4 February 2022

Here's cheers to Grong Grong and the locals who bought their own pub

| Sally Hopman
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Six people sitting in the pub.

The Grong Grong six who made the reopening of the local pub a reality – by buying it themselves. From left, AJ Gillespie, Adam Ferguson, Gemma Purcell, Reiner Meier, Cain Gawne and Adam Conway. Photo: Supplied.

The noise was deafening at the other end of the Royal Hotel’s phone. The bloke who answered didn’t work there. He’d just come in for a beverage and had been roped in to refill the drinks fridge because business was so brisk.

The Grong Grong hotel, built in 1875, was doing a roaring trade on Australia Day, thanks to a small band of locals who, rather than let their local get sold to outside interests or, God forbid, close its doors forever, bought it themselves.

The locals aimed to raise $500,000 to keep the pub in local hands, with a minimum shareholding of $5000 each. They were overwhelmed with the result – 169 shareholders and $1 million.

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For one of the shareholders, Grong Grong almost-local Gemma Purcell (she’s lived in the region, on and off, for most of her life) buying the Grongy pub was “a fork in the road for our village”.

“We had the right team, we were in the right place to flip our economy,” she said. “We could have closed it but instead we decided to back ourselves.

“It’s a real shot in the arm for this place. People here are really proud of what we’ve been able to do.

“There were no grants, no money from anywhere else, I think that’s why everyone has rallied around the shareholders.”

The pub was struggling to survive during the height of COVID-19, having to open and close irregularly because of government restrictions.

“There was a core team of six of us,” Gemma said. “We came up with the idea to buy the pub, put a plan together and presented it to the community.

“There’s a wide range of skills among the six of us, from business, to building, to project management, so we knew we could do it.”

Man behind the bar.

Grongy publican Adam Evans at the bar, which was made out of a piece of silky wood by pub shareholder AJ Gillespie. Photo: Supplied.

What they didn’t know was how quickly and generously their community would respond.

Gemma said they estimated that with $500,000 they could reopen the pub and provide a great service to locals. With the unexpected $1 million raised, they could do so much more, including a total renovation inside, new roof and floors and a new commercial kitchen.

As much as possible, all the work was done locally, again providing valuable income for the small community.

The working bees finished in a remarkable 70 days, with only a few jobs now left to be done.

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“You could say there was a little bit of pressure for us to open by Christmas,” Gemma laughed.

Gemma said community spirit was responsible for the pub’s doors remaining open. People like founding member AJ Gillespie, who said he had a huge piece of silky oak that would make a great bar counter, so he made one.

Another of the pub’s great supporters is a teetotaller – she just wanted somewhere she could go for a good cup of coffee.

Grong Grong, population 150, is a tiny watering hole just off the Newell Highway which stretches from Brisbane to Melbourne. It’s also a vital link between Wagga, Narrandera, Hay and Adelaide.

The pub was built in 1875 to cater for a then thriving stage coach stopover trade, with castle-like additions built in the 1920s.

Outside of old pub.

The newly refurbished, locally owned Grong Grong Hotel. Photo: Supplied.

As you enter the village, the sign says “Welcome to Grong Grong, a small caring community”, and thousands of tourists drop by for a cold one on their way to somewhere else. Grey nomads, families with caravans, stock and commercial transport operators.

You know you’re visiting a real country town when they apologise that they can no longer provide free chaff for the horses.

There’s free camping out the back, counter dinners that taste like counter dinners used to, and – if they say so themselves – it’s one of the friendliest little places you’re ever likely to pull into in southern NSW.

Even its history records a penchant for a bevvie or two. Back in 1950, there was a Grongy team in the Austin Cricket Cup. Reportedly, the players pulled out when the opposition decided to get serious and ban “beverages” while batting and fielding.

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That’s fantastic. My grandfather was born in Grong Grong. When we went, sadly the pub was closed….can’t wait to head back there now with the pub open and beautifully refurbished and more family history knowledge. Well done all of you.

Judy Brincat1:53 pm 25 Jul 22

Think I noticed silos there. If they were painted that would attract visitors too.

Dianne Hallett9:08 am 25 Jul 22

Wow what an amazing achievement,no doubt about the Aussie way!!!

Hi I am a Caunt (dengate)

I am from Wodonga VIC , I would still have some family members around Grong Grong area , My father Richard George Caunt was born in Grong Grong
1913 & died at Holbrook he had 3 brothers who was born around that area and MRs Read was a goof friend of my Grand Mother Mary Caunt
my fathers real was Richard Alan Dengate who was working in the area 1n the early 1900s building some sort Dam along with a brother
my grand mother had my father before she married Frederick Caunt the Dengate’s came from Camden NSW , my wife & I will be coming up in
August to go to the Cemetery & if the Pub has meals for lunch we will have a feed if not just a drink

Brian Savage12:49 pm 08 Apr 22

Hi congratulations you you all, I am organising a few people from Griffith to come and try your lunches and taste some of your hospitality.
What trading times do you open each day & do we have to book for lunch.
See you soon .
Regards ,
Brian Savage

There is no camping out the back. The pub has the feel of a club with all it’s tiling. I was told by the barman it is primarily owned by shareholders all over Australia.

peter freeman10:22 am 04 Feb 22

peter freeman

peter freeman10:24 am 04 Feb 22

the Grong Grong village… CONGRATULATIONS!! you might recall that I wrote a book about the RIVERINA HOMESTEADS in 1982, which included the Grong Grong image THANKYOU!!

Great little town. Has a shower for passing truck drivers in park.Pub has good cold beer.

Richard Stark4:43 pm 29 Jan 22

What happened to the wonderfully kitsch painting, “Chloe of the West”? It was painted by Bruce Howard in about 1972.It used to be a feature of the pub, rather like the real Chloe in Young and Jackson’s in Melbourne.

Paul Whiston3:02 pm 29 Jan 22

Thats Great

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