Posted On 08 May 2024
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This entry is part 18 of 29 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#30


I’m pretty sure everyone knows that pubs are ‘pubs’ because they started out as public houses: houses which were open to the public. Often a married couple would simply set aside the largest room in their home, fit it out with seats around the walls for guests and set aside another back room where they’d keep the drinks, the glasses and any snacks.

The public would come to their house and so it became known as a ‘public house’ and soon this was contracted back to just a ‘pub’. Any workers were classified as ‘servants’ and the boss was the ‘host’.

This all changed in the mid-1800’s when pubs began installing barriers in the lounge between the guests and the stock. This enabled the drinks to be kept within easy reach and sped up the service, especially once the barriers came to be topped with a counter of sorts.

Just as ‘public house’ was contracted over time to its first three letters and became a ‘pub’ so too did this ‘barrier’ get slimmed down to ‘bar’ (and of course over time this name of establishments’ central locus came to be moniker for the entire place). A place with a bar was a ‘bar’ in the same way a room with a toilet is a ‘toilet’!

Bars didn’t just separate staff and clientele on the physical level, they also separated them in a more figurative and emotional sense. Guests became ‘customers’, servants became ‘barmaids’ and ‘barmen’, and the host became the ‘licensee’.

But now when I look at good pubs and think about what makes them great, one of the essentials is the blurring of this ‘us and them’ barrier. It’s the pubs which make me feel ‘at home’ or at the very least in the host’s home that rise above the good and become memorable.

It’s the pubs which are run by hosts who reach across the bar both literally and figuratively to their guests that are the opals in the rock.

And if you find such a place at the end of a long or taxing day it seems to shine even more brightly. Few pubs have had a higher lux for me than the pub at Toompine between Thargomindah and Quilpie. Its official name is the South Western Hotel, but to every traveller who’s ever visited, it’s simply, “The Toompine Pub.”

I’d come up the dirt road from Tharg.

The red dirt of the centre, of the outback. The red that magnifies every other colour: the sky, the clouds, the vegetation. Out here, every few hundred kilometres or so I just pull over and switch off the engine. Clear the head of noise and fill it with the quiet. These are the roads where I can park the bike slap in the middle and spend 20 minutes shooting a panorama, confident no vehicle will be seen, heard or forced to go around.

Because it’s not just the colours that are magnified, it’s other stuff as well.

Physics tries to teach us that there is no such thing as darkness, only absence of light; no such thing as cold, only absence of heat and no such thing as quiet, only absence of sound.

Physics lies.

Out in the red heart, where the city has given way to the country, the country yielded to the bush and the bush surrendered to the outback, you will find a silence which is past quiet.

This is a silent which has its own density and mass.

This is The Silence. It is not the absence of anything. It is itself.

Stop the bike in the heat of the day, when even the flies are cowering on the dark side of leaves and twigs, and absorb the silence. If a crow or corella or magpie happens to cry out, it’s as though something tangible has been torn, ripped, damaged.

And it seems no co-incidence that excepting the dingo, not a single of our mammals or our reptiles has a loud call. They too respect the Silence.

Silence is the music of the harsh. I savour it several times on the ride north to Toompine.

When I come in from the Silence and the dust, Dogger meets me at the door of the pub. He reckons I look like I need a drink and he gets no argument.

The pub has no draft beer so I get a long cold water and a freezing stubby for a reasonable five bucks and Dogger joins me in the mid-arvo sun out front.

Blokes in utes drop by for a drink or some takeaways and all are up for a chat. Dogger’s real name is Glen but fewer people call him that than call the pub the ‘South Western.’ He’s the boss along with his wife Robyn.

With each arrival he jumps up, serves the fella then comes back outside to continue the yarn.

Pretty soon Bobbie wanders over from his caravan parked fifty metres away. He’s been here three days so he’s considered a local and he and Dogger reckon seeing as I’m doing nothing I might as well make myself useful and go down the creek with Bobbie to empty the yabbie traps and get some dinner.

Sounds a plan!

The Toompine Pub has what has to be Australia’s biggest beer garden… It’s on8,500 acres and it’s cut through with creeks and waterholes. Pretty soon Bobbie and I are in his ute and headed down to a creek with still a decent bit of water. He’s already emptied the nets this morning and got a few dozen good ones.

We pull in half a dozen traps with maybe 20 blue claw all up and Bobbie reckons it’s about time to move the nets to a new billabong a bit further down.

We load the traps with pickled pork (“the buggers can’t resist this stuff,”), chuck ‘em into the brown waters, take the haul back to base and reunite ‘em in with their mates from the morning.

Tight squeeze in the kitchen as we all help pull tracts out of the yabbies before Bobbie turns them all orange in a boiling hot bath, loads them onto a massive platter and brings them all out front where a shady mob of usual suspects is gathered. There’s blokes from surrounding farms buggered after a hard day at it, a shearer on his was north to Adavale for just three days work with on a small mob, a truckie having a break on the way east to Dalby; all with stories and, in the fading light, great, character-fi lled faces.

One of them has the most genuine sweat and red dust stained hat I’ve ever seen and I tell them how a bushie mate of mine described Bob Katter with his pristine Akubra as, ‘all hat and no cattle’. They smile knowingly.

As the darkness takes over and the Silence seems a long way distant, we all hoe in and there’s plenty to go around.

Come to Toompine and you’re welcome to throw your nets into the creeks and have your efforts cooked up for free in the pub. You won’t be able to camp by the creeks but there’s plenty of space around the pub itself, including beside the pond right behind the pub. I camped right beside the front door.

If you’re not a camper, there’s a total of 7 rooms, all with air-con available for guests: 3 doubles and 4 singles at $70.00 and $50.00 respectively. If you want to throw a swag but prefer indoors there’s plenty of space in the pistol club hall about 80 metres from the pub.

All are welcome to use the toilet near the gun club but keep your eyes peel coz like so many country dunnies, the water attracts frogs and the frogs can attract snakes. The week before I got there a particularly keen blackie had to be forcibly removed!

There’s no TAB, no Keno, no ignorant, untrained backpacking staff and a prominent sign proclaims, No Cockheads.

There’s undercover parking in the shed around the back but if you’re there when it pours, get me a photo! And there’s as much need to lock up your bike as there is to hide it from the rain.

Robyn will cook you up a feed from a pretty decent menu any time you want.

“If the door’s open the kitchen’s open,” she tells me toward the end of the night.

She and Dogger have managed the pub for just under a year and are trying to get the lease. Both are from out west, Dogger’s the older brother of Donna who, with husband Phil, runs the motel down in Tharg, the most hospitable licensed place down there. After a lifetime of shearing and running catering at places like the Roma Saleyards, they’re keen to make this their patch.

As we sit around chatting like you’d chat with friends who’re putting you up for the night, I see a couple of laminated typed sheets on the wall and it turns out they are a short history of the pub.

And there near the bottom of page two, it all becomes clear:

The pub was built in 1893 by a Mr Power whose descendants still live in and around Tharg and Qulipie. It was built not as a pub but as ‘a homestead with five central rooms surrounded by a wide veranda and a separate kitchen block… over the years there have been alterations but in the main the appearance remains unchanged.’ And, I think to myself, if the writer had added, ‘character and feel’ to ‘appearance’ they’d have summed this place up perfectly. This is a ‘pub(lic house)’ with a bar but no barriers.

The season here stretches from Anzac Day to September, outside this it’s just too damn hot for most tourists so you’ve still got time to get out there this year.

It’s worth the effort.

It may be lacking in some amenities but the richness of its character and of its characters make it a truly iconic outback pub, and for me it even surpasses outback greats like Nindigully and Hebel.

It rates three helmets on our scale with a value rating of 122, neither of which reflects the sheer enjoyment and memorable experiences you’ll have when you drop in. Get there!

The South Western Hotel at Toompine Qld Street Address: Don’t worry, you’ll find it T: 07 4656 4863

Full Disclosure: Dogger reckoned I’d spent enough on refreshments (‘and besides you caught dinner’) so he waived any camping fee. This didn’t influence any of my review or comments.

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