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PUB OF THE MONTH

Posted On 14 May 2024
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This entry is part 15 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#31

THE TOP PUB RAVENSHOE HOTEL, RAVENSHOE QLD WORDS/PHOTOS COLIN WHELAN

I’ve been to some low pubs in Queensland (don’t get me started!) and as I sat despondent in an Innis fail café with the tropical rain pumping down and without any real planned destination, I figured it was time to sample something a bit more upmarket.

I wanted to taste not just a top pub, but THE top pub in the state. And that meant Raven shoe, the highest town in Queensland whose top pub had to be, well, the toppest pub.

With the rain incessant, the best twisty road in FNQ, the Gillies, seemed not a great option so I headed down to Innis fail and then took the Palmerston.

This too is a great road and its more gentle curves were much more suited to the downpours, the road ponds and creeks and the vagaries of traffic.

By the time I got to Raven shoe the rain had pretty much cleared but I still had enough water in each boot to fill a pony glass.

So I pull up and check out the pub’s façade.

It’s grand and impressive, rough, utilitarian but majestic; a very typical rural Queensland pub, and its yellow paint aglow in the afternoon sun reminds me of Freeland’s words in his ever so slightly condescending 1966 book, “The Australian Pub”: (The Australian Pub)…has never been looked upon… as a cultural achievement. Its innate uncouthness made it unworthy of the finer things of architectural life.”

Bollocks! This is a wonderful building!

Emblazoned on the front, between the pub’s name and its scripted, “Welcome to Queensland’s Highest Pub” is a statement of such exactitude that any pedant’s heart would be warmed: ‘Elevation of… 3003.99ft’. “.99” of a foot!! What? Jeeves, pass me my sextant and plum bob, surely there’s a spare .01 of a foot laying around somewhere!

This weird mixing of imperial and decimal (the above figure is converted from a metric one), this inexplicable exactitude is fascinating. I like a place that knows its position in life! I like a place which considers rounding up, approximation, to be, er, beneath them!

I empty my boots of water and feet (2 to be precise), bung on some thongs and head into the bar where both the fire and the conversations are raging.

Help with breakfast

If you’re hungry in the morning Wendy’s happy to cook you up breakfast but you may want to save her the trouble.

Back in June the community of Raven shoe suffered a terrible tragedy when a car smashed into one of its cafes and caused gas cylinders to explode.

Horrific injuries to many resulted and to date two victims have died. It’s feared others may not make it. You get the sense on the street that Raven shoe is still hurting.

Two cafes on the town’s single street remain and serve damn fine fodder. Just maybe the best thing we, as riders can do, is visit the town and add some of our hard-earned into this tiny economy by spreading it around the shops and tossing a bit of folding into the many collection boxes.

Helping this town is no sacrifice, you’ll love every moment.

A lot of the noise is coming from the woman behind the bar.

Wendy, the owner/publican/licensee/ boss, immersed in faux pearls and real laughter, is serving a couple of couples and a few post-work workers.

She’s loud and raucous. She bubbles like good champers in a dirty flute. I don’t have a booking but there’s room for me despite the honeymoon suite, room 1, having just been taken by one of the bar side couples, and besides, she’s not in the habit of giving it to loners like me anyway unless it’s still vacant late into an evening.

Turns out the couple is Grant and Fran, Kiwis on their way to Hughenden to help out a mate who’s doing it tough in the dry out west. And they’re also working with the fantastic group, Aussie Helpers.org.au to find some badly drought affected families to host on their mountain retreat near Greymouth on the south island of NZ.

The aim is to provide free accommodation but if the family can’t afford the travel, “We’ll chip in for that too,” says Grant. Just talking with them makes me feel good.

The other couple at the bar are long time friends of Wendy and her partner Wayne. Joe and Jude run a small rural retreat up near Yungaburra where they hold cheese making classes. Like the Kiwis they are passionate and enthusiastic. This is obviously a pub that brings out the best people and the best out of people.

I get a merlot from a pretty good selection of wines and take a poke around.

The pub was built in 1927 by Wendy’s great-grandfather as a present for his wife who became the first publican.

She was the first non-indigenous child born in Raven shoe and a beautiful old portrait of her has pride of place in the grand old dining room off from the bar.

Its opening was delayed by cyclone damage but when this highest pub in Queensland, proudly hewn from local timbers finally opened its doors on Sept 10th 1927 it had a full 27 rooms of accommodation, compared to the current 16.

It’s had more name changes than a Rubyvale dirt scratcher, beginning as The Raven shoe Hotel then the Millstream then the Tully Falls and now back to its original. That’s the way Wendy and Wayne like it: they are trying to infuse the present with the past being modern but keeping the traditions and the heritage.

After a few years in the mines, Wendy bought the pub right on two years ago.

She tells me it was a decision based on sentiment rather than sound business reasons. “It’s a passion thing,” she tells me. Her parents and siblings all live in Raven shoe and she wanted to be near them and felt the pub needed some TLC.

Tender loving care is exactly what it’s getting as Wendy and Wayne push all their savings and profits into the revival of this grand hotel.

I take myself on a tour.

At the bottom of the stairs, just inside the main doors, is a small display of an old gramophone and some photos and documents. It’s all simple and tasteful and gives a warm old worlde welcome. Just off to the side is the grand dining room complete with another log fire and I can’t now wait for dinner!

Upstairs the rooms are all clean and quite spacious and the common areas are wonderful and comfortable.

There’s no air-con but all rooms have pedestal fans and heaters are available, not that I can see them getting too much use.

Single rooms will set you back $45.00 whilst doubles or twins run from $55.00 to $65.00.

As far as I could make out all the beds were the same height so if you want to claim to’ve slept in the highest hotel bed in Qld, simply stick a book or two under the legs of your bed and send off that letter to Guinness!

The brew making stuff is all still out on the balcony because the four cool evenings which constitute winter here, hadn’t yet arrived. Great spot for that first coffee in the morning!

The bathrooms are clean and well maintained but the good hot water didn’t spew out with a huge amount of pressure.

The common areas are well furnished with comfortable sofas and the over riding impression is one of relaxation and homeyness.

This would be a great destination pub for a group ride.

There’s a shed out back for locking up bikes but as usual I just park mine under the balcony out front and have no problems.

Downstairs, the bar is filling and orders begin to be taken for dinner. Locals waft in from one side as kitchen scents waft in from the other. There’s no smell of over-used deep fry oil and fat as there is in so many places which simply order in pre crumbed, pre-battered frozen rubbish. Not here there ain’t! This is a place to bring a damn good appetite because its menu has food, real food and lots of it!

It’s easily the most extensive that I’ve ever seen in a country pub: It runs to 8 pages and features oysters done three ways, mackerel done three ways, a full page of chicken and a full page of beef. There’s a page of lamb and a duck marsala. The vegetarian page has 3 entrees and five mains. All cooked by an expert Indian chef and available lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Never seen anything like it.

I go for a curry entrée followed by chicken avocado pasto and it’s all cooked perfectly. I eat it with beautiful ornate cutlery, drink from crystal and find the quality and taste all somehow surreal. Some pubs are adventures, some are simply undiluted enjoyment. This is one of the latter.

Back at the bar after dinner the boss is still holding court, laughter floods the bar and all are having a great night. I retire well fed, well watered and well happy! I’ve found not just a top pub, but THE top pub.

The Raven shoe Hotel rated a solid three helmets on our scale and came in at over 150 on our value scale where 100 is the benchmark.

On our all new Unique Character Scale I put it at 7/10.

Our Schooner of Full index was $5.00.

The Raven shoe Hotel Grigg St, Ravenshoe (Keep going up the hill!) T: 7 40976136 Ask for Wayne or Wendy.

Links to Jude ‘n’ Joe’s Cheese Farm and to Grant and Fran’s NZ Retreat can be found on my website at www.motorbikenation.com

Full Disclosure: The next morning Wendy insisted on shouting me the room but this hasn’t affected my review. I dropped the 45 into the collection box at the BP servo on the edge of town.

Designing readers!

After my review last month of the Toompine Hotel, I received a message from on high that we need to consider more fully the unique character of some pubs. I fully agreed but I’m now looking for a logo or emblem or icon or somesuch that we can use to designate character.

Surely one of our readers is gifted in this area and can come up with something. Remember this is not bike related but pub personality related and would need to complement the helmet icon we use when rating the biker friendliness of pubs. Winner will receive a… very warm feeling in the tummy!

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