The historic Barnawartha Star Hotel is one of Australia’s truly iconic country hotels. It’s located on the Old Hume Highway, between Melbourne and Sydney, approximately 15 minutes drive south of Albury/Wodonga. The property is seeing positive growth in clientele with a change of business ownership, enjoying a refreshed food and wine offering thanks to former winery owner Trevor Knaggs. Unfortunately, Trevor took over the hotel’s management in early 2020 to be faced with statewide Coronavirus lockdowns; yet managed to renovate the property interior, craft a wine list featuring the best in Australian and European wines and fast track chef and menu improvements that quickly gained the respect of locals while ensuring a stream of positive Google Business reviews from new visitors.
While Barnawartha is today considered a tiny ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ town in Victoria, its history is of great importance. In the 1800s, it acted as a bridge between the grain and vegetable production of the Murray River plains and the commercial markets of Melbourne.
The first European settlement of the area around Barnawartha was in 1836 when Joseph Slack established a pastoral run, primarily for sheep. At the time, Barnawartha was known as the crossing place where horse-drawn passenger coaches and mail run would cross the Indigo River. Today a handful of original cottages from the era remain however it’s the pub that is today a focus within the tiny hamlet.
Unlike its neighbouring town Chilton, gold was never discovered at Barnawartha; instead, the area became prime agricultural land with wheat, grapes, figs and prunes grown in the region. In 1860, it was the chosen construction site for the Indigo Flour Mill. In 1873, the North Eastern Railway was built through the town, providing more significant opportunities for trade as local produce and products transported via the Murray River could be efficiently forwarded to Melbourne for sale. The hotel opened its doors in 1885, providing accommodation, locally brewed ales and a central meeting place for the labourers and primary producers.
Local legend has it that the Star Hotel was one of the few pubs in North East Victoria that Ned Kelly didn’t rob. Trevor jokes that it was ‘likely due to the quality of the beer’; however, given that the pub was for many years home to a renowned gun club comprising highly skilled sharpshooters, perhaps it was a more likely reason.
Today the structural elements of the hotel remain impressive, including its traditional facade with glorious textured and richly coloured handmade bricks. Indoors sandblasted brick provides a visual warmth, most recently complemented by a new colour scheme, polished Victorian Ash dining tables and elegant onsite accommodation. Combined with roaring fires and the pleasing aroma emanating from the kitchen, the overall effect is most certainly inviting.
Family-friendly, incorporating premium meats from nearby Howlong Butcher, award-winning Boralloa Road (Albury) ham topping their parmas and herbs and veggies from the pub’s market garden, there’s every reason to earmark this venue for a hearty winter meal.
Within the main dining room hangs a painting of the late great Australian chef Tony Bilson. Warmly remembered as the father of modern Australian cuisine, Tony shares a special place in Trevor Knaggs’ heart as a supportive friend who presented a series of lavish long weekend dining events at Trevor’s former King River Estate winery. Today some of the best elements of Tony’s cuisine colour the menu at the Star Hotel.
While plans are extensive for the venue’s future, including developing the historic stables earmarked for a new commercial venture, one of the most recent upgrades is to the pub’s wine list. We chose a local King Valley Wood Park Wines prosecco to begin our meal. It was fresh tasting and highly aromatic. A wonderfully bottle-aged 2002 Barbera from King River Estate was an excellent match to the confit duck. Pleasing softly-spiced savoury elements layer this wine’s wonderfully textured cherry/chocolate fruit character, and surprisingly fresh-tasting after laying down all these years. It’s a wine we genuinely adore.
Other choices in premium boutique wine include some of the best and rare selections we’ve seen in an Australian hotel. Opulent finely textured Grenache from McLaren Vale, flavoursome red from the Adelaide Hills and delicate and elegant whites Margaret River provide an impressive virtual cellar door tastings experience. Comparison tastings of top small French Champaigns provided in piccolo bottles are a lot of fun, and for gin lovers, there’s a tastings bar pouring some of Australia’s best new-world aromatic gins.
The Barnawartha Star Hotel is open Monday to Tuesday, 4pm ’till close; Wednesday to Sunday 12pm ’till close.
Barnawartha Star Hotel
25 High Street, Barnawartha, Victoria
Tel (02) 6026 7308