Country loses social hubs as pubs, clubs close across state

Last drinks for pubs, clubs across NSW as trading ban comes in

Coronavirus
Last drinks. The Armatree Hotel shut down its public bar today but hopes to keep some trading going through takeaway food and liquor after the Australia-wide closure on pubs and clubs. Photo by Rachael Webb for a special on the award-winning pub a few years ago.

Last drinks. The Armatree Hotel shut down its public bar today but hopes to keep some trading going through takeaway food and liquor after the Australia-wide closure on pubs and clubs. Photo by Rachael Webb for a special on the award-winning pub a few years ago.

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Up to 75,000 devastated NSW hotel staff face unknown future

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Like the Last Post played at a chilling time, so it was 'last drinks' at midday today as pubs shut their doors across NSW in the latest wave of coronavirus restrictions.

With only a days' notice, publicans and staff were left bewildered by the fast pace of action by governments to clamp down on social interaction in a bid to to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Up to 75,000 NSW hotel staff could be without work and almost 250,000 across the nation as all licensed premises closed, only allowed to trade through attached bottle shops.

Out at the former AHA NSW country hotel of the year at Armatree, near Gilgandra, the feeling was grim - but defiant - in terms of finding a way to provide takeaway food or liquor to the community and keeping their heads above water. Already the loss of weddings and functions has cost the pub's owners Ash and Lib Walker $100,000 or more.

The last beer poured at Armatree .... for now.

The last beer poured at Armatree .... for now.

With any corona virus case at least many hours' journey away, some country people were shocked their local touchstones were closing including the Snow Goose Hotel at Adaminaby where the local community was only just breathing easy after the bushfire crisis.

But most realised and understood they would be taking a "knock" for the nation in the bid to stem the spread of the virus that has decimated areas around the world. They all promised to be back trading as soon as possible.

At Armatree there had been new hope in the air after good rain in the drought-affected region. The hotel acted as a strong community point during the drought, helping keep spirits alive, not just as a meeting place for a beer, but also as a gathering point - whether you drank alcohol or not.

Ash and his wife Lib at the empty Armatree bar after government restrictions kicked in at midday on Monday.

Ash and his wife Lib at the empty Armatree bar after government restrictions kicked in at midday on Monday.

Ash Walker was pouring the last beer today, and he thought it might be for himself, given the big job he has now in front of him to stay afloat.

He gave the bad news to some of his staff on Sunday night.

Publican Ash Walker at Armatree Hotel in happier times.

Publican Ash Walker at Armatree Hotel in happier times.

"This is not just a knock for us, but for the social fabric around here," he said.

"I also have three permanent staff and 12 casuals so the effect on them is pretty big. We had a staff meeting last night and they were all very devastated and nervous, they weren't sure what to do or what to be thinking.

"We've decided to trade on with takeaway food and liquor, which we can do with our licence, so we are trying to put in place a pro-active plan.

"But the knock has been huge. I've lost a wedding, a rugby season launch and few other events plus it was about to be the start of the Grey Nomad season. I would have lost 100,000 dollars or even more from lost bookings so far."

A favourite gathering point at Armatree under the gums.

A favourite gathering point at Armatree under the gums.

He didn't see how any small business loans could help him in his situation. Obviously most staff would not be needed. "We're just hoping we'll be back up in running in six weeks or more, but who knows?".

Brewery suppliers had offered to take back any untapped beer. Mr Walker said many local food suppliers would be hit including a gourmet butcher and a fruit and veg suppliers in the town of Gilgandra, and also a supplier in Dubbo.

Mr Walker didn't attack governments for taking this course of action. He was just shuddering at the effects it would have through the economy and how his local area would cope without its touchstone.

In later news today, some pubs are showing innovation and providing takeaway meals and keeping open bottle shops.

The previously mentioned Snow Goose Hotel in Adaminaby is putting out a large takeaway menu, appropriately named The Flying Goose. Its bottle shop will also be opened for limited hours Monday to Sunday.

Meantime in Narrabri, businesses have joined forces for a home delivery service through Narrabri Radio Cabs, including One23 Cafe, Tatts Hotel, On Lee Chinese Restaurant, Namoi Hotel and Narrabri RSL and Outback Shack. "All you need to do is ring the business and place your order," the flyer said. Card transactions preferred.

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