That's the Spirit: Stacey and Michael Wells-Bud - Hermidale
It’s been more than a decade since Stacey Wells-Bud left the lush green of the UK for the wide brown land down under, and four years since she and her husband Michael moved back to his old home territory of Hermidale. Along with the family’s farming operation, the pair has added a couple of new balls to the juggling act in the form of a baby daughter and what they call a “one stop community hub” – the Hermidale Pub.
That’s the Spirit’s JEN COWLEY spoke with the popular publicans over a beer and a very good “parmy”.
Jen: Stacey, you’re English-born – tell me how you came to be in Hermidale?
Stacey: My parents emigrated to Australia 15 years ago – I followed two years later, and was running a hotel in Narrabri where I met this wonderful man.
Michael: I was working out there (near Narrabri) for a mining company and we used to drink at Stacey’s pub. I was on one side of the bar, she was on the other. When she was granted her permanent residency, we moved back here to our family farm at Hermidale. I was born and bred in the district – at Cobar – with both farming and mining in my background. We went to Perth for a year, which is where Stacey’s parents are, and then we came back here.
Stacey: And we’ve never looked back, really.
Michael: We came back here in 2016, the big wet year... (Laughing)
Jen: But you came back here to this country with your eyes wide open, Michael, in that you know how unforgiving it can be.
Michael: Yes, the country certainly. But not necessarily the pub, which we got into for Stacey. She’d worked for Google in Western Australia, then continued to work remotely from home when we moved back here.
Stacey: I’d grown a bit stale and I needed a new punch at life and since taking over the pub I’ve felt positive ever since. When we first took on the pub it was a really wet year with big rains and it was a great year. Then we went straight back into drought.
Jen: And yet, even so, you still say you’ve never once looked back? Why is that?
Stacey: It’s the people here. They’re so much more positive than everyone thinks they are or would be. No matter what’s going on, every time people get together you sense that they all have each other’s backs. You just don’t get that in the city.
Michael: In one way, the pub is like a big counselling centre. They come here and have a few beers and they forget their troubles for that couple of hours here.
Jen: Stacey, what are some of the differences you’ve seen between city and country?
Stacey: I don’t believe that city people really understand the challenges people in regional areas come up against. Take water, for instance. In the UK, it’s never been an issue and I don’t think city people here understand either. They wouldn’t ever imagine having to shower in dam water, for instance. I just don’t think they understand what farmers go through. You do sacrifice a lot to be a farmer.
And the cost of paying for services like utilities is higher here than in the cities, and even paying that much extra doesn’t mean you get better or even the same services. Take phone service, for instance: it’s 2020, but you can’t believe it’s 2020 when you can’t get decent phone service.
Michael: I also don’t think people understand that we have to navigate a lack of health services out here. We have a baby daughter and Nyngan’s health services simply won’t deal with newborns, they’ll send you straight to Dubbo.
But we get by. We put up with (all that) because we’re used to it and we have to put up with it if we want to stay here. If you’re here and you’re miserable, then there’s no point in sticking it out is there?
Stacey: I think people relate well to Michael because he’s not just a publican, he’s also a farmer so he knows the challenges everyone faces on the farm because he’s been through it too. The relationship between the locals and Michael as a publican is pretty close.
Jen: What does this pub do for you in terms of your own mental health?
Michael: I’ve battled too, don’t worry. I’ve struggled. But here I get to switch off a bit, just for a while.
Stacey: I think it really helps that you get to see people every day who have been through or are going through a tough time too, so you get a daily reminder that you’re not alone. That’s really important – that feeling that you’re not alone.
Michael: A lot more people are talking about mental ill-health these days, so that’s good. We do a lot of functions throughout the year to keep things going, and we also support local events. We’ll also occasionally throw a few bucks on the bar, so to speak, so that people can have a drink on us. Doing things like helping to get the beach volleyball going again is important to us – we could have had it here at the pub, but we’re supporting holding it at the tennis club because it’s important to us that everyone has a crack at getting it going again. It’s a community day so it shouldn’t be just a money-making exercise for the pub. Having it at the tennis club means that all the community’s clubs and groups can all have a piece of it if they want to.
Jen: What’s the importance of that sense of community to a place like Hermidale?
Michael: It keeps people together. They feel supported and they support each other. And it’s good to see them getting out and doing things together. It’s great for good mental health to get out and connect with other people, and those community events are great for that. And if you don’t have that, what are you going to do? Sit at home and get more depressed and isolated?
Stacey: It’s not easy working here seven days a week and having a baby at home, but actually I feel a sense of purpose to get up and go to work and see other people. It’s a motivation for me.
Michael: We’re not going to stand here and say things are great – they’re tough, both in farming and for the pub. But if we want to live here, and we do, we have to give it a go. We have to tough it out. And these are things you go through.
Stacey: What makes the difference is pushing yourself to just get up every day and keep going, and part of that is getting together with other people. Even the community gatherings we have here – I tell people that this isn’t just a pub for having a beer, it’s a meeting place. It’s a community hub. Lots of the older ladies come for a catch-up and they’ll have their meetings here.
In fact, I’ve just recently joined the CWA, along with some other younger women from around the district so that we can help keep it going. There’s another English girl who came to work at the pub and stayed here – she’s also joined.
Michael: See? We’re also an employment agency. We’re everything – a counselling service, a community centre, a dating site… we’re a one stop shop! (Laughing)
Stacey: Years ago, the CWA was a real force in small communities, and it was also a social thing. We’re going to do some fundraising to try to get the ladies out and about. Years ago they used to do a lot of that, but these days a lot of women are working, so the social aspect has faded a bit but we’re trying to bring that back.
Michael: My grandma was in the CWA – every bush lady was involved with the CWA in some way. There were dances and balls and all that sort of thing. That’s gone by the wayside a little, and that’s a shame. So it’s good to see the CWA being resurrected.
Jen: When your friends back in the UK look at images of Hermidale – particularly during the drought – what do they think? And what do you say to them?
Stacey: They don’t understand what goes on here. I tell them I’m here because I love the closeness of the community. It’s not unlike the little town I’m from in the UK, but they just don’t understand the water issues or the distances or how big the farms are. A typical farm in the UK would be six or seven acres – that’s a chook yard here. And they can’t get their heads around the fact that it’s a 46km trip for us to get milk. My friends are like, “Oh my God! Are you okay, Stace?”
And I tell them, yes, I’m more than okay. I love the pub – the pub keeps me going. I can’t see myself just living on the farm. I’m really not a great farmer’s wife. I know that. I’m scared of feeding calves, for goodness sake! I think they’re going to eat me (laughs). I’ll get there eventually.
*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.