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Border pubFriendly digs

Named after the burrowing marsupial, the township of Wombat – and its firmly established hotel – boasts a keen community spirit, an inclusive atmosphere, and even a generous British benefactor.

Story Kirsty McKenzie
Photos Ken Brass

The name sounds like an Aussie ‘leg-pull’, and there haven’t been any wombats sighted in the district in recent memory, but the Wombat Hotel is very much alive and kicking, as is the tiny community in the south-western slopes of New South Wales. Located about 12 kilometres south of Young on the Olympic Way, Wombat, with a population of between 120 and 180 – nobody can quite agree – boasts what is believed to be the state’s longest continually licensed pub. The hotel opened its doors in 1877, but the present-day low-slung building was constructed in 1903.

Border pubThere were pubs in the town before that, since the 1860s when gold put a sparkle in everyone’s eyes and attracted an estimated 20,000 miners to the fields of Lambing Flat. When one of Australian history’s less proud episodes – the race riots of 1860-1861 – forced Chinese miners out of what is now known as Young, they decamped to Wombat. The pockmarked mounds and holes left by their diggings are supposed to have inspired the community to adopt the name of the furry marsupial, famed for its burrowing abilities.
When gold petered out, the Chinese stayed on to establish market gardens, setting a tradition that continues today, with cherry, plum and apple orchards, olive groves and vineyards for wine production. Crops include wheat and canola and sheep and cattle grazing also support the district. Publican Bob Conkey grew up at Cootamundra, 34km to the south, but was lured to the big smoke by a job with the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation that took him to Tehran, in Iran. He met his Austrian wife, Erika, at a cocktail party at the American Embassy shortly before the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. They married and moved to Bahrain, then returned to Australia where they ended up back in Sydney. Erika worked for the Austrian Trade Commission and Bob as a meat buyer for Coles Myer, which morphed into his own meat wholesaling business.” Story end

Full story OUTBACK Issue 36 Aug/Sept 2004

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