Australia's Best Bush Pubs
It’s a wide, brown land, covered with excellent watering holes. Why not stop for the night? Pubs are a key pillar in the mostly sturdy, occasionally wobbling architecture of Australian history. When something big happens, it seems, there’s often a pub involved.
Ned Kelly made his last stand outside one (The Glenrowan Inn, Victoria). Slim Dusty sang about one pub that had no beer (The Day Dawn Hotel, Ingham, Qld) and another that had both beer and a chap called Duncan (The Town and Country Hotel, in Sydney’s St Peters). We build them fast—during the Gold Rush, Ballarat opened 22 new pubs in two months—and take it poorly when they shut (4,000 Novocastrians rioted when The Star Hotel was shuttered in 1979). “This is what happens,” a sardonic BBC nightly newsreader told England, “when they try to close a pub in Australia.”
Australia loves pubs, whether they’re in the duck’s guts of a CBD or literally in the back of Bourke. But if you’re looking for an authentic place to nurse a frosty glass, there’s something particularly special about proper, old-school bush pubs. Scattered across the country, they’re both the heart and soul of rural towns and often the last vestige of an Australia that’s slowly fading into history. All the more reason to visit these ones while you can. Time to belly up to the bar and make yourself at home.
RUDD’S PUB (QLD)
About 35km from Toowoomba in the town of Nobby (population: 563) is a proper pub boasting steaks the size of dinnerplates and free caravan camping just across the road. Built in 1893, it was originally called the Davenporter Hotel. The name changed in the 1980s as a nod to former barfly Arthur Hoey Davis (pen name: Steele Rudd). The creator of folklore icons Dad and Dave, Davis wrote On Our Selection on the premises.
45 Tooth Street, Nobby, QLD - www.ruddspub.com.au
DARGO HOTEL (VIC)
Not far from the foot of off-roader’s bucket list essential Billy Goat’s Bluff Track—Australia’s steepest gazetted road—the Dargo Hotel caters to a clientele of timber workers, cattle farmers and 4WD aficionados. Sitting deep in a narrow valley in the Victorian Alps, the Dargo pub’s rough-hewn log cabins and tin ceilings are a reminder of the town’s roots. Built in 1898, this is an unreconstructed (well, unreconstructed since 1898, when the previous pub burnt down) frontier watering hole that’s a beacon of warmth and old-fashioned hospitality as dusk descends on cold afternoons.
108-110 Lind Avenue, Dargo, VIC - www.thedargohotel.com.au
THE NINDIGULLY PUB (QLD)
About 35km north of Thallon (population: 257) stands the Sunshine State’s oldest watering hole. The Nindigully Pub, known as ‘The Gully’ to the half-a-dozen locals that remain in the five-building town (the pub, two houses, a general store and a town hall), was built in 1864. With a beer garden and free camping opposite the hotel on the banks of the Moonie River, the pub’s big annual drawcard is the Nindigully Pig Races and its intimidating Road Train Burger. At $80, it’s not cheap, but then you do get “a huge 1.2kg meat patty, a 1kg bun, six tomatoes, one entire iceberg lettuce, three large beetroots, one tin of pineapple slices, 400g of cheese and barbecue sauce, surrounded by 1kg of potato wedges”.
Sternes St, Nindigully, QLD - www.nindigullypub.com
WALKABOUT CREEK HOTEL (QLD)
Welcome to Australia’s foremost pub for anyone hoping to find out what is, and isn’t, a knife. The Walkabout Creek Hotel was made famous when featured in the film Crocodile Dundee (there’s a life-sized Paul Hogan cut-out leaning on the bar). But far from being a Hollywood confection, it’s retained its rustic charm as a perfect stop-off on the way to the Boodjamulla National Park—a 28,200-hectare chunk of 4WDing paradise hidden in Queensland’s north-west.
Cnr Kirby & Wylde Streets, McKinlay, QLD
BIRDSVILLE HOTEL (QLD)
Of all the places staking their own claim as “Australia’s Most Iconic Outback Pub”, the Birdsville Hotel, built in 1884, may be the most deserving. With its calendar including the obviously iconic Birdsville Races and the becoming-iconic Big Red Bash the town’s population swells like an angry Bruce Banner’s Y-fronts twice a year—but the pub is worth visiting any time. With a 28-room motel, airstrip opposite, cold beer and plenty of hot pub grub, it’s worth building up a thirst just so you can burst through the door dusty and in the right frame of mind.
Adelaide St, Birdsville, QLD - www.birdsvillehotel.com
SILVERTON HOTEL (NSW)
Just 26km northwest of Broken Hill, Silverton is famous as the birthplace of BHP (Broken Hill having not existed when the company was founded) and the filming location for Mad Max 2. Not to mention Razorback, Wake in Fright, (a bit of) Mission Impossible II and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Despite a permanent population of about 50, more than 120,000 visitors drop in each year to see the famous Silverton Hotel, with the front bar’s walls cluttered with hats, guitars, funny signs and other assorted weirdness. The Mad Max Museum is a short walk away.
12 Layard St, Silverton, NSW - www.silvertonhotel.com.au
THE FAMILY HOTEL (NSW)
The pub is the epicentre of small town life and you only have to look at The Family Hotel’s web address to note its importance to Tibooburra (population: 134), 332km north of Broken Hill in Corner Country NSW. It offers all the pub standards: outback hospitality, cold beer, a proper feed… and, um, bawdy 1960s bar mural art by the likes of Russell Drysdale, Archibald Prize winner Clifton Pugh and others. It’s an ideal base for exploring Sturt National Park, Depot Glen, Poole’s Grave, Mt Sturt and Milparinka.
30 Briscoe Street, Tibooburra, NSW - www.tibooburra.com.au
TILPA HOTEL (NSW)
Hunkered on the glorious western bank of the Darling River, the pint-sized Tilpa pub was built in 1894 to cater to the river boat trade on the Outback’s most famous waterway. And while the river may have seen better days, the pub remains as glorious, generous and genuine as ever. Sit on the broad verandah under the tin roof, chat with the publicans, grab a meal and soak up the atmosphere of a hotel that’s often described as one of the last remaining true bush pubs in the country.
1 Darling St, Tilpa, NSW
THE DALY WATERS PUB (NT)
The past sure does linger here. Father Time is obviously not put off by the bra-lined ceiling, a tradition which began as a bar bet between a coach driver and his female passengers in the 1980s (they lost a drinking game). A gateway to the serene waterholes of the Nitmiluk National Park and the red cliffs of West MacDonnell Ranges, it’s an oasis of hospitality (and hearty meals) about six hours south of Kakadu.
16 Stuart St, Daly Waters, NT - www.dalywaterspub.com
GOAT ISLAND LODGE (NT)
Look, every pub has it’s dangers. In a large city those might include overzealous bouncers, boring drunks, or the person ahead of you ordering 17 intricate cocktails in the last minutes of happy hour. Not so at the Goat Island Lodge. You’ll need to hire your own boat (or helicopter) to get to it, a small, charming pub on an island in the middle of the Adelaide River (a waterway famous for jumping saltwater crocs). Run by Goat Island’s sole resident, Kai ‘Happy’ Hansen (and his 11ft pet croc, Casey), delicacies include burgers, fresh-caught barra, and Kai’s famous croc balls. Just don’t have one too many shandies and fall in.
24kms upstream (south) of the Adelaide River boat ramp - www.goatisland.com.au
PUB IN THE PADDOCK (TAS)
“It’s a great place to wash away the dust (or mud) after a day’s fourwheel driving in some of Tassie’s most spectacular country,” says 4X4 Australia’s Dean Mellor. Also close to the pristine beaches of St Helens, Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires, Pub in the Paddock has been licensed since 1880, but has found extra fame over the past decade. Its famous beer-drinking pig, Priscilla, draws big crowds, but the area’s attractions go beyond beer and exceptionally underdone bacon. Picture perfect and packed with good cheer, cold beer and (pig-adorned) souvenirs.
250 St Columba Falls Rd, Pyengana, TAS - www.pubinthepaddocktas.com.au
THE GRAND HOTEL (WA)
A couple of hours north of Kalgoorlie, this goldfields pub calls itself “the shortcut to everywhere”, providing a bed or campsite, as well as food, fuel and Antarctically cold beer. Unpretentious and authentic, the pub’s most famous patron in the 10-resident town is Roy, a stray horse that wandered into the bar in 2014. (He turned out to be an escaped ex-racehorse and stayed.) “The horse now spends his days wandering around town, catching up with the locals, greeting tourists and doing ‘horse things’,” reports WA Today.
34 Britannia St, Kookynie, WA
PRAIRIE HOTEL (SA)
The Prairie Hotel may be weird, but it’s good weird. Incongruously but properly gourmet, and solidly authentic, its fine dining menu is as offbeat as it is acclaimed. Its famous ‘Feral Feast’ features dishes such as emu pate and camel sausage, and it brews its own (very good) beer on site.
High St & West Terrace, Parachilna, SA - www.prairiehotel.com.au
WILLIAM CREEK HOTEL (SA)
Billing itself as “Somewhere… in the middle of nowhere”, William Creek’s (only) hotel sits adjacent to Lake Eyre and about halfway along the Oodnadatta Track. Originally a siding on the old Ghan railway line and 160km from the opal-and-madnessrich hub of Coober Pedy, the heritage-listed William Creek Hotel was established as a boarding house in 1887. It now boasts a rusty iron roof, laidback atmosphere and eclectic menu options such as kangaroo yiros. Note the selection of donated hats hanging from the ceiling.
Oodnadatta Track, William Creek, SA - www.williamcreekhotel.com