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Regional Australia losing old 'watering holes'

Historical pubs and hotels across regional parts of Australia are closing down due to a range of reasons according to Anthony King, the son of the former owners of the Kooringa Hotel in Burra, South Australia.


The Kooringa Hotel was best known for accommodating the film crew of Breaker Morant, a classic Australian film released in 1980 starring Bruce Beresford.


It is also said to have thrived heavily during the early days of Burra's booming copper mining industry.


King, who says he is still close with the Burra community, believes cost-of-living pressures and shrinking populations have hindered historical pubs across regional Australia.


"It's just hard for the public and it's just too hard with the economic climate the way it is, they're [publicans] just incurring exorbitant costs left, right and center especially power and water and running a kitchen and trying to look after staff and pay them at a fair rate and stuff like that," King said.


"Then the customers, the people that usually patronise and support, aren't really finding much money to sort of help with that, so you know there's not a lot of change going around in their pockets these days, so that's holding back a little bit, but you know, it's just hard for the publican concerned.


"If it's not sort of busy, you know it can be quite negative, there's a lot of struggles, a lot of publicans sort of hanging in there just on dire threads and some have closed their doors, what they do with their license is another thing.


"We've been seeing a fair bit, like we just said, the hotel in Melrose closed down, that was one of my favourites, the Mary Michael Hotel hotel down the road from Burra...it's probably going to continue unfortunately."


King also attributed the COVID pandemic as a key reason why regional pubs across regional towns are closing.


"We're trying to recover around the place from COVID and it's just hard to get going again, It did slow things down a bit," King said.


"We saw that we're turning the corner again, we're just about recovering from getting over the COVID situation but then it reappears and we're all shut down again and that's the way we knocked the wind out of the sail a bit, so yeah, that's playing an effect."


Earlier this year, the Railway Hotel in the regional town of Grenfell in NSW also called last drinks due to cost-of-living pressures, having first opened its doors to patrons in 1914.


However, on a more positive front, in early 2023 in the Riverina town of Urana, the Royal George Hotel was listed for sale after two decades of inactivity.


The hotel was best known for having thrived during the 2000 Sydney Olympics but has remained a white elephant in the years since.


According to real estate site Domain, the property was sold in September and could once again be open for business in the near future, which King sees as a possible blueprint which other 'white knights' could draw inspiration from in other regional towns.


Image credit: supplied photo by Anthony King

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