A declining population is not enough to overcome the booming Cracow Hotel, the beating heart of its community

In the small town of Krakow, in central Queensland, the streets are empty.

Once a bustling center and home to several thousand people, the population is now under 50 and local businesses have long since closed up shop.

All bar the local pub.

Hotel Cracow was built in 1937 to serve a population of several thousand. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Krakow hotel owner Stuart Burke says that rather than an obstacle, the “ghost town” is what makes his business so distinctive.

“It’s the only business that operates in town, so it’s the center of the community,” he said.

“You can imagine what this place was like, with dirt roads, houses everywhere, a few shops, even a cinema.

“The city has a lot of history.”

This story is presented at the Cracow Hotel.

Krakow ceiling
The main bar of Hotel Cracow houses many local memorabilia and relics, all hanging from the ceiling. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Relics of Krakow’s past — old saddles, machines, and other instruments — hang above the hotel’s main bar.

Mr Burke said the pub had simply evolved over time and let him work in a single space.

“A lot of the memorabilia and stuff that’s here is local and all from the town, from the old mines and people are going to clean out the old hangars at their station and find something interesting,” he said. .

Map of Krakow
Old equipment, machinery and other objects hang from the ceiling as a nod to Krakow’s rich history.(Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

“There aren’t many places that have such an atmosphere.

“A lot of hotels are now sort of very sanitized and I’m just very happy to continue to work on it and see what it turns out to be.”

Who visits a pub without a city?

Mr Burke said many people arriving at the pub simply lose reception and stumble upon the hotel by accident, while others are passing travellers.

“Some miss the south turn and end up here…but they’re all welcome,” he said.

Krakow Bridge
Mr Burke says many travelers find themselves in Krakow by accident, often after losing reception further down the road. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

“We’ve had nights where if you grab handfuls of the community and throw them into the bar, that’s what you get, just a real eclectic crowd of people.

“Motorbikers, young lads, bell ringers from local train stations, southern lumberjacks and 70-year-old caravanners, all in the bar having a great time.

“Everyone has a different story to tell and it’s just a bunch of people having fun.”

Mr. Burke attributes the eclectic, “old-school” atmosphere in part to the lack of slot machines.

“Keno, pokies, TAB, that kind of stuff, people just focus on that and the conversation dies,” he said.

“It’s a real atmosphere destroyer in pubs.

“People come here now, sit around the bar and have conversations; it’s old school.”

Krakow wall
The walls of Hotel Cracow are decorated with the doodles of locals, backpackers and tourists. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Bernie Hogan says that’s what makes regional pubs so special, no matter where you’re from.

“The pub really holds that special place in people’s hearts,” he said.

“It’s the place people go to connect, where as long as you treat the people next to you with some respect, they’re up for a story, a joke, to share your ups and downs and I think it brings a sense of belonging.”

Mr. Burke says this is the kind of inclusive atmosphere he seeks in Krakow.

Each room at Hotel Cracow is designed and equipped to match a particular theme. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

This manifests itself in an original approach to accommodation, with themed rooms assigned according to personality.

“There’s the Africa room, the grandma room, the jungle room, there’s about 10 rooms up there,” he said.

“They’re assigned based on personality but, you know, they’re all comfortable.”

grandma's room
Hotel rooms at Hotel Cracow are themed and assigned to guests by personality. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Lifestyle rather than luxury

Formerly owned by Fred Brophy of the Brophy boxing troupe, Mr Burke bought the pub after meeting his wife on a trip through Krakow years earlier.

“I met Nikki here 20 years ago; she ran the pub for the previous owner,” he said.

“We bought a house in the Western Downs; we lived there for six years.

“Then the pub came on the market and we ran it by the kids, said [that] “We’re thinking of buying the Krakow pub and going back” and they said, “Well let’s go, why are we still here?”

“Twenty years later we are married, have two children and own the pub we met in!”

Krakow Beer
Mr. Burke says the Cracow Hotel collection has evolved over the years with input from various workers, locals and customers. (Southern Queensland ABC: Lucy Cooper)

Mr Burke said that means he did not buy the pub to turn it into a successful business.

“I didn’t buy it to make a million dollars; it was a lifestyle choice,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful place; Krakow is a bit difficult to explain.”

“It’s isolated; I mean, you’re looking at a 100 kilometer trip just to get some bread and milk.

“But you learn to live with that, it’s part of the joy of living here.”

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