Outback pub crawl sure is thirsty work
NOTHING works up a thirst quite like travelling in the Outback. "There's five pubs on the main street in Barcy," said the owner of my Barcaldine hotel as I stood at the check-in counter.
"You should try and have a drink at all of them."
I had arrived in the Outback town, more than 1000km west of Brisbane, with nothing more than a dusty bag and a dry throat so it sounded like a good idea to me. Challenge accepted.
It used to be a lot harder to do a Barcy pub crawl.
Back when the town was a hub for sheep stations and the shearers who worked there in the early 1900s, Barcaldine had a population of 5000 people and 11 pubs.
Ironically, there's actually more bars per capita now than there were in those halcyon days leading up to the (in)famous shearers' strike and the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
By 1962, when fire ripped through the Federal Hotel, it was down to six and since 2011 there have only been five following the demise of the Globe.
That pub has been given a new lease on life as a visitor centre, which opened last year.
The pubs that remain are still hanging on, each with their own distinct character and loyal clientele. There's a pub for every 320 souls in Barcaldine and most locals have their favourites.
And I'm going to all of them - for research purposes of course, and I get straight to it.
Starting at the eastern end of Oak St, I head in to The Union for a feed at the mysteriously named Witches Kitchen. The origin of the name is a secret that the pub's owners have vowed to take to the grave.
I take a chicken parmigiana, which is every bit as good as you'd expect from a kitchen run by the Italian immigrants who built it 50 years ago.
After a drink in the front bar I head down the street to the Railway. Across the road from the train station, the Railway also has a grand view of the Tree of Knowledge monument, which glows a striking bright green at night and whispers a strangely soothing tune courtesy of the wind chimes surrounding the tree. The tree died in an Outback mystery that has never been solved.
Next door, and with similar views, is the town's oldest pub, the Artesian, which has the kind of quintessential facade of great Outback pubs.
After a beer there (okay it might have been two or three) I shuffle on to the Shakespeare, known by the locals as "the Shakey". I'm probably a little shaky myself when I leave a couple of drinks later, but at least I leave by foot.
In the 1936 floods, drinkers had to row a boat in the front door of the main bar. Despite some recent rain that has lushed up the surrounding countryside, it's as dry as the rest of the drought-baked Outback when I'm there, so I walk down to the last stop on the list, the Commercial, affectionately known as "the Commy".
It's hospitality night so the place is surprisingly packed with the backpackers who normally work at the town's pubs, but tonight are crowding around the dart board in the main bar.
There's a couple of pool tables in a neat little beer garden-central courtyard out the back, but at the end of a long night my sporting prowess is not what it once was.
While the younger set are keen to kick on, I show the kind of common sense sadly lacking from many of the pub crawls of my youth and head back to my hotel.
As the urban sprawl on the east coast marches on, many quintessential pubs have been replaced by new taverns with about as much character as the concrete they're poured from.
But pubs across the Outback are still as charming as ever.