Watering hole, hotel, pub, local, bar, tavern, club, inn, lounge, bistro, boozer – there are many colloquial terms for Australia’s public houses.
You will find one in almost every country town – or even four.
There’s no doubt that pubs have played an important role in our nation’s history.
The public spaces have been witness to weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, blues, break-ups and make-ups. They provide countless meals, copious amounts of alcohol and varying degrees of entertainment and accommodation.
The Commercial Hotel in Curlewis is no exception and is the only remaining pub in the village.
A little history
The establishment was built in 1912 and was licensed to James V Parnell on October 9, 11 days before the Royal Hotel, according to the NSW Government Gazette.
The pub has been in the hands of Kevin and Gwenda Edmonds, and Robert and Margaret Schofield since the October long weekend in 1987, but it wasn’t an easy acquisition.
“The old mate who owned it wouldn’t sell it,” Kevin said.
After some negotiations, they were successful and the Edmonds agreed to move off their farm near Nundle where they had lived for 20 years.
The couple bundled up their three children, Mel, Anthony and Matthew, and moved into the pub.
"It was a fairly big change from a farmhouse to a pub,” Kevin said.
By then Curlewis was a “one-pub town” and the Preston Colliery – situated between Curlewis and Gunnedah – was still running.
The Edmonds lived at the pub for three years before hiring Jan Cummins as manager. This allowed the family to move into Gunnedah and take up residence in the-then Regal Hotel, which they purchased from Tooth and Co Brewery in 1989.
Again, the acquisition process wasn’t straightforward, with Newcastle’s earthquake throwing a spanner in the works.
“I thought, ‘This [real estate] agent is arrogant – he’s not calling me back, [but] his whole office had collapsed,” Kevin said.
Back in Curlewis, the Edmonds put in a TAB and, Kevin said, “it just started to really go”.
On a Saturday, two staff were now needed behind the bar and one guy running the TAB.
Over the years, the pub has become a hub for families and social events, with bridal showers, weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, reunions, kids’ parties and wedding anniversaries celebrated within its walls.
Long-time licensee Peter Louis decided to move on earlier this year, so Kevin started running the pub again in April.
“I’d just sold my business in town ... I’d had three months’ retirement and [Gwenda and I] were talking about where we were going to travel in Australia,” Kevin said.
“I said, ‘There’s only one place for me and that’s out there’.
“I’m quite enjoying it. It’s a good little community and a good little pub.”
A new look
The Edmonds’ daughter Mel McCulloch came on board as licensee this year and the family now has a vision for the pub’s future.
“We want to make it a destination pub like Spring Ridge and Currububula,” Mel said.
Kevin said it was important to have good service, good food and to “look after the families”.
The family have found success in Curlewis residents Erin Van Beeck and Matt White, who are serving up meals seven nights a week.
The family is also focusing on updating the pub’s interior. In October last year, the pub received $2500 towards renovations under Gunnedah Shire Council’s Business Partner Program.
The dining room is the first to receive attention, with fresh paint, new chairs and a gleaming new bar wrought from a slab of wood from Erin’s and Matt’s property. Renovations will continue throughout this year.
Mel said they wanted to draw people into Curlewis from outlying areas and a reputation for good food was a key factor.
Erin’s cooking is well-known in Gunnedah through the Palette Cafe at the Work of Art Community Gallery, and the pub is slowly gaining a good reputation for its food.
Erin had worked at the pub for a week over Christmas 2017 and in early 2018, the Edmonds family approached her about running the kitchen.
“It was a big leap for [Erin] to make the commitment,” Mel said.
“It’s a big commitment – she’s working in town five days a week and seven nights out here.”
Much to the family’s relief, Erin accepted the offer because she wanted to see the pub get off the ground again and was “trying to help out the town”.
Erin said they aimed to serve up a “good pub feed”.
“I want to make it affordable and homely so that everyone can come,” Erin said.
“I’ve had pretty good feedback. Everyone is starting to slowly roll in.”
Erin said the team at the pub was “trying to bring the town back together”.
“I’d like to see the town pumping again,” she said.
“It’s close enough to everyone that people can come out.”
The food has drawn in truck drivers who know they are guaranteed a shower and a warm welcome.
The drivers have a large area to pull up off the side of the Kamilaroi Highway and simply make their way across the way to the pub, which is parallel to the highway.
“We get a lot of wide loads and drivers who push through to get to Curlewis,” Mel said.
“They really like Erin’s food.
“We’re finding that we’re building that clientele. It’s another level of trade.”
Grey nomads also frequent the pub and the family would like to build on the interest.
The pub’s outdoor area is very popular, with plenty of shade and a manicured lawn. It has been a drawcard for family-friendly events and there are plans to install play equipment for kids.
The Commercial was a popular pick for Christmas parties in December and on February 3, Erin will start serving up Sunday lunches from 12pm-2pm. If they draw a crowd, the pub will look at introducing Saturday lunches as well.
Kevin is pleased with the new direction for the Commercial Hotel.
“I want to keep it going forward; I don’t want it to go stale,” he said.
The pub now has 10 staff on the books and Mel said “everyone works really well together”.
“There’s new energy, and when you take care of a business and you put a lot of effort in, the community responds,” Mel said.