Toolamba’s Junction Hotel serves up the publican’s home-grown lamb, and a fair dose of community spirit.

Story and photos Terri Cowley 

There hasn’t been a passenger train stop at the Victorian hamlet of Toolamba since 1981. However, the pub that grew up to service the railway station, the Junction Hotel, is still very much the beating heart of the quiet, rural village, 170 kilometres north of Melbourne.

Sheep farmer Rowan Block became its 27th publican when he bought it in October 2014. “One of the rationales to buying this place was to get retail value for our lamb,” Rowan says. “The pub has to fit in with the commercial operation. We’re not changing the farm to suit the pub. The pub is an extension of the farm.” There is a wry grin when he describes being a farmer and publican: “It’s two of the toughest games: small farming and country pubs.”

The Junction Hotel, first built in 1881 and then rebuilt after it burnt down in 1912, looks very much like your typical country pub. A verandah fronts the main street under a wide tin roof. There’s an open fire in the bar, an outdoor area and a dining room. The walls are adorned with historical pictures, including the triumphs of local sporting teams.

However, the direct paddock-to-plate experience that Rowan has been able to add, gives the place much more of a reason for being. His Primeline Maternal ewes graze on two properties, one on the Goulburn River just a few klicks down the road. He is currently trialling lambs produced from Tradie rams (Southdown-Dorset cross) over selected ewe lambs to produce meat with high levels of marbling – the sheep equivalent to Wagyu beef. Rowan normally runs 1500 ewes and produces up to 2000 lambs annually. “It is about authenticity and sustainability,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #114

Outback Magazine: August/September 2017