, and near Sandy Point, Yanakie and Waratah Bay, popular weekend getaway towns for Melburnians.
The Peaveys too have had to make extensive repairs to their pub. Simon Peavey says when they first arrived, parts of the ceiling had been removed and only a few rooms used. “The hotel was built in 1939 after the original hotel burnt down, in the days of the six o’clock swill, so it didn’t have a dining room and it only had a very small bar,” he says.
“But the town has a strong association with the hotel. There was a 21st and someone fell off the roof; football teams have won the grand finals and slept here for three days. There’s a great photo in the petrol station across the road of a when a guy rode a horse into the bar.
“One woman came in and gave me a kiss and thanked us for fixing the hotel,” he says. “People who were married in the hotel in the 1940s and 50s; they’d been too embarrassed to bring their friends back and we want to give the community something they can be proud of again.”
His brother Terry says everyone knows his name, even if he doesn’t know theirs. “But it’s not a bed of roses,” he says. “I guess you could call this place a renovator’s delight; we had to start with 20 staff we didn’t know, and some of the locals see us as city boys; we’re not, but if your grandmother doesn’t have a plot in the cemetery then you’re not a local. It takes some time but it’s becoming a great place.”
Out in Coonamble, Wakefield has a different problem. “Out here you don’t have everything at your beck and call. The closest refrigeration guy is in Dubbo, you have to plan everything in advance,” he says.
He may have been hesitant to move to the town, but he’s certainly embracing it. His son has joined the rugby league team, and Wakefield has just started coaching them from time to time. And he’s joined the local golf club.
Pub broker Turner recently sold the Royal Hotel in Mendooran, NSW, to a former cruise ship performer who goes by the moniker “the Singing Butcher”. He’s moved former consultants Merryn Nasmyth and Justin Ryan, with their two children, into the Overlander in Nyngan, their first pub.
Nasmyth says a lack of consultancy work in the mines meant the family needed to look for a change of business and a new lifestyle. A town of 2000, Nyngan is almost 600km from Sydney. Their experience was similar to the Wakefields’.
“The pub side was a pretty hard slog; it wasn’t left in a good state, but we’re keen to see the pub brought back to the way it should be,” she says.
“The first day we went to the shops and obviously everyone knew we were the people who had taken over the Overlander and they were very supportive of our ideas and where we want to go with the place.”
In Coonamble, the Wakefields arrived to a pub with uninhabitable accommodation. “We had eighty pigeons living in the roof and their droppings were caving in the ceiling,” Wakefield says.
But the Bucking Bull is well on its way back. The restaurant is about to reopen; so is the bottle shop. In the first few weeks they were in Coonamble, the whole town came through to see who the new publicans were, Wakefield says. “Apparently we were all right,” he says. “The last bloke had gone broke and we had people clapping when those who hadn’t been here for a few years came back. Of course there’s a social aspect to it, you can have a beer at the bar in the evening with the boys, and making sure everything is all right.”
He says he works from open to close every day, but doesn’t count it all as work. “It’s how you live. If you divided it into an hourly rate, it wouldn’t be anything.”
Back in Fish Creek, renovations continue. Two more bedrooms are about to open, and Simon Peavey says the iconic fish will soon be refurbished. “It’s starting to go off, but mind you, 25 years of lying in the sun and you’d need some work too.”
Resurrecting traditional food
From ABC Rural, 8th June 2014
They may be “fickle”, but a group of young Indigenous women on the New South Wales far south coast, are determined to propagate a vegetable which was once “plentiful” on the high country of the Monaro.
The women who are students at a number of the region’s secondary schools, are growing various yams, under the guidance of elder Eileen Blackburn.
As a child growing up in the region, Eileen has fond memories of eating yams, as part of a diet which consisted of “lots of wild food.”
“They are quite tasty and adaptable.
“You can throw them into a salad, you can do with them what you would normally do with other vegies.
“You could bake them, steam them, you could eat them raw.”
Once the yams are sufficient in numbers and strong enough, they will be replanted on the Bundian Way.
It is a network of walkways, roads and tracks, which had cultural and trade significance covering parts of the Gippsland, the NSW south east coast, up to the high country.
The route was a relatively easy walk for Aboriginal people connecting the high country to the coastal areas, with plenty of food to be found along the way.
For Eileen, the project has gone from targeting the traditional yam fields, to also combining the science which is now helping nurture the areas, which for a long time had not been “accessible for our people.”
It is also important to her that everyone also learn the significance of the yams.
They were not just for sustenance but the women’s ceremonies “centred on the yams,” while the men’s revolved around the Bogong moths, which were prolific in the area.
“The women too would take the family, the young children, and the elder women and they too had their stories of ceremonies.
“Initially we were looking at just the revisualisation of the yams, the plant itself and we know that it is significant in the terms of the women.
“We have tried to encompass those cultural protocol, to keep the integrity of what the yam is about and that is just blossoming.”
Providing part of the science knowledge is Annabel Dorrough, who specialises in native seeds and natural regeneration.
“We are looking at bringing back burning and digging and seeing the effect on the new environment up there with weeds and the absence of indigenous care.”
As part of the project and to provide protection for the yams while they are still in pots, the young women are also constructing a hut at Jigamy farm just between Eden and Pambula.
When finished, it will be approximately two metres high, mainly consisting of large timber poles and mud bricks, which are made on the site.
Assisting in the construction is local, Lindsay Caldwell, who has used mud bricks on a variety of buildings throughout the district.
“It’s good for young people to find out there are other ways of building, such as the more traditional methods.
“[There are] always disasters working with mud…we have had a few failures, but with mud bricks, if you can get them into the wall they are okay.”
The girls are keen to grab the trowels and mix the mortar and then lay the bricks in rows between the upright poles, becoming spattered with the mud in the process which is plentiful following a morning of rain.
Brooke Mongta left school several years ago, and she, along with another of the young women, are charged with ensuring the younger girls are organised and get the job done.
“It’s fun, it’s hard labour.
“We are cruising along, its been awesome!
“At first it was hard, but now we all have got the hang of it!”
It is not just the physical aspect that Brooke enjoys, but also the overall aim of the project has significance.
“It’s stuff from the past that is being brought up, that is going to be brought back out into the community.
“It had been forgotten and now it is being told again and it is a story that I can tell my kids.
“It’s a learning process and it is a whole lot of things.”
For Annabel Dorrough, while her role may be largely involved with the science, she has taken more than just a clinical view managing to taste both the Daisy and Vanilla Lily yams and “I enjoyed them just raw.”