Ariah Park Hotel
Coolamon St, Ariah Park Phone: 02 6974 1068
So anyway, study the family tree of our current nanny state with its overprotective super litigious over-legislated paternalism and you’ll find not too many generations prior, the Wowsers.
Almost exclusively Christian, mostly Protestant and usually Methodist, these killjoys saw paganism and ruin in pretty much every enjoyable pastime around the turn of the 19th century.
They were against, well everything: drinking, mixed dancing, gambling, sexual enjoyment, ‘adult themes’….you name it. But it was their Temperance Movement with its campaigns against drinking and pubs that inflicted the most lasting scars on our national corpus.
Now only the dinosaurs like Fred Nile and the Family First Party remain and most places where they once reigned seem happy enough to be rid of them, their memory and their restrictive legacy.
Except that is, for Ariah Park down on the Burley Griffin Way west of Temora, which celebrates its connections to the do-gooders of its past.
Was a stinking day, the first time I rocked up here but the century-old peppercorn trees down the middle of the main drag had welcome shade so I parked the Super Ten under one of ‘em and took a walk.
Ariah Park has a special aura. You know the way you automatically lower your voice in an art gallery or a museum? Well Ariah Park’s a bit like that. It’s a place you immediately treat with respect and deference.
The peppercorns, the shop verandas, the restored petrol pumps, the old photos in so many windows.
It was too early for the pub to be serving but the door was unlocked so I went in and found Brian in the office.
Opening hours are from 4.00pm Monday and Tuesday and from eleven the rest of the week. Closing is when you and your mates stop drinking.
Sure it was okay to have a gander. Make yourself at home. I took a couple of shots, thanked him and said I’d return.
Last month the Australian Yard Dog Championships were on in West Wyalong so after a day watching the amazing skills of these mainly kelpies running on the backs of sheep, I zipped back down to Ariah Park for the night.
It’s Friday night and Brian’s behind the bar. He exudes taciturn good humour, a wry smile and quiet, well-chosen words.
Brian’s had a lifetime of managing bowling clubs and moved to town in 2005, hoping the climate would suit his wife who wasn’t doing too great. Sadly it wasn’t to be and she passed away a coupla years later but Brian was joined by his two daughters and son-in-law, Wayne who arrives whilst we’re chatting and takes over behind the bar.
There’s six beers on tap and a schoonie of XXXX will set you back 5 bucks which is the cheapest I know, but don’t go looking for pokies or TAB or Keno. This is one of the growing band of country pubs where focus is on actually chatting, talking, sharing news and stories. You know…..like the old days!
There’s bike parking around the back, some of it under cover and there’s also one of the best beer gardens you’re ever going to see.
Upstairs there’re fifteen rooms each costing 60 bucks a night. There’s 8 doubles, 5 queens, a couple of twins and one with three single beds. All are neat as a pin and every bed has an electric blanket.
The guest lounge is a real beauty: Probably the biggest I’ve come across and there’s all the makings for brekkie and a brew in the morning.
The panelling and tile work around the place is amazing. This time around the ‘randa was out of bounds as Brian pours money into restoring it. All the iron lacework has been carefully removed for painting before it’s returned. Should make the place amazing.
Wendy and Cheryl run the restaurant and their menu’s pretty standard country fare with steaks, battered fish, a deep fried seafood platter and of course my lamb shanks (for just 18 bucks). Keep space for the homemade sticky date!
I’m almost done with my interrogation in the bar of Brian when Wendy turns up with my lamb shanks so I tell the boss I’ll be back later and follow my dinner into the dining room.
A couple of mouthfuls in and Bill Speirs turns up. Bill’s a local farmer, lay preacher and an author who’s done half a dozen books on local history. I buy him a beer and he sits himself down. The stories come from him as easily as the meat from my shank.
The original town site was a bit to the north on the Mirrool Creek at the intersection of the Wagga Wagga – Condoblin and the Narranderra – Young TSR’s. The first pub up there was the Beehive which was owned at one stage by Mary Gilmore’s old man but it was flood prone.
When the railway from Sydney to Cootamundra was extended to Temora and on to Roto, the settlement moved south in 1906. Ariah Park was gazetted a year later and had its own biblical flood: waves of religious farming families who’d been broken by the poor sandy soils of Victoria’s Wimmera.
Some of these farming families were Catholic, some Methodist, others Anglican and the rest were Baptist. One brand just different models.
The first pub at Ariah Park opened in 1907 but four years later it was proving too small so the current one was built in 1914, and it hasn’t changed much in the last 102 years.
These folks around here are early adopters, have been for a while. The first shipment of bulk wheat was loaded into a tarp lined wagon at Ariah Park in 1916 and sent to Sydney.
It went well the place went crazy. Was a total success and Bill reckons it pushed rail freight ten years up the line. Soon the use of 40kg wheat bags was so damn, well so very last century.
So the town’s growing, the pub’s thriving and everyone should be happy right?
Er, not exactly. For a start the pub was being run by a publican who was as popular as a scientist at a One Nation Rally so those who drank hated him, and those who didn’t, the wowsers, preached that his was a profession of Lucifer.
Anyway the drinkers figured the best option to ditch the bloke was to get another pub and they applied for a license. Their application was opposed by the unholy alliance of the pub-fearing publican and the god-fearing public. Midway through the application Mr Popularity sold out and passed the beer taps onto another bloke who actually was extremely popular in town but he too, mindful of business, fought to keep his monopoly.
The Wowsers were led by the local Methodist minister W.E. Wood who believed in prohibition and said if he had his way, ‘there would be no open hotels in Ariah Park.’
“The granting of another license would not,” he preached, “be in the best interests of the young people.”
Bolstered by a band of locals who’d been signed up to Temperance Pledges in a last minute recruiting frenzy, the Wowsers won out and there was no second pub.
In the local rag, right beside the transcript and sympathetic coverage of the court hearing was a large advert for the Ariah Park Hotel proclaiming its ‘large and roomy garage and stable’.
(Ah, the practice of strategically placing ads to help ensure sympathetic editorial coverage has been around long before motorcycle magazines were born!)
But the option of both stable and garage was a true sign of the times. The Ariah Park News’s coverage of the court hearing was also accompanied by adverts for internally combusting vehicles:
“Fordson….. Every Farmer Needs a Truck… £177/0/0”
“Overland Whippet…. from 5mph to 30mph in 13 seconds (and brakes which will stop you) in 51ft from 40 mph.. £225/0/0”
The early adopter folks at Ariah Park stayed true to form and took to powered vehicles like a crow to roadkill. And the merchants on Coolamon St took to selling fuel with pretty much the same vigor. The first bowser appeared in 1925 and pretty soon there were eighteen of ‘em.
The only thing multiplying faster than the hand primed petrol pumps was the stray dog population, leading Mort Collings, editor of the Ariah Park News to bitch, ‘We’ll soon be just a town of bowsers and towsers.’
Now Mort can take credit for the initial poetry but the identity of the fella who expanded and slightly altered it after the victory of the Temperance nutters a year later has gone unrecorded.
But for the last 90 years his words have lived on and Ariah Park’s been known by his description, ‘Wowsers, Bowsers and Peppercorn Trees’.
Whew! My cab-sav and Bill’s beer are long gone and so are their encores and after an hour Bill’s gotta hit the road so we head back to the bar and it’s empty. Brian’s gone, Wendy’s gone, all the customers have disappeared. All that’s left is Brian’s son-in-law Wayne who explains there’s a 9 grand badge draw up at the Bowlo and everyone’s up there.
So I say my thanks to Bill and head up the road, not straight up but around the block coz there’s a building I want to check out.
I leave the pub that is still going strong and head a couple of streets west turn left and there’s the old Methodist Church, home of old Rev Wood who led the Wowser campaigns against not just an additional pub, but the original one as well.
Bill had told me that no Lutherans settled this area which right now is a pity because I know they’d understand my schadenfreude when I pass the old Church and see that it’s been closed for 20 years.
Up at the Bowlo the night’s in full swing and I’m inside for no more than 2 minutes before a local asks how I am and can he help. I buy a raffle ticket and win my first ever meat tray and donate it back to Wendy for the pub kitchen.
Blokes and their partners laugh and shout, kids run everywhere, wait staff carry plates trying to find the owners, the bloke on the PA can hardly be heard and the nine grand doesn’t go off. Somehow you know that if it had been won, the bar would’ve been shouted. It’s just that kind of place!
The Wowsers may’ve had their beliefs but Good People, Good Town, Good Pub is a holy trinity that’ll do me!
Disclaimer: Contrary to standard industry practice I didn’t seek, nor was I offered any freebee or special deal (let alone overseas junket) by anyone connected with anything in this article.
Ariah Park is about the friendliest town I’ve been in for a while. Very hard to pass a local in the street without a chin wag, and the hotel is an extension of this.
It’s comfortable and homely, relaxed and welcoming. In the cold of winter it’s warm and inviting. In summer its east facing beer garden is a massive, beautiful shady oasis.
You can have a couple of beers, dinner with dessert, a sleep in a clean comfortable bed, then cereal and coffee in the morning and you’ll have change from a Jolly Green Giant.
And speakin’ of hundreds, every ten years Ariah Park celebrates a centenary of something. It’s an idea of the vibrant group who run the progress association, driven by people like Bill and Nigel Judd another local historian and author.
Against a backdrop of businesses in villages all around going belly up, Ariah Park’s just got a new café and mini-mart. The main street is being re-landscaped and the optimism is tangible.
The pub’s a reflection of all this. It just missed getting four helmets on our scale but its value rating was over 200 and for unique character it got 4 out of 5.