“Six houses, thirteen locals and a bush pub” – My Shout at the Daly Waters Pub

The Daly Waters pub is arguably one of the most iconic Northern Territory pubs and a landmark in its own right. “My Shout at the Daly Waters Pub” by Mark Venable provides a fascinating insight into the original owners and then his life as the publican many years later, in a remote Northern Territory town of only six houses, thirteen locals and a bush pub. Many photos accompany the rollicking pub yarns and thought provoking anecdotes describing his experience of living in the outback. This is an exclusive excerpt from the book that Mark has kindly shared with us.


The historic Daly Waters Pub is in the middle of a 1,000,000 acre cattle station, with the nearest neighbours a six-pack of beer drive away. In between the neighbours and the constant wave of Territory tourists is the famous pub.

In 1986 I quit my surveying career to purchase the Daly Waters Pub in the Northern Territory. It became an adventure of a lifetime and this is my extraordinary story.

With my wife Leonie, Max the cat and a few parrots, we drove 2,500km north across Australia in our Combi van to start a new life. Our excitement is contagious and our fears are real.

Our First Night

It is mid-1986 and approaching midnight on our first day as publicans of the historic Daly Waters Pub. Rodeo weekend is in full swing and the old corrugated iron pub is bursting at the seams with jackaroos, jillaroos and cattle station owners plus a handful of tourists, wide eyed at the scene confronting them.

I know it’s almost midnight because Mataranka policeman Bob shows me his watch and tells me for the third time tonight “Mark, there’s far too many people in here, and they’re still drinking on road. Shut the pub. Now!!”

I reckon Bob has it in for the pub, but I don’t know why. He’s been driving to town throughout day, begging me to close the pub early, before retreating back to the Hi-Way Inn roadhouse, several kilometres south. I think he wants the rodeo crowd to go to the roadhouse so he doesn’t have to come here  … but why? I don’t care, I’m too busy serving drinks and don’t have the time to get my head around it.

The rodeo goers are rough, tough and rowdy but generally a well behaved lot. Sure, there’s been a few fights as the jackaroos, from all parts of the Northern Territory and beyond, reacquaint and sort out lingering personal differences, whilst remedying their insatiable thirsts with copious amounts of beer or rum and coke. We struggle to keep up with the demand and I continually yell “more cans” to the over-worked lad stocking the bar fridge. I only met him today but I‘ve already forgotten his name, what an induction.

Another fight begins with “I’ll kill you, you bast…” and I reluctantly start to head out from behind the bar. A huge hand grabs my shoulder and local cattle station owner Roy Beebe says slowly in a deep voice “you stay behind there where it’s safe son. Let the copper sort it out. No harm will be done to you or your pub. I’ll see to that”.

The juke-box belts out the hit song “True Blue” and everyone is shouting John Williamson’s famous lines “Hey True Blue. Is it me and you. Is it mum and dad, or a cockatoo, Is it standin’ by your mate, WHEN HE’S IN A FIGHT … or just Vegemi-ite“ as loud as they possibly can. The atmosphere inside is buzzing as the two fighters are pushed outside onto the street. I’m only thirty years old but have been drinking in outback pubs for years and I have never witnessed anything like this. I love it.

I spin around to see the open till drawer bulging with dirt and booze stained notes of all denominations. Most are crumpled beyond recognition but all have been gratefully accepted with a big smile and “thanks mate”. My wife Leonie has been regularly emptying the till drawer throughout the night and I think “How much have we taken. It must be thousands”. A pretty little jillaroo shouts “four rum and cokes thanks mate” and I am quickly ordered back into reality.

Rodeo weekend in full swing

Earlier in the day, I opened the gates to our camp ground and waived the normal overnight fees, just for the rodeo goers. They applauded me. Leonie and the girls in the kitchen, cook endless steak sandwiches, fries and beef burgers … for hour after hour and well after last meal orders are normally taken. They applaud the girls too. I dare to think they might like their new publicans.

At exactly midnight, with Sergeant Bob staring at me, I ring the cowbell behind the bar. The crowd quietens a decibel or two and I hear someone say “the bloody new publican is closing the damn bar” and Bob smiles for the first time today. “So much for them liking me” races through my mind. I stretch to beyond my full six foot height, cup my hands to my mouth and yell out, as loud as I can, “it’s midnight and that means it’s … MY SHOUT”. One hundred jackaroos scream with delight as an angry policeman disappears, yet again.

I’m handing out free beers, as fast as I can, when I see Leonie with yet another tray of her wonderful beef burgers and fries, struggling to make her way through the boisterous drunken crowd. She glances towards me with a nervous tired smile and I melt, as I think to myself … “how the hell did the two of us end up here”.

Our Pet Daly

A dirty old Holden station wagon with no exhaust pulled up in front of the pub and in came an aboriginal couple. They had found a female kangaroo out on the highway, hit by a car and she was carrying a little joey in her pouch. The girl opened her cardigan and there was the tiniest little kangaroo I’d ever seen. I called Leonie into the bar and she immediately fell in love with it. They asked if we could care for it and did we want it. Without hesitation, we said yes and they handed it over. To put the size of the joey into perspective I stood it on the bar and it was exactly the height of a green (VB) can.

With no idea how to raise a baby kangaroo, we asked ourselves “should we put it in a box and feed it calf formula and does it need anything special”? We needed help. Quickly.

And then a minor miracle occurred when in the door walked a bloke in a khaki uniform. He saw the little kangaroo on the bar and immediately wandered over and introduced himself as Jeff Angel (absolutely true) and he was a Northern Territory Wildlife Officer. Jeff really was an angel as you will read.

Daly at one month of age

Jeff was full of advice and said we needed to act immediately to keep the little joey alive or he wouldn’t make it through the night. He asked if we could find a small pillow case or something similar, so Leonie ran into the office and came out with a calico bank bag. Imagine a white calico bag about the size of a small ladies handbag. Jeff held it in front of the joey who was still standing in the bar. The joey immediately stuck its head inside the bags opening and in one movement dived inside, did a shuffle and roll and turned itself over. We peered in the bag and the joey was already comfortable and closing its eyes.

Jeff told Leonie to hold the bag with the opening at the top and said “I don’t suppose you have any calf formula or evaporated milk” and was stunned when we said we have both. “Okay you’ll need to use them in a day or so but for now the little fella, yes it’s a boy, is in shock and needs a little bit of tepid water. Boil some water and then cool it down to tepid and feed him through an eye-dropper. Do you have an eye-dropper? Okay great, then let’s not stuff around, get the water and dropper”. Jeff held Daly close and said to keep him warm at all times and the best way is to wrap the bag in a woollen blanket. And keep him dark and quiet after a little feed of the water.

We put all the requirements together, wrapped him up and then Jeff showed us how to drop feed him with the eye dropper. We opened the bag and put the dropper to his mouth. His tiny little mouth could hardly open enough for the tiny plastic teat but it worked and he took a little water before falling asleep during the feed. We then wrapped him up and Leonie said “Daly”. “What”, I said. “His name is going to be Daly”. We took Daly into our office and hung the bag from the back of the office chair in a blanket.

Jeff needed to leave, so he left us with instructions and added “I’m sorry to tell you this but he probably won’t make it. He has no hair, and those ones rarely survive the shock. I’m heading to Borroloola and will be back in a few days. If he’s still alive I’ll talk you through the next months of Daly’s life. Good luck. You won’t be getting much sleep”.

That night after we closed the pub we took Daly to our bedroom and we shared a night with Daly the kangaroo and Max the cat. Daly needed feeding every four hours, entailing boiling water then adding formula and evaporated milk and then letting it cool to body temperature then dripping it into his tiny mouth.  Max was intrigued and maybe a little jealous of this new competitor but in typical Max style he put up with it.

When we woke the next day Daly was still alive and in fact, he was quite energetic. He downed his formula quickly and immediately fell back to sleep. This happened every four hours and exactly the same each time. Eagerly accept the dropper and then fall asleep. For three days we were on alert he might go backwards. But he didn’t, he thrived. His eyes grew wider and brighter and on the third or fourth day Leonie raced into the bar and said, “you need to come and see this”. We hurried into the office and there was the bag hanging from the chair and there was Daly’s head peering from his “pouch” in anticipation of a feed. It was incredible and we were both in tears of joy.

Daly at three months of age in “his” bar

Daly grew more confident and so we decided to let him out every now and then for a hop around the pub. But his confidence was limited to following Leonie everywhere. If she went outside Daly would follow. Into the bar and in he’d come. Other people didn’t bother Daly as long as Leonie was around. Sometimes he’d hop off and forget where she was. You could detect the panic and he’d raise himself up and peer around yapping until he found her or she found him. It was hilarious and the tourists loved it.

Daly doing his “rounds” of the pub
Daly at three months of age in “his” bar


The Big Wet

We experienced our first major rain event in mid-January 1987, when Tropical Cyclone Irma crossed from the Gulf of Carpentaria onto land north of Groote Eylandt and headed in a south-westerly directly towards Daly Waters. As it approached the midday sky turned inky black, dogs barked and our birds screamed. Local tour guide Andy came into the pub and declared “I’ve seen a sky like this before. Batten down the hatches mate, it’s gonna get real wet”.

That afternoon it poured. It was eerie, as there was little or no wind but the rain drops were huge and it came down in buckets. Fortunately, it was the wet season and therefore were only a few tourists in the pub with a handful of locals. Some of us went out the front and danced in the rain. It was bloody cold but other than the drops being so large they hurt, it was very refreshing and a great relief from the oppressive humidity of the month. That night it didn’t stop raining. The locals guessed 12” in 24 hours but, as Larrimah 90km to the north officially recorded 409mm (16.1”) in 24 hours, it could have been much more. In the afternoon the last bus to get into Daly Waters came through a rising creek.

The last coach to get through the Daly Creek in flood

The next morning the Greyhound bus didn’t come in to deliver or collect the mail and we couldn’t work out why. So Phil drove to where Daly Creek crossed the Pub road and came back to declare “there’s at least five feet of water flowing across the road. No wonder the mail bus didn’t come in”. We all immediately drove to the creek crossing, half way between the Pub and the Stuart Highway, and stared in awe at the amount of water flowing north in the creek. As we stood there the water kept rising and before long it was obvious if it didn’t stop rising soon, it was eventually going to break its banks and overflow. Phil decided to get his tinny so we could take a boat trip down the swollen creek. This was fun but in retrospect a little dangerous, as we couldn’t see what was below the surface and if the boat tipped over it could have quickly turned into a disaster.  After the boating we all ran around pointing and shouting “look, it’s breaking the bank here and there and, oh look, it’s flowing towards the pub … oh shit, it’s really moving fast. Quick … to the pub”.

Putting the tinny in a flooded river was probably foolhardy

We sped back the 2 kilometres to the pub and along the way were surprised to see water flowing in the earth gutter alongside the road. The water was almost to the pub front door. It was incredible to see this and as much as I wanted the water to stop, part of me wanted it to keep coming, I suppose from interest as much as to see something special. And the water did keep coming, eventually covering the road and then it came in the front door of the pub. The next morning Leonie ran into the bar, where I was serving a couple of the local cattle station lads in a goggle and snorkel, and said “Mark, there’s water in the motel. It’s like a swimming pool in there”. I found this hard to believe, as just earlier the water seemed to have settled an inch or two below the top step at the door. When Leonie opened the door I was shocked to see an inch of muddy water covering the floor and mini-fountains of water spurting about 6” into the air coming up through all the concrete expansion joints in the floor. It became obvious to me the water table was now above the floor level. This caused the floor to “float” and for water to seep in through any opening. This was very worrying as I instantly realised the pubs septic tank would be overflowing and it couldn’t be good news. The rest of the day was spent lifting everything above the floors of the pub and the motel. It was hard hot sweaty work in the oppressive humidity but we needed to get it done before we lost stock and furniture. Inside the bar was a different matter as the previous publicans obviously experienced this before. The amazing bar fridge, reputed by Territorians to be the “coldest beer- box on the track” was already on solid feet keeping it above the high-tide level whilst the rest of the bar was “water-proof” and couldn’t be affected by the water … after all, that’s how we cleaned it on a daily basis.

The floodwaters are just about to come inside the pub

Pub yardie Grant came into the bar where I was serving, carrying a toilet door, some rope and wearing a grin from ear to ear. “What’s the matter with the door”, I said and he replied “it’s not a door anymore … let’s go water-skiing”. I immediately knew what he was talking about so we quickly fired up the pub ute, tied a rope to the tow hitch and I proceeded to drive, slowly at first, down the main street with Grant being towed behind whilst kneeling on the door. It was my turn next and I did a run on my knees and then I decided, to do it properly, I should stand. And so on the next run, with Grant driving quite fast I came past the pub and went around the corner standing up on this very wide single slalom ski. We enjoyed a great day of relaxation, fun and laughs. In the afternoon the lads from Kalala Station came into the pub and when they heard of our day’s fun, they all wanted to try. The youngest, Dallas, had the time of his life but never having skied before he took tumble after tumble on the bitumen road and took a large amount of skin off his knees and elbows. It was one of the funniest days of my life and a great way to break the work routine.

Yours truly skiing behind the ute, past the pub.

Soon after the flood waters came inside the Pub a journalist from the NT News rang, as they did occasionally when an “event” happened in our area. The reported rang to ask what affect Cyclone Irma had at Daly Waters. I went into an explanation about the water in the bar, me serving customers in a goggle and snorkel and the local station hands skiing down the road on a toilet door dragged behind the pub ute.

This is an excerpt from MY SHOUT at the DALY WATERS PUB by Mark Venable.

To read the full eBook click below:

MY SHOUT at the DALY WATERS PUB is only $4.99 and available as an eBook on amazon.com.au for reading on iPad, tablet, phone or PC with the free Kindle reader app.

#MtNTstory - Top End Travel Stories

This is a post from My NT Story – a series of real life travel stories retold by Northern Territory travellers who want to share their unique story with you. These stories expose you to real insider knowledge on the best destinations and experiences, giving you travel tips you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re travelling the NT make sure to hashtag #CUintheNT and #MyNTstory and tell your story for a chance to be featured.
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