Couple take on challenge of country pub life

NATASHA Wood says she’s worked hard in previous jobs, including prisons, but that was before she knew the meaning of the word. “That was employment,” she says emphatically about the corrections service. “This,” she gestures around the bar “… now this is work!”

The work she’s referring to is running a pub, the Gretna Green Hotel, which has been her workplace, along with husband Brad, for the past two months. It’s arguable that their business and life experience, separately and together, has prepared them well for life as publicans.

Brad had a head start; he’s been a barman for 13 years, right here in Gretna, and has lived in New Norfolk for the best part of 25 years.

“If there’s a secret to making a country pub a success, it’s to listen to the patrons,” says Natasha. “You’re all things to all people.”

The couple met when she was working in corrections sector on the mainland. “On this side of the bars,” he quickly tells me. To Natasha and Brad, this venerable hotel – much loved by generations of locals and visitors to or from the lakes of the Central Highlands, and further west – is more than just a place of work.

“These are special bunch of people,” he says, nodding towards the customers along the bar. “In a country pub, it’s the patrons who actually own the place. We’re just the custodians. This place and these people were here before we got here and they’ll be there when we’re gone.”

That’s not to say things are going unchanged in a pub that first opened its doors in 1849 and licensed in 1862. Brad is expanding the pub menu, moving to offer breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and a coffee machine is being talked about.

Upstairs, there are moves to update the eight guest rooms and outside, self-contained campers are already taking advantage of the pub paddock. The Woods have just employed the hotel’s first new full-time staff member in 25 years. Brittany Picken will work with another local staff member, Ebony Downie.

“Getting the right staff is important, and we’ve found them,” says Brad. As for the Wood’s own kids, 20-year-old Blake is at UTAS while William, 9, would rather hang around the hotel than go to school.

“He’s already telling people that he owns this pub,” laughs Natasha. “And maybe, one day, he will.”