The good old Aussie pub. Could there be a more true blue establishment? In our ever-evolving society that is increasingly turning our quintessential meeting (and drinking) places into gastropubs and oyster bars, these iconic hotels so steeped in Australian culture are becoming harder to find. The modern incarnations have craft beer on tap and some don’t even have a parma on the menu, let alone a pie.
But there are still some golden gems dotted around the country that will serve you up nothing other than some flamin’ good hospitality, a pot or schooner of house lager and a good dose of Aussie culture. As we have travelled around the country, we have stumbled upon a number of them that have lingered in our memories long after we have left, and you guessed it, they are all in the outback. Here are some of our favourite Aussie outback pubs.
Perhaps the most iconic pub in the country and steeped in history, this authentic Aussie hotel is the cornerstone of the remote outback town that is home to around 110 people. However it is far more than just a drinking hole for the locals. It attracts travellers from every walk of life – and has been doing so for over 130 years!
Depending on which direction you are travelling, it is either at the start or the end of the legendary and notorious Birdsville Track, a 517 kilometre 4WD track between Birdsville in South West Queensland, and Marree, a tiny town in the north-east South Australian outback.
Adventurers have been coming to Birdsville for decades, attracted by many things including the lure of the Simpson Desert and also the famous annual Birdsville Races which swells the town to around 7000 each September. Whether they arrive by vehicle or land on the airstrip opposite (that’s just kind of how things roll around here!) everyone comes together at the pub that has been standing here since 1884.
It has weathered floods, fires, cyclones and more during its lifetime and still stands as a testimony to the resilient Aussie spirit.
It’s as unpretentious as they come, specialising in a characterful bar to drink, traditional pub fare to eat, and a place to meet and banter with both locals and other travellers alike. It is almost a guarantee that you will walk away from this pub with new friends.
A visit to the pub will immerse you in the colourful characters and stories of the town – which are just as brilliant as the spectacular scenery that surrounds it. It is probably the most authentic outback experiences one can have in Australia.
We found the perfect time to visit was on a Friday night, when many of the locals, some of the hardiest people you could ever wish to meet, would come off their million acre stations for a cold one and share their tales of the week!
So, we encourage you to put it on your list and go find out all the stories for yourself!
The Grand Hotel, Kookynie
How does a stint in a real life ghost town grab you?
The Grand Hotel sits at the heart of Kookynie, a town which materialised almost overnight with the advent of the Western Australian goldrush and was deserted almost as quickly when the boom passed. In its hey dey, Kookynie boasted a population of around 3500, serviced by the pub (built in 1902) amongst six other hotels, some public swimming baths, a racecourse, a brewery, two newspapers, a few banks, a school and dozens of shops and restaurants.
Today, the Grand Hotel is almost the only thing that still stands, the rest of the town deserted and left to ruin exactly as it was left. In fact, the town is like an open-air museum, where you can explore decaying buildings, cars and other sites.
The pub is still beloved by tourists and locals (of which there are around 13) alike and despite being in the far reaches of the Western Australian outback, it is a big attraction for travellers who come to see the ghost town.
We met the owners of the hotel on our visit, and were invited to try their famous beef burgers, touted by many as the best in Australia (we have to agree they were pretty good!). Kookynie is the kind of place where, if you take up a pew at the bar, you’re more than likely to meet a passionate local and find yourself out gold fossicking with them the next day, like we did!
The Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, South Australia
The Flinders Ranges are one of our favourite outback regions in the country. They are almost totally unexpected due to their northern ‘red’ neighbour getting so much attention. The outback here is blessed with rugged ranges, incredible wildlife, and enormous vistas filled with 540 million year old landscapes.
One of the most quintessential experiences here however, is within the four walls of the Prairie Hotel. Yep, the local pub.
What sets the Prairie Hotel apart, aside from its incredible history and location, is its menu. Devoted to Australian tucker, here you will find some of Australia’s most interesting and unique food.
From the ‘feral antipasto’ starter which includes smoked kangaroo and pastrami, emu liver pate, camel mettwurst and bush tomato chilli jam, to the more confronting ‘feral mixed grill’ for main, featuring kangaroo fillet, emu fillet mignon and camel sausage. The menu also liberally features native Australian tucker including quandongs, wattle and acacia seeds, saltbush, lemon myrtle, native limes, bush ‘apples’ and mountain pepperberries.
This is a menu that is even a novelty for Australians themselves.
And the best thing to wash it down? A Fargher Lager. Brewed by the publicans themselves (Jane and Ross Fargher) who are the fourth-generation of their family to run sheep and cattle in the Flinders Ranges.
Can you get more ‘local’ than that?
The Lions Den Hotel, Far North Queensland
The road trip to Cape York (or anywhere north of Cooktown really) is a much-romanticised adventure amongst Australians. Its remoteness and notoriousness makes it a journey that many dream of doing, but might not actually feel intrepid enough to take on.
The only thing we can say is ‘go for it’. This is not a journey reserved for only the brave few. This is something that can be taken on by anyone with a bit of common sense, the right equipment and an appetite for adventure.
One of the highlights along the way is, you guessed it, a cracking outback Aussie pub. It wouldn’t be a complete Australian adventure without one would it?
This particular pub, the Lions Den Hotel, is very special; it has been standing since 1875. Surrounded by 100 year old mango trees, and festooned inside with memorabilia left by passing visitors, it is one of the most unique, yet authentic, Australian experiences on the Bloomfield Track.
This is the kind of place where one beer turns into many, and they have accommodated this with some safari-style lodges and single and double accommodation. There is even a children’s playground to entertain the little ones.
Better still, you don’t even have to be taking on the rugged trip to the Cape to visit this icon. It is only 4km from the sealed highway to Cooktown.
William Creek Hotel, Oodnadatta Track, South Australia
There is probably no bigger testament to ‘the pub’ being the heart of the Australian community than the fact that the tiny ‘town’ of William Creek, situated along the Oodnadatta Track in outback South Australia (around 15 hours drive from Adelaide), has nothing but 6 permanent residents (and a dog) plus a pub – the William Creek Hotel. It is the smallest settlement in South Australia, surrounded by the Australia’s biggest cattle station, Anna Creek Station.
Australia’s most remote pub isn’t short of business however. It is the half way point along the Oodnadatta Track, the most historical track in Australia’s outback development, and as home to Wrightsair Commercial Aircraft Charter and scenic flights to Lake Eyre, people always seem to be ‘dropping in’.
The front bar of the almost ‘tin shed’ like building has been decorated by the travellers who have visited it, leaving souvenirs that give visitors no shortage of things to read and gaze at while they sip a cold one.
The pub also boasts accommodation, a campground, fuel, actual espresso, and a tasty meal. Owners Mim and Bruce will probably also regale you with stories and banter typical of the quintessential Australian publican.
It is not simply a pub in the middle of nowhere, on your way to somewhere, it is a destination in itself.
We’d love to hear from you! Have you been to any of these grand old pubs? We’d love to hear about any of your favourites in the comments!