Oz Pub

In the Northern Territory, David Whitley finds the antidote to Australia’s disappointing drinking establishments.

There are a lot of rose-tinted myths about Australian pubs. The idea that they’re all magnificent places where everyone’s your mate and will buy you a beer as the good times roll is utterly absurd. The sad truth is that most Australian pubs are on a sliding scale of awfulness.

In the big cities, at least, there is variety. But your choice will often be one of the following:

A)     A cavernous barn of a place where all sense of character is sapped away by the sheer amount of people in it – most of them drinking nasty lager (or VB as it is better known) and mentally preparing for a nice fight later on.

B)      A grotty dive inhabited by lifeless shells of human beings, pouring every cent they’ve got into the pokies. For the uninitiated, pokies are gaming machines (like fruit machines without the element of skill), and in Australia they are a desperately sad plague inflicted upon just about every drinking establishment. Many lives are wrecked by them, but the pokies are what make the money – not the drinks sales.

C)      Self-consciously cool wankerbars full of preening princesses, slimeballs in suits and image-obsessed rich kids paying absurd prices for drinks because it’s the place to be seen. Their evening will be soundtracked by god-awful ‘funky’ music that belongs in lifts, but is deemed insipid enough to be chilled and fashionable.

Of course, it is possible to find genuinely good pubs – you just have to look extremely hard.

At this point, the usual cry goes up from the Australians who drive utes, only eat steak and spend their spare time playing banjos. To find a great Aussie pub, they will say, you need to leave the city behind and head to a country town.

The sad truth is that pubs in country towns can be even worse. They usually have a room devoted to sports betting and horse racing which suck out the last traces of life that the pokies missed. The drinks range will be even more pathetic, the menus almost identikit and the atmosphere curiously hostile.

Again, this is not always the case, but it’s the general rule.

To find a truly great Australian pub, you usually have to look a little further afield. It doesn’t apply all the time, but generally if there’s only one pub in town – even better if there’s only one pub for miles and miles – then that’s when it starts getting interesting.

These are the places where you’ll get a bizarre mix of oldies passing through in caravans, backpackers stopping for the night because it’s the only feasible option, hard-bitten locals armed with tall stories and hat-clad types from the nearby cattle stations stopping by for a skin- full before driving home over bumpy tracks in the dark.

Some of these pubs are the stuff of legend. The William Creek Hotel in outback South Australia, the Silverton Hotel near Broken Hill and the Birdsville Pub in South-East Queensland are legendary.

And so too is the Daly Waters Pub. Situated a couple of kilometres off the Stuart Highway in the middle of nowhere, Northern Territory, people will drive across Australia to drink in Daly Waters (population: 9).

Outside - by the fuel pumps - is a rusting helicopter, while a set of traffic lights billed as the most remote in Australia sit next to the pub. The lights are permanently set to red, and the gag catches a new mug on an almost daily basis.

Inside, the pub is a ridiculously cluttered, beautiful mess. But at least the mess is in themed sections. Above the bar hang scores of bras donated by visitors inspired by drink into a sudden burst of old-school feminism. They dangle above hundreds of ID cards, student cards and YHA membership cards that would surely be missed by their owners later down the line.

There’s a sports shirts section, running the gamut from Gaelic football to ice hockey, while boxer shorts and skimpy g-strings hang from a roof beam.

German firemen have donated their badges, passport photos fill the gaps and a United Nations of banknotes completes the display near the pool table. The wooden shelter outside is decorated with thongs (flip flops to you filthy-minded non-Australians) and a stuffed effigy sits languorously on a toilet up some scaffolding in the beer garden.

It’s unquestionably cheesy, but once darkness falls, the beef and barramundi barbecue anchors the increasing beer intake and you start swapping war stories with the next table, it feels spectacularly right. The Great Australian Pub isn’t a complete myth – you just have to go some way to find it. And when you do, it is likely to be covered in underwear. 


More photos here