Chewy, Charlee and the Kelly Gang attract patrons to the Hebel Hotel.

Story and photos Mandy McKeesick

The sign may say, ‘Tie up Your Dogs,’ but apparently, this does not apply to Chewy, the resident blue cattle dog and star attraction of the Hebel Hotel, 160 kilometres south of St George on the Queensland/New South Wales border. Chewy and his adopted master, Charlee the publican, have been at Hebel since February 2016 when they re-opened the centenarian watering hole to locals and an ever-increasing flow of tourists.

Chewy found Charlee, a former Melbourne gravedigger who prefers not to give a surname, at the Sheepyards Pub, about an hour and a half south. “I’d been on a travelling holiday chasing rocks and fossils,” Charlee says as he spreads a collection of amber across the Hebel bar. “And when I found the opal fields, a switch clicked in my brain and I knew this was the place for me.” Over a bottle of rum one night he was lamenting the shortage of shifts at the Sheepyards when owner Tony Cummings nonchalantly mentioned the Hebel Pub was for sale. Thus, began a working partnership between Tony, Charlee and “the most loyal/disloyal dog”, who swapped allegiances and moved himself to Hebel.

Hebel is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town. With a population of 26, it sits on an intersection where roads stretch south to the opal fields, and west and north to the vast cropping acreages of southern Queensland. The hotel is positioned prominently on the crossroads, with Chewy at its doorstep. During its lifetime it has also been known as the Commercial and Kelly’s Point Hotel. It was originally a Cobb & Co. staging post and was first licensed sometime in the 1890s. Exact dates have been lost to history and, as Mike Whitcomb says in his 1989 book Hebel Landmarks, “chasing the history of the hotels in Hebel is a bit like chasing shadows”.

Along with the original building, the shadows and secrets remain. Take the Kelly Gang for example. Rumour has it that Dan Kelly and Steve Hart escaped the infamous Glenrowan fire, where bushranger Ned was captured, and fled to the relative obscurity of Hebel. “It’s plausible,” Charlee says. “It would be a good place to hide out.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #116

Outback Magazine: December/January 2018