Tucked away, like a dusty, chipped ball wedged in an unused snooker table's top left pocket, in the distant, so-called Corner Country of NSW, hard-bitten Tibooburra is the remotest town in the state.
Even Adelaide is closer than its state capital, Sydney, and the nearest major centre is Broken Hill, three and a half hours to the south, straight down the lonely, newly-sealed and boldly-named Silver City Highway.
In the past, perhaps even now, they (read: men) probably would have considered this definitive outback outpost as a no woman's land. What would those feral chauvinist pigs think now?
The Family Hotel, one of the two pubs, is owned and run by a female, as is the Tibooburra Hotel further down the main street.
So too is the Corner Country Store, where you can fill up on food, fuel and supplies, opposite the Family Hotel. Even the town's local, and one and only, cop, sorry police officer, is, you guessed it, a woman.
But it's not only Tibooburra where women dominate. Nowadays, way out west, as any road trip will tend to attest, women have been and continue to be at the forefront of tourism during the most challenging and onerous of times.
"In regional NSW, women are the backbone of both families, farming businesses and communities," says Liz Murray, who runs the Trilby Station farmstay at Louth, near Bourke, where guests can stay in authentic former shearers quarters and stockmen cottages set by the Darling River.
"They are specialists in communication and logistics, problem solving, managing challenge and adversity, and are able to recognise opportunities – all of these qualities show in the strength of regional business women managing tourism business."
Of course, if you look close enough, there's a supportive bloke or two in the background, and we're sure they won't mind Traveller's salute to some of the extraordinary women, who we met on our own various wanderings this eventful year, who are helping to transform regional tourism for the better. Let's hear it for the girls.
THE SHEEP STATION SUPREMO
Liz Murray, Trilby Station, Louth
Louth, being nine and a half hours north-west of Sydney, is a long way from Pitt Street (the Sydney one) but these days it can feel at times a little like it.
By late afternoon, after all, there's often a procession of rugged four-wheel drives whipping up the Darling River sandbowl on which the sprawling 130,000 hectare Trilby Station is set.
These are the latest guests to arrive at Liz Murray's farmstay where, not far from a state-of-the-art shearing shed, pelicans float, as majestically, as swans, along the idyllic, gum-fringed river the colour of a too weak country caffe latte.
"I've always loved having my own business, making my own decisions and seeing the fruits of my labour," says Liz. "My husband, Gary and two of our sons run the stock side with merino sheep and rangeland goats. I run the business inside the [river] levee bank around the buildings."
The indefatigable Liz, who in fact runs the station's farmstay virtually single-handedly, even to the point of cooking and delivering all of the meals to guests, nominates the big blue skies, the endless horizons and "more stars than any city person can ever appreciate" as among the main attractions at Trilby.
THE SPEAKEASY BAR PROPRIETOR
Tenelle Bond, Establishment Bar, Dubbo
Photo: Erin Michele Thomson
For a town that produced Kate Leigh, one of the nation's most notorious gangsters active between the 1920s and 1950s who found her way to the top of the Sydney underworld, a speakeasy (albeit a squeaky clean one) would seem a suitable and essential amenity.
But it took the likes of Tenelle Bond to make it a reality in Dubbo, set in the Central West, under five hours drive from Sydney.
Establishment, which channels the sort of 1930s speakeasy Leigh would have been drawn to, is concealed in a building adjacent, perhaps a little appropriately, to the recently restored Old Dubbo Gaol which, like everything else in town, tends to compete with the showpiece Western Plains Zoo.
"Dubbo has really grown up over the past 10 years with many former residents having moved home," she says. "They opened their own businesses and we have really seen a growth here in so many unique opportunities and boutique businesses opening.
"The zoo is awesome but Dubbo is so much more than that. Just because we're located in the country shouldn't mean we have to miss out or have to drive hours to experience something like Establishment."
But, as she explains, the bar isn't only about a good drink, but the ambience; that feeling you get when you immediately walk through the door - the sort of space that Tenelle herself would enjoy visiting.
She would have needed a stiff cocktail or three after establishing Establishment earlier this year since it ended up coincided with the pandemic and one of the worst droughts the Central West had suffered. But Establishment has endured and Tenelle deserves to be the toast of Dubbo.
THE HOMESTEAD BEAUTIFUL OWNER
Zanna Gale, Pincally Station, Milparinka
Photo: Michael Wee
Despite its remote, if not forbidding location - 70 kilometres off the Silver City Highway that traces the NSW and South Australian borders between Tibooburra and Broken Hill - nothing could stop Zanna Gale from creating her own unlikely oasis of chic in the outback.
Dust-bound and rain-denied, the 65,000 hectare Pincally Station is a remote sheep and cattle station.
It's where Zanna, with the support of husband, Matt, has transformed the main homestead and garden, sourcing its contemporary fixtures and features literally from far and wide as well as converting an adjoining cottage into smart self-contained guest accommodation. Inside Out(back), if you will.
"I have a passion for creating spaces that make you feel calm and relaxed, both in interiors and exteriors," Zanna says. "Just because we live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean we have to miss out on modern comforts.
"I started this tourism business to help with off-farm income during times of drought, and I wanted guests to be able to come to Pincally to experience everything that we love about living here."
For visitors fortunate enough to stay at this surprising holiday oasis, which Zanna operates on an irregular basis due to the pressures of station and family life, there can be the chance to dine beside the open-plan designer kitchen dominated by a nearly four-metres long draftsman's table.
It was found in a station workshed and then restored a perfect match for the resurrected old windmill vanes that strikingly decorate a nearby wall further inside the homestead
"I want guests to feel at home when staying with us at Pincally," Zanna says. "We don't just offer a bed and breakfast we offer the whole package. Getting to know us and inviting you into our home and experiencing everything a working station has to offer but so much more."
No website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE CAMEL QUEEN
Petah Devine, Silverton Outback Camels, Silverton
Photo: James Brickwood
It's not quite the mounted police but for former cop, Petah Devine, after nearly 25 years in the force hopping aboard some ships of the desert seemed the ideal career change. Along with her husband, Duncan Pickering, Petah owns and operates Silverton Outback Camels, about 20 minutes from Broken Hill in NSW's far west.
"We provide camel rides ranging from 10 minutes to overnight camping safaris," she says. "Our sunset rides [which pass the famous Silverton pub on the wilde main direct street] are very popular though we had no plans to become tourism operators.
"Our business came about as camel rides had been missing from Silverton for nearly a decade due to the previous operators closing down after running them since the 1960s. I guess we were meant to carry on the tradition."
To take in the pioneering history of the region, Petah believes there's no better vantage point than atop a camel, a direct link to the town past, where you can commune with the wide open spaces and the star landscape of Silverton. '
"Tourists love the genuine hospitality and openness here that's not found in our cities anymore. Our camels keep us here, too. It's too hard to move somewhere else with camels."
When asked what women bring to a tourism business like Silverton Outback Camels, she doesn't hesitate to declare that women tend to be "more personable, more pleasant and receptive" to customers.
"People can warm to women quickly and easily," she says. "Women are very organised and adept at multitasking. We don't mind having a chat and can talk easily with people. We also bring our easy going natures. There are no obstacles for women in tourism these days, I believe."
THE DESIGN HOTEL DIVA
Kristen Nock, Byng Street Boutique Hotel, Orange
Photo: Pablo Veiga
Since the pandemic struck, Orange has become Byron sans mer with the impressive Byng Street Hotel now more heavily booked than speeding motorists on the appealing Central West town's surrounding highways.
The luxurious 22-room hotel with its boldly colourful interior design opened a tad over a year ago. It's testament to the value of unleashing more than a modicum of big-city style chic to the country, without sacrificing that essential bush charm that makes a rural break so appealing.
"We want guests to enjoy the individual bespoke furnishings, the interesting trinkets and the beautiful artwork throughout the hotel," says Kristen, who runs the hotel, with its contemporary wing built around a historic homestead, with husband Thomas.
"Our guests can expect to enjoy personalised service, extra little touches and we love the opportunity to surprise and delight. The building itself is just a part of the experience – it is the ambience and service that takes the experience to the next level."
Kristen, who has a long background in hospitality both in Australia and overseas, says that Orange is spoilt for good restaurants, most of which are just 10 minutes' walk away as well as cellar door experiences a little further afield with the town also a haven for well-curated homewares stores.
"I can't imagine doing anything in the future that isn't associated with hospitality," she says. "I enjoy meeting new people, learning their stories and being a part of their experience. We have formed some amazing relationships with fabulous guests over the past year and likewise in my previous roles."
THE STYLE QUEENS
Jemima Aldridge and Moir Jones, Dubbo
Photo: James Brickwood
When friends Jemima Aldridge and her friend Moir Jones set about breathing fresh Airbnb into a humble, century-old weatherboard cottage in the middle of residential Dubbo her fellow locals thought she was misguided.
Undeterred, the pair saw The Repose, as they named their bespoke, self-contained Airbnb, as a response to a shortfall of elegant, high-end accommodation in a part of NSW dominated by motels.
"This is the first time we have partnered together, believing in the complementary skills of each other to develop the vision and the completion of the project," says Jemima, who with husband, Bede, runs Saddler & Co, a local leather goods business. "We supported one another in the renovating process of The Repose."
They completed The Repose, including all of the trade and design work, over 18 months and after hours, in between their full time jobs and family commitments.
The methodical process allowed them to dedicate themselves to quality workmanship and sourcing of the interiors that are evident to delighted guests in the finished product.
Ultimately, Jemima and Moir's most significant achievement is to have introduced a new distinctive form of accommodation for their town that will, and is, successfully drawing a new type of visitor to Dubbo.
THE OUTBACK PUBLICAN
Melissa Thomson, The Family Hotel, Tibooburra
Photo: James Brickwood
Back in the big smoke, hotels have been struggling for guests, other than quarantining returning expats. But even since the last section of the Silver City Highway was sealed earlier this year at the Family Hotel in the main street of Tibooburra it's been almost a case of "pandemic? What pandemic?"
"The sealing of the highway has already changed Tibooburra," says Melissa. "The visitors have been flocking in and that's just the Broken Hill market. It probably will rob some of the adventure but there's still a lot of unsealed roads around here to explore."
Built in 1882, with its walls makeshift canvases for murals painted in the 1960s by artists and former patrons, Clifton Pugh and Russell Drysdale, Melissa and her husband Wililiam have owned the pub, and the motel-style accommodation across the street, since 2013, two of just 18 owners spanning the pub's nearly 130-year-old history.
Melissa is the public face of the pub, greeting and farewelling guests of the hotel, motel and restaurant where the menu consists of ubiquitous hardy outback fare, namely steaks, schnitzels and barramundi.
She best stock up on supplies. What with the state and territory borders having finally reopened (Cameron Corner, where NSW, Queensland and South Australia meet is 150-odd kilometres west of here), the grey nomads will be descending on the town anew.
Anthony Dennis visited the featured properties as a guest of Destination NSW. See www.visitnsw.com