24 May 2024

Here's cheers to Captains Flat 'original' for buying historic village pub

| Sally Hopman
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woman behind bar at old pub

Sharanne Witt behind the bar of the Captains Flat Hotel, which she has just taken over. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Sharanne Witt has always had a connection to Captains Flat.

She can claim to be a local because she was born there, but the “and bred” bit, not so much. A month after she was born, the mines closed and her family moved away.

It could have been the end of the village, about an hour’s drive southeast of Canberra, when the mines closed in the 1960s. The thousands of miners who patronised the pub after their shifts were no more.

Legend has it that, in its heyday, or when the miners were at their thirstiest, the pub could go through 102 36-gallon barrels of beer a week. That’s probably why it was famous for having the longest bar in Australia, originally 32.2 metres but later cut back to 22.8 metres.

But for Sharanne, there’s always been something more about the place.

READ ALSO Historic Captains Flat hotel fails to sell at auction so owners decide to be the bank

The pub has always been the lifeblood of the community. Even when the mines closed, when different people took it on, when it closed its doors and when it opened them again under different management, it has always been the heart of the place.

Sharanne reckons her connection with the pub began with her grandmother Peggy, who was once its cook. Then her daughter Kaitlin developed a passion for it.

“Kaitlin has always wanted to buy the pub,” Sharanne said. “She’s in the army and they were doing manoeuvres in the Tallaganda forest a few years ago and she saw it was for sale.

“It wasn’t the right time then so she missed out. Then last year, she saw it was for sale again. She said, ‘Mum, the pub’s for sale again – and it’s with vendor finance.

“I rang Tracey [Durr, owner of the pub] and by the time I’d finished talking to her, I’d bought it.”

Sharanne said despite being slightly overwhelmed by the speed at which it all happened, she was thrilled to take over the reins of the pub.

Woman with dog outside pub

Sharanne Witt with her dog Sully outside the old Captains Flat Hotel. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Although she hasn’t run a pub before, she has operated bed and breakfasts, so has experience in the hospitality industry and also works for a bank, which helps.

Although the pub is in good condition considering its age – it was built around 1937 – Sharanne has plans to restore it as the hub of the Captains Flat community.

She knows it’s a special place with its quintessentially Aussie pub tiles, a phone booth complete with vintage appliance, classic old pub signs promising “12 rooms and bath accommodation, apply within” and “service with a smile” and “Halton’s Finest Malt and Hops”.

Front view of old pub

The 1937 Captains Flat Hotel is now under new management and is scheduled to reopen later next month. Photo: Tracey Durr.

It was reportedly haunted but Sharanne reckons “nothing went bump in the night the first night I stayed” and in fact, she had one of her best night’s sleeps. But then, she said, there’s The Wall.

“Look at this,” she says, placing a glass on the corner of a wall in the main bar.” It sticks.

“Tracey told me when she took over the place all the glasses had scratches on them. That’s because people used to stick them on the door. No-one quite knows why, it’s just one of those funny things about this place.”

Sharanne and her family are busy recruiting staff, opting to employ locals where they can, with plans to reopen next month. It will start with the bars and traditional pub food and then she hopes to introduce a range of other facilities for locals and visitors, from pop-up markets out the back to a distillery and coffee shop.

“We have some big plans for this place,” she said. “We can’t wait. But I have to say, it already feels like we’ve come home.”

Captains Flat Hotel is located at 51 Foxlow St, Captains Flat. Keep up to date with them via their website, Facebook page and Instagram page.

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