WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM-BLAIR | PHOTO ESSAY BY PAUL BEUTEL
We all know the bloke who sits in the same bar stool religiously. He drinks slowly; like it’s holy. Beside his pot of beer, on the bar, is his tithe – a $10 note and a few gold coins. With a gentle nod and a wry smile, the bartender replaces his empty glass with a coldie.
He comes here to unwind and forget about life for a while. On a Friday night his mates join him for footy tipping and snooker. They share a few jokes. If they buy enough raffle tickets from their local cricket club, one of them is bound to take home the meat tray.
With their high ceilings and stained-glass windows, country pubs are often the most impressive buildings in town. But for the people who congregate there, their local pub is much more than bricks and mortar. It’s their community. A place of belonging. A broad church where they always feel welcome.
In towns like Howard, Childers, Cordalba, South Kolan, Bucca and Wallaville, the pubs are owned by local families; not big multinational companies. It takes a special person to be a publican. They counsel those who frequent their watering holes. They put food in their bellies. They keep their secrets and aren’t afraid to administer tough love. Some publicans fall into it by accident. Others hold romantic dreams of restoring these grandiose dames to their former glory. And some, who are seeking adventure, take a leap of faith and quit their big city careers after seeing tiny classified listings in newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald.
Adorned with newspaper clippings, old photographs, music memorabilia, sporting paraphernalia and dirty ditties, their walls tell stories of biblical proportions about love, war, ghosts, fires, fights, floods and droughts. Regardless of their age or condition, these institutions remain the beating heart of their community. They are a poignant symbol of Aussie mateship triumphing over hardship. There’s only one scenario worse than a pub with no beer and that’s a country town without a pub. It’s unimaginable.