Posted On 28 May 2024
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This entry is part 14 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#33


It was the light that drew me to Middleton.

Actually it was the lack of it. It was that and a yarn on the mulga wire saying the pub there was a ‘gotta-see’. And because I was camping, I didn’t much care that it had no accommodation, apparently there was plenty across the road.

So anyway, I headed down west from Winton, with the ubiquitous gales bashing me at every turn and on every straight. (There ain’t too many turns!)

The road from Winton to Middleton sees the country morph from harsh to brutal, from grey to red and back again. New hues come through but the toughness only ever increases.

Hughenden is the end of the bush and start of the outback. This is the land of the laconic single finger driver’s wave from the hand uppermost on the steering wheel. If you’ve been out there you know what I mean… the index finger raised, partly in a kind of “g’day” and partly a salute for being a fellow crazy out here in the Vast.

In the heat of the day I see nothing moving except for three emus midway down and crows and eagles on the regular roadkill which points to a vibrant nightlife – and night “AT LEAST THE COBB & CO WAGON OUT FRONT OF THIS ONCE UPON A TIME STAGING POST IS REAL!” death. There’s a few sheep ruminating on not much more than rubble and the occasional bunch of cattle. Most of ‘em are greyish white…but I’m not sure whether that’s their real colour or if they’ve just faded.

Five km from Middleton a lone old shack stands solitary on my left.

I imagine its history, its story of struggle, fleeting success but then eventual failure. Later at the pub that balloon gets well pricked when I find out it’s just a film set from a recent flick. At least the Cobb & Co wagon out front of this once upon a time staging post is real!

The one hundred and sixty km from Winton is mainly single lane tar with a rare wider strip for overtaking.

Eventually Middleton materialises from the road mirage. Pub on the right, a weird conglomeration of structures on the left.

Now here’s something I find really weird. There’s a few, not many but a good few, pubs which are so revered out in the bush that no-one ever parks right out front. Hebel was the first I’ve noted like that and I’ve been to a couple of others. Maybe drivers just know everyone’s going to want to get a photo of the place but I think it’s more some sort of respect. You’d hardly plonk your rig at the gates of St Pauls!

Anyway, seems no-one parks out front of the Middleton Pub and so I choose near the Hilton across the road. Truly!

No-one’s too sure who built the Middleton Hilton. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t Conrad but when I rock up a gaggle of grey nomads has taken up the lobby and they’re swapping the usual stories, myths, breaches of faith, lies, exaggerations, total distortions, fabrications, revelations and a few facts. Actually not sure I heard any of the last.

My kinda folks but since I figure they might be table dancing all night with arthritic ankles and knocked up knees, I decamp over to the annex and shotgun the end part of the veranda.

Then head over to the pub.

It’s the second day after the Birdsville Races and I’ve been dodging endless caravans of caravans since yesterday and the pub is now filling up with folks smart enough to put it away when the sun gets low. It’s going to be a good night.

The Middleton Pub has been run for the last decade by Lester and Val and occasionally their son known only as “Stoney” who also happens to own the Robinson helicopter parked out back.

And just why it’s featuring as my Pub of the Month is a total mystery!

There’s no accommodation, all meals are from frozen, the beer is not cheap, there’s no air-con, no pool, no jukebox, no TAB, no Keno, no lockup parking for bikes, and nowhere to keep them out of the rain. Oh and showers are non-existent apart from the one you get from the overhead cistern as you stand at the urinals. These dunnies put the ‘rude’ into rudimentary.

All of which points to one thing: My carefully worked out evaluation system must be totally screwed!

Anyway, Lester’s behind the bar, neatly decked out in his uniform of 100 year old stubbies and blue singlet.

No, that’s it! If you’re waiting on details of his footwear, shirt or jacket, sorry but you might as well wait for the drought to break. (Oh and I lied about the ‘neatly’ part.) Val is out the back rummaging through the freezers to see what might be good for tea with occasional appearances to help Lester when things get too busy.

There’s no draught here, only cans and it’s all served with good humour and a wry grin. Lester’s wit is past dry and approaching arid and most enquiries are met with a rapid fire smart-arse answer followed by a more helpful one. And don’t even think of asking a question that’s etched on the massive wall chart along with both smart and serious answers.

More refugees from Birdsville rock up, the front veranda fills as does the camping at the Hilton and the deck, sorry, ‘my’ deck over at City Hall. The bar and the balcony fill with characters; for some weird geological reason many of the rocks around here are smoother than the clientele.

Around 5.00pm Val puts word out that those wanting tea should put in their orders so she can start serving it at 6.00pm. A line of mostly desperate single males forms immediately and they place their preferences from fish ‘n’ chips, steaks and hamburgers but don’t leave names or money.

An hour later the food begins to come out and it all gets repatriated with its owners and people are told how much to pay at the bar and they do because that’s the way it is.

This goes on for a couple of hours ‘til finally Val, totally buggered from a day on her feet, plonks down with our group out front as a few of us get up to clear away all the plates and bottles while she has some well earned.

By now son, Stoney, is working the bar toward the end of one of their busiest days of the year. Over summer this place may see just a handful of people each day, sometimes not that many and it’ll be just Lester and Val as Stoney is off rounding cattle in his chopper.

This is the home to the mythical Min Min Lights which Val reckons are nothing more than phosphorescent gases from the open bore drains, but my main reason for coming apart from the pub was for the deep black sky out here at night. If you want to see the heavens, this is the place to do it.

I go out and set up a camera to capture the pub and the stars and then head back over to camp. A couple of my new neighbours had warned me at the pub that they had a champion snorer in their number and damn me if he wasn’t already hard at work!

I shift to the other end of the balcony then go back for my riding plugs. This guy could snore for Australia!

Well before the sparrows have even eaten the stuff that gives them their famed morning flatulence, the lights go on at the pub as Lester puts on a brew and waits for the twice-weekly postman who arrives around 5.30 from the east with food, mail, building supplies and a few other parcels.

We all share a coffee then postie’s off, Lester stubs the lights, I get a couple of pre-dawn shots and we all go back to bed for an hour.

Just on sun-up Stoney takes off in the chopper for a day of mustering and the rest of the village begins to rouse. Folks wander across the road for a bacon and egg sanger and some instant coffee. Everyone’s in good humour and as they begin to pack the swags and the motorhomers do what they need to, everyone says they’ll be back.

They’ll be back because this is not about the pub, it’s about the building, about Lester and Val, about the Hilton across the strip, about the dust and about the quiet. It’s about stars and it’s about the people, about history and fun. And it’s about perfect.

I didn’t even fill out an evaluation form for this place. It would’ve been a shocker. Just go there! Take a swag and sleep over at the Hilton or City Hall and like that ad for I think Pringles says, just try to just going there only once!

So, a big “N/A” on the Motorcycle Friendly Scale but a 5/5 for Unique Character and stubbies of XXXX are $5.50, for the bar price index!

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