As owner of Barcaldine’s popular Ironbark Inn and mayor of the regional council, Rob Chandler may be his area’s greatest ambassador.

Story By Paula Heelan

It’s a chilly Sunday night in Barcaldine, Qld. At the Ironbark Inn, Rob and Deb Chandler have just opened their bistro and, in a well-choreographed routine, are quickly making things happen. Deb is whipping up garden salads and Rob is preparing big fillets of barramundi and chunky rib steak for the grill. Locals and tourists around the Liars, Larrikins and Legends bar are keenly watching the couple skillfully toss together some luscious, home-style fare.
Both with forthcoming, generous natures and a great sense of fun, Deb and Rob are comfortable in each other’s company. “Unless one of us is away for a brief time, we cook and work together 24/7,” Rob says. “I turned out to be a pretty fair cook because Mum went away for a few months when I was 17; I soon learned.” After trying a fancy tucker menu years ago, Rob says they found it didn’t work. “We realised people wanted KISS (keep it simple, stupid) food – steak, lamb, pork or fish,” he says. “So now we serve good solid steaks, the best lamb and pork, and the best Australian fish I can find. Mary O’Donnell [from the store down the road] supplies our fresh fruit and vegetables, which are absolutely perfect, and our meat comes from our family butchers, Greg and Sharon Spinks – I have my own key, so if I run out of anything I can go and help myself.” Tonight, the talk is about the day’s race meet. A racing enthusiast, Rob gets a phone call from his son, Mac, who is working in London and heading off to Royal Ascot. Rob tells him with conviction to put 50 quid on the famous Australian thoroughbred ‘Takeover Target’, and returns to his cooking. He tells his hungry onlookers about the demise of country racing and how he, if he could, would get the late Queensland racing minister Russ Hinze to come back and fix it all.
But if anyone can fix anything in this region, it’s Rob Chandler. He’s not just a keen and capable cook, he’s the Barcaldine Regional Council mayor and is on the Outback Tourism Board, which covers an area of more than 850,000 square kilometres. He has turned the maliciously poisoned Tree of Knowledge (birthplace of the Australian Labor Party) into a $5 million memorial project for the region, initiated a very successful Grey Nomad project to encourage the torrent of over-50 travellers to volunteer their expertise for work on community-based projects, and is now working with local Aboriginal people to bring to light some of Australia’s best Indigenous art and culture. “It’s a really exciting time for us out here now and there’s so much more we can do,” Rob says. “It’s a unique and special part of Australia – 100,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #67

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009