Twenty two years after serving its last beer, the Betoota Hotel reopen in March, just a week before COVID-19 shutdown.
It was a huge blow to owner Robert “Robbo” Haken, a former smash repairer who spent the past two years getting the 96-year-old pub ready to welcome punters again.
Fortunately, the pub reopened again on July 20 and business is booming. Hundreds of Queenslands have been trekking to the remote spot to shake off the “COVID cabin fever’’, with the kitchen serving up to 40 meals a night to hungry travellers.
The ghost town of Betoota holds the title of Australia’s smallest town – it boasts a population of zero and is 170km from the nearest town of Birdsville.
Haken purchased the Betoota Hotel from Birdsville Pub owners David Brook and Kim Fort “for a gift of a price” in 2017. At the time it had no power or water, but Haken was undeterred.
“It’s just a beautiful piece of Australian history and it has so much character,” he told ABC News.
“It’s not for everybody, because of its remoteness, but when I saw it there I thought somebody’s got to do something with this building.”
Haken believed the pub would flourish because of its remote location.
“We’re right in the middle of Windorah and Birdsville and I think it’ll take a lot of pressure off tourists. Now they’ll have somewhere to go to refuel, get their tyres changed, have a cold beer and relax.”
And he was right.
“We have had people diverting as much as 1200km from their original trip plan just to come and see us at the pub,” Haken told the Courier-Mail.
“Queenslanders are moving about in their droves and they all seem to be coming out here.”
Betoota was established in 1885 as a customs post, and was home to a police station, courthouse, grocery store and post office. The town was abandoned when the Department of Trade and Customs enforced a free trade policy that meant customs collection was no longer needed.
In recent years its become famous as the home of the satirical publication the Betoota Advocate. It also hosts two yearly events – at the end of August the Betoota Races are held at the racetrack and visitors from neighbouring towns come set up food stalls and live entertainment; while a motorbike event is also held on the first weekend after Easter every year.
“We look forward to having a yarn whilst showing you around our gem in the desert,” Haken said. “At Betoota Hotel we offer free camping, along with cold beers and a warmer full of Bernie’s famous pies. We have plenty of firewood to toast your marshmallows and even more good spirit.
“Betoota is the best place to sit back and watch the sunset with the Bullet Bar not too far out of reach.”