Insurance costs driving outback pubs to the wall, owners say

Insurance costs driving outback pubs to the wall, owners say

For five years Jeff Bambrick and his family, friends and community worked together to rebuild the Kalkadoon Hotel in the country town of Kajabbi.

Surrounded by the red dirt and wide, open spaces of rural Queensland, the pub was the crown jewel of the cattle and trucking community for nearly 100 years until a dwindling population forced its doors shut in the mid-2000s.

Mr Bambrick said residents across the north-west have had stars in their eyes since 2014, when he announced that he was bringing the iconic watering hole back to life.

But he said he has been blindsided by exorbitant insurance costs since the pub opened this year.

He is one of at least three publicans who have recently renovated remote pubs in the region and been denied insurance or offered inflated prices.

Mr Bambrick was forced to look overseas for insurance.

“Country pubs are somewhere for people to come in the outback — people who work out in the bush who’ve got nowhere to go, nowhere to meet, they can let their hair down and have fun,” he said.

“It’s just next-level what these insurance companies are asking and the different reasons they reject you.

“We’re an outback Queensland pub and we had to go offshore to get insurance.

The Dajarra Hotel, built in 1917, has a rich history in rural Queensland.(Supplied: Dajarra Hotel)

‘Straw that broke the camel’s back’

Richard Ryan runs the Dajarra Hotel, about three hours south of Kajabbi.

He said insurance costs were eating into his profits.

“We were paying $28,000, then last year the insurance was $32,000, which was starting to get out of hand.

“Outback pubs are often the life source of your small towns — even if you’re not drinking, it’s the hub for all your socializing and events in your town, the tourism.

“It’d be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and probably finish Dajarra in that sense, but we are thankful we have a budding mining community.”

A run-down outback pub with a rusted vehicle at rest among the weeds in front of it.
Quamby was once home to a prosperous gold mine, but all that remains now is its pub, which was built in the 1860s.(ABC North West: Kemii Maguire)

Building materials, location major barriers

Gold Coast builder Nigel Sheiles recently purchased the decrepit Quamby Pub with his wife and friends.

Beyond that, he is looking to build a caravan park, accommodation, toilet block, swimming pool and playground to service tourists and surrounding cattle stations.

As a veteran of the construction industry, Mr Sheiles said he was shocked when he struggled to secure the venue.

“They made it really difficult,” he said.

“They wouldn’t get back to us with quotes and when they did the prices were ridiculously high.

“They all seem to be under the impression that because it’s an old timber building, once we do rebuild it we’re going to burn it down for the insurance, which is not the case.

Mr Ryan faced the same challenges.

“They said the costs were because of the age of my building, and because it’s made of timber,” he said.

A man in a work shirt and large hat stands behind a bar, holding up a fresh cold beer.
Jeff Bambrick says the cost of insurance is through the roof.(Supplied: Kalkadoon Hotel)

Calls for government to step in

Mr Bambrick, Mr Ryan and Mr Sheiles said they were concerned for the future of outback pubs like theirs and the flow-on effects in communities.

They called on the government to intervene.

“There’s too much power and not enough moderation of these insurance companies,” Mr Bambrick said.

“I just think the government needs to do something about these insurance companies, or the government needs to start up their own insurance service to cover places like outback pubs that are so crucial to country communities.”

Traeger MP Robbie Katter said introducing a market moderator would be a start.

“Outback and remote pubs play a far more pivotal role than the standard pub in Brisbane or Townsville,” he said.

“This is a market failure — and there’s no moderator in the market and the system couldn’t give a stuff about issues like this.

“You can’t afford to let these little communities fall away.

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