Molong St Stuart Town NSW Phone: 02 6846 8224
I’d been to Stuart Town once before when the highlight had been an hour or so with a couple of real fun ladies in the Rural Transaction Centre slash internet café slash School of Arts who had great joy and passion in sharing with me the town’s history (most of which, I estimated, they’d lived through!) They told me in enthusiastic detail how their village was home of Banjo Paterson’s, ‘Man from Ironbark’; the bloke who’d yelled, ‘Murder! Bloody murder’ when he thought a big smoke barber had slit his throat.
It kinda made sense…. Paterson was born at Narambla just north of Orange in 1864 so he would’ve been aware of this town just 40 miles to the north. Until Paterson was 25 and the railway came through, Stuart Town was known as, ‘Ironbarks’. Then the obsequious locals, no doubt hoping for more governmental favours, in a meeting at the town’s Australian Hotel decided to rename their place after their premier, Alex Stuart.
Subsequent attempts to have the name change reversed were unsuccessful but in the early 1900’s the Australian’s publican made a protest vote and swung the pub’s name back to ‘The Ironbark Inn’.
I didn’t get to the pub that first visit but this time I’d rung ahead to reserve a bed and as I cut out of Orange and headed north, some cars on the main street were sporting a white layer from the year’s first snowfall at nearby Mt Canoblas. Yep, it was cold and despite the heated grips set at 100% and despite full thermals and despite the linings set in my pants and jacket, I was below cool at the end of the 60km zip up the Burrendong Way.
Sleet wasn’t far off so I didn’t even peel my layers before going inside. The Ironbark Inn is one of those classic old pubs with a single entry door right on the apex of its two frontage walls and as I went in, a raging fire was crackling to my right and from behind the bar on my left, a voice chimed, “You wanna defrost first or get a drink?” Nothing like a warm welcome from all directions!
I headed to the fire and began to shed. Local workers came in and joined me. We shuffled places in front of the flames. Rodney behind the bar knew all their drinks without them asking. It was obvious they all felt right at home.
They explained their theory that the secret of the fire’s wonderful heat was its tilted back wall and of course the ironbark wood in the grate. In no time I went from cold to toasty and, glass of merlot in hand, was listening to Rodney do his best to dispel the myth of the Banjo connection.
His objections revolve very much around the plurality of, ‘Ironbarks’. There are other, ‘Ironbark’s in both NSW and Queensland with just as much claim to the connection and besides, by the time Banjo got to writing his poem in 1892, the place was already Stuart Town. As I mulled this, I wished my wine was also, but there is no need to resolve all such conflicts. The myths and their contradictions add to the tapestry, they are not flaws in the fabric of our past, and despite his objections Rodney’s left a mural depicting the man and the barber on the wall over the font fire.
It’s five years since Rodney and his wife Rohnda took over the lease of the pub from an OMG out of Sydney. It was run-down and in need of plenty of TLC and slowly but surely it’s being revived with the help of their daughter Kimberley who works behind the bar.
The magnetic heat of the front bar fire is at least equalled by the furnace out the back. This open smoking area is warmed by a wood-fed converted water-heater which is so hot that it’s caged in for safety. Sure makes a great place to dry your gear or to warm it before heading out in the morning. You’ll probably just have to step over at least a couple of local dogs!
This back area has a beautifully faded pool table, a jukebox, loads of tables and space for dancing if you’re in the mood. The classic cue rack fashioned from a pair of milk crates sums up the raw wry fun of this pub. About two metres from one of the walls is a strip of scars on the green floor, testaments to burnouts from a group of riders a year of so back. If you want to add to them, seek Rodney’s Ok first!
Behind this covered area (where you can park your ride at the end of the night), is a large grassed, I guess, ‘lawn’ is the word, with a BBQ and space to throw a swag if that’s your wish.
There’re only four rooms available for visitors, two with a double bed and two with a pair of singles. They are all clean and pretty well fitted out with good powerpoints, strong hooks for your gear, side table and enough blankets for me to stay warm despite sleeping with the window fully opened on a 4ºC night.
There’s just one bathroom/toilet upstairs and to get it you’ll have to walk through the owners’ lounge room which is a bit weird but it works. The shower doesn’t have great pressure but the hot water seems inexhaustible. Oh, and the towels are actually big enough and thick enough to dry you!
The Ironbark is a couple of blocks up from the Burrendong Way and whilst this means zero night traffic (although you’ll get a couple of trains through each night), it also means that the pub misses a hell of a lot of riders taking this excellent alternative to the Mitchell Hwy between Orange and Wellington. The next morning when I walked down to the servo for a very nice B&E sambo, three separate groups of obviously freezing riders took the dogleg though the village and kept on going, obviously oblivious to the option of a brief recoop in front of the two raging fires just 80 metres away.
Rohnda does most of the pub’s cooking with the restaurant open Wed, Fri and Saturday 12-2 and 6-8 but if you ring ahead and have a group coming you can count of getting a feed. Which is lucky as the only other option in town is the general store/servo where Kevin makes a very okay selection of burgers, chips and bacon and egg rolls, but his opening hours are limited.
I’d planned to stay a single night but, without any good reason to freeze again, ended doubling up and spent the day instead walking around this tiny village of just 250 folks and then returning to the fires of the pub. This is not a place for a quiet drink on your own. Our rating system has a five point scale for friendliness of the locals but for the first time I’ve awarded a bonus 6th point for this one. Everyone’s up for a chat.
It’s simply a great space to be in! On the second evening a local trio played non-stop for over four hours, songs and old standards which had the crowd of locals singing and clapping and even Rodney’s octogen aunt up dancing with her walking stick!
And the going rate for this? You’re going to have to shell out all of thirty bucks to stay at the Ironbark but if you’ve booked ahead to stay and arrive on two wheels you’ll also get your first drink free. I’ve regularly paid twice this for less and in Queenlsand you can pay triple for a whole load less! If you can, stay a couple of nights. In addition to the riding and the friendliness there’s great fishing and swimming at 12km away at Mookerawa down on the dammed Macquarie River. Take a stroll around the village itself and if you’re there Friday or Saturday get into the Transaction Centre and fill up on history.
Stuart Town is 320km from Sydney via Orange or a tick under 400km via Wellington and Mudgee making it perfect for an out and back weekend from the rat race. But whether you make it to Stuart Town or not, google, ‘Man from Ironbark Banjo Paterson’ and read the poem out loud. It’s a cracker!
The Ironbark Inn, Molong St Stuart Town, (T: 02 6846 8224), just dipped below our gold rating 4 Helmets Standard with 73 points, but its value rating was a whopping 240 where 100 is good. So it’s basic but great value plus very enjoyable.