Gabrielle Duykers, Naracoorte Community News
After almost 20 years behind the bar, Jack Jennings and Rhonda Brown say they are excited to get their weekends back, as they rejoice in the successful sale of the Bushman’s Arms Hotel.
Mr Jennings ﬁrst found himself in Naracoorte in 2001, when a mutual friend urgently asked him to step in as manager for a “three-month trial” at the then Commercial Hotel.
Originally from Adelaide, he had extensive experience in hospitality having previously owned the Caledonian Hotel in North Adelaide, and worked in pubs and bars throughout London and Brussels.
After his initial trial, Mr Jennings said he was presented with an offer he “could not refuse”, and brought his partner Rhonda with him to Naracoorte to run the hotel together.
The pair worked for the hotel owners until 2004 before purchasing the lease in partnership with friend Peter Brien.
Mr Jennings said they were unable to buy the freehold for the hotel until 2015, making for a “very tough time” in the interim.
“For those years the landlord was the only person making any money from the business,” he said.
“When we got that freehold our life changed.”
Mr Jennings said being his “own boss” relieved a great deal of ﬁnancial pressure, as they paid less rent to the bank than to their previous landlord.
“It’s a sad reﬂection on the industry, but unless you’re in control of your own destiny it’s pretty hard going,” he said.
Over the past 20 years, many changes and improvements have been made to the hotel.
Mr Jennings said he was most proud of the $500,000 project back in 2005 which saw the gaming room move out of the dining room into the old stables.
This increased the indoor seating capacity by 50 people.
“It was very hard to recover from that ﬁnancially but it’s made it into a fantastic venue with a beautiful gaming room that’s separate,” Mr Jennings said. “If you’re not interested in gaming, you don’t even know it’s in the hotel.”
Of the many cheerful memories, Mr Jennings said his fondest were of the “unique” Christmas Eve functions.
“Every Christmas Eve all the young kids come back from gap years or their ﬁrst years at university and just turn up,” he said.
“It’s not advertised, but we’re always at capacity.
“It’s a fabulous atmosphere, there’s never any trouble and all the young kids just catch up with all their old friends, brothers and sisters.”
Upon reﬂection of his time in the industry, Mr Jennings said pubs had been unfairly given a “bad rap” in recent years.
“I think people forget the good that pubs do for the community,” he said.
“Over the years we’ve sponsored nearly every sporting group going around and even the sporting groups from out of town.
“Pubs are a centre of a community, they’re fantastic for the communication of people, and in really small towns when the pub dies, the town dies.”
He also recalled some of the many fundraisers the hotel had thrown for various charities, including a recent event that raised $1700 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Mr Jennings said he believed good customer service was the key to a successful hotel.
“Being behind a bar is like being on stage,” he said. “You need to make the customer feel special and treat them how you’d like to be treated.”
“When someone walks into the hotel, our staff will immediately go and pour them a schooner of whatever they drink.”
The Bushman’s has sold to the Duxton Pub Group, who recently also purchased the Kincraig Hotel, Watershed Inn in Bordertown, and Royal Oak in Penola.
All current staff have been given the option to stay under the new management.
“We’re really pleased with who we’re passing it on to,” Mr Jennings said. “With all the pressures of running a business these days, I’m happy to get out and leave it to some younger more enthusiastic people.”
Mr Jennings said he had doubts over whether the hotel would sell due to difﬁculty securing bank loans for hospitality venues amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a lot of room behind the front bar so I thought at least I’d be able to wheelchair in there and wheel around to serve people if it came down to it,” he said.
Aged 72 and 61, Mr Jennings said he and Rhonda were keen for a “well-deserved break” upon retirement.
“I’m looking forward to weekends, going to the footy, just things that normal people do,” he said.
“Thank you to all the customers that have been so loyal and supported us over the years.”
This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 14 July 2021.