There’s nothing quite like having a cold beer at a country pub and chatting to the friendly locals who don’t seem to have a care in the world, despite the hard times they have been through with recent drought and COVID.
I’m at the Werrimull pub, which is run by publican, James ‘Jim’ Barnfield, who took over as licensee in October last year. Jim is ably assisted by his partner and tasty cook extraordinaire, Toni Astill, who serves the best pub meals in the region.
Before he took over the pub, Jim worked in the mine at Pooncarie, mining mineral sands, and prior to that, he was an interstate truck driver.
”I’m originally from Tapio Station, which is still in the family and my brother lives on it,” Jim said.
“I always wanted to run a little country pub, and so when the opportunity to take over the Werrimull pub came up, I jumped at it.
“The previous publican and current owner is Trevor Biggs and he and his wife Vivian ran it before we took over.
“I am leasing it for 12 months to see if I like it, and after that, I have the option to buy it.”
Jim said that despite some of the restrictions he has endured, things have been going really well.
“We have some busy nights, particularly on Friday and Saturdays and so we are very happy here and it’s been really well supported by the locals,” Jim said.
“With the footy season happening this year, it will be great to have the boys come in again after the game.”
The accommodation at the pub is excellent and very reasonably priced, with rooms from $75 a night single and $100 a double.
The hotel has eight comfortable rooms, which are configured with queen, double or single beds, and one of the rooms also has some bunks, and the well appointed, separate male and female bathrooms are conveniently located in the hallway near the rooms.
Toni, otherwise known as the ‘boss’, is the very adept cook, who’s fast become a local legend, renowned for her fantastic meals.
Toni’s pub meals are a highlight of the visit to Werrimull Hotel, with Barramundi, chips and salad a favourite. Chicken parmas, steaks, pasta, pizza, fisherman’s basket and great burgers are just a few of the other hearty offerings which all come in generous servings, and if you’re lucky, Toni might even do some crumbed sausages with onion gravy and mash!
“The other night we had some truckies in here and I made crumbed sausages for them with onions and mashed potato and gravy,” Toni said. ”I also did some curry chicken and rice − they love to have a home-cooked meal and to sit down together and have a few drinks and relax,” she said.
“We’re an outback pub and our meal prices reflect that. I don’t have city prices or even Mildura prices, I like to keep it as low as possible for the locals.
“We’re just a pub. The meals are served at a size that I like to eat and so they are very generous servings!
“If I’m going to pay good money for something, I expect to see a good-sized meal and so that’s what our guests get here.”
The salads are country fresh, and include favourite ingredients like beetroot and pineapple, and the chips and vegetables are spot on. Meals start at around $18 and go up to $24 for a steak.
Toni has lived in Sydney and Tamworth and used to work on the Mallee Burgers van in Mildura and said she loves the lifestyle that running a country pub offers. Interesting the Werrimull Hotel acts as a safe-house for children and it is the only hotel in Victoria to have a licence to do so.
“Sometimes the kids will come here if they have missed the bus or if their parents can’t get into town to collect them straight away,” she said.
“They come to the pub and we entertain them and give them snacks and icy poles and generally look after them until their parents arrive to collect them. They can play pool or sit in our lounge room and watch TV.
“Under the rules of the safe-house they are allowed in the bar from noon until 6pm without a parent or guardian, and we act in loco parentis.
“Legend has it that there is a female ghost who inhabits one of the rooms, but I can’t say there have been many sightings of late and she certainly didn’t make an appearance during my stay!
“Another story that is true, dates back to the 1920s, when the pub was a sly grog shop, where you could procure alcohol on the quiet during a period where the pub didn’t have a licence!
“I got talking to Mildura resident Kelvin Fitzgerald and his sons Rory and Brodie, who dropped into the pub for a drink after visiting their hobby farm just up the road.
“We have a property out here where we grow wheat and run sheep and I work for Elders in Mildura during the week – it’s a hobby farm really,” Kelvin said.
“We love coming to the pub when we come out here on the weekends.
“It’s good to give them some support.”
Kelvin said that after the drought broke they had a good season and early indications are that they are in for another one.
“It’s been great to get some rain this year. We had a good season last year and we are hoping for another one this year,” he said.
“It was a good sheep and grain season – the last three of four seasons before that were very average however.
“There’s a lot more moisture in the soil, which has the weeds popping up and so you have to keep on top them of otherwise they suck the moisture up.
“It would be nice to have some more rain now ahead of the next crops being sown.”
The pub had a live band last Sunday, and by all accounts, it was a great day.
I reckon any day at the Werrimull pub is great day, I can’t think of a better spot to kick back and relax with a few mates and a cold beer!