One of Australia’s most iconic pubs, the Birdsville Hotel, is up for sale – and entrepreneur Dick Smith is considering putting in an offer.
The beautiful sandstone pub, building in 1884 on the edge of the Simpson Desert, 1600 kilometres from Brisbane, is legendary as a symbol of the outback and is a focal point of one of the country’s most celebrated race meets every year, the Birdsville Races.
“I love the pub, even though I don’t drink, but it’s a wonderful place and I love Birdsville,” said Mr Smith, who most famously owned the hotel for one day in 1979 when his offer to buy it was accepted, only for the building to burn down the next day. He then rescinded the contract.
“I don’t know much about pubs, but I’ll be talking to my friend Singo [businessman John Singleton] who does and, although it’ll depend on the price, I’d love us to buy it.
“It would be such a disappointment if it didn’t sell to an Australian. It doesn’t bear thinking about if it was bought from China.”
Mr Smith paid $62,000 for the hotel back then and as little as 10 years ago there was speculation it was worth more than $5 million. Today’s agents, Darren Steele, director of Steele & Associates Hotel Brokers, and Guy Bennett from Knight Frank, however, refuse to disclose the price.
“It is such an iconic brand, and such a unique offering, it has value over and above any typical hotel offering,” said Mr Steele. “We don’t want to set a price this early on, but closer to the end of the campaign, when we’ve heard from the market, we’ll expect to know more.
“We expect to be overrun with interest from owner-operators, tourism operators, overseas buyers and even some multinationals who might see the brand align with their own core businesses.”
The sale is via a five-week expressions of interest campaign closing at the end of September, and includes the liquor licence, goodwill, intellectual property, business name, plant and equipment and stock in trade. The completely refurbished watering hole has 27 motel units close by the main building.
In addition, there are two detached residences, an industrial block and an aviation fuel supply business operated by the current hotel owners.
Those owners are organic cattle farmer and OBE Organic owner David Brook, and his close friend Kim Fort. Mr Brook’s grandmother bought the hotel in 1920, and kept ownership until the 1940s.
Mr Brook, now 70, bought it back in 1979 after the fire. “So selling it does pull at the heartstrings, yes,” he said. “It’s been part of my family for a very long time now.
“But when we bought it, we wanted to restore it and turn it into a great place for families to come with quality food and a nice place to stay rather than just being a typical pub. That worked well. We have visitors from all around the country and kids can run around safely and have a good time.
“The time has come now, after nearly 40 years, to step back and let someone else have a go. We have a great team in there running it day to day, so it’s not much work, and it’s going very well.”
The Birdsville Hotel is now an award-winning outback tourism destination, and has won Tourism and Events Queensland best outback pub title for three consecutive years.
During the school holidays, it attracts thousands of visitors, peaking with around 9000 people who attend the annual Big Red Bash Music Festival – this year headlined by Jimmy Barnes – and the Birdsville Races in September.
Tourism in Queensland is also increasing, with international visitors up by 5.5 per cent to March 2018 and domestic visitors by 2.6 per cent, according to Tourism & Events Queensland.
Kim Fort’s wife Jo, who has overseen the running of the pub for many years, said leaving the hotel would be a wrench.
“It’s been a privilege to own and manage such a wonderful hotel, which has a very special place in Australia’s heart,” she said.
“We’ve worked really hard to create such a quality, authentic outback experience over the years that people love. But it’s time to hand her over so she can continue to surprise and delight visitors with new owners who are equally passionate about becoming part of an outback legend.”
The roads to Birdsville have improved tremendously in recent years, and there’s a sealed airstrip, with regular scheduled flights, close to the hotel. Birdsville also has good mobile phone coverage and internet, as well as modern infrastructure such as a tourism hub, bakery, fuel station, post office, police station, school, caravan park and roadhouse.
The present manager of the Birdsville Hotel, Ben Fullager, said he hoped the new owner would be as passionate about the hotel and town as the old.
“There’s so much work been done here, and we hope it’ll be someone who has a similar passion.”
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