Bush pub a place to chill out for locals in the big dry

Armatree Hotel takes out top gong for best NSW bush pub


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Publican Ash Walker behind the bar at he and his wife Lib's Armatree Hotel that took out best bush pub this year. Photos by Rachael Webb.

Publican Ash Walker behind the bar at he and his wife Lib's Armatree Hotel that took out best bush pub this year. Photos by Rachael Webb.

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A community held together in the drought by a pub

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They say it’s got about an 80km radius catchment and we’re not talking about water that flows into a big dam, but the people who flow into the best pub in NSW.

At Armatree, while the rain hasn’t flowed, the beer has, and also the talk, the comradeship and also the community spirit.

It’s been the glue in a region torn apart by drought and two local tragedies and it was a defining and deserved moment  when Armatree Hotel was voted the best pub in NSW by the Australian Hotels Association recently.

The hotel is run by Lib and Ash Walker, the couple who met at the Birdsville races amid the hurly burly of sandstorms, racecalling and beers. Lib, a nurse, who grew up at nearby Warren, and Ash, a plumber from Mudgee, from a farming background, have made Armatree a perfect home for themselves and the locals, plunging $300,000 into hotel renovations and turning over the best tucker around, an investment in faith and the future. Lib and Ash sealed their romance about 17 years ago by attending an AC/DC concert but life since at Armatree has been sweet music. 

They have, you might say, a captive audience, but the pub is more than just a drinking attraction, no matter what is your preferred sauce. The pub has brought the community together through the toughest of droughts. It often hosts weddings and bands – the well-known Rockhampton outfit Busby Marou recently played there.

Two locals savour the flavour at Armatree Hotel. The pub keeps the community together.

Two locals savour the flavour at Armatree Hotel. The pub keeps the community together.

For Ash Walker, who is also Gilgandra deputy mayor, it’s been about staying in touch and being there when needed, if it’s a sausage sizzle or getting mates together to talk through the hard times – known as smoking and salami nights. Having a beer is not always a first priority.

“It’s been really tough for many, a lot of people are very frustrated by the drought,” Ash says. “But they have been very resilient and they look to a pub like ours to catch up with one another. Certainly here, I’ve seen more highs than lows. We often have community barbecues.” 

And tonight is a big night at Armatree Hotel with Lion Nathan donating $1 million to Rural Aid at a big event at the pub. Ash Walker with Iron Jack senior brand manager Ed Jamison.

And tonight is a big night at Armatree Hotel with Lion Nathan donating $1 million to Rural Aid at a big event at the pub. Ash Walker with Iron Jack senior brand manager Ed Jamison.

Running a pub is like running a dairyfarm – you can hardly ever leave, but Lib and Ash take a break during the week due to their reliable staff. They also are planning to bring in a special chef next year – to take the cooking load off Lib a bit.

Ash has seen a vast change in attitude over the last 20 years towards drink driving, and mid-strength beers had become quite popular. There’s always eight rooms upstairs if you’re stuck, or you can even pitch a tent.

“I love the lifestyle and I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this ,” he said. The pub also enjoys some corporate patronage. “We just offer good old country hospitality.”

Meantime, a big party at Armatree Hotel on Tuesday night saw $1 million passed on from brewer Lion Nathan to the charity Rural Aid, to boost drought support.

Armatree locals were hoping at least $100,000 would be kept in the Armatree region. Lion ran a “Beers for Bush’ campaign earlier this year, with  $1 from each carton of Iron Jack beer sold, and 50 cents from each schooner of Iron Jack sold at regional pubs donated to Rural Aid. 

Lion Beer’s Managing Director James Brindley said ‘Beers for the Bush’ was all about bringing people together, to share a beer at their local, and raise funds while helping the venues that give so much back to their communities.

Ash Walker with Iron Jack beer senior brand manager Ed Jamison.

Ash Walker with Iron Jack beer senior brand manager Ed Jamison.

“It’s been fantastic to see the way pubs and clubs and their customers have really gotten behind this campaign, not just in the name of drought relief, but also in support of country venues,” Mr Brindley said. “We know how important local pubs and clubs are in rural and regional areas. As scientific evidence mounts to suggest loneliness and isolation are growing public health concerns, the ‘local’ is a place where people can seek out social support when they have nowhere and no one else to go to.”

CEO of Rural Aid Charles Alder thanked Lion Beer Australia and Iron Jack for running the ‘Beers for the Bush’ campaign. “‘Beers for the Bush’ has been a truly unique fundraising effort, and perhaps one of the few with such a specific focus on bringing people together for a chat, which is also a vital commodity in times of drought,” Mr Alder said. “Many of the families here tonight will already have benefited from Iron Jack’s donations – through bales of hay, groceries, water, and assistance with bills.” The Land has asked Rural Aid how the donation will be disbursed.

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