Locals get together to save historic country pub and breathe new life into Bolgart…

The Bolgart Hotel
The Bolgart Hotel

Faced with the prospect of losing their local pub, residents of Bolgart, 120km northeast of Perth, got together and formed a syndicate, not only to buy the pub but to renovate it and reposition it in the tourism market.

“When a town loses its pub, it is the first step to closing the town,” said Paul Michael a local farmer and retired accountant.

Paul and fellow farmer Edward Ludemann, gathered together a syndicate of 12 local families and four individuals, making 34 people all told. They put together enough money to buy the run-down pub in February this year.

They installed Craig Wilkins, an experienced chef, and Paul’s cousin and fishing buddy, as tenant with his partner Wendy Stevenson.

Craig and Wendy formerly ran the Beacon Country Club and Craig has some 45 year experience as a chef.

“We have been able to source fresh fruit and veggies from a small local business and we try not to use packaged ingredients.”

Paul Michael

“We were employed to save the club. It was run down and drowning in debt,” said Wendy. “After we revived the club and paid off the debt, we decided we did not want to live all our lives in Beacon. It is too remote.”

So when the Bolgart hotel offer came up it was too good to refuse.

“We want to modernise a little but keep the style; not take away the grace of its period. We want the pub to look much as it always did inside.”

The Bolgart Hotel was designed by architect Hillson Beasley and built in 1916, one of only six state hotels in Western Australia originally belonging to the State Hotels Department, which was responsible for operating and staffing a series of State-owned hotels located throughout Western Australia. The hotels were sold to private ownership in 1960 and the department was abolished.

Wendy and Craig’s first move was stocking new beers and ciders.

Paul’s sons Dustin and Martin run Funk Cider in the Swan Valley and have added marketing expertise to the pub renewal mix.

Paul Michael, Craig Wilkings and Wendy Stevenson
Paul Michael, Craig Wilkings and Wendy Stevenson

“We also began to serve better meals than pub grub, with more options including gluten free meals.

“We have been able to source fresh fruit and veggies from a small local business and we try not to use packaged ingredients.

“We served 97 meals last weekend.” 

That’s not bad for a country pub in the throws of renovation in a town of 170 inhabitants.

Paul’s vision is to encourage tourists to visit Bolgart on a circuit from Perth including Toodyay, Bolgart, New Norcia and Chittering.

“People from the city are travelling more locally due to coronavirus. They can’t go overseas, so since restrictions were eased there has been a quick turn of people making local trips.

“The Avon-Bindoon-New Norcia circuit is a sweet zone. Visitors can drive round in one day or make it a weekend trip.

“Another market is Bikers. Not bikies. Motor bike clubs going for short group trips on weekends. They can stay the night with no problem of driving home after drinking.”

Accommodation is in the future as existing facilities are in the process of being refurbished.

“Recovery from Covid 19 has been a slow process,” said Wendy. “But as we reopened slowly we got to know the locals.”

Two backpacker girls from Chile run the bar, but they are leaving for home soon. When they go, no other backpackers are available. Those still in WA are mainly up north or moving south for fruit picking, so Craig and Wendy will have to rely on locals taking on part-time work.

“Our point of difference is the novelty of locally grown food,” said Paul. “We are also planning a microbrewery and cidery.”

This will call on the expertise of Martin and Dustin who are enthusiastic about the enterprise.

The pub is also planning to use locally grown barley in the microbrewery and local lamb, beef and goat in the kitchen. It is all part of paddock to plate philosophy and consistent with WA’s eat best eat west campaign.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.