Posted On 21 May 2024
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This entry is part 17 of 28 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#32


I’m in the bar at the Coolamon Hotel on the northern rim of the Riverina, having my favorite drink of the day… the first one after six o’clock. This is the time when most pubs do a bit of a morph, when their restaurants open for ‘tea’, when the after-work drinkers make way for family groups and when kitchen scents take over from sweat and diesel odors.

Danny the owner is working the bar and between serving he tells me he’s been here five years after stints at pubs in nearby towns of Berrigan, Grong Grong and Walla Walla. (I check that he’s not stuttering).

This place is a work in progress but it’s progressing well with one of the main projects a massive new fire place out in the back area which is also going to be re floored and should become a really nice place for a larger group of riders to hang.

It’s beginning to get busy so I leave him to look after a mix of locals and “THE COOLO PUB WAS SHINING LIKE A BEACON, SEEMING MORE TO RADIATE ITS OWN LIGHT THAN MERELY THE FALLING SUN” contractors and other visitors, and retire to a corner with my chardy.

It was my dad who taught me to savor that first drink after 18.00 because until he was in his mid 40’s it was a pleasure forbidden him.

Dad had been a POW, and when he came home in ‘45 he returned to a country still shackled by a hangover of temperance measures enacted way back in 1916.

While the Anzacs were overseas fighting for the freedom of the people of Australia, other people were busy back home fighting against the freedom of my father.

Christian temperance groups, led mainly by Protestant bigots had succeeded in limiting the output of breweries and restricting the hours of hotels. (The spiritual descendants of these religious bigots are today campaigning against marriage equality and abortion clinics).

The restrictions were ‘war measures’ and yet once peace was reached the temperance unions didn’t match the silence of the guns. These wowser measures remained in place between the two World Wars and when diggers like my dad and his mates returned in 1945, the pubs still shut at eighteen hundred.

This was the era of the ‘six o’clock swill’. Workers would race from the factories and offices at knock-off to lay siege to pubs in a frenzied porcine rabble, drinking their fill before the publican uttered the fateful words of, “Time Please Gentlemen”.

Six o’clock closing was a farce. It caused the pubs to be open when men were working, but closed when they were thirsty. In a chapter entitled, “The Great Pub Massacre” in his book, “Victorian Country Pubs”, John Larkin wrote that this early closing forced men to stand, “ankle deep at 5.50pm in a morass of cigarette butts decomposing in slopped grog, a howling thirsty mass crawling over each other to demand fifteen beers each to drink in the last desperate guzzling minutes.”

In NSW it took a Royal Commission which featured a smart young lawyer named E.G.Whitlam, to finally end the madness in 1955. On the way it faced such wonderful testimony as from the Rev C.H. Tomlinson who argued that, “so called moderate drinking cause(s) divorce and impair(s) the national character…

later trading will incur more and more immoderate drinkers…and will introduce women more and more into drinking.” Wonderful stuff!

Victoria dragged the drinking chain and continued with the swill until 1966. A year later South Australia, whose capital is still a great place for a church crawl, also moved to allow working men and increasingly women a relaxed post work cold one.

So anyway that stuff was on my mind as I sat back and watched some blokes playing darts, a brace of others at the pool table and realised once again how lucky we all are.

Coolamon’s surrounded by some good rural back roads riding. You’re not going to be bending it over too much but if cruising deserted sealed roads through changing interesting country is your thing, you can do a lot worse than this part of our land.

I’d lobbed late, much closer to ‘roo time’ than I like to be, and I wasn’t happy, Jan!

I’d come down come through Barmedman, a fl y speck town south of West Wyalong. It’s got two grand hotels, the Queensland Hotel (dunno… don’t ask me!) and the Barmedman, one of the most beautiful pubs I’ve ever seen.

Sorry, make that ‘had two pubs’.

The Queensland Hotel closed last year and damn it, the Barmy has just shut its doors too. (When I later ring up the Bland Shire Council, Jeff there confi rms the bad news and adds that the only pub at nearby Ariah Park has also closed down. Damn and double Damn!)Two more towns without pubs and I guess out there somewhere some religious fanatics are smiling.

Well bugger ‘em! The mines and the drought may well be doing what the Temperence Tyrants couldn’t but at least the pubs that are open, are welcoming belated visitors well into the night.

As I got to the rail crossing at the bottom of Coolamon’s gorgeous Cowabbie St, the Coolo Pub was shining like a beacon, seeming more to radiate its own light than merely reflect the falling sun.

Here is a pub that was both beautiful and open for business!

Now I know it’s kinda out of sequence but I’m going to start with the food coz the smells of good cooking hit me when I walked in and the food here is one of the great drawcards. Kirti Kumah Patel has been running the kitchen for a bit over three years and the stuff he turns out brings destination diners regularly from bigger neighbors like Wagga, Narranderra and Junee.

Stuff like superb poached pork belly, or a salad of soft shelled crab and my choice: a pasta with prawn, chorizo and spinach.

On this Tuesday evening there’s around 50 folks bogging into this sort of food in the comfortable separate dining room. Family groups, couples, locals, visitors, all eating well, all relaxed and all raving about the tucker. Real ‘if you serve it they will come’ type stuff and it’s open 7 days for lunch, noon til two and dinner from (you guessed it) six til nine.

In the bar there’s TAB, Keno and a few pokies, all on the edge, discreet and not overpowering. Out back there’s a garage if you want to leave your ride under cover.

I check into one of just six rooms upstairs. With a total of just ten beds (six singles and 4 doubles) you’re not going to fit a huge group ride in here, but at 35 bucks a head and with all rooms fully screened and with oil heaters and pedestal fans, those who do are going to be economically housed in comfort.

The bathrooms are in an okay state and the hot water seems endless and comes out at good pressure.

There’s no common room and not even a jug to boil water which I reckon is a real minus, but Danny argues that it’s a conscious attempt to share the benefit of visitors with the rest of the town. Hopefully I’ve convinced him of the need for at least just a jug so folks who carry their own makings, can have a morning brew in bed.

So next morning I head off up the beautiful main street past the memorial to the Bali bombings in which a local fella plus others from Wagga Wagga and Leeton perished. Barty’s Cafe is doing a roaring trade with a group of blokes having the weekly meeting of the CFS over decent coffees and billy teas.

Local knowledge must’ve steered them to the pies and snag rolls rather than the raisin toast which I ordered and got three pan fried slices of wafer thin bread, two of which were loaf ends.

But it was too nice a morning to send the stuff back. And besides all the other grub looked just fine.

Back at the pub Danny’s preparing for another day. We sit for a while and jaw about the pub and the town and their symbiotic relationship. He’s acutely aware of the role of country town pubs and wants the Coolo to be even more a social centre, a place where blokes and women on their own, families with kids, locals and visitors can all relax into a community. In short, he’s growing the kind of pub my dad (and mum) never knew and the Coolamon Pub is well on the way to bearing the fruits of his labours.

It’s a cruisey pub in cruising country. You’ll be thankful for the welcome and the food, and for the freedom to enjoy it all at your speed in a way your parents never did.

The Coolamon Hotel was at the top of the 3 helmet band on our MF scale and came in at over 170 on our value scale where 100 is the benchmark.

On our all new Unique Character Scale I put it at 5/10.

Our Schooner of Full index was $5.00.

The Coolamon Hotel, Wade St, Coolamon T: 02 6927 3028 (Ask for Danny)

Full Disclosure: I neither sought nor was offered any discount or freebee. This did not affect the review or rating of the pub.

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