The tiny and historic Weldborough Hotel is on the path to a big revival courtesy of some local entrepreneurs, good use of its ancestry, and a whole lot of mountain bikes.
The Hotel is the sole pub in the modest town of Weldborough, a popular tourist stop on the A3 through north-east Tasmania, and home to some of the world’s most impressive Myrtle tree forests.
But in the late 1800s Weldborough was a town on the rise, once holding the largest settlement of Chinese workers in Australia, operating its lucrative tin mine. Legendary Chinese merchant Maa Mon Chin lived in the town, and operated the first casino in Tasmania – across the road from the Hotel.
More recently, the town has developed a reputation for its world-class mountain biking, attracting thousands of tourists from around the world for the thrill of rugged Blue Derby trails through pristine wilderness.
Built in 1876, the business consists of a bar, kitchen and adjoining campground that sleeps around 80 people, while the pub itself would struggle to fit all 28 local residents inside.
It has in recent years built something of a reputation for Tasmanian micro-brew beers, but was struggling to meet the opportunity in Tasmania’s booming tourist industry and a band of around a dozen locals began discussing buying it.
Around a decade ago local farmer Mandy Gunn had a son. This forced her to set aside the farm work for a time, so she bought a cleaning business to operate. That business prompted opening a laundromat, which spawned the purchase of six holiday units desperately in need of linen.
Gunn had recently celebrated her husband’s 50th birthday with him in the Weldborough Hotel when she learned of plans to buy it.
“I was having coffee with a friend, who was putting a group together to buy the pub so I said ‘I’m in, ‘cause I love the place’,” Gunn told PubTIC. “I’ve always loved it, I think it’s such an iconic little pub.”
The buyer group went ahead with the acquisition, taking over in August 2016, as well as purchasing a few other structures in the little town, including the Town Hall. Gunn has taken on the role of (interim) licensee, employing staff and driving the 35 minutes to Weldborough from her Waterhouse farm every few days to check in.
Amongst other things, she has championed the reclamation of the former Billiards Room – what was once the Maa Mon Chin casino – which she is proudly adorning with Weldborough historical information and memorabilia collected at the pub.
“I’m being the mad person who’s wanting to create history rooms and doing all these projects,” she laughs.
“It’s just the most amazing old room, and we’ve got lots of history and photographs. I really want to get them up on the walls and give people a place and something to do in Weldborough, beside ride mountain bikes and come to the pub.”
In the meantime, the pub is continuing its legacy in craft beer, now pouring its very own ‘Chin Chin Weldborough’ made by local Scottsdale operation Little Rivers, and Gunn’s sister will be running the place for the next few months, while her Canadian fiancé gets work visa experience on the farm.
Gunn says they’ve been getting some quality enquiries about the management position, are considering a revenue-share arrangement on some eco cabins to be built on the campground, and already have some whole venue bookings for weddings coming up.
They have taken on a local girl as chef who is getting rave reviews and trialling a young man from South Australia as an apprentice. But in due course, she will get back to her other passion – breeding racehorses.
“I sort of go from one business to another … I get it up and running and then I do something else,” admits the farmer-turned-business owner-turned-publican.
“It’s great to be able to give local people jobs, and see them flourish, stepping into new roles.
“I’m very excited about this summer, ‘cause the business is just building.”