As you venture through the vast expanse of outback Queensland, you’ll encounter dozens of towns scattered along the large stretches of highway. Among them, notable regional centres like Goondiwindi and Charleville stand prominently. Meanwhile, others exist as quaint settlements of no more than a handful of houses.
Then there is Nindigully, a town so small that you’d be forgiven if you missed it. A mere 9 people call Nindigully home, while its wider locality of Thallon has a resident population of 231. Farm families account for most of the population, as the region is prime grain-growing country.
In a town seemingly defined by its sense of vastness, a singular entity emerges from obscurity to claim fame on the silver screen and in international headlines—the local pub.
Nestled on the banks of the Moonie River, the Nindigully Pub has stood as a stalwart presence for the better part of two centuries. Step inside, and every inch of wall space is adorned with memorabilia, ranging from drover’s hats to framed news articles and photographs. Interestingly, not a single poker machine interrupts the nostalgic atmosphere; instead, a lone TV on the wall sporadically flickers, adding an extra touch of authenticity.
Amidst the charm and character of a bygone era, one can't help but marvel at the remarkable survival of this historic pub in a town with a mere population of nine.
A Storied Past
The roots of the Nindigully Pub trace back to 1864 when publican Thomas Bradford was granted a license, transforming the establishment from shearer’s accommodation for the Nindigully Station into a pub.
In the late 1800s, the pub became a Cobb and Co coach changeover station where people and goods would be dropped off. This role made it pivotal in the region's transportation network. The advent of the changing station, coupled with a thriving wool industry, elevated Nindigully's standing. This prosperity led to the establishment of a hotel, post and telegraph office, general store and school. By the early 1900s, the town became a booming community of around 50 residents and 15 houses.
However, as the century progressed, a noticeable downturn occurred, marked by significant events such as the closure of the school in 1941. The once-thriving town now appeared eerily empty, but the pub endured.
Saved by the Silver Screen
In an unlikely twist of fate, the pub found itself catapulted into the spotlight when writer and director Antony J Bowman handpicked it as the filming location for his romantic comedy "Paperback Hero," starring Hugh Jackman and Claudia Karvan. Bowman travelled through New South Wales and Queensland scouting for the ideal location to bring Paperback Hero to life. He stumbled upon Nindigully, where he deemed the Nindigully Pub the perfect embodiment of the fictitious "Lucktown Pub”.
The town underwent a cinematic takeover as film crews and movie stars claimed its streets during the filming period. The production crew built temporary sets, including the "The Boomerang Café," which appeared as a diner in the movie. This establishment featured 3-metre-high boomerangs, designed in 1989 by Jon Dowding, fixed to the roof.
The cinematic revival brought renewed attention to Nindigully and the pub. Post-filming, the decision was made to preserve the metal boomerangs, transforming them into a permanent display outside the pub. These boomerangs quickly became a distinctive landmark, capturing the attention of passing travellers and solidifying the pub's place in Australian film history.
A New Chapter
In August 2002, the Burns family, led by Steve Burns, assumed ownership of the pub and steered it into a new era.
Steve saw accommodation as the key to the pub’s success. To entice passing convoy to stop for a night, the new publicans revamped the accommodation options. They now offer five air-conditioned rooms in the original end of the pub, in addition to free camping between the pub and Moonie River.
Another part of the Burns’ plan was to enhance the dining experience by employing a professional chef. Now they serve chef-cooked meals using the best locally sourced produce. Their commitment to Australian-made extends to brewing their own beers, with beloved tipples including Gully Gold and Moonie Mud on tap.
The pivot toward a focus on food proved to be a success among patrons, propelling the Nindigully Pub into international news headlines in 2021 with the creation of Australia's largest burger – “The Road Train Burger”. Weighing in at an astounding 5.5kg, the burger boasts a colossal 1.5kg meat patty within a 1.5kg bun, served with 1kg curly fries and 1kg onion rings on the side. The gargantuan burger not only made international headlines but also provided an incentive for travellers to veer off the highway and make a memorable stop at Nindigully.
Beyond the allure of mega burgers and Hollywood cameos, the true soul of Nindigully is found in its people, their tales, and the strong sense of community that has endured over time. With open arms, the pub welcomes everyone – whether you're a longtime local or passing traveler, inviting you to pull up a seat and share your story.
This unwavering sense of community has been the constant thread over the course of 200 years, serving as the heartbeat that sustains the pub. The Nindigully Pub is a testament to the power of connection, defining the pub as more than just a historic landmark but a centre of outback community life.
Trail Guide Tip: Don't miss The Gully Sessions with Travis Collins and Chloe Styler, transforming The Nindigully Pub on Sun 14 Apr. Spend the night at the iconic pub and head straight from the gig to your digs.