Sally Hammond embarks on the mother of all pub crawls to bring you 45 of Australia’s best boozers. From remote country watering holes to pubs within cooee of the major towns, you’ll never be caught short of a drop again.
They’ve always been watering holes. Places to swap tall stories and forge that legendary “Aussie mateship”. These days, classic country pubs may have morphed into places you dress up and go out to for a good meal plus a night of entertainment. But, even now, the pub is the hub of most country towns.
It seems every country town has a Railway Hotel, a Grand or a Royal, a Criterion or a Commercial. There are Crown Hotels in many places, as well as Exchange, Globe, and Imperial Hotels. And while Aussie pubs seem to be a bit more low-key in their naming, there is the Magpie and Stump in Mintaro, South Australia, the Cauliflower Hotel in Sydney, and even one named for a dog in outback Queensland.
City pubs now feature bands and live acts, but get off the beaten track and you’ll discover crab, cockroach or cane toad races, two-up, bull riding and contests you’ll find nowhere else. At one, you’re encouraged to add to the artwork on the walls. Others feature eclectic collections, or “pub-obilia”.
Once the pub was the place to stay in town. While some have upgraded and now provide modern accommodation – graduating to become “hotels” – others offer very basic lodging. Food also varies, from counter lunches (usually good, or at least substantial) to gourmet dining rooms, bistros and restaurants. And the beer? It’s always cold and always needed, especially after a long hot drive.
As for the locals – they don’t mind a bit of company. Their country-style welcome is basically: Drink up!
Come with us on the pub crawl of the century as we take in 45 great Aussie boozers, as well as try to discover once and for all which is the oldest pub in Sydney-town. And while we’re not saying these are the absolute best – most people will argue their local or their own discovery is – if you do have a favourite that isn’t in here, let us know by posting a comment or emailing email@example.com
New South Wales
Pub With No Beer Hotel
The stunningly scenic “back road” to Macksville passes this Aussie icon immortalised in the song that was written here and later sung by Slim Dusty. Now it’s Murray Brewing Company’s base and those sweeping views are certainly worth toasting with a beer out on the veranda. Taylors Arm Rd, Taylors Arm, 02 6564 2100, www.pubwithnobeer.com.au
The “Tumby Pub” just off the highway on the banks of the Tweed River is a family pub. It was the first here, licensed in 1887 and now has a fine bistro that makes the most of the location. Riverside Drive, Tumbulgum, 02 6676 6202, www.tumbulgumtavern.com.au
Family Hotel, Tibooburra
There’s a touch of bush culture in this circa 1883 pub way out in Corner Country. The walls inside are covered with pretty priceless sketches. In 1960 Clifton Pugh befriended the publican and did some high-class graffiti for him. Other artists include Richard Armor, Russell Drysdale and Eric Minchen – but if you’re good enough you might be allowed to add something too. Briscoe St, Tibooburra, 08 8091 3314, www.outbacknsw.com.au/family_hotel.htm
Ask about the story behind all the money pinned to ceiling at this circa 1887 NSW Southern Highlands inn. They’ll tell you – but our guess is that it’ll be for a price! This is also Babe territory, as if you could forget. Sometimes goes by the name “the Country Inn”, but don’t be fooled; it’s the same place. 87 Hoddle St, Robertson, 02 4885 1202, www.thesouthernhighlands.com.au
Harrigan’s Irish Pubs
Who says pubs have to be heritage? These two new NSW hotels bring a touch of the Blarney to the Hunter and Taree regions. At Harrington Waters, don’t blame the drink; those really could be dolphins you’re seeing frolicking in the river. Hunter Valley Gardens, Broke Rd, Pokolbin & Josephine Blvd, Harrington Waters, 02 6556 0555, www.harrigansirishpub.com.au
The Newport Arms
This grand, sprawling circa 1880 pub overlooking Pittwater 40min north of the Sydney CBD is about as inclusive as bars get, with play areas for kids, a top-notch steak restaurant upstairs, giant screens, beer gardens, tidy lodgings, some of the best views in the state and 125 years under its belt. Here’s to many more. Cnr Beaconsfield and Kalinya St, Newport, 02 9997 4900, www.newportarms.com.au
Near Brunswick Heads, Byron Bay, this is the real deal – a traditional pub, beside the former rail track. Ma (short for Margaret) Ring was Australia’s oldest publican, having served here for 53 years until her death aged 101 in 1983. The place is still full of old things and pub-obilia. 1 Wilfred St, Billinudgel, 02 6680 1148.
Mount Warning Hotel
Most locals call it the “Uki Pub”. It’s out the back of Murwillumbah and you step back in time at this place – just a classic pub in the breathtaking foothills of Mount Warning. Kyogle Rd, Uki, 02 6679 5111.
Hotel Gearin, Katoomba
Actor Jack Thompson is a true-blue Aussie bloke, so who better to rehabilitate this Art Deco beauty, built in the Blue Mountains in 1910? Quite rightly, the centrepiece of the hotel is its classic Australian “Long Bar”. 273 Great Western Hwy, Katoomba, 02 4782 4395, www.hotelgearin.com
Lots of historical photos in the bar of this bushranger-country pub (John “Happy Jack” Gilbert was finally cornered by police in the area and shot dead in 1865), but many people come just for the food. It’s been said that the chef here cooks the best steaks in Australia. 34 Fitzroy St, Binalong, 02 6227 4246.
See what has attracted so many producers and filmmakers to this remote spot beyond Broken Hill. The old pub’s walls are packed with photos taken during the various shoots, and most of the locals have had their moment of fame as walk-ons or extras. Just ask them. Layard St, Silverton, 08 8088 5313,
The Commercial, Longreach
Hosts a classic outdoor BBQ on Sunday nights, cooked by publican and local legend Roly Gooding, as well as loads of comfy accommodation. Also shirks a jukebox and TVs in favour of good old-fashioned yarns at the bar. Cnr Duck and Eagle St, Longreach, 07 4658 1677.
Nindigully Hotel (The Gully)
With a town population of six, you’d wonder where the other drinkers come from. But they do! Especially for New Year’s Eve. Queensland’s oldest hotel, on the banks of the Moonie River (fishing allowed), has been dealing with thirst since 1864. Check out the collection of donated Akubras and try to spot the police hat. George Rd, Nindigully, 07 4625 9367, www.nindigullypub.com
You’ve heard of the pub with no beer. Well, this outfit in far southwest Qld bills itself as the “pub without a town”. There’s more dry outback humour at the bar. Drink with the opal miners and farmers or play nine holes on the sandy golf course. Quilpie-Thargomindah Rd, Toompine, 07 4656 4863.
The Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton
Check the website for the fascinating story of the beginnings of this imposing place. Queen Elizabeth II has stayed here, as well as the English cricket team, Rod Laver, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. During WWII it was HQ for the generals planning Australia’s defence in the Pacific. Cnr Quay & Fitzroy Streets, Rockhampton, 07 4922 1225, www.thecriterion.com.au
Babinda State Hotel
In Queensland’s far north, it would be hard to find a more beautifully restored Federation hotel, built by the Queensland Government in 1917. Grand colonial verandas are ideal for relaxing with a drink before the rainforest and mountain views. 73 Munro St, Babinda, 07 4067 1202, www.babindastatehotel.com.au
Queensland has hit the record books with its annual World’s Greatest Pub Crawl. This year, on Sunday June 7, the aim is to beat its own current Guinness World Record, set in 2008, of 3000 pub-crawlers. Only over-18s are allowed, and while punters do have to buy a drink
in at least ten pubs on the list in a single day, soft drinks are allowed (and recommended). www.worldsgreatestpubcrawl.com
Maryvale Crown Hotel
Big signs on the highway heading towards the NSW border announce “Historic Hotel”. The Californian who built this a century ago believed (wrongly) the area was volcanic, so he chose steel and concrete. Recently revamped, it has new life in it, and really buzzes. 47 Taylor St, Maryvale, 07 4666 1148, www.maryvalehotel.com
North Gregory Hotel, Winton
This pub is believed by most to be the place where Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda was first performed in public in 1895. Local sculptor Daphne Mayo has sand-etched the song’s chorus and a picture of the swagman on the hotel’s glass doors. 67 Elderslie St, Winton, 07 4657 1375.
Blue Heeler Hotel, Kynuna
Toast the hotel’s namesake, the legendary Australian working dog, and search for famous signatures on the walls. The “champagne window” immortalised in Banjo Paterson’s poem “Goldenwater” is here too. And Waltzing Matilda’s famous billabong is nearby. Matilda Highway, Kynuna, 07 4746 8650.
Walkabout Creek Hotel, McKinlay
Once called the Gidgee Bug, and after that the Federal, this is now one of Australia’s most famous watering holes. It’s Mick Dundee’s pub, having featured in all the Crocodile Dundee flicks. Sold soon after the first movie, the heritage-listed boozer still has that authentic Dundee feel to it. Kirby St, McKinlay, 07 4746 8424
The Birdsville Hotel
Everyone has heard of the Birdsville Track but not everyone gets out this far, near the Qld, SA and NT borders. If you do, check out this 1884-built pub that has seen it all. To fast track your visit, there’s an airstrip right out back of the pub. Adelaide St, Birdsville, 07 4656 3244, www.theoutback.com.au
Royal Hotel, Eromanga
Want to get away from it all? Then this is the place, the pub – and town – that’s officially furthest from the sea in Australia. Appropriately, Eromanga means “hot, dusty plain”, and the pub was built on one in 1885 from locally made mud bricks. Deacon St, Eromanga, 07 4656 4837.
The Daly Waters Pub
This tiny iconic pub, the oldest in the Territory, has been welcoming travellers since 1893. It also has one of the first airports in Australia, which once serviced planes on the London-Singapore leg. During WWII it was used by the Australian and American air forces. Famous as a break
for drovers moving cattle between Alice Springs and Darwin, it’s now also a bank, post office and police station. An absolute classic. Stuart Hwy, Daly Waters, 08 8975 9927, www.dalywaterspub.com
Humpty Doo Hotel
The word from sports nut Matt Cleary, one of AT’s 100 Best Towns panellists from the April/May 2009 issue, is that “dress rules at the Humpty Doo Hotel are pretty much ‘Must Wear Pants’. Has arguably the best Sunday Session in the Top End. And is near a good little golf course.” Also has the largest set of buffalo horns in Australia up on its wall. Good enough for us. Arnhem Hwy, Humpty Doo, 08 8988 1372.
Adelaide River Inn
With the best beer garden outside of Darwin, you’ll be absolutely dying for a drink by the time you reach this oasis on the banks of the Adelaide River. Not just a shrine to Charlie the Buffalo from Crocodile Dundee, you can also order up tasty buffalo steaks at the counter – and the Barra ‘n’ chips is also worth the drive. Stuart Hwy, Adelaide River, 08 8976 7047.
Prairie Hotel, Parachilna
Short on people (local population is around seven) but big on hospitality, you may find yourself downing a coldie beside a film crew – the area has featured in many ads and films – or someone who’s driven in one of the utes parked out front. Be sure to try the Flinders Feral Food. It’s famous and fantastic. Cnr High Street & West Terrace, Parachilna, 08 8648 4844, www.prairiehotel.com.au
Wallaroo Marina Hotel
This new hotel on the Yorke Peninsula, where the ferry crosses to the Eyre Peninsula, is just what the locals ordered. The Coopers Ale House is especially popular and you can eat or drink with great views of the beach or cove. Better still, you can snack on the local seafood. 11 Heritage Drive, Wallaroo, 08 8823 2488.
The Victory Hotel, Sellicks Beach
So recently renovated the paint is hardly dry, but that’s not stopping people who’ve heard about the food as well as the wine list at this lovely beachside location. As well as beer, it’s said to have one of SA’s best cellars. Main South Rd, Sellicks Beach, 08 8556 3083, www.victoryhotel.com.au
Mungerannie Hotel, Birdsville Track
Out here in the middle of nowhere, Phil’s your man. He can pull a beer, change a tyre or yarn about anything. And if you’ve come this far, be prepared to stay a while. The traffic light will give you time to decide. And then there’s that hat collection! Birdsville Track, Mungerannie, 08 8675 8317, www.mungeranniehotel.com.au
William Creek Hotel
Around 1000km northwest of Adelaide, the William Creek Hotel is pretty much the whole town. Part garage, part landing strip, part hotel, part campground but definitely all Australian, its walls and ceilings are covered in all manner of pub-obilia left by travellers. Add your own before moving on. William Creek, Oodnadatta Track, 08 8670 7880, www.williamcreekhotel.net.au
Pub in the Paddock, Pyengana
The name gives a hint. This is a pub where you’d least expect one. “Come and see our Beer Drinking Pig” says a sign when you’re almost there. And yes, there is a pig. And yes, it drinks beer. St Columba Falls Road, Pyengana, 03 6373 6121.
Mole Creek Hotel
What else would you expect to see on the walls of the public bar in the remote north of Tasmania? Tassie tigers, of course, cavorting around while you read the collection of newspaper clippings about tiger sightings in valley. A bit chilling if you’re planning a moonlight walk. 90 Pioneer Drive, Mole Creek, 03 6363 1102.
What is the oldest pub in Australia? Many plump for the Bush Inn, New Norflok, Tasmania, said to be the oldest continually licenced hotel operating on the same site, in the same building, since 1815
Man O’Ross Hotel
Halfway between Hobart and Launceston, the circa 1835 Man O’Ross hotel is plonked right on the famous “Four Corners of Ross”, and represents the sin of Temptation. (Salvation, the 1920s church, is just up the road.) Built from local sandstone a year prior to the old Ross Bridge, it’s a classic Tasmanian heritage boozer in the old style. 35 Church St, Ross, 03 6381 5445, www.manoross.com.au
Craig’s Royal Hotel, Ballarat
This was one of the first grand hotels in Victoria, born from the gold rush, so it’s hardly a “pub”. Established in 1853, its hospitality and service made it the venue for poets, princes and prime ministers. 10 Lydiard St South, Ballarat, 03 5331 1377, www.craigsroyal.com.au
Sawyers Arms Tavern, Newtown
This place on the outskirts of Geelong has long been a popular meeting place for young country people, and is now forging a reputation for its restaurant food in a country pub atmosphere. 2 Noble Street, Newtown, 03 5223 1244.
The Flying Horse, Warrnambool
They’re saying this fun and funky spot is the best new thing for Warrnambool, and owner Matt Monk, a local ex-radio DJ, would agree. There’s
a microbrewery on site, with the award-winning Dirty Angel so far the standout beer. Cnr Princes Hwy & Mahoneys Rd, Warrnambool, 03 5562 2254, www.theflyinghorse.com.au
Which pub had the longest bar? According to Guiness, it was the Mildura Workingman’s Sports and Social Club. Rebuilt in 1970, the bar was 91m long and had 32 beer taps, but was removed during renovations in 1995.
Pig and Whistle, Main Ridge
More like an English pub with a steak and seafood restaurant and a microbrewery. No chance of boredom here on the Mornington Peninsula with an extensive collection of anything and everything to do with pubs – including more than 100 different beers. 365 Purves Rd, Main Ridge, 03 5989 6130, www.pigandwhistle.com.au
Yarra Glen Grand Hotel
Actors Alison Whyte and Fred Whitlock used to own the Terminus Hotel in Abbotsford but a business tree-change saw them taking over this circa 1888 heritage-listed hotel in the Yarra Valley. 19 Bell Street, Yarra Glen, 03 9730 1230, www.yarraglengrand.com.au
Rustic, charming and draped with wisteria, this is northeast Victoria’s answer to Provence, just up the road from Beechworth. There are open fires to combat the chilly winter nights and a leafy garden for summer. All this and local handcrafted beers on tap. 1 Wallace St, Stanley, 03 5728 6502, www.thestanley.com.au
This is the pub that almost died. Late in 2008 hundreds of people joined a Facebook campaign to save the cute century-old pub north of Port Campbell when it closed unexpectedly. Good news is, the beer is flowing again. 2 Curdievale Road, Timboon, 03 5598 3021.
Palace Hotel, Kalgoorlie
Before he was US President, Herbert Hoover was a regular guest of this grand gold rush hotel. His mirror and a poem he wrote to the barmaid he loved remains. Meanwhile, the vibe of this mining town lives on. 137 Hannan St, Kalgoorlie, 08 9021 2788, www.palacehotel.com.au
Freemasons Hotel, Geraldton
“The Freo”, with its iconic spire, is an institution. Popular with everyone – surfers, fishermen, miners and visitors – there are 16 beers on tap and excellent seafood to be had. Cnr Durlacher St & Marine Terrace Mall, Geraldton, 08 9964 3457, www.freemasonshotel.com.au
Caves House, Yallingup
The Long Bar of this renovated heritage-listed hotel near Margaret River somehow manages to blend Art Deco with surf-chic. The classic polished bar pays homage to the local long board surfers. Yallingup Beach Rd, Yallingup, 08 9750 1500, www.caveshousehotel.com.au
Dwellingup Community Hotel
Another pub salvaged. After this timber-cutters’ pub deep in jarrah forests 100km south of Perth was the only building to survive the town’s devastating bushfire in 1961, it was bought by the community, and remains the only community-owned pub in WA. Marrinup St, Dwellingup, 08 9538 1056.
Whim Creek Pub
In the Pilbara region of far northwest of WA, this century-old shocking pink corrugated iron pub has survived cyclones, white ants and much more. Once it even had a camel that loved drinking beer, and a python that lived in the rafters and nicked food. Excellent Barra Burgers too. North West Coastal Hwy, Whim Creek, 08 9176 8700.