When Gary Rollings took over at Taree’s Exchange Hotel on March 9, 1998 his intention was to be here for a good time, not a long time.
“I was going to do a two year stint and then get out,’’ he said.
That two year stint stretched into 20. At 9.45am on Monday Gary will end his association with the Exchange, with new owners to take over.
But Gary won’t be leaving the area. He lives at Kempe’s Estate at Chatham and owns Cundle Cellars. He also has interests in the racing industry and Rotary.
“I won’t be going anywhere,’’ he said.
Gary said business has been good at the Exchange. Soon after taking over the pub he started renovations, completely changing what was previously the public bar area. He had experience in hotels in Grafton, Maclean, Newcastle and Port Macquarie before moving here.
Gary said in his time the industry has changed enormously, but not necessarily for the better.
“It’s not fun now,’’ he said.
“When I first started we opened from 10am to 10pm and there was no Sunday trading. We’d do the beer lines on Sunday morning, have a big lunch and recharge the batteries for the week ahead.
“There was no RBT (random breath testing). Hotels were pivotal places in the community – people came to the pub to have a yarn. Pubs were terrific places – it was all about beer, SPs (starting price bookmakers) and food.’’
Now he believes that people are ‘socialised out’ because of social media. Hotels alsio tend to attract a difference clientele these days.
“Over the years I've seen a decline at all levels in respect of any form of regulation – it staggers me,’’ he said.
He believes gaming, beer and food is the emphasis in hotels now. The introduction of the TAB led to a significant change – poker machines even more so.
“Before the legislation changed in 1996 to bring in poker machines the hotel industry was on its knees throughout NSW,’’ Gary claimed.
“If it wasn’t for poker machines there’d be a lot less drinking holes than there are now. A lot less people would have had jobs.’’
Profits from the pokies helped turn hotels into modern social centres.
“Hotels now offer food that is second to none – better than most restaurants. They’re air conditioned and family-friendly,’’ he said.
“Pubs are now sophisticated venues. That’s largely because of poker machines.’’
He was at the Exchange when smoking was gradually phased out of hotels.
“That made a lot of difference initially, but not so much now. People have got used to it and the ban on smoking at hotels has also made them healthier places,’’ he said.
While he concedes Taree faces the same challenges as all regional centres, particularly in terms of employment, he believes the town has a sound future.
“Taree’s a wonderful place,’’ he said.
“I’ve enjoyed living here and I will continue to do so. The main reason I’ve stayed here is because of the friends I’ve met.’’