Thanks to a community-led transformation, The Royal Hotel at Sea Lake is once again a thriving Mallee watering hole.

Story + Photos Nathan Dyer 

It’s a clear spring evening in Sea Lake and the setting Mallee sun floods down the main street, bathing The Royal Hotel in golden light. Inside, the bar is full. Among the noisy mob are a couple of high-flying Melbourne corporates, a group of retired farmers from Hopetoun, 60km away, and a crowd of young locals. 

Taking in the glorious evening from the upstairs balcony are John ‘Bull’ Clohesy and Alison McClelland. “You wouldn’t believe it was boarded-up three years ago,” says Bull, recalling the story behind what’s been a remarkable transformation for the Victorian farming centre with a population of just over 600. Bull explains how he and fellow farmer Andrew ‘Rags’ McClelland got chatting after The Royal was shut down and the town’s second pub burnt down. Bull and Rags kicked in The Royal’s back door and had a look about. The place was a mess, but they decided it was worth a crack and started ringing around. “We just wanted somewhere to drink,” Bull laughs. “It wasn’t really about making any money.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #140

Outback Magazine: December/January 2022