MEET Belinda Smith, the licensee of New Norfolk’s venerable Bush Inn for almost three days now.
And her first order of business is … to close the business.
There’s urgent work to be done, and it’s going to take about six weeks to get Australia’s oldest working pub into what she considers fighting shape.
Fresh carpet and paint are on their way. Facilities like the toilets are long overdue for a refurbishment, and new plant and equipment is needed.
The young woman from Launceston is already developing a new menu, something that’ll surprise guests but furnish the staples the locals love.
Longer term, the Bush Inn which was first licensed in 1815 needs to add ensuite bathrooms to some 15 rooms, bring them up to the expectations of contemporary visitors to Tasmania.
And sections of the roof need attention; that’s something for a little later in the construction schedule.
The closure of the old place, taking place this week, is not the first. The pub closed its doors for a couple of months during Covid’s initial spike, back in 2020.
The Bush Inn has been on the market for a little less than a year. The previous licensee and lease-holder, Don Smith had put 10 years into the place, and was ready to move on.
He’s already sold his home in New Norfolk, and he’ll be off to join his family in Echuca, Victoria.
The Inn is extensive: three bars, a billiard room, bistro and a huge exterior deck with views over the Derwent River. There are log fires in the bars and dining areas, and an array of antiques and historic items, woodwork everywhere … an old-fashioned word would be ‘ambience.’
For the new boss, who’ll be drawing on her experience in the hospitality business in the North, the future looks bright.
Tasmania’s tourism business continues to boom, and Destination Southern Tasmania has the Derwent Valley firmly in its sights. Locally, a new tourism association, encompassing both the Valley and the Central Highlands, is well into the planning stages.
What advice did Don Smith give Belinda Smith no relation about taking on this lovely old property?
“It’s a good idea that you personally like pubs, and like the people who come to a place like this,” he said in an interview last year. “Be prepared to work seven days. Smile a lot and remember: the customer is always right.”
This week, the Bush Inn gained just that person.