After an arduous road to reopening, the Betoota Hotel is well and truly back on the tourist map.

Story + Photos Mandy McKeesick

A week or so after the Big Red Bash at Birdsville, there was one almighty hangover at the Betoota Hotel in far western Queensland. It was the middle of July and revellers chose the tiny Betoota pub as party central. “It was mental,” barman Dave Cushway says. “Fun, but exhausting from daylight to dusk. The place was a controlled nuthouse.” Betoota merchandise disappeared. The red wine ran out and the white was served in beer glasses. Dinner was limited to 40 serves “because we were running out of food”. But, as always, the beer was cheap and cold.

When the party crowd gave way to a steady stream of winter travellers, staff of the reopened Betoota could take a breather. “There wasn’t a Bash in 2020, so we didn’t know what to expect and we’ve had to wing it, but this year we’ll know what we’re in for,” Dave says. 

Dave and his wife Rob ran their own pub in Boonah, Qld, for more than 13 years and sold it just before COVID hit. Frequent travellers themselves, they had often driven past the abandoned Betoota Hotel, which closed in the late 1990s, and dreamed of it being open again – and it was in March 2020, thanks to publican Robert ‘Robbo’ Haken. “We decided to stay for six weeks in 2020 and then in 2021 we came back for the entire season,” Dave says. “Robbo is a good cook and a good mechanic, but not so comfortable at front of house, so we told him to get out of the bar and out the back and build something.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #142

Outback Magazine: April/May 2022