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The woman believed to be Australia’s oldest publican has announced plans to sell her hotel – the “last pub in New South Wales” – and retire after running it for 40 years.
Mary Crawley, 93, has been behind the bar at the Tattersalls Hotel in Barringun, a tiny town one kilometre from the Queensland border, since 1977.
The remote pub, about 130 kilometres north of Bourke, plays host to a steady stream of travellers from both sides of the border.
The sale is being run by McKimm Real Estate director Adam Crawley, who is Mary’s grandson and who grew up in the hotel.
“It was a pretty unique experience growing up in a pub like that, hanging around with a lot of shearing teams and truck drivers. You get some pretty interesting yarns out of them,” Mr Crawley said.
“My grandparents bought it in 1977 and raised the last of their kids there. A myriad of the grandkids have lived there over the years. It was a family home as well as a hotel.”
Mary has been running the hotel since her husband died. Up until last year she was running it entirely by herself, and she has now decided to retire and move to Bourke.
“It got to the stage where she really shouldn’t be there by herself with how isolated it is. The family has got other avenues they want to go down, and she wants to retire and move into town,” Mr Crawley said.
The hotel offers much more than a place to drink too, with the site also serving as a meeting place for locals.
“There’s not a lot out there, so it’s a central place for everyone to have a beer and catch up,” Mr Crawley said.
While Barringun now has only four permanent residents, back before Federation it was a booming outback town with five hotels, a racetrack and a brewery. The Tattersalls Hotels, which was built in about 1884, is the last remaining of the original buildings.
There have been many memorable moments for the Crawley family in those four decades. Perhaps most memorable was a visit from Hollywood actor Russell Crowe who camped on the hotel’s large verandah and read Australian poetry to Mary.
In a 2015 article in the Good Weekend magazine, Mary said she and her husband, Bay, had decided to buy the pub after spending some years in Bourke. ”I was excited, pleased to be coming, because I was reared in the bush and I love the bush,” she said.
”A terrible lot of people today don’t appreciate the natural beauty that God gave us. It all goes past.”
Mr Crawley said his grandmother’s aim was to find a buyer who recognised the significance of the hotel and would keep it running in some capacity. Money wasn’t the main aim with the sale, he said, with any offer of more than $100,000 considered.
“Her goal isn’t necessarily to completely maximise the price, it’s to find a buyer that realises the importance – historically and to the community – of the hotel, and want to maintain some sort of operation here,” he said.
“She doesn’t want it to be closed down. We’d be happy for it to be taken into the 21st century, for it to be improved and expanded, but we’d hate to see it shut down or run into the ground.”
Mr Crawley said the pub and other buildings, and the surrounding 87 hectares on offer, was a “lifestyle opportunity” for the right buyer to make the most of the travellers passing through.
“There’s the potential to take it forward. Outback tourism has and will continue to take off. Bourke has its own festival and there’s a stream of grey nomads going past that hasn’t been tapped into,” he said.
“If you do some caravan accommodation and room accommodation and some meals, you’ll have a humming little business.”
Mr Crawley admitted that selling the hotel, which has served as the meeting point for his family for the past 40 years, was a strange experience.
“There are pretty mixed feelings for the whole family, but times move on and now it’s time for others to have that opportunity,” he said.
“It’s very strange, and it’s probably the most unique property I’ve sold. It’s a little different having the close emotional attachment to it. It’s not like selling the next house or even my own property.”
Along with the historic pub, the accompanying land includes an old post office which has been converted into a second residence, a large shed, and land that could be used for farming, recreation, camping or tourism.
“The work’s not hard – if a 92-year-old lady can do it by herself [before she got a helper last year] it’s not too hard. If you enjoy getting along with people you’ll enjoy working there,” Mr Crawley said.