Dirt-cheap way to wet your whistle

Simon Johanson
Brendan and Jasmine Hynes, publicans of the Pig and Whistle Hotel in Trentham East, one of many Victorian country pubs ...
Brendan and Jasmine Hynes, publicans of the Pig and Whistle Hotel in Trentham East, one of many Victorian country pubs on the market. Photo: Jason South

A SWAG of Victorian country pubs with names like Pig and Whistle, Bull and Mouth and Golden Vine are for sale, tempting city folk seeking a tree-change lifestyle.

Well over 100 regional hotels are on the market, many at dirt-cheap prices, some priced as low as $40,000 are waiting for prospective buyers.

The backlog of thirst-quenching boozers - they roughly outweigh available city pubs by 20 to 1 - are the legacy of cautious post-GFC buyers.

They are also the result of many rural towns having at least two or three pubs vying for bar stool regulars.

In Sale, the Gippsland and Club hotels are both on the market. On the other side of the state, Warrnambool's Rafferty's Tavern and Royal Hotel are chasing new publicans.

Two Pig and Whistles are looking for the right buyer, one north of Melbourne in Trentham East and the other in Mornington's Main Ridge.

Pubs are generally offered for sale with either freehold (which includes the building) or leasehold ownership.

Leasehold is cheaper. Maryborough's Bull and Mouth hotel in a strikingly ornate historic Edwardian building will settle for $40,000 with a new 25-year lease.

Its new publican will be rewarded with a main street location, 14 motel rooms, bistro and bar area, two function rooms, guest lounge and manager's flat - all fully renovated.


Last year the Merton Rush in Morwell sold for $60,000 and the National Hotel in Stawell went for $40,000, both leasehold.

By contrast, freehold for the Rising Sun in South Melbourne will set you back $2.6 million as many city pubs are tightly held by large corporations like Woolworths.

But there is a downside. ''It's harder to make a dollar in the country,'' said Mathew George, Jones Lang Lasalle's principal hotel agent.

Declining population in rural areas was also a factor, he said.

That didn't deter former horse trainer Colin Davies, and wife Debbie, from turning publican. They brought the Royal Hotel in Koo Wee Rup south-east of Melbourne last December for about $1.7 million.

Mr Davies, a non-drinker, had thought of owning a pub for at least 15 years, it was ''just a matter of finding the right one''.

Now they employ 14 staff. Debbie oversees the kitchen, son Peter looks after the bottle shop and liquor ordering and Mr Davies doesn't ''take many holidays''.

''It's not easy, it's tough hours. I'd be making a fortune if I was getting an hourly rate,'' he said.

Rural estate agent CRE Brokers has 54 hotels on its books. Another, WA Phegan and Son, slightly less.

Husband and wife teams are common in regional watering holes, CRE's director Hugh Roberts said.

Brendan Hynes' Pig and Whistle leasehold in Trentham East is on the market for about $280,000. Mr Hynes chose the ''pub in a paddock'' as a three-year project. ''It's all about the local community. The farmers mix with solicitors or real estate agents. Everyone's equal when they're here,'' he said.