Wel-comed at the Wellshot
“Where?”, they asked. “What, a pub?”, they asked.
“Yes, that’s right, we bought a pub at Ilfracombe! Where else would you want to be? Nowhere else, but in a small rural community, in a unique iconic pub spending time yarning to straight talking locals and visitors from all walks of life - from destinations unheard of.”, came the reply.
That’s how Tracy Hatch's life changed to embrace the Wellshot Hotel in Ilfracombe. And it is a plan well ‘Hatch-ed’’, because in Queensland’s outback people shine just as brightly as the vibrant orange of a setting sun or the blue sky on a typical crystal-clear day.
Tracy says that she always wanted a country pub. Having grown up on a sheep and cattle property at Springsure, about 60 kilometres south of Emerald, living 30 kilometres east of Longreach seemed like a natural transition. Of course there were numerous destinations in between, such as the Longreach Pastoral College. That was 30+ years ago, but she says that it feels just like yesterday. That is because “this country gets in your blood“.
Tracy married the bloke next door. In outback terms, that means Paul hailed from about an hour away and together they spent their early years working on a cattle property in the remote stretch between Clermont and Charters Towers.
Then there was what they both thought would be a short stint moving earth around to manage the irrigation farms along the mighty Burdekin River, but 20 years of cane farming and other work passed. In between there were two children, hot summers and floods.
Then a few years back Tracy’s parents purchased ‘Newstead’, a rural property 10 minutes from the pub. “No one would be living there – golden opportunity to sell up and move west,” she says. Of course, when she and Paul first visited they just had to check out the local pub. The rest is history.
She has made many changes in just a few short years. For instance, she dreamed of having a quirky little coffee corner that operated earlier than the hotel doors would swing open. Turning dreams into reality, the Wellshot now boasts just that. Facing onto the Landsborough Highway with plenty of parking for even the biggest of rigs, it is a terrific spot to pick up breaky or morning tea made all the more enjoyable by its clever name – a play on words that incorporates the owner’s name. Yep, this coffee hutch is cutely called the ‘Coffee Hatch’.
It’s easy to see that Tracy loves her business. She explains that a guest referred to the pub as a Crab Pot: “Once you’re in, you can’t get out!” He came for a night and stayed much longer. Having returned twice to the Wellshot in a very short time last year while in that region, I understand completely. It has an atmosphere that draws you in and keeps you smiling and satisfied. It is relaxing and invigorating at the same time – a perplexing contradiction that works like magic.
But then that’s Ilfracombe all over. This tiny place is magic. Just ask the 43,000 sheep that were moved in 1886 through the town that was known back then as Wellshot. Well, I guess we know now where the pub got its name. And those sheep? It was the biggest mob of animals ever moved at once, anywhere. It took 27 stockmen to drive the mammoth flock.
Before it was a town, ‘Wellshot’ was a million-acre station. In fact, back in the mid-1870s it was one of the largest stocked sheep stations in the world, stretching from the Thomson River at what's now Longreach east almost to Barcaldine. That’s a distance that will still take you more than an hour to traverse travelling at top speed!
The success of that station and others in the outback brought the railway, which arrived in Wellshot in 1891. It was that event that triggered the renaming of the town, and by then the settlement was really hopping along. In addition to a saddlery, two butchers, a baker, a soft drink maker, a coach builder, and two general stores, there was five pubs!
Only one still exists, and remarkably it was not built in Ilfracombe. Rather, the pub moved along the railway line as each new town was built. Lashed to sleds and pulled along by bullocks, the Wellshot has experienced life in Barcaldine, and most likely Jericho, Alpha and a ghost town called Withersfield further to the east.
What those towns lost we have all gained. The Wellshot Hotel has a boutique campground of powered and unpowered sites with access to amenities and potable water all available immediately adjacent to the pub’s welcoming beer garden. There’s also room accommodation and some outback cottages nearby. No wonder it was judged as the BEST GREY NOMAD PUB STAY in Australia!