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.
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.
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. .
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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!”
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.”