The publicans of the Bellum Hotel have spent the past decade turning a typical country pub into a community hub that serves award-winning locally sourced meals.

Story By Gretel Sneath

Lisa Edwards was enjoying the hectic pace of life working as an interior designer in London when a phone call to the family farm on South Australia’s Limestone Coast revealed that the local pub was on the market. The news sent a wave of nostalgia across the ocean, and her now husband, Simon Livingstone, needed little convincing that a tree change was in order. But this was more than your average homecoming after four-and-a-half years abroad – The Bellum Hotel had been built in 1866 by Lisa’s great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Edwards. Originally from Wales, he settled in the Mount Schank area in 1854 after striking it lucky on the Victorian goldfields, and his drinking spot at the base of the majestic Mount Schank volcano became a popular halfway house for travellers on the long journey from Mount Gambier to Port MacDonnell.
Today, thirsty drivers still swing by for a roadie en-route to the ‘Mount’ or ‘Bay’, and that oasis-like quality of the pub on the highway remains. “When we first moved here, I used to joke that my only friends were cows; we went from being surrounded by people the second you walk out your front door to being surrounded by farmland, so it was such a culture shock,” Lisa says.
Lisa’s father, Dean Edwards, now farms the land Thomas Edwards originally cleared while her brother, Michael, lives with his young family on the site of the original homestead. “It’s lovely to have that strong family connection, but even if they weren’t close by, there is an enormously strong sense of community here and that immediate sense of knowing everyone,” Lisa says.
“We have one regular who has been drinking here six days a week since the late 1950s,” says Simon, who was raised in Roxby Downs. The bloke’s name is Normie, and he still remembers having an underage tipple at The Bellum after the 1959 Kongorong bushfires. Right beside his favourite stool, a glass floor over the cellar highlights the challenge the original builders would have faced digging through the local limestone. On the wall, there’s a photo of a bravery medal that belonged to another licensee, Henry Smith (1868), who helped to rescue the survivors of the Admella shipwreck, while out the back of the pub, the old barn for the horses of travelling guests is still in good shape.

This story excerpt is from Issue #81

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2012