by Jonathan Pearlman, The Telegraph, January 19, 2018
It is a 131-year-old dusty ghost town in outback Australia with a population of zero, occasionally attracting tourists as a place where there is nothing to do.
Betoota, in a near-inhospitable area of Queensland, is about 100 miles from the nearest populated locality and its temperatures can exceed 50C. The last permanent resident died in 2004.
But the former town’s only remaining building – The Betoota Hotel, a sandstone pub built around 1890 – is now set to reopen.
Robert Haken, a smash repairer, said he saw the pub 30 years ago and has since wanted to revive it. He plans to open in August and will serve fuel and drinks as well as sausages, bacon and egg rolls, steak burgers, pies and sausages rolls.
“When I walked into the place I just thought, what an amazing bit of Australia history and why isn’t someone doing something with it,” he told The Brisbane Times.
The pub’s previous owner was Simon Remienko, a Polish-born migrant who bought it in 1953 and eventually closed it in 1997, charging prices according to how much he liked – or disliked – the customer. He stayed in the town alone until his death seven years later.
Mr Remienko kept his bar full after he retired, even though he did not drink. He was famous for his bad temper and would occasionally take out a firearm during confrontations with passing travellers.
Explaining his decision to stay after closing the pub, he told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2002: "I own the place. If you own something and it makes you happy, there is no reason to leave it.”
After his death, Betoota became a ghost town. It has a sign at the entry, declaring: “Welcome to Betoota. Population: 0. Elevation: 70 metres.”
The Queensland government lists the town as a tourist attraction, stating: “While Betoota is mainly a ghost town, it comes alive twice a year for the annual Horse and Motorbike Gymkhana and the Betoota Races.”
Visitors attending the annual racing events are advised to bring their own accommodation.
But the town, a former customs post, has been put on the map in recent years as the supposed home of The Betoota Advocate, a satirical online publication which calls itself “Australia’s oldest newspaper”.
The publication last year interviewed Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, at a pub in Sydney, who later joked that the interviewers had made it appear as though he were drinking a fresh glass of beer every few minutes.
The newspaper responded: "Malcolm Turnbull was in no way pressured to drink any more than we were drinking. I think it was clear to most viewers that he was not keeping up, but that's his prerogative.”
Mr Haken said the pub will open from April to November but will close in summer because it is too hot – a phenomenon that he experienced during initial renovations.
“We actually blew a thermometer up because it was that hot,” he said.
“We were there and had two thermometers, most days we had a thermometer sitting on the bar inside the hotel and it was 39.5 degrees, on the veranda it was 47 to 48 degrees and if you put it outside in the sun on a car it would go to 50 and beyond.”
Mr Haken said that it took some time to purchase the pub from its owners, David Brook and Kym Fort, who received it from Mr Remienko. He said he plans to run the pub with three friends and will open it in the lead-up to this year’s horse races. He will divide his time between the pub and his other place of work, which is a 15-hour drive away.
Geoff Morton, the local shire mayor, said he believed the venture may prove risky.
"I wish them luck but they've got a lot of expenses they're going to have to cover before they even sell a first stubby [beer]," he told ABC News.
"Also, it's off the main drag [road] so as far as all the locals go it may not be a hit because if you leave Birdsville [a town 104 miles to the west] and you're going east you want to go as fast as you can, not go sixteen kilometres [ten miles] out of your way for a cold beer.”