The Pub With No Beer, Taylors Arm
Taylors Arm Phone: 02 6564 2100
Okay, so just imagine that I happened to lose my virginity in the back of a beloved old character-filled VW Kombi wagon, which I subsequently smashed in an accident (which needless to say wouldn’t have been my fault!). And say I replaced the Kombi with a utilitarian ute, a Hi-Lux which I still have.
So we’re chatting and I point to the ute and say, “I had my first sex in that ute.” Would I be telling you the truth? Well of course I wouldn’t! Just because the ute replaced the V-dub doesn’t make it the same thing, does it? What happened in the Kombi didn’t happen in the Toyota!
Well not unless we’re in Queensland, or more precisely in Ingham, or even more correctly if I had a interest in, or ownership of a pub there, or to be exact, if I was connected with Lee’s Hotel on Lannercost St .
See, in the 1940’s a bloke named Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about an event at the Day Dawn Hotel in Ingham, but, unfortunately, like my mythical Kombi this pub no longer exists. It was bought in 1958 by Rupert Lee who demolished it a couple of years later and replaced it with the utilitarian, unattractive and eponymously named, “Lee’s Hotel”.
And yet the folks at Lee’s Hotel have no qualms about claiming that Dan Sheahan’s poem, “The Pub Without Beer” was written about their pub despite the problem of it not existing until almost two decades after Dan put pencil to paper.
And yet, Ingham does have crucial ties to what became the Slim Dusty song, “Pub with no Beer”, it’s just that Lee’s Hotel has as much claim to being the basis of the poem as I have a claim to being Ernest Hemingway by simply standing on his grave! (* See sidebar)
I was mulling all this as I sat on the deck of The Pub with No Beer at Taylors Arm, two thousand kilometres to the south of Ingham and midway between the two east coast state capitals. I must’ve been in the mood for cogitating over deceptively mis-named things as I’d just come up from Sydney on a highway called, “The Pacific” despite the Pacific Ocean not touching the coast of this country at any point! (Don’t get me started!)
The Pub With No Beer (let’s call it, ‘TPWNB from here on), is inland from the highway south of Macksville and if you have any pretentions about seeing the iconic hotels of this land, this is a pub you need to visit.
The sealed 30km ride in from the Pac is a glorious twisty respite from ‘the slab’.
Turn west at the south Macksville Independent Fuel and opposite Woolworths onto Boundary St and then take a left onto Wallace and follow the signs for Taylors Arm. This road soon joins the Taylors Arm water before leading you into the verdant beauty of the hinterland.
You’ll hit a T with both directions announcing Taylors Arm. Take the right if you want to stay on sealed, take the left if you feel drawn to some dirt.
I park around the back (there’s no undercover parking) and head into the bar to be welcomed by a young bloke who’s obviously not a back-packer and a “g’day” from each of the other 3 drinkers in the bar. David’s the son of the bosses and he soon sorts out my room and my drink and I retire to the west facing verandah to soak up the last warming rays of the setting sun.
Pretty soon David’s dad, Trevor arrives and comes over for an intro and a chat. For no other reason than I am a new face in the place. He tells me the Taylors Arm version of the myth behind Slim Dusty’s song. There seems to be a few holes in it, but this ain’t the time to point them out!
Trevor and his wife Tracey have leased the pub for just on a year this time around after managing it for a while about a decade ago. They have a long connection to the place. (Their family even donated to the hotel an old church which was on their property and which has been relocated to the back of the pub and is now lined with beer cans).
After their first management of the pub they built up and then sold a stock feed business and bought a 100 acre cattle property just down the road. The cattle are grass fed and then finished with in-paddock grain mix, slaughtered down in Freddo and then brought back to the pub and served as everything from burgers to snags to T-bones in the restaurant. You can also buy shrink wrapped cuts to take home from the fridge in the back bar.
If you know the rudiments of ruminants, learned the evils of feedlots and are an advocate of short paddock-to-plate distances, this is just one of many reasons to come to Taylors Arm. The restaurant is open for lunch 7 days and for dinner only on Fridays and Saturdays though you can get delicious massively topped pizzas on all other nights.
This is very much a family business with Trevor and Tracey helped in the bar by their two sons, David and Adam whom dad considers critical to the success of the pub. “They both love working here, and the locals love having them behind the bar so it all makes for a happy place,” he tells me, and he’s damn right!
On the wall at one end of the bar is an old style bookmaker’s odds board with, “Who’s Next” pinned to the top. This, Trevor explains with a laugh is the ‘book’ on who’s the next to be barred from the place and it’s a pretty tight market at the top with ‘Pawsey’ favourite at odds of 5 to 4 on! I figure I need to speak with this thoroughbred!
Like every regular, Pawsey has his own stable so I hardly need my Garmin to find him in full flight in his stall at the corner of the verandah. His raucous testaments to the goodness on this pub are echoed by the chorus of other nearby drinkers.
The only other guests this night are two young hippie women in a clapped out Volvo wagon who are squatting on the grass and as the sun sets and Pawsey heads off to his ‘mongrel kids’ someone produces a guitar and it’s passed around between locals and the Volvo dwellers who all strum requests as others sing along. There is no seam, no line, no friction between locals, visitors, guests and staff, the sign on the wall claiming there’s no strangers here just folks you haven’t met, couldn’t be more apposite!
The PWNB has a total of nine rooms with a combination of queen doubles, singles, twins, bunks and a dorm that sleeps seventeen. You’ll pay 25 bucks per head. You can also throw a swag or tent pitch on the oval across the road for a fee (payable at the pub) of 5 bucks (including access to the pub’s showers and toilets) to offset part of the maintenance.
The bathrooms are pristine and the pump drive, gas fired showers are as good as any you’ll find anywhere. The rooms are clean and comfortable and with near zero traffic at night I sleep well only to be woken at daybreak by a freaking lawnmower. What the???
Turns out it’s Joe cutting the grass and then tending the garden of the Anzac Memorial across the road in readiness for the service the next morning, and feeling the goodness flow out of him as we chat, I decide to stay an extra night and then share the dawn service with the 30 residents of Taylors Arm.
In the crisp, cold dark of April 25th near three times that number turn up to pay their respects. Young kids shine torches to help older folks navigate and read the service. It’s touching, it’s respectful and it’s perfect.
After the ceremony all head back to the pub where the staff have been working since 4.00am to bang up a free breakfast of bacon and eggs and beans. David and Andrew are welcoming everyone with a nip of Bundy and milk. I realize that this is the sort of Australia for which so many lives were lost. Fair dinkum genuine people in a beautiful place, and I’m glad I stayed the extra.
But I have to get moving so I thank Trevor and Tracy and make my exit back down the twisting, cloud shrouded Taylors Arm Rd. Halfway down through the mist I make out a single weak taillight. It’s a clapped out Kombi which I can’t get around for the think fog! For the next ten minutes as I follow it down to sea level and out of the mist, I smile and wonder if anyone’s lost anything in there recently!
The Pub with No Beer at Taylors Arm scored 68 points on our scale, pulled back a bit by lack of lock up parking and some fittings in the rooms. This makes it just three helmets, but damn they’re good helmets. This truly is a go-see pub!
Full disclosure: I was offered, but did not accept a free drink and meal whilst at the pub. These kind offers in no way influenced any of the review.
The Pub With No Beer, Taylors Arm NSW
T: 02 6564 2100 (Trevor, Tracy, Andrew and David)