The accidental publican

Tony Innes was keen to run rodeos at the Tavern from the moment business partner Dallis Wilschefski floated the idea. In this picture Tony is standing on top of the motocross ramp as the final preparations went in to the first event for 2016.
Tony Innes was keen to run rodeos at the Tavern from the moment business partner Dallis Wilschefski floated the idea. In this picture Tony is standing on top of the motocross ramp as the final preparations went in to the first event for 2016. Mark Wilton

FOR a farmer Tony Innes makes a pretty good publican, if the success of the Noonamah Tavern is anything to go by.

The pub on the outskirts of Darwin at Noonamah “where the city meets the bush”, has developed into a Top End icon over the years and has become the focal point for one of the best regular rodeo series in the country.

Tony’s family has owned the pub for more than 11 years but it certainly wasn’t in his plans to still be there when he moved to the Territory.

“I grew up on the Southern Fleurieu hills area in South Australia where Dad had a mechanical business.

“But I virtually went straight into farming from school and worked for a couple of people before my brother and I and our parents bought a farm as a family.”

That first purchase had Tony and his family running a dairy farm for the next 17 years and they branched out into hay growing and beef.

“We got out of the dairy in the early 2000s when the industry was deregulated and then just ran beef and hay.”

A few years before that the family had started coming to the Territory to do some hay baling contract work on such properties as Tipperary Station.

“We actually did that for seven years. We were still based in SA but we would come to the Territory for three months for the hay season.

“Then, in 2003, we decided to get serious and sell the farm and move to the Territory.”

That move took place in 2005.

“We actually bought a truck to move all our gear up her. And we were initially looking for land and literally stumbled on the pub for sale.

“My original suggestion to the family was that we run the pub for two or three years to build up our capital and then go farming.”

“But we found out that selling beer was a bit more profitable than selling milk and other farming practices, so we have stuck at it,” Tony said with a chuckle.

Tony hasn’t completely cut ties with farming: He has continued to keep his hand in the game primarily through hay baling the whole time he has been at the pub.

“I do miss the farming every now and then but I have kept my hand in it when I can. That’s my bit of sanity escape I suppose – to go and jump in the tractor.”

Tony’s brother and family have since moved back to SA to run a property at Keith and his mother and father spend part of the year down there and part in Darwin.

But, since the family took over the tavern, Tony said the business had probably only had one or two years of single-digit growth.

“Things have plateaued a bit now because times are a bit tougher. The first five years were crazy though – we were growing rapidly every year.”

The success of that growth could no doubt be attributed to Tony’s country hospitality and a genuine desire to involve the tavern in the community and to give back.

The tavern does that through all manner of fundraising and sponsorship for such community organisations as Variety. The family has a long association with Variety for a couple of decades.

And in the past year they have sponsored or donated money to good causes to the tune of about $60,000.

That spirit of “helping out” has been a consistent trait of the Noonamah Tavern since Tony and his family took over and it has been recognised through the Australian Hotel Association NT Awards with a couple of Outstanding Community Service Achievement Awards.

For the past five years, the tavern has hosted the hugely successful Noonamah Tavern Rodeo series every dry season. That came about in 2011 when stock contractor Dallis Wilschefski asked Tony if he would be interested in staging rodeos.

Tony, who describes himself as more of a motorbike rider – he rode the Finke Desert Race for the first time when he turned 40 – said he loved the rodeos and what they had been able to achieve with the series at the tavern.

“When Dallis came to me, I was keen from the start, because I really do enjoy the rodeo, although I have never been silly enough to get on a bull,” Tony said with a grin.

“I’ve done enough injuries to myself racing motocross over the years.”

Since that initial query from Dallis, the pair have formed a formidable relationship that resulted in the rodeos growing to the spectacular played out at the first event of the 2016 season in May when the gates had to be closed as 3000 people packed into the grounds.

While such success points to Tony’s abilities as a businessman, he is still well tied to in his rural roots.

“I had one of my mates come up from SA for his first rodeo last year and he said to me ‘you’re doing a good job but you still don’t look like a publican, you still act like a farmer’ and I suppose that is probably true.”

The second Noonamah Tavern Rodeo in the 2016 series will be held tomorrow night.

Topics:  noonamah tavern northern territory rodeo tavern variety

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