For 30-odd years, Robbo Haken and his wife ran Logan Village Smash Repairs, but by July this year, they were living off the grid working in a desert town with a population of two, more than 1,500km away from Logan Village.
They make up the only two residents in Betoota where, for the last 6 months, they have been restoring an old abandoned pub, the Betoota Hotel.
“I was looking for a bit of a change, something different in my life,” says Mr Haken.
Until they moved in, the only real drawcards to the town were the annual Birdsville Races and Betoota Gymkhana, but now the Betoota Hotel has people from all over Australia dropping by daily for the flowing beer, food, and hospitality.
“I’d travelled out there several times before going to the Betoota Races and holidaying, and in 2015 we went out there and someone was graffitiing on the building and I thought that was pretty rude,” Mr Haken says.
“When I got home I tracked down who owned it to tell them and that they should try to protect a bit of Australian history because there’s a lot of history there.”
“I could see it was one man’s whole life just sitting there being destroyed.”
Dating back to the 1880s, Betoota Hotel rose from the rusty dirt plains during a boom period for the town, which was strategically placed along a stock route. The town grew to three hotels, a police station, store, and post office.
The hotel outlived all other buildings in the town before closing its doors in 1997 following the death of its owner, Simon Remienko.
When the original owner passed away, he wished for the pub to never be sold or reopened again and requested to be buried at the back of it. That is why Robbo’s first offer to buy the place was knocked back in 2015.
But then a call came roughly a year and a half later. It was the real estate agent with the news Robbo was after: Betoota was his for the taking.
“He said anybody who has that much interest in the Australian history of it should own it, and that’s where it started,” says Mr Haken.
Robbo then had to wait three years before he could move in while the council passed the approvals.
“We were only open for five days and then COVID hit, so we had to shut it again for the next four months and then we opened again in July.”
Since then, business has been booming with travellers passing through from all parts of Australian, allaying any concerns of a COVID downturn.
“For me, it’s overwhelming the Australian people who want to support a new town that’s reopened, so to those guys I take my hat off to them because they are doing a great job in helping us survive, and all the towns they’re going to prior to us,” says Mr Haken.
With Betoota being the only town for hundreds of kilometres, Mr Haken’s been putting his mechanical knowledge to good use helping travellers with repairs and advice, while still keeping close contact with his family back home who are running Logan Village Smash Repairs.
Logan Village Smash repairs continue their strong track record with high profile jobs, having just secured a contract to make all the Warner Brothers Movie World cars, including those that are being used on the set of the new Elvis movie.