Tooborac Hotel and Brewery

James Carlin’s parents, Helen and Noel, have been living in Heathcote for over twenty years.  James passed the Tooborac pub on his regular visits to them.  Like many before him, James admired the historic hotel building and thought that one day he’d like to buy it.

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That day arrived in 2005 when James and his wife Val drove past the Tooborac Hotel, known to the locals as The Tooby.  They saw the For Sale sign, took a look inside, and bought it with the intention of putting in a manager.

Victorian-born James and Irish-born and Queensland-bred Val had met in Saudi Arabia.  Val was managing a hospital ward as a Nurse Manager after doing humanitarian work in wartorn Sudan.  James was working for the Internet specialist networking company, Cisco Systems.

James had left school at sixteen to take up a job in a bank.  He had long held an interest in computing and sought out a role with Australian Directory Services, at that time the producers of the Yellow Pages.  He then spent seven years with IBM, leaving to further his career when the Internet was in its early stages of development.  He is currently a General Manager at Cisco Systems.

Under Val’s influence, while he was working in Saudi Arabia, James started a Master of Business Administration course.  Val completed a Masters degree in Public Health and Tropical Medicine while doing humanitarian work in Africa and Saudi Arabia.  She planned to return to work at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne after the birth of their second child.  Instead, she found herself re-joining the workforce as the owner manager of a hotel in Central Victoria.

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“Our original intention was to put a manager in the hotel,” she says.  “But we couldn’t find anyone suitable.  We had a young daughter and a baby son, and the idea of being close to James’ parents was appealing.  The upstairs living quarters at the pub had been recently renovated so it was a pleasant home.  After a year, we gutted the hotel and made it more workable with a refit to the plumbing, electrical and heating systems, and renovated the bar and dining rooms.

“The community here gave us a warm welcome.  They had been three years without their local hotel when we arrived.  The pub had been the community pub for almost 150 years, except for those three years between 2002 and 2005.  It was, and still is, the local for farmers and farm workers.  We often have three generations here for a family meal, and tourist numbers are increasing.

“We weren’t treated like newcomers because James’ parents were already well known in the community.  His mum, Helen, has taught at schools in Tooborac, Heathcote and Axedale.  His dad, Noel, is known as the ‘Blind-Man’ as he has run an awning and blind business in the area.  Helen is known for her prowess on the golf course and Noel has also been an active member of Heathcote Lions Club.”

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The restaurant has been extended to seat seventy additional patrons.  What had once been the Cobb & Co.  stable has been converted into a boutique brewery with beers that celebrate the hotel’s clientele over the years: Woodcutters Amber Ale; Stonemasons Pale; Shearers Lager; and Blacksmiths Porter.

“The brewery has trouble keeping up with demand,” says James.  “The beers are on tap and are finding their way into other establishments, including some of the local wineries and pubs.  Our first brewer was Damien Nippard, with Kyneton’s Chris Haren, formerly a boilermaker, as assistant brewer.  Chris took over as brewer in early 2011 and hopes to create some seasonal beers.  The hotel supports the local wineries, offering many local wines.  There’s always a Heathcote shiraz open for those who want a glass of wine.

“Since Lake Eppalock filled in late 2010, we’ve gone from being flat out for Saturday dinners and Sunday lunches to being flat out from Friday evening through to Sunday evening.  The combination of a car park that is boat friendly, and family friendly prices, works well.  We have regular visitors from Echuca, Bendigo and Melbourne, as well as many regular locals.”

One of the locals is Peter Russell-Clarke, Australia’s first celebrity chef, now an artist.  He considers the heritage listed hotel and brewery with its mix of granite and bluestone a great tourist attraction.  “The rocks around here are wondrous, like they were flicked here by the hand of God and I was so happy with the idea that I did a painting which the hotel has inherited,” says Peter, who also designed beer labels for James and Val.

James is often travelling with his work, so Val has a busy life.  “It is a 12-hour a day, 7-days a week job,” she says.  “It’s a way of life.  I have no regrets about the unexpected change of direction we’ve taken.  I could never go back to living in the suburbs.

“The only thing I miss from my nursing days is the close bonds you develop with other nurses.  There’s times when I miss the anonymity of city life, to be able to amble down the street where no-one knows who you are, but I try and make some me-time as well.  I’ve recently joined the Pyalong Tennis Club and I get to swim while the kids have their swimming lessons.

“We’ve been incredibly lucky with staff since we started.  Here we are, almost in the middle of nowhere, but we have great staff that come from Heathcote, Tooborac and Pyalong.”

A 3-bedroom cottage and an old miner’s cottage provide visitor accommodation alongside the hotel.

Opening hours:

11am – 11pm daily

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5115 Northern Highway, Tooborac 3522

03 5433 5201

5115 Northern Highway, Tooborac, 3522 VIC