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Betoota pub to reopen in outback ghost town

The Betoota Hotel is set to open it’s doors for the first time in 20 years.
The Betoota Hotel is set to open it’s doors for the first time in 20 years.

A GHOST town in the middle of the Australian outback may not seem like the best place to start a business venture, but one man couldn't be happier after buying one of the few buildings in a small Queensland town: a deserted pub.

The town of Betoota lies 170km east of Birdsville on the edge of the Simpson Desert and has a population of zero.

It holds the title of Australia's smallest town, but is probably better known in recent years for being the namesake to The Betoota Advocate, a satirical online publication.

The Betoota Hotel was the last business to close in the abandoned town and hasn't served up a beer in over 20 years, but that is all set to change in the coming months.

Robert Haken, who used to frequent the pub in the 60s and 70s, purchased the building just before Christmas and plans to bring it back to its former glory.

Betoota Hotel closed for business in 1997
Betoota Hotel closed for business in 1997

"It's just a beautiful piece of Australian history and it has so much character," he told ABC.

"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."

Mr Haken said that because of the town's connection to The Betoota Advocate, many people thought the reopening of the pub was a joke.

"I think they put Betoota back on the map because of their larrikin style of reporting," Mr Haken said.

"In fact, when I bought the pub they thought it was a hoax … I think the purchase will be great for us and for them."

The hotel's last owner Sigmund 'Ziggy' Remienko, a polish immigrant, was the sole resident of Betoota for 51 years until he passed away in 2004.

Mr Remienko bought the pub in 1957, keeping drinks flowing for people passing through for 40 years, until 1997 when ill health forced him to close the doors.

Betoota Hotel publican Sigmund Remienko, 82, behind bar with bottle of beer on eve of his retirement.
Betoota Hotel publican Sigmund Remienko, 82, behind bar with bottle of beer on eve of his retirement.

With no one living in town, the pub's new owner expects all his revenue to come from people travelling in the remote region.

"A local police officer came to visit us and he was extremely excited about it because of the high numbers of tourists experiencing driver fatigue," Mr Haken said.

"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."

HISTORY OF BETOOTA

The Queensland government established the town in 1885 as a customs post to collect cattle tolls for farmers using stock routes to South Australia.

First surveyed in 1887, the town became a Cobb & Co change station for coach drivers to change horses during long journeys across the Queensland landscape.

The building of the Rabbit Proof Fence in 1895 drew a lot of workers to the area, and with them came the construction of a police station, courthouse, local grocery store, post office and, of course, the Betoota Hotel.

Men drinking at the bar at the Betoota races in Queensland 1961. Picture: David Moore
Men drinking at the bar at the Betoota races in Queensland 1961. Picture: David Moore

Over the next few decades the town's population began to decline, with the Department of Trade and Customs enforcing a free trade policy meaning that Betoota's sole purpose of customs collection was no longer needed.

All other businesses eventually shut down until the Betoota Hotel's lights were the only ones shining in the tiny town.

In recent years, the town only comes alive twice a year.

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.

A motorbike event is also held on the first weekend after Easter every year.

But now, decades later, the old pub's lights are set to light up the town again, with Mr Haken hoping to open the doors by late-August in time for the races.

Topics:  betoota advocate betoota pub editors picks ghost town malcolm turnbull



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