The Last Goodbye
STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROWENA NAYLOR.
The Old Hepburn Hotel is closing up shop. The freehold has been sold and the new owners won’t be continuing the lease. A bastion of live Australian music for 16 years will fall silent and the district will lose one its most egalitarian and truly grass roots venues. Jason Dooley and his sister Amber Dooley owned the pub together from 2003 until 2014 when Amber became the sole licensee. While Amber is taking the move philosophically, Jason seems slightly sad. He was the main booking agent and brought some of Australia’s best acts to the old weatherboard pub that sits on the hill overlooking a gully on the road between Hepburn Springs and Newstead. “James Reyne, Deborah Conway, Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows,” he says, reeling off the names of the acts who have performed at the Old Hepburn. Amber adds, “Mia Dyson, Jordie Lane and don’t forget Liz Stringer!” “Yeah, Liz Stringer,” says Jason excitedly. “She has always been a big supporter of the Hepburn.”
Why some of the nation’ best artists played in an old pub with a galvanised iron roof, some of the sheets close to lifting, with a small stage and interesting acoustics becomes self-evident after the first beer. The place reeks of character. It is a classic well-run pub on a backroad that looks after the locals first, the passion of the owners almost as well and everyone else is made to feel welcome. There are stories of lockouts that we are unable to publish here for obvious reasons. Some of the stories may involve nudity and farm animals – not at the same time – but they must remain forever locked behind those solid wooden doors. One story we have permission to retell involves a local bloke called Tom Manning. Jason tells the story well.
"He was drinking with some other blokes who thought it would be a good idea to stir the old fella up. They bet him $100 that he couldn’t run to the top of Mannings Hill. Now from the veranda of the pub you feel like you can touch the top of the hill. But there is a steep gully full of scrub and bush covering a creek between the pub and the hill. So off he went, out into a pitch back night and they could hear him crashing about in the bush. About an hour goes by and there is a flame on top of Mannings Hill, the sign from old Tom that he’s reached the top. Torches at the pub are flashed back at him and about an hour later he comes back into the pub to collect his bet. The only trouble is that the blokes had already buggered off and left him with nothing but cuts and scratches."
It’s that sort of pub. A pub where legendary Aussie actor Bill Hunter regularly stopping by for a chicken kiev countery at the bar or Kasey Chambers coming for a mate’s gig and ending up being hauled from the audience to do a few numbers. That is what is going to be lost when The Old Hepburn turns the taps off the last time. While there is a full programme planned next month for ChillOut on the long weekend, Jason and Amber are planning one last hurrah the following weekend Fri 15 March – Sunday 17 March. The bill has yet to be released but the invitation is there for everyone to come and say goodbye to The Old Hepburn Hotel one last time.
236 Main Rd, Hepburn Springs, 5348 2207, oldhepburnhotel.com.au