A small-town pub on the SA-Victoria border has reopened over the long weekend, nearly 18 months after a car drove through its front bar and dining room.

The Border Inn Hotel at Apsley, Victoria, shut in November 2022 after the vehicle smashed through three walls, coming to a rest 20 metres inside the hotel.

Shane Bourke and Catherine Warke, the pub’s licensee and owner respectively, had only taken over the hotel earlier that year.

Ms Warke said while she had some trepidation about beginning to trade again, she was also excited.

“It takes you a while to get into the groove and we’ve sort of lost that,” she said.

“Everyone’s very forgiving and understanding, so we’ll just take it day by day.”

Despite some setbacks, including some last-minute repairs to refrigeration, Mr Bourke said the couple had managed to “get the ball rolling” and welcome customers back.

Owners Christine Warke and Shane Burke in the restored Border Inn Hotel at Apsley, Victoria.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

Long road to recovery

The couple decided to take over the pub after Mr Bourke heard local woman Cynthia Watt talking about the then-closed hotel on ABC Radio in Melbourne.

“I’d led Cath up the garden path on a lot of projects, which she said no to,” he said.

“But this one … you could see the bones of it were going to be a great little community pub.”

The damage caused to the pub when the car crashed through in November 2022.(Facebook: The Border Inn)

The couple were just starting to hit their stride in running the new business when it all came crashing down.

“The weekend the car came through [the pub] was probably our best trading weekend of the whole time we’d owned it,” Mr Bourke said.

“We were about to turn into December, we were basically booked out with functions and lots of things happening.”

The couple were in their home behind the pub when the accident happened.

Ms Warke said walking in and seeing the damage was an “out of body experience”.

“It just doesn’t feel real, and it took a little while for it to sink in for me,” she said. 

The fireplace that stopped the car ploughing through the building has been rebuilt in art deco style.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

The extensive repairs on the 170-year-old pub included new exterior walls, flooring, bar and more.

“The exterior of the building was art deco, so we thought we’d take that through into the pub,” Ms Warke said.

“It’s been well received. Everyone that has come in has said it’s better than they expected.”

Just over 300 people live in Apsley, near the SA-Victoria  border.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Meeting place for farmers doing it tough

Just over 300 people live in Apsley, the nearest town to the border on the Victorian side along the Wimmera Highway.

Farmer Simon Robinson has lived in the area his whole life, and is the secretary of the Apsley Progress Association.

He said the pub is “incredibly important to the town” and had been missed, especially over the past six months as local farmers dealt with dry conditions and low prices.

“The idea of this pub reopening is pretty exciting and I think it’s going to have huge ramifications,” he said.

“I think people will get off the farm and get in there and talk, and I think it will be really good for the community.”

Ms Warke said the reopening would stop locals asking when the beer would be flowing again.

“We were sort of hiding sometimes … because it was a really hard question to answer,” she said. 

“They [locals] are just incredible, they’re so enthusiastic.”

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