Best pubs in Queensland: Where Beef City goes to town
WHEN a Brahman bull starts rampaging through what should be the beer garden you do ponder whether this whole "city/country divide” thing might be just another urban myth.
Rockhampton's Great Western Hotel may be less than 40km from the coast but its heart and soul reside west of the Great Dividing Range, way out beyond the Barcoo.
Established in 1862, The Great Western is so "country” that legendary country music star Lee Kernaghan once bought into it as a co-owner.
Its walls are festooned with western memorabilia, demonstrating the pub's determination to hold on to its history in a city built on beef.
Within its confines, which sprawl across an acre, the pub hosts something totally unique to the nation's hotel industry - a full-sized rodeo arena.
The rodeo began life in the early 1990s as a small affair but the Great Western soon got ambitious, swallowing up neighbouring real estate to establish a massive entertainment venue that now contains hi-tech sound and lighting to host anything from rodeo to live rock shows.
Cultivating an Urban Cowboy atmosphere complete with mechanical bucking bull, the pub blends the bush and the 'burbs every Wednesday night with a rodeo where locals, often including students from Yeppoon's St Brendan's College, hone their rough-riding skills.
East meets west seamlessly in Rockhampton, where the country/city divide narrows to a slim margin, and the Great Western's manager, Beau Thomas, wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's unique in Australia,” says Beau, gesturing to the rodeo arena during a regular Wednesday evening as dust swirls into the flood lights and patrons down beers to accompany their eye fillet steaks.
Rodeo may not boast the crowd numbers drawn to football and cricket, but in Queensland it's an extraordinarily popular spectator sport, with this year's Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo, held in August, attracting 20,000 people.
For Great Western patrons Tory Danials and partner Courtland Marks, the hotel serves as both the local pub and the workout arena for son Harry Danials, 15, an aspiring bull rider.
"It's a great venue for practice and to get experience,'' says Tory, who like many in the city has an affinity with a country lifestyle.
With more than 100,000 visitors a year, the pub, which can seat up to 3500 spectators for one show, has begun hosting live music events as well as more than 100 rodeo events each year.
"Rockhampton people have responded positively to what we have created here,'' says Beau.
"We have a great respect for the past and the state's great bush traditions, and we have a lot of excitement about the future.''