The country pub with no beer

Headshot of Kate Emery
Kate EmeryThe West Australian

About two-and-a-half hours north of Perth in the blink-and-you'll-miss- it Wheatbelt town of Miling, Gordon Burns is a frustrated man.

Sitting in the empty Miling Hotel beside a row of stools and a polished bar custom-made from floorboards salvaged from local houses, Mr Burns knows no customers will be walking through the door any time soon.

Welcome to the pub with no beer. Mr Burns, a former engineering manager, left the mining industry years ago because he was "sick of the red tape". Now he says he has been left disillusioned and frustrated by bureaucracy as he tries to reopen the long-closed hotel.

"I've got 100 per cent support from the town," he says. "Can't they let us get on with our business. It's not Northbridge - it's not some kind of wild west."

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


This week, Mr Burns received a letter from the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor outlining conditions he needs to meet to receive a hotel liquor licence.

WA Police have also written to the Director for Liquor Licensing raising concerns about the risks of drink-driving and antisocial behaviour.

Having spent $800,000 and almost a year restoring the hotel, Mr Burns said he did not have money left for the estimated $30,000 in works the department sought, some of which would require a "complete redesign" of parts of the 79-year-old building.

Mr Burns, who previously ran a tavern in nearby Pithara, said he believed "no country pub in the State" would meet all the department's requirements, which include self-closing doors on upstairs accommodation units and tamper-proof toilet cisterns.

"I'm not asking for any special favours," he said. "The ramifications for every country hotel in the State are massive."

The department sees things differently. A spokesman said the conditions were not new and had been required for many years. He said department inspections this year focused on country hotels and found "the majority" of licensed premises complied with the conditions of their licence and relevant laws.

Mr Burns is not alone, with Miling residents, the Shire of Moora and the WA branch of the Australian Hotels Association firmly in his corner.

Miling resident and head of the town's progress association Ken Seymour said locals were "totally behind" the reopening of the hotel, which fell into disrepair after the shire seized it from its previous owner in 2003. For the past decade, residents have had to rely on the local takeaway liquor store or members-only golf club if they wanted a drink.

"We've been lacking a community watering hole where you can go," Mr Seymour said.

"As a community we were hoping that a publican like Gordon would come along."

Shire chief executive Alan Leeson said he understood the department was doing its job but he shared Mr Burns' frustration.

He suggested some issues could be resolved once the hotel was up and running.

"He's invested a hell of a lot of money into it and we hope for his sake the doors open soon," he said.

"At the end of the day, it's not a flash city hotel, it's an old country pub. You can't turn it into a metropolitan building, nor should you."

AHA WA chief executive Bradley Woods said his group had recommended to a Liquor Control Act review that "a number of unnecessary red tape regulations" imposed on the sector be removed.

"The Miling Hotel has just had a new owner reinvest and redevelop a remote country hotel back to an operational level and needs to be given a decent break," he said.

Back in the main bar, beneath an old menu blackboard advertising a time when you could buy a pie for $2, Mr Burns said he had come close to walking away.

"A pub in the country's not just a place to get sloshed - a pub in the country is somewhere families can go to socialise and meet with people," he said.

"I'm very frustrated. I'm disillusioned. I'm not easily defeated but if I'd been made aware of these other requirements I might have changed what I've done here."

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails