Mouse plagues, lockdowns and social media stardom at the Collie Hotel

Five years ago, Tom and Emily Hancock were in the market for a new spray rig when they saw a country pub come up for sale for the same price. Today, they might be the most famous publicans in Australia.

If you haven’t heard of the Collie Hotel you might just be living under a virtual rock. To their 14,000 odd Instagram followers Tom and Emily Hancock broadcast videos that depict the hilarious mundanities and contradictions of country pub patrons – videos that have put Collie Hotel on the map. 

Satirising all walks of country life, from stock and station agents to contract harvesters to hens party attendees, Tom acts alongside his daughter Eliza while Emily films, often while juggling their new baby on her hip.

The couple are relatively new to publican life. Before taking on ownership of the Collie Hotel, Tom was raised on a cattle property near Blayney in Central West NSW before heading off to farm, splitting his years between Canada and Warren. 

“I was in Alberta in Canada farming over there and did a few stints. In between I’d come back to Australia and work in Warren and jump on a cotton picker and then go back over to Alberta and live the dream,” Tom said, “I sat on a couple of bulls and just put crops in the ground. It was awesome.”

It was upon coming home to Australia that Tom had put some money aside to buy a spray rig and get his own contract farming business running when Emily found the Collie Hotel for sale on Facebook. 

“She was sick of her job, I was sick of mine, then we just saw a pub for sale for the same price as a spray rig so we just jumped on it.”

“It was the best thing we ever did.”

It was the right decision, as it turned out. They bought the pub in 2016 – right before heavy rains meant that any spraying in the district was done by plane, followed by 2017, ‘18 and ‘19, when drought gripped the region and there was hardly a crop to spray.

But the pub was always full. 

“For better or for worse, farmers drink when they’re happy and they drink when they’re sad.”

In saying that, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for a publican in Collie. 

“We had to deal with three dry years, then the mouse plague and Coronavirus,” he said.

Live at the Collie Hotel

Ironically, it was when the pub doors were closed to patrons that the Collie Hotel garnered the most interest. 

Tom tells the story of shutting down the pub at the beginning of this year’s lockdown and a caravaner turning up anyway. 

“We had this massive A-frame sign up that said ‘closed due to COVID,” he said, “and then a caravan pulled out and this guy literally had to walk around the sign the size of his caravan and said, ‘excuse me, I’m just wondering if I could come in for a nice warm meal.’”

“I just looked at Emily and thought, this guy can’t be that dumb.”

It was then that Tom began to mimic a caravaner and Emily pulled out her camera purely because she thought it was funny. 

Fifty videos later and Tom and Emily have seen people come in from far and wide just to check out the Collie Hotel after finding them on Instagram or Tiktok. 

“I reckon it has quadrupled our business,” Tom said, “we get people coming in just to meet us.”

“My wife Emily thinks it’s pretty funny. I had a kid come in the other day and asked me to sign his stubby holder.”

“I thought that was pretty funny. And I looked at his parents like, are you kidding me? I’m not Michael Jordan. I’m just a drunk publican.”

Listen to Tom on the Humans of Agriculture podcast via your favourite podcast app or listen to it right here!

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