TOUGH FIGHT: Rappville Pub publicans Jayne Fitzpatrick and husband Peter St. Clair.
TOUGH FIGHT: Rappville Pub publicans Jayne Fitzpatrick and husband Peter St. Clair. Susanna Freymark

Last drinks at Rappville

IT'S served a village of 250 people for more than 100 years but red tape and regulations have caught up with another heritage-listed country pub.

Not even musos playing for free, community fundraisers and crowd-sourcing could save the Rappville Pub. It's calling last drinks this Sunday.

"We give up,” owners Jayne Fitzpatrick and Peter St Clair said on Facebook as they called time on a two-and-a- half-year battle to bring the 106-year-old, two-storey timber hotel into line with modern-day health, safety and building standards.

Rappville, in northern New South Wales, has a population of a few hundred people, a post office, tennis court, showground and school.

It once served as a set location for a couple of episodes of ABC drama Heartbeat.

It used to have a railway station but that closed years ago. The trains on the North Coast line pass without slowing.

Rappville is about 30km from the nearest major town, Casino, and was formed largely around the local timber and farming industries.

Since 1911 locals have quenched their thirst at the pub in Nandabah St.

'IT WAS IN PRETTY BAD SHAPE'

Jayne and Peter bought the pub in March 2015.

"It was a bargain (when we bought it),” Jayne said.

"But it was in pretty bad shape.”

The timber and weatherboard icon came with nine bedrooms, a sprawling veranda in desperate need of repair, a dining room, bar, kitchen, no poker machines and a resident uncomplicated ghost.

By July 2015 it was going pear-shaped.

Years of neglect revealed disputed boundaries and a hefty price tag - more than the new owners imagined - to bring it up to scratch with modern-day standards and regulations.

When they tried to fix the rotting front balcony, they discovered it had been illegally built by a previous owner - on council-owned "air space”. It could stay but a development application was needed.

That prompted more investigations from the council, revealing problems with the building's fire safety, kitchen and disabled access, which meant closing the upstairs accommodation and kitchen until they could be fixed.

It was the beginning of a long fight.

In one corner were former forestry workers Jayne and Peter, who'd worked in the area and wanted to see the pub restored to its former glory after "we'd watched it fall down for 15 years”.

In the other, the council, charged with ensuring the pub met a raft of regulations unthought of when the pub was built a century ago.

The fire concerns were valid: timber pubs of the same era in the area - including at Casino, Bonalbo, Lawrence and Mallanganee - have goneup in flames across the years.

"It hadn't had much done to it in 100 years. In the year before we bought it they'd spent a total of $25 on maintenance. We think it was for a tube of gap filler,” Jayne said.

"We knew the kitchen would have to be done. We did our due diligence, trouble is there was nothing in the council files for this pub.”

Jayne and Peter found a mobile kitchen solution: renting a van from a local Lions Club for $100 a week to turn out pub meals.

COMMUNITY RALLIES

By September last year, the costs for consultants, development applications and work to bring the pub up to standards seemed impossible and they announced the pub was going to close, with the owners planning to rent it out as a private home.

But the community stepped in, banding together with a series of fundraisers - everything from a charity wood-chop competition to a cake stall - to help with the bills.

Local musicians appeared at the pub for free. Tradies helped with repairs for nothing. Other businesses donated goods.

It helped get the most urgent work done but a year on it's still going to take an estimated $120,000 to keep the place legally open and get it to 2017 standards.

Jayne and Peter are financially and emotionally exhausted.

"You can't bring a 106-year-old pub up to the building codes of today,” Jayne said.

They've managed to lodge a development application with the council but that's where it ends.

Jayne said the council hasn't helped by "continually changing the goalposts”.

"We lost our kitchen, we couldn't offer the accommodation upstairs. They put an end to camping because despite having the septic approved a year ago, the council won't issue the certificate,” she said.

"Sometimes we feel like we are being targeted. I don't like to say that but that's the way it feels.

"The council has a job to do but this has been a very long and convoluted process.

"I don't want to be council-bashing but it just wears you out. It comes to a point where you have to stop.”

The council did not respond to a request for comment but has previously offered concessions such as allowing the front bar to operate if the accommodation was no longer used.

As residents fundraised last year, the council said it had worked with the owners "for more than 12 months” to help them meet the standards at the lowest cost and the owners needed to accept responsibility for public health and safety.

"We know how important the Rappville Pub is to the community and we want it to continue to operate,” council general manager Vaughan Macdonald told The Northern Star.

"These are state-wide requirements and follow a number of fires in similar premises, something we all want to avoid.”

LAST SHOUT

The pub is up for sale - for $359,000 - either as a pub or perhaps a nine-bedroom home (change of use willing) and Sunday, at least for now, is the last shout.

"Losing the pub takes the heart out of a town but we've done everything that we possibly can,” Jayne said.

"We will have a good day on Sunday and close at 6pm like we always do.

"The locals aren't happy. Our bar staff weren't real popular when the news spread on our Facebook.”

Perhaps the beer price drop to $3.50 a schooner and $2.50 a middy, which kicks in from Friday to get rid of excess stock at the pub, might douse their disappointment.



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