An Iconic Pub and a Beckoning Border

Oh it’s-a lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night, we’ll hear the wild dingoes call
But there’s-a nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear
Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer

Song written by Gordon Parsons

Most of us attribute the song “A Pub with no Beer” to Aussie country icon Slim Dusty. It was in fact originally a poem written in 1943 by an Irish cane cutter Dan Sheahan in the Day Dawn Hotel in Ingham on the north Queensland coast. The story goes that the pub was drunk dry by American soldiers the night before. The song lyrics written by Gordon Parsons are a little different but both tell the story of a community’s devastation when the local pub runs out of the liquid amber. The pub at Daly Waters on our way south from Katherine had plenty. And wine too. But before the pub stop we headed south on the Stuart Highway for Mataranka and Mataranka Homestead Caravan Park. Travellers stop here because it is conveniently placed for going north or south to Alice Springs or east to the Barkly Highway and Queensland. It also has some nice sandy bottom hot springs. But not hot springs as we know them in NZ. Rather than volcanic thermal waters these are natural springs formed from rainwater that is heated by the earth around it some 20 – 30 metres below ground. Hot springs may well be a misnomer for while the temperature is said to be around 30 C it seemed more like just above cold springs to me. Still very pleasant lying there contemplating life. With the other myriad of people crowded into the smallish pool. Anyway something different. Mataranka Homestead is also near the setting of the novel and film “We of the Never Never” – Jeannie Gunn’s autobiography of life in 1902 on Elsey Station as the first white woman to come into the region.

Mataranka Hot Springs

The famous (infamous) Daly Waters Hotel and Caravan Park was calling. Situated some 100 kms north of Tenant Creek township and 75 kms from the Three Ways turn off to Queensland Daly Waters is as iconic a stop for caravanners and other travellers as there could be. The pub is the centrepoint of a small settlement that provides fuel, accommodation and a watering hole where you can sit and listen to what other travellers are up to. One of the things that makes it easier to travel around Australia is meeting people who have done it all before and often many times. They are a wealth of information on where to go, what to see and the best stops. Scout lapped it up and the planning for our run back to Queensland took another turn.

Daly Waters Hotel
Daly Waters pub and memorabilia

The hotel dates back to 1930 and was originally a pub for the locals and the cattle station workers. It has evolved into a travellers stop and being some 600 kms south of Darwin and 915 kms north of Alice sees traffic going both ways. The pub offers motel and cabin accommodation but by far the most overnighters are caravanners and the park was chokka the night we were there. Whilst the pub is well known and liked for its barra (barramundi – a fish Fabrice) and steak bar-b-que nights the real quaintness of Daly Waters hotel is the memorabilia that adorns it’s inside. Hundreds of bras of all sizes hang from the wooden beams around the bar and outside in the garden bar a wall of jandals features at one side. We found one bra labeled HJB – a sizeable cup. My sister Helen was through here some 40 years ago on her working holiday. Coincidence? The inside walls are adorned with all sorts of sporting memorabilia – old and new, rare and just plain tacky. But it all adds up to a fun place to be and we rocked (can you rock to country music?) that night to Lou Bradley and Phil. No fibbing. That is what they call themselves. Our good luck because Lou Bradley has an Aria Award nomination for Best Country Album in 2007. This is no mean feat, the Arias being Oz’s annual music awards. They were very very good and Phil plays a mean banjo and sings beautifully as well. It is not hard to see why people keep returning to this unique spot.

We moved on and overnighted at a small campground at Banka Banka Homestead after a quick visit into Tennant Creek. Tennant Creek is a small town of 3,500 people – mostly from the local Aboriginal Communities. It has a poor reputation and has in the recent past been beset by violent crime, social dysfunction and child abuse. There are many and varied opinions on how it got to here but almost everyone agrees that the town and its people have been very poorly served by authorities including Aboriginal groups and that the abuse of drugs and alcohol plays a major role in the social breakdown of families. More recent alcohol controls and work with communities has apparently brought improvements and we found a quiet, tidy and attractive small town albeit on a Sunday morning.

Banka Banka Homestead

Our next stop was Barkly Homestead Roadhouse on the Barkly Highway and some 240 kms from the Queensland border. Barkly is another of the series of roadhouses and homesteads across outback Australia that offers very well managed and tidy camping. Whilst Banka Banka offered clean and well maintained facilities (its showers were the best I have had on this trip) it is really a part of the cattle station and run as such. Although at Banka Banka they did light a nice campfire and we all chatted into the night. We enjoyed a long discussion with a couple who had emigrated from Durban, South Africa in 1997 and learned a lot about their reasons for leaving a secure life and their struggles in Australia. All in a quiet and honest way. But at Barkly we could feel the border calling and we were keen to get across before more panic ensued and we were locked out. Luckily we had declared ourselves Covid free and I had downloaded and printed off our border passes a week before much to Scout’s laughter and suggestions that perhaps I could be described as “anal”. Nevertheless we were ready for tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “An Iconic Pub and a Beckoning Border

  1. Only 30mm of rain on the NS today -bet you are jealous! If you have spotify and want to listen to folk ballads from another land – Sam Baker. Read his story if you get the chance. Mercy or Land of Doubt are first suggestions.
    We are kinda doing the trip with you. Have had Papunya out from the library. the origins of
    aboriginal art from the western desert. And another book chronicling the sophistication of aboriginal communities – baking bread over 30k years ago from their own cultivated grain and large settlements with irrigation, dams, fish farms, large buildings of timber, reed and clay, etc. Not nomadic. ‘Dark Emu’. Read it and you’ll be wanting to do the Aus circuit all over again.
    Hope you are enjoying the big skies, stars at night and sunny days. s


  2. Dear Margaret and Mike: Another amazing email, how we are enjoying and learning about your travels as you weave through northern Australia. Thank you so much and keep them up. I guess you will be relieved to get back to Qld. before the possibility of further border restrictions. Our life is fairly quiet these days doing as we are told to avoid the virus. We enjoy family and friends when they call in and we keep in touch with others by emails and phone when time permits.Food shopping is the main outing for Thea, but she has just got back to her tennis group after three and a half years since her knee problem originated. Next on the list for her is getting back to golf. Office work, business teleconference meetings and being the cook and cleaning lady take up much of her time. Andrew does his daily exercises and enjoys reading in between falling asleep!!!!!!!!!At present, he is reading the book written by Malcolm Turnbull. Thea drives him to all his medical appointments. Continue to enjoy your travels, safe driving and we look forward to the next episode. With our love. Thea and Andrew.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. We are so enjoying following your adventures through northern Australia. Especially learning with you all the history and daily life of the locals…as well as your daily activities. You will be looking forward to getting over the border in case things do shut down again. Stay safe and continue with the music of living. Diane and Bernard


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