Despite the decline, the Patchewollock Hotel – or the Patche pub, as it’s known – is teeming with life. Farmers drift in from miles around to tell tales around the horseshoe bar. Tourists stand with their backs to the fire and listen to the tales. The pub has been in rude health since a southerner took a punt on the place seven years ago.
In 2011 Greg Wallace, an electrician from Geelong, made an offer for the Patchewollock Hotel that was gratefully accepted. He renovated the place and developed a signature dish, the ‘Wyperfeld steak’, named after the Wyperfeld National Park to the south-west of the town.
The Wyperfeld steak was nothing new, and certainly nothing fancy; it comprises a big, juicy scotch fillet with two fried eggs on top. But people talked about it, describing it as ideal shearer’s tucker.
While many of the pub’s old regulars are gone, they’re not forgotten. If anyone asks about the beginnings of the pub, they are acquainted with the specifications of men like the late John ‘Spindle’ Hulland – born on the day the pub opened, 16 September, 1940 – and given a solid grounding on the men of his ilk.
There was Ray Loxton, who would arrive at the bar at lunchtime and drink stout through the afternoon. In the days before strict drink-driving laws, Ray and his trusty fox terrier would head home in his ute, with the dog navigating. If Ray needed to turn right, the dog would pat him on the right shoulder. If a left turn was required, the dog would lay his paw on Ray’s left shoulder. Henry Lawson wrote about the Drover’s Dog, but it’s the Driver’s Dog that has endured in Patchewollock folklore.
Another pub favourite was big Merv Young, a local farmer and noted country footballer whose demeanour and dimensions made him a natural inclusion in the Carlton & United Breweries beer ads that were shot in Patchewollock in the 1970s.
Merv’s son Gary is also something of a local legend. A superb athlete in his youth, Gary was considered a certainty to make the grade in league footy in Melbourne, only to be blinded in a shooting accident. As a stock and station agent, he became famous for his ability to pick up a lamb and correctly guess its weight.
He became more famous for his ritual of walking from his office to the Patche pub, and taking his regular seat at the bar, with never a hitch or a stumble.