The scaffolding may still be up but the lights are back on at Nelligen’s iconic Steampacket Hotel.
It’s taken three months of blood, sweat and tears for the Alvey family to finally get the pub back into shape after a turbulent 12 months that saw it buffeted by bushfires, storms and floods.
Licensee Joel Alvey, with mum Heather, wife Melissa and brother Greg, moved from Tullamore in Central Western NSW to take over the historic business almost four years ago.
Since then they have been tested by bushfires, a pandemic, hail and flooding rain.
In January they made the heart-breaking decision to close the hotel for repairs during peak season, hitting the hip-pocket again.
At the time, the Alveys had no idea when they would reopen and their loyal patrons were devastated.
“It’s a couple of years we don’t want to go through again,” Joel said at the time.
“We are exhausted, but we are just trying to stay as positive as we can.”
Now the family is exhausted for another reason – they were run off their feet when the Steampacket reopened in time to pick up some of the Easter trade.
“It was a rush decision to reopen,” Joel said.
“We pushed to reopen the front half of the pub for Good Friday and we got there by 5pm.
“We had a pretty big night then and on Saturday and a big Monday. The support is definitely there.”
Joel estimates about 40 per cent of the Steampacket Hotel’s trade comes via the Kings Highway, with locals and caravan park patrons making up the rest.
While the beer garden is still closed because of heavy rain, the front bar and bistro have now reopened.
“We’ve just moved all the furniture from the beer garden and scattered it around on the grass out the front,” Joel said.
“There’s still a lot of work to do but we are open.”
Work is continuing on re-sheeting the roof and the battle isn’t over with the insurance company. While it agreed to pay for the repairs, the loss of income is still in dispute.
Still the Alveys and the Nelligen community are just happy to start getting back to normal – whatever that may be.
In recent years the Kings Highway has repeatedly closed due to the 2019 bushfires and the tiny village was under attack from fire time and time again for almost three months.
“We stayed here and protected the pub,” Joel recalled.
“We had sprinklers on it and water tankers in the car park.”
When the danger finally passed, the Alveys reopened for business – only to have the caravan park flooded and the highway closed by a landslip.
“We were open for a couple of weeks and then we were shut down for COVID-19,” Joel said.
“We reopened in the middle of July and started off slow, but it was definitely building and things were looking pretty good.
“Then we copped a freak hail storm on Boxing Day night. We had to evacuate the pub – there was water coming out of powerpoints and lights. We were running around with mops and buckets, but it was just too much.”
The Alveys reopened for New Year’s Eve and “Good Riddance 2020” celebrations, but heavy, unrelenting rain took its toll.
Faced with a leaking roof and flooding in what should have been the peak period for the hotel, the Alveys decided to close the doors and work on repairs.
Now they are hoping the worst is behind them and the many residents and visitors who use the Steampacket as a trade and social hub are hoping the same.
“They are loving it being open,” Joel said. “We’ve had great support from the locals.”