AFTER winning the Best Bush Pub in Queensland for the last three years, Rubyvale pub owners Wendy and Bruce McFarlane were inducted into the Queensland Hotel Association hall of fame last Wednesday night.
A record number of 1130 industry members attended the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre ceremony to honour the retirees-turned-hotel-moguls in lavish style.
Mr McFarlane was a director of a large property evaluation company and specialised in pubs before retiring, and when he came across the pub in the heart of the Gemfields, he came up with a brilliant proposal for his wife.
"It just appealed to us. If you walk into the pub it just has such a great atmosphere,” Mrs McFarlane said of the rural gem.
"Bruce had looked at a lot of pubs over the years, we could see there was potential there to tart it up, and repair a lot of the stuff that had been let go.
"There's a beautiful native garden with four log cabins in there which are very popular particularly with families over school holidays.
"We've invested a lot of money into it over the years but we're really happy with how it's turned out.”
Mr and Mrs McFarlane set to work to revamp the 20-year-old gem, which is made of logs, 'billy boulders', and local stones from the sapphire mines.
When they first bought the New Royal, the logs had not been oiled in so long that there were large gaps between the wall logs.
"The first thing we did was oil over those logs and that's an ongoing thing - we do that every year - and of course they expanded again and we did have to put some wood in between and sort all that area out. We retiled all the toilets with lovely white towels and brightened them up. Put some hand driers in,” Mrs McFarlane said.
"In the beer garden, we laid pavers everywhere and made it all flat and fixed up the garden. We put a sail up for the summer time to provide some shade so it made it a really nice area to sit out.”
It's this kind of attention to detail and care that has made the hotel a meeting place for locals, travelling nomads, tourists, and internationals buyers from Thailand and China.
Locals will even come into the pub and sell their sapphires to the buyers, making the New Royal a trading post of sorts as well.
For the six years that the McFarlanes have lived in Rubyvale, they have become an integral part of the community.
They regularly host raffle auctions of alcohol and sapphires, theme nights, Shave For A Cure events, and annually participate in the UGLY Bartender competition.
They also sponsor the local children's Rugby side, The Gemfield Giants.
"Once a year we have Gemfest, which we're involved in as well. The year before last, Bruce was President of Gemfest... [This year] We drove the bus to pick people up and take them there and we put in money to put the event on,” Mrs McFarlane said.
However, the success of the popular pub has not been without any challenges.
Being such a rural hotel, the couple often struggle to find permanent staff, and have often relied on backpackers.
Despite this, they now employ 18 people ranging from 18 to 60 years of age, and are training up a few young locals, with the hope that the sapphire mining industry will attract some more permanent employees and residents into the area.
"That's something I would love to do; to increase people's knowledge in Australia about the fact that we have really fabulous sapphires in the Gemfields and people do come out and find their own sapphire,” Mrs McFarlane said.
The sapphires are such a commodity that Mrs McFarlane realised before purchasing the New Royal and moving to Rubyvale, that she had already had a taste of the exclusivity of the gems.
"I have a sapphire ring that I bought the stone for in Bangkok about 20 years ago,” Mrs McFarlane said.
"I bought that and was told it was from Burma. I bought it home and a friend of Bruce's had it made into a ring for me. Just recently I was chatting to the valuer of gems that does all the sapphires. She said, 'that's a local sapphire, that's not from Burma'.”
As for any plans for the future, Mrs Farlane says that they plan to expand their four cabins to cater for travelling families within the new year.