Farmer John Aitken has two cattle properties that straddle his local watering hole, the Rocky Cape Tavern in north-western Tasmania, so when the pub looked like closing he bought it.
Story By Andrew Bain
On the low hilltops at Montumana in north-western Tasmania, the world’s cleanest air is hurrying through the long grass, smoothing it like velvet. Over the backs of his grazing cattle, John Aitken points to the myriad landmarks of the view that’s laid out from the green heights of his farm: sea and mountains, the curious Nut rock formation by the town of Stanley, the tangled edges of Australia’s largest temperate rainforest and here, a pocket of blood-red volcanic soil that sustains one of the country’s finest farming regions.
“I think it’s a unique place in Australia,” the beef farmer says over the rush of the Roaring Forties wind. “It might not be God’s country, as in perfect every month, but it’s nothing like the rest of Australia. We get drought here but it might only last for three months.”
About the only thing that’s missing in the view is the Rocky Cape Tavern, with the highway pub that is the newest addition to John’s herd, hidden away in folds of land below. After more than 30 years of farming in the Circular Head district, John bought the struggling pub last December – his first business venture outside of farming – saving it as much for himself as for the passing flow of drinkers and diners.
“We looked like losing our drinking hole and somewhere to eat,” he says. “No-one was wanting it and it was rundown. I’ve been coming here for 10, 12 years and I thought, ‘If I get it right it’ll be a super fund working for me’.”
As on his land, John has proven quite unique in the venture. In this simple pub at the edge of the small Rocky Cape National Park, patrons can now dine on the same quality beef enjoyed by diners in the finest restaurants. Meat served at the Rocky Cape Tavern is premium-quality Cape Grim Beef from local producer Greenham Tasmania.
But at the Rocky Cape Tavern the beef comes with a far more personal connection. From John’s two properties – 405 hectares that sit suitably either side of the pub – around 400 to 500 fat cattle are sent to Greenham for Cape Grim Beef each year. Order a steak at the Rocky Cape Tavern and there’s a chance it might have come from the publican’s own farm. For John, who spent his young working years travelling and working on Western Australia’s oil rigs and Queensland’s sugar mills, copper mines and cotton fields, it means waking to his cattle each morning and potentially feeding them to patrons in the evening.
“I’d be one of the few people selling beasts, then buying the meat back and reselling it,” John says. “I can’t guarantee it’s my beef that comes here but some days it would be. It would be a real good sales pitch if I knew that it was my beef coming in. Maybe one day when we get big enough we can do that.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #68
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010