DESTINATION: MIDDLETON HOTEL, QLD
There’s one Queensland outback pub where you’ll always find a warm welcome: the Middleton Hotel.
After spending several days in the central-west Qld town of Boulia, we decided to spend Denyse's birthday at the iconic Middleton Hotel in, funnily enough, Middleton. The town was proclaimed in 1908 and was a very social place in the 1930s, with a racecourse and yearly race meetings, but only the pub and the remains of the hall are still standing today.
Built in 1876 by a farrier named Wiggins, the Middleton Hotel is one of the most isolated pubs in Qld, lying 200km north-east of Boulia and 164km west of Winton. Middleton Creek was named in 1861 by John McKinlay, who led the 1861 expedition in search of the ill-fated Burke and Wills.
Prior to our arrival, we thought it best to call ahead and make a booking for dinner that evening. Chloe, the owners' granddaughter, is 10-years old (going on 30!) and handled our enquiry very professionally, even offering to bake a birthday cake for Denyse. Chloe is home-schooled and takes on lots of jobs around the pub, including answering the phone.
The road from Mount Isa to Winton, through Boulia and via the Middleton Hotel, is single-lane bitumen (almost 700km) with many overtaking places. This is the only route that takes you to Boulia and the Middleton Hotel without significant distances of unsealed road. There is very little traffic to contend with; mainly travellers and a few trucks.
Along the way, look out for the signposted ruins of the Hamilton and Min Min hotels. There are now toilets and a shelter at the Hamilton Hotel chimney, which has petrified wood in its construction and is about all that is now left of the pub. The first reported sighting of Min Min lights was at the aptly-named Min Min Hotel, which burnt down in the 1920s.
After driving through flat Mitchell grass plains, about 50km from Middleton rusty red mesas and breakaways appear as you approach the Lilyvale Ranges. I bet you will take more than one picture at the Cawnpore Lookout, which overlooks some of the most scenic country in Qld.
AN ISOLATED DROP
Arriving at Middleton, we decided to stay the night at the 'Hilton Hotel' - a free overnight camp opposite the old pub. The sign reads: "Vacancy, no air-conditioning, no TV, no pool, no charge". You can use the hotel's toilets and shower, but they do ask for a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The Middleton Hotel is owned and operated by the Cain family, and you should find either Val or Lester behind the bar. The hotel was originally one of nine changing stations on the route of the Cobb & Co transportation company, and you can read the history on a board outside the pub. There is an original Cobb & Co coach, one of the Cains' most prized possessions, parked outside the pub. Look around and you will find another couple of old coaches there to inspect.
When you see the pub's fuel pumps, you'll quickly understand why fuel is no longer sold here, but the Cains keep an emergency drum of petrol in case you get stuck. We saw several chooks running around outside, and Chloe's collection of opal rocks was on display on the hotel veranda. Inside, you will find the pub is still pretty much as it was when it was built in 1876. We wandered around the back, where we took a look at some old machinery and the generator.
For us, this would be a very lonely place to spend a long time. Fortunately, there is nearly always someone camped overnight at the Hilton Hotel and other travellers often stop to have a drink and check out the hotel. Val showed us the list of owners and other history.
We set up at the free camp and introduced ourselves to our neighbours - two offroad camper trailers and a Coaster bus (ours was the only caravan). Given it was Denyse's birthday, we all decided to celebrate with dinner in the hotel and a few drinks.
The free camp consists of a large cleared area (dirt when we were there). The 'Silver Palace' toilets were used most recently for a camel drive in the area. There is a tap that still works and you will find a shelter with a few old tables and seats, and the disused hall.
Despite the isolation, there always seems there is something going around here. For example, we saw a small two-seater, open-sided chopper land after a day of mustering nearby. From the camping ground you will also see some remarkable sunrises and sunsets illuminating the red countryside.
Val and Lester and their family are great hosts. Along with our fellow travellers, we wandered over for dinner just as the sun set, and had the bar to ourselves all night. Although there was a menu of sorts, Val suggested the hotel special of corned beef and veggies, or rissoles.
Denyse and I opted for the corned beef and we all settled down with drinks to await our meal. This was a great opportunity to find out more about the iconic pub, droving, and history of the area, as well as a chance to get know each other better. Lester is a quietly-spoken man with some very interesting stories to tell - and I hope someone is writing it all down for future generations.
When the meals were served, we were taken aback at how huge they were. Val's rissoles were the biggest I had ever seen and our corned beef was cooked to perfection. The vegies were fresh and the meal reminded Denyse of having dinner in her grandmother's old pub at Bakerville, Qld, when she was a kid.
After the plates were cleared, Val brought out a very impressive birthday cake - chocolate mud with cream on top, and two huge matches as candles. We're not sure if little Chloe did actually make it, but there was plenty for all, and yes, Denyse blew out both candles.
We spent the rest of the evening over a few drinks, telling tall tales and sharing lots of laughs. It was a great night in the historic Middleton Hotel, and what a way to celebrate Denyse's birthday - a day I suspect she will remember for a long time.
If you can fit Middleton into your Qld travel itinerary, you will find not only spectacular scenery, but real, old fashioned hospitality from a genuine outback family in one of the most isolated, and iconic, pubs in Australia.
> The Middleton Hotel is one of the most isolated in Qld. It lies 170km west of Winton and 200km east of Boulia.
> The pub has meals available, but no fuel (unless it's an emergency). The hotel can be contacted on (07) 4657 3980.
> The 'Hilton Hotel' is a free overnight camp opposite the old pub. Use of the pub's toilets and shower is permitted for a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia magazine #57, September 2012.