A visit to the charming Rising Sun in Auburn, SA, is a trip back in time to a gentler pace of life.

Story By Nick Cook

Entering the tiny 300-person hamlet of Auburn, in South Australia’s Clare Valley, is like stepping back into another time. The English cottage gardens, stone buildings and 19th-century architecture give it a strong Victorian-era feeling that is epitomised by its single pub: The Rising Sun Hotel. Its façade seems to have changed little since it was first constructed in 1850, while the interior doesn’t look like it’s been majorly renovated in recent decades, if ever.
The front bar is so small that it feels crowded by the single barrel-table in one corner and church pew in the other. The drinkers spurn both and perch on stools along the bar, facing their own reflections in the mirror behind it. Ancient agricultural relics hang from the wall – among them a rusted trap, something resembling a scythe and a large cross saw – adding charm by gesturing towards the past without overwhelming the room in kitsch and gimmicky Australiana. A fire burns merrily in its hearth while a single hanging light, the kind you would expect to find in the dining room of an old house, casts a soft light over the scene. It feels less like a public watering hole and more like the den of the luckiest and most hospitable family ever.
In this homely space 20 people would seem like a crowd but tonight, a Saturday, there are never more than eight. However, according to Michelle Tibbins, who pauses to speak in between bustling from one part of the pub to another, there are times when it can get pretty rowdy. “Thursday and Friday are usually the young party nights,” she says. “They’ll turn the jukebox right up and dance out the front or dance on the barrel.” Michelle moved to the area from Hervey Bay, Qld, two years ago, after she visited for a wedding and fell in love with the place. She clearly enjoys her job and says she especially likes the hotel’s casual atmosphere. “It’s a real country family pub,” she says. “You get a lot of tourists and weekenders from the city but the locals really support it as well.”
One of those locals is 25-year-old Ian Burfield, who drops by to pick up a cask of wine – and half a metre of mettwurst he won in a raffle – for a Queen’s birthday weekend bonfire he is hosting. He’s lived in the area since he was a baby and says he’s had a lot of great times at The Rising Sun, joking that he only has vague memories of the best of them. Other locals are Alex Simic and Paul Durkay, drinking buddies and avid pigeon racers who switch from beer to port as the night wears on. They’ve lived in Auburn for 15 and 32 years respectively, and have made the walk down the hill from their homes countless times. The walk back up it can be a little more difficult. “Sometimes I’ve got to carry him home. Last time I had to use a wheelbarrow,” Alex says, giving no clue as to whether or not he’s joking. Paul responds with the story of a recent race they had to see who could walk up the hill quicker: “Alex went off track and crashed into a tree.”
By the fire at the end of the bar, sharing a newspaper and a bottle of wine, is Adelaide couple Dave and Coby Fledderus, who are enjoying a romantic weekend together on the recommendation of a colleague at the university where Dave teaches. They like Auburn because its heritage buildings remind them of their native Tasmania. “It’s fabulous,” Coby says. “All these little Victorian places are great.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #68

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010