Like a shining beacon, perched on the Tathra headland, it’s been a haven for both thirsty locals and weary travellers for more than a century. In fact, it’s a landmark as synonymous with this south coast hamlet as its famous salmon-coloured historic steamer wharf.
But if you haven’t pulled up a bar stool at the Tathra Hotel for a year or two, you’ll notice things have changed. A lot.
Sure, it still commands those jaw-dropping 270-degree sweeping views of the Sapphire Coast, and it still boasts that distinctive two-storey facade (albeit with a much less garish colour scheme), but the interior is hardly recognisable.
Fairy lights twinkle in previously dark corners, polished concrete has replaced beer-soaked carpet and the old smoke-filled TAB is now part of a family-friendly bistro. As for the pokie machine room, well, it’s gone, replaced by shiny stainless steel brewery equipment which this week started pumping out the pub’s very own craft beer label – Humpback.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for owners Cliff Wallis and Sayaka Mihara, who, after purchasing the popular pub in late 2015, closed it for 18 months to undertake the renovations, before reopening just over a year ago.
“Initially there was a lot of resistance to the changes, especially from locals, some of whom boycotted us,” recalls Cliff, who especially remembers a carload of former bar flies speeding past and hollering out the window: “You’ve ruined the f...ing pub.”
It’s wasn’t the change in décor, nor was it the controversial relocation of popular mascot, Winky the Mechanical Whale, from his own shed to the adjoining kids' playground, that really agitated them. No, it was the closure of the pub’s gambling facilities.
“You talk to most people in the industry and they’ll tell you hotels can’t survive without pokies which is quite sad,” says Cliff. “They used to survive without them.”
But slowly the tide has turned and Cliff’s management style is bringing in a new crowd. The day I visit, the pub is really pumping; it’s alive with a heady mix of locals and holidaying Canberrans quenching their thirst, tucking into upmarket pub grub and jiving along to live music.
In fact, regular visitors to Tathra will know the hotel has long had a reputation for live music, dating back to the 1970s and 80s when big-name bands like Men at Work stopped here on road trips between Melbourne and Sydney. They would pack the place out, with revellers spilling out of the pub and partying on the surrounding streets.
“But those days are long over,” says Cliff, who as a veteran in the music scene (he once ran the Manly Vale Hotel – a legendary rock venue where INXS got their start) continues to support live music, but in the much earlier 4,30pm -7.30pm Sunday slot (and daily over the summer holidays) as “it gives locals time to go home and keeps the neighbours happy”.
Music aside, Cliff believes the pub’s dizzy location is its biggest drawcard.
“This has to be one of the most spectacular views from any pub on the east coast,” he says. “During the whale migration [autumn and spring], you can spot up to 25 whales a day pass along the coast here.”
“Because of the views, this [is] also a great place to stay,” explains Cliff, who has more than a good idea about the sort of place travellers want bunk down in, having owned Perisher’s Sundeck Hotel for the last 25 years.
The upstairs pub rooms have already received a major make-over and next year Cliff has plans to convert the old dining room into 10 luxury holiday rooms with balconies looking over the craggy cliffs and into the deep blue yonder.
“A few weeks ago we had a guy fly his chopper down from Sydney and park it on the town oval,” says Cliff. “He ended up staying here for a couple of nights.”
Keen to check out the heritage rooms for myself, I climb up the atrium-style stairs to my digs for the night – the Mimosa Suite with its sweeping vista across to the wilds of Mimosa National Park. You know a hotel room must be special if it has its own name. And it is. It’s more like a chic hotel suite in inner Sydney than a standard pub room.
French doors open onto the veranda and beyond the moon glitters over a restless sea casting dull shadows on the charcoaled remains of many trees on the headland. While the March 2018 bushfire razed over a hundred buildings and caravans around Tathra, including a nearby café, fortuitously the pub was saved from the flames.
It’s a Sunday night and after the Gypsy Jazz Project perform their last set, apart from a few excitable kids finishing a game of hide and seek in the playground, it’s virtually quiet by 9pm — a far cry from the old days when neighbours were kept awake into the wee hours by the shenanigans of well-oiled revellers.
Next morning (don’t think I’ve ever had a more peaceful night’s sleep in a pub, anywhere) I rise early and head straight to the veranda, and that view.
Like giant gold fingers, the sun’s first rays reach across the glittering ocean and through the charred skeletons of burned trees to highlight green shoots sprouting on the hundreds of re-plantings dotted over the headland.
On the road below, a number of fellow early risers walk by on their morning constitutional, closely followed by a procession of utes full of tools – no doubt tradies heading off to continue the rebuilding effort.
Just like the rebirth of its iconic hotel, the town of Tathra is at the dawn of a new post-fire era, and if the heartening way tourists have returned in big numbers this summer is any indication, it’s destined to be a bright one.
Tathra Hotel: 8-12 Bega Street. Fully renovated heritage accommodation rooms with panoramic views from $180 per night. Adjacent motel rooms from $100 per night. Ph: (02) 6494 1101. www.tathrahotel.com.au
Did You Know? The existing Tathra Hotel was built by Mr J. W.Twyford in 1888, who apparently kept guns and boats for use by guests. These days the hotel offers free wifi instead.
Listen out for: In response to the criticism by locals miffed with the change of direction of the Tathra Hotel, two years ago publican Cliff Wallis penned a satirical poem titled You’ve Ruined the Pub, which features the refrain:
“You’ve ruined the pub, yells the man driving by
We hope you go broke and all the taps run dry.”
Recently, several bands, including Mikelangelo and the Spectres of Love, composed musical versions of the poem, and it’s fast become one of their most requested songs when performing live at the pub.
Earlier this month, Marion Amies of Lyons stumbled upon this puff ball (a form of fungi so named because clouds of dust-like spores are emitted when the mature fruit body bursts) while walking on Oakey Hill which she reckons “resembles the face of an angel.”
“After the last rain there was an amazing variety of puff balls including various shades of pink,” reports Amies. “There’s actually an amazing variety of native plants and flowers on the hill which don’t get the recognition they should.”
For the uninitiated, Oakey Hill is located in Oakey Hill Nature Reserve, part of Canberra Nature Park, a 66-hectare reserve in the Woden Valley. Apart from walking, the reserve is a popular spot for mountain biking and horse riding and the hill’s summit provides great views of Canberra.
After returning from a couple of days away, Katie and Ray Carlisle of Cooma were shocked to find a possum running amok in their home.
“When we arrived home the kitchen was an absolute mess, the curtain rod was pulled down and there was even possum poop in the sink,” reports Katie, an avid reader of this column.
A quick search of the house found the culprit hiding behind toys in the kids' playroom, at which point Katie confesses to “screaming and slamming the hallway door shut”.
After Ray “chased it out the back door”, the couple immediately set about closing off their chimney, which according to Katie “was the only way it could have got inside”.
“I’m just glad we were only away for a night and not a week,” muses Katie. “Imagine the mess it could have made in that time”.
Clue:Park for feathery friends
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Congratulations to Jordan Gannaway of Kingston who was the the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo as a carving by chainsaw wood sculptor John Brady, of fishing icon Carmillo 'Poppy' Puglisi at the Bermagui Fisherman’s Wharf. Gannaway just beat a number of readers including Jane Kelsey of Holder as well as Chris and Tim Cain of O’Connor to the prize. The clue related to the fact that Billy Connolly’s rollicking drama, The Man who Sued God, was set in Bermagui.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday January 12, 2019 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.