After spending several days in the central-west Qld town ofBoulia, we decided to spend Denyse's birthday at the iconicMiddleton Hotel in, funnily enough, Middleton. The town wasproclaimed in 1908 and was a very social place in the 1930s, with aracecourse and yearly race meetings, but only the pub and theremains of the hall are still standing today.
Built in 1876 by a farrier named Wiggins, the Middleton Hotel isone of the most isolated pubs in Qld, lying 200km north-east ofBoulia and 164km west of Winton. Middleton Creek was named in 1861by John McKinlay, who led the 1861 expedition in search of theill-fated Burke and Wills.
Prior to our arrival, we thought it best to call ahead and makea booking for dinner that evening. Chloe, the owners'granddaughter, is 10-years old (going on 30!) and handled ourenquiry very professionally, even offering to bake a birthday cakefor Denyse. Chloe is home-schooled and takes on lots of jobs aroundthe pub, including answering the phone.
The road from Mount Isa to Winton, through Boulia and via theMiddleton Hotel, is single-lane bitumen (almost 700km) with manyovertaking places. This is the only route that takes you to Bouliaand the Middleton Hotel without significant distances of unsealedroad. There is very little traffic to contend with; mainlytravellers and a few trucks.
Along the way, look out for the signposted ruins of the Hamiltonand Min Min hotels. There are now toilets and a shelter at theHamilton Hotel chimney, which has petrified wood in itsconstruction and is about all that is now left of the pub. Thefirst reported sighting of Min Min lights was at the aptly-namedMin Min Hotel, which burnt down in the 1920s.
After driving through flat Mitchell grass plains, about 50kmfrom Middleton rusty red mesas and breakaways appear as youapproach the Lilyvale Ranges. I bet you will take more than onepicture at the Cawnpore Lookout, which overlooks some of the mostscenic 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. Thesign reads: "Vacancy, no air-conditioning, no TV, no pool, nocharge". You can use the hotel's toilets and shower, but they doask 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 hotelwas originally one of nine changing stations on the route of theCobb & Co transportation company, and you can read the historyon a board outside the pub. There is an original Cobb & Cocoach, one of the Cains' most prized possessions, parked outsidethe pub. Look around and you will find another couple of oldcoaches there to inspect.
When you see the pub's fuel pumps, you'll quickly understand whyfuel is no longer sold here, but the Cains keep an emergency drumof petrol in case you get stuck. We saw several chooks runningaround outside, and Chloe's collection of opal rocks was on displayon the hotel veranda. Inside, you will find the pub is still prettymuch as it was when it was built in 1876. We wandered around theback, where we took a look at some old machinery and thegenerator.
For us, this would be a very lonely place to spend a long time.Fortunately, there is nearly always someone camped overnight at theHilton Hotel and other travellers often stop to have a drink andcheck out the hotel. Val showed us the list of owners and otherhistory.
We set up at the free camp and introduced ourselves to ourneighbours - two offroad camper trailers and a Coaster bus (ourswas the only caravan). Given it was Denyse's birthday, we alldecided to celebrate with dinner in the hotel and a few drinks.
The free camp consists of a large cleared area (dirt when wewere there). The 'Silver Palace' toilets were used most recentlyfor a camel drive in the area. There is a tap that still works andyou will find a shelter with a few old tables and seats, and thedisused hall.
Despite the isolation, there always seems there is somethinggoing around here. For example, we saw a small two-seater,open-sided chopper land after a day of mustering nearby. From thecamping ground you will also see some remarkable sunrises andsunsets illuminating the red countryside.
Val and Lester and their family are great hosts. Along with ourfellow travellers, we wandered over for dinner just as the sun set,and had the bar to ourselves all night. Although there was a menuof sorts, Val suggested the hotel special of corned beef andveggies, or rissoles.
Denyse and I opted for the corned beef and we all settled downwith drinks to await our meal. This was a great opportunity to findout more about the iconic pub, droving, and history of the area, aswell as a chance to get know each other better. Lester is aquietly-spoken man with some very interesting stories to tell - andI hope someone is writing it all down for future generations.
When the meals were served, we were taken aback at how huge theywere. Val's rissoles were the biggest I had ever seen and ourcorned beef was cooked to perfection. The vegies were fresh and themeal reminded Denyse of having dinner in her grandmother's old pubat Bakerville, Qld, when she was a kid.
After the plates were cleared, Val brought out a very impressivebirthday cake - chocolate mud with cream on top, and two hugematches as candles. We're not sure if little Chloe did actuallymake it, but there was plenty for all, and yes, Denyse blew outboth candles.
We spent the rest of the evening over a few drinks, telling talltales and sharing lots of laughs. It was a great night in thehistoric Middleton Hotel, and what a way to celebrate Denyse'sbirthday - a day I suspect she will remember for a long time.
If you can fit Middleton into your Qld travel itinerary, youwill find not only spectacular scenery, but real, old fashionedhospitality from a genuine outback family in one of the mostisolated, and iconic, pubs in Australia.
> The Middleton Hotel is one of the most isolated in Qld. Itlies 170km west of Winton and 200km east of Boulia.
> The pub has meals available, but no fuel (unless it's anemergency). The hotel can be contacted on (07) 4657 3980.
> The 'Hilton Hotel' is a free overnight camp opposite the oldpub. Use of the pub's toilets and shower is permitted for adonation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australiamagazine #57, September 2012.