What do you do when your almost at Birdsville looking forward to the Birdsville Races when the skies open up and the rivers flood turning dusty roads in to impenetrable mud and rivers? You spend the week exploring the Outback Hotels.
Mulga Creek Hotel, BYROCK
If you get tired of driving on the straight road north of Nygan in NSW there is always the Mulga Creek Hotel at Byrock to stop and have a refreshing ale. however you need to keep your eyes open as there nothing here apart from the hotel and general store and a few ramshackle empty buildings. Not only do they do a great cold beer, the meals will make any truck driver happy and they have camping out the back.
South Western Hotel, Toompine
This outback hotel is located somewhere between nothing and scrub. More precisely it is on the road between Quilpie and Thargomindah in Queensland.
This pub with no town once boasted two hotels, a watch maker, post office, blacksmith, jail and 130 opal miners. Built in 1893 it serviced the Cob and Co coaches and now relies on the local shearers and travelling nomads to survive.
Royal Hotel, Eromanga
It always amazes me that a pub in the middle of the outback can still have the grace of calling itself the royal. Established in 1885, the towns claim to fame is being the furthest town from the sea. So i guess that meant we drank in the pub the furtherest from the sea. Like many outback pubs now, the Royal survives on workers from the local mining that is being carried out in the area.
Western Star Hotel, Windorah
What is usually a sleepy pub comes alive once a year for the Windorah Yabby Races at the Western Star Hotel. Unfortunately this was to be as close to Birdsville we would get due to the closure of the road due to the rains.
Yaraka Hotel, YARAKA
Located halfway between Windorah and Blackall, this pub was once the end of the rail line. Its hosts, Jerry Gimblett (pictured) and her husband Chris are the most friendly couple making travellers feel welcome. Having lived in the area several years ago (including being the Principal of the 1 classroom Yaraka School) they returned in 2014 to run the hotel. While the town may appear to be slowly disappearing, Jerry and Chris are doing what they can to revive this slice of outback history. If you want to experience an authentic slice of the outback with the most amazing hospitality then you must stop at Yaraka.
Hebel Hotel, Hebel
Heading along the Castlereagh Hwy between Lightning Ridge and Dirranbandi you come across the small NSW/Qld border town of Hebel. While there is not much to the town there is the ubiquitous hotel. Opening in 1894 as a Cobb & Co changing station and later operated as a hotel it still features the original hitching rail for the horses. The area is also rumoured that Ned Kelly's brother Dan and fellow Kelly gang member Steve Hart lived here under an alias.
While we did not hitch our horse here we definitely stopped for a drink.
Glengarry 'Hilton' Hotel, Glengarry
Lightening ridge has its fare share of unique characters but if you really want to experience opal mining country take the detour to Grawin, Glengarry, Sheepyard, and Mulga Rush opal fields.
This moonscape of mines, tin shacks, and rusty vehicles also has the 'Hilton'. While not as luxurious as the famous brand, Glengarry Hilton Hotel is made from shipping containers and an assortment of wrought iron sheds. The pub is also a place to meet the local miners who have escaped the rat race of the city to spend their days underground searching for the elusive black opal. It does not get much more outback than this.
club in the scrub
not far from the Hilton is the Garwin Opal Miners Sport and Recreation Club, also known as The Club in the Scrub'. Not only can you get a cold beer and food here but you can have a hit of golf on the dirt 9 hole golf course. But be warned - your ball may end up disappearing down one of the many open mines rather than the green hole.
The Sheepyard inn
I get a sense that there is not much to do in the opal mines apart from drink. The Sheepyard Inn is another eclectic tin shed in the heart of the opal fields. While the beers are good, they do a mean pie better than any city bakery.
Hotel Armatree, Armatree
While many travel along the Castlereagh Highway stopping at the towns along the way sometimes it is worth taking a short detour to see what you can find. Hotel Armatree is one such place, only a few kilometres from the main road this 1929 pub has lovingly been restored by its current owners, Ash & Lib Walker.
The Termo', coonamble
Sometimes it pays to get of the main street and look for the local. While we could have stopped at the larger Commercial Hotel the local service station attendant directed us down a back street of Coonamble to the Terminus hotel, better known as 'The Termo'. Opposite the old railway station and silos you wont find any travelling grey nomads in this pub.
Other pubs on our journey
We ate and drank in numerous other pubs on our 4500km journey through outback NSW and Queensland. While we didn't make it to Birdsville we managed to experience the true essence of the outback sharing stories with locals over a cold ale.