Australia's oldest publican retires but wants drinks to kick on

Mary Crawley is sadly selling up after 40 years running the Barringun pub. Photos by Peter Rae.
Mary Crawley is sadly selling up after 40 years running the Barringun pub. Photos by Peter Rae.

She tells customers at her outback pub that if they want a second beer: “Well, you saw where I got the first one you can find it yourself”.

Mary Crawley, 93, is known as the oldest publican in Australia. She is finally pulling up stumps on a 40-year career running the Barringun hotel near what many would term “the black stump”.

About 130km north of Bourke it sits just shy of the Queensland border and sees the passing traffic on the Mitchell Highway.

Mary has seen it all but her biggest wish now is to make sure that the pub does not close. She’s adamant she won’t sell unless the buyer agrees to keep on the licence.

Mary Crawley, 93, Gidge and a customer.

Mary Crawley, 93, Gidge and a customer.

“I’m doing this with a broken heart,” Mary told The Land. “I had a fall last year and my children have been doing it in turns to help me out over the last year or so.” Before then, following the death of her husband Alphonse “Bay” Crawley, she was running the pub herself for about four years.

Since they first set up in the Tattersalls’ Hotel at Barringun in 1977, she says she’s  never had any trouble. “Country people out here are wonderful people, they are different,” she says.

She used to have a band of 20 truckies drop in for breakfast most days of the week on deliveries across the border. They’d have a big breakfast, a little beer, and head on their way. “They were the loveliest people you’d meet.” Their drink was always XXXX.

Mary grew up on farm at Harefield between Junee and Wagga, before she met her future husband Alphonse, a war veteran, in 1948. They  moved to Bourke where Alphonse worked in an office before they decided to buy the pub in Barringun.

Mary says coming back to Bourke in a light plane one day filled her heart with delight.

“We all had to jam up behind the pilot in those days when we landed and I had my little one in my arms, and I’ll never forget the sun shining off the Darling River that day. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

She says she owes it to Barringun and to the memory of the Lake family, who had the pub for 60 years before her, to make sure the doors stayed open.

“I owe it to the people. I’m not doing it for the money. It’s always been a very good pub and I’ve never had any horrible things happen.”

As Mary was talking, she said there were a number of caravaners outside.

“Caravaners are different,” she confided. She didn’t really want to leave, it was just that her fall had made it hard for her to go on.

“I actually hate it (that she’s selling). I really hoped I died before I had to go.”

Mary spends her time looking after her dog Gidgee. Gidgee is named after the numerous Gidgee trees in the district which give off a strong perfume when wet.

“A lot of people don’t like that smell, but I love it,” she says.

And how does she cope with the months’ long heatwaves in the area ?

“You just learn to put up with it,” she says.  

Landmark Bourke is leading the sale, although Mary’s grandson Adam Crawley is also involved through McKimm Real Estate.

Adam says Mary will only deal with an applicant that wants to keep the pub as it is - she’s not in it for the money!

McKimm real estate says: “offered for sale for this first time since 1977, Tattersalls Hotel, Barringun is surely one of the most unique properties to come onto the market anywhere in the country this decade. The remote but well known outback destination represents a very rare chance to not just purchase yourself a lifestyle but a genuine piece of outback Australian history.”

Last drinks for Mary.

Last drinks for Mary.

For many years the pub offered relief to outback drovers in the days when Barringun had five hotels, a racetrack and even a brewery. Now Mary has to get her beer delivered by the postman!

The pub was built in 1884 and hand made nails still keep the roof together.

It has a full size Alcock and Co billiard table. There’s no tap beer just bottles brought out from the model timber coolroom.

The McKimm real estate site says: “ The hotel is currently operated by Mary Crawley, who at 93 years of age is reputably Australia’s oldest publican. An outback legend in her own right, the fact that Mary was able to run this hotel single handedly until she was 92 years old is a testament to the easy and stress free lifestyle this property can offer, should you wish to keep it as is.”

 “Its simply not possible to list the historic features and stories of this hotel here as there are so many. The original ledgers of the Barringun Jockey Club are still on site and show Breaker Morant still has an outstanding balance and that Will Ogilvie worked on a local station and drank in the hotel, Russell Crowe has slept on the verandah and the survey of the NSW/QLD actually started here.”

The Land