Ilfracombe Sunday brunch – in the rain…

When you drive into Ilfracombe, in Queensland’s Central West, you see a sign proudly stating: Winner of Tidy Towns Competition, 2003.

I’m not sure about you, but I find that really scary.

Any town that displays a sign boasting that it won a Tidy Town competition eleven years ago is either stuck in a time warp, or is comfortable with the notion that it’s already peaked, and will never reach those exalted heights again.

Both are perfectly legitimate reasons for you to put your foot on the gas.

Ilfracombe welcome

I stopped in Ilfracombe however not to see if I could recognize some faded grandeur of times past – vestiges of the glory year of 2003 – but because I’d heard they have a great Sunday brunch.

I’m a sucker for a Sunday brunch, especially if it’s in a town that won a Tidy Town competition eleven years ago, and still has a sign declaring as such.

Most probably there are now tidier towns than Ilfracombe, but in the whole scheme of things, if you were to assign one word to the town other than “blinkandyou’llmissit,” you would still veer towards “tidy.”


Ilfracombe was once the “Hub of the West.”

In the late 1800’s, it was a thriving bustling commercial centre, a junction for the shipment of wool to the rest of the world. In those days the town was part of Wellshot station, a huge sheep property (what Americans call a ranch) which was the biggest in the world – not because of its land area, but because it had nearly 500,000 head of sheep.

Wellshot St copy

If you’re not put off by the Tidy Town sign, and you stop and walk around Ilfracombe, you start to get a sense of the history of the place. You see it hidden in the old railway station, and the post office. The pride that the town displays is not in its tidiness, but in its contribution to the growth of Australia.

Railway Stn

Post office

There’s a saying that Australia was built off the sheep’s back. Ilfracombe was at the epicentre of that period where we became rich from what we sheared off an animal, not from what we pulled from the ground.

Wool cart.3

On the Friday before the Sunday brunch, it began to rain. It hadn’t rained in the district for nearly eighteen months. The area had been suffering through a crippling drought, and some graziers were paying up to $10,000 a week to have feed shipped in to keep their stock alive.

The rain that started on that Friday was a huge relief to the local property owners – in fact to everyone in the district – because they all depend on the trickle-down wealth that flows from the land.

I drove the 27kms from Longreach to Ilfracombe on the Sunday morning with my windshield wipers swishing from side to side. It was surreal driving through severely drought affected country in the rain. Luckily I was on tar – because if the road had been dirt, like it was only a few years ago, I wouldn’t have made it. I’d have got bogged.

A small amount of rain on those parched lands ironically turns the ground to mush very fast, and the dirt tracks leading in and out of the properties become impassable.

What that meant was that when I walked into the cafe, it was empty. I was expecting a crowd. In fact I’d wondered whether I should make a reservation. I’d been told that the brunch usually attracted between 60-70 people.

But none of the locals from the surrounding homesteads could make it into town, even in their four wheel drives.

The buffet consisted of tinned baked beans, sausages, bacon, fried mushrooms and potato patties, cereals, instant coffee in urns.

baked beans

eggs Snags etc

On the surrounding walls were huge photos of the early pioneers, and the hey days of the wool boom.

sheep on wall Man on wall.1 coffee table

The Ilfracombe Cafe and General Store has been servicing the local district for more than 100 years.

Man on wall.1

It’s now run by Tim and Judi Johnson, who over the past eight years have built the Sunday brunch up to legendary status within the district.


And really, when I looked at the spread they were offering, I marveled at their skill.

I imagined what it would be like on a normal Sunday – the dining room full of cockies (ranchers) and their wives and families, chatting about wool prices and the sheep markets and what the useless politicians were doing in Canberra, none of them having any understanding what it was like out in the bush.

Around them on the walls were remembrances of a glorious past.

wool cart

I finished my snags and beans, and then made sure that I took my plates back to the kitchen. I didn’t want to leave a mess in this historic tidy town.


19 thoughts on “Ilfracombe Sunday brunch – in the rain…

  1. Bill,

    Your outback looks and sounds very similar to the small towns here in Arizona. You could step into that eatery in any one of the small towns here in the southwest.

    Simply proves to me, people are the same no matter where they live.


    1. Hey Arlene – you are most probably right, although the US eateries seem to have a little more panache somehow – maybe because we’ve seen them in so many movies! And in Australia, the waitresses don’t chew gum!

  2. Great pics and I agree with Arlene that you could encounter places like that throughout the western US and likely the eastern also, but my backroad travels are much more extensive in the west, thus so is my experience.

    Looking forward to some of those great meals I know we will have on the Camino. I, like Arlene, though not as religiously, am sticking to some pretty basic stuff to get rid of that ice cream diet I went on last fall. I think my favorite meals along the Camino last year were fried eggs, potatoes and bacon or ham.

    Believe it or not, I am off on a 3 or 4 mile walk. Ugh.


    1. Ah Steve – I’m still working at getting some pretty active Christmas feasting off my tummy! Tomorrow though I hit the training solidly – good for you with your 4ml walk. You must be really fit now…

      1. Bill,

        Yeah, I had a bit of that feasting also. But it was worth it. My favorite meal of the year. Turkey, dressing, all the trimmings, pecan pie and ice cream. Yeah!!

        I am really thrilled to hear you going after a gym membership, not because it is my lifestyle, but because it will enhance yours for the rest of your life. It is a three legged stool. Strength training, aerobics, and following the right nutrition. If you can work that into your lifestyle, you will be so much the better. And, of course, you can balance it all in moderation so that it will actually work with your lifestyle. None of us have time to devote our lives exclusively to health and fitness, but most of us ignore it completely. Lots of middle ground.

        I would also recommend that you get a trainer for your time in the gym. Do not get the least intimidating trainer who looks like you do. Get the most intimidating one who looks like a bodybuilder because he or she is the one that will help you change your body and teach you sound principles. Most trainers are no better than the people they train by my observation. And thus, their clients look the same year after year. What’s wrong with this picture.

        I can teach you a lot on the Camino and would love to do so. Maybe we should have a 15 or 20 minute training session for anyone interested while waiting on dinner. But, that might cut into the cocktail hour and be unpopular. Just know I am willing to teach you whatever you have time to and desire to learn. Of course, I can long distance right now and would be delighted.

        The only fall out from my 4 mile walk yesterday is slight shin splints and that is to be expected and is normal. No unusual hip pains or stiffness. And as I said, if I can walk 4 miles, I can walk 150, so let’s go. I might slip another walk in but don’t bet on it. I am going to average in with Arlene and between us we will have each done plenty of training walks, “on average”. She’s an animal, no??? πŸ™‚


      2. Steve,

        Those shin splints are telling you that you need to get out and walk a bit more. Imagine how sore you will be in Portugal if only 4 miles on a country dirt road causes shin splints. My advice would be to walk a bit slower and try to build up to a bit more mileage.

        I’d be happy to let you use my training mileage in your average, but I don’t think it will help the shins much when the real trek begins.


      3. Of course when I slow down they will be milder if at all. I knew I would likely get them from walking fast, but I wanted to cross that threshold, and did. But the chance of me going for long slow strolls before the Camino are slim and none. I will always get shin splints from walking that fast unless I really train for it and that will not likely happen, but then I do not intend to walk fast on the Camino. I am thoroughly trained at this juncture. πŸ™‚ Well, I might go for a mile or two stroll, but have no immediate plans. I think I will look much better by averaging my mileage with yours. That will give me a respectable amount of training mileage. πŸ™‚


  3. Dear Bill, my apologies that I’ve been a bit distracted what with Christmas, New Year and my son’s wedding, but it’s been delicious (a word delicately chosen!) to catch up on your road food blog. One comment would be though, how the …. you manage to consume so much food (and even more the mountains of calories contained therein) and still able to get about on your dicky knee to get the walking/training you need for Portugal. Whatever the answer is, I’m impressed!! πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Britta – lovely to hear from you! The trick to doing a food blog is to not necessarily eat everything that’s put in front of you. I couldn’t eat all on offer at Ilfracombe – too much for me!

      Hope you are well, and look forward to touching base again soon!!

    2. Britta,

      I join Bill in saying always nice to see you pop up on the blog. Don’t give the guy too much credit. I think of recent, he has been more active with his food quest than his training quest. But still plenty of time. As you can see from my post, I am already completely trained for the Portuguese, so one good 4 miler will have him back up to speed also. Isn’t that about the distance between bars? πŸ™‚

      Pleasure seeing your smiling face.


    3. Hey Steve,
      Maybe Bill is planning on riding in the car that’s going to follow! Hooly Dooly!
      Went to the doctor on Thursday and told him about you and the Lipitor. After much testing he said my muscle whatever type test came back good, thyroid medication is good, blood sugar fine and bone density is good. I asked him what the muscle aches or pain in knees and shoulders was then and the general answer boiled down to getting old! Since I felt better towards the end of the walk in Spain, I’m either moving to Spain or going to start walking everyday (after our snow goes away).
      Wish our food was like that in Spain – no GMO’s or toxins. Hard here to only eat organic and non processed.

      1. Linda,

        I don’t accept your doctors answer as to why you might hurt. There is no test to my knowledge that will tell whether you are hurting from Lipitor or not. I took all the blood test to tell me if I had any inflamation or reasons for my body to be aching and they all came back negative, which to me, pointed to the Lipitor. I would never suggest you get off, particularly, if your cholesterol is high, but I would suggest you question your doctors. I think lots of seniors are on Lipitor excessively and ruining the quality of their lives with that stuff. It has a lot of negative press as to not only muscle aches and pains, but also liver and kidney problems. Would be interesting, with your docs knowledge and permission, of course, if you went off it for two months and see what happened. But, if your cholesterol is high, then what. My doc eluded to another something we could try after I return from Europe that was not a statin, but did lower cholesterol. When I find out about it I will let you know, and be sure to remember to ask me late May after I have updated all of my cardiology testing. I might forget.


      2. Thanks Steve
        I don’t want to accept the answer “getting old”. From now till I get your answer in May, I’m going to walk and eat more toward Vegetarian/Vegan although I can’t give up prawns and fish.

      3. Don’t think that will lower your cholesterol, but maybe so. I eat poultry or fish (mostly poultry) 3 or 4 meals a day with complex carbs, and then egg whites at breakfast and then again at 10 pm along with cream of rice cereal. My cholesterol is only 110. Lots of bogus information going around. I can only go by personal experience and not much else. I have followed this sometimes closely, sometimes loosely for 21 years.

      4. Lynda, Feel free to contact me at to continue this conversation over the coming weeks without clogging up the blog. Seems incongruent to be discussing cholesterol on Bill’s food blog, which is likely loaded with the stuff. πŸ™‚ He’s probably ready to run us off.


  4. For some reason all these email notifications have ended up in my junk folder, and so I was unaware that these conversations were happening!!

    Steve, yes, call me BBBBBB (big bad beastie boy bill bennett) –

    I’ll print up t-shirts: VANS ARE FOR WIMPS.

    Put that in the Pilgrim welcome pack!!


    1. Bill “BBBBBB”,

      6Bs definitely trump 5Bs, so I been trumped. You the winner of the Bs. You the biggest, baddest B around.

      Glad you mentioned the t-shirts. Arlene and I are getting ones that say, in big bold letters, WIMP on the back. That way there will be no mistake that we have reserved seats when it gets wet, or cold, or hot, or snowy, or we simply get tired. Then, when we near our evenings destination, we can get out, throw a little dust or mud on our boots and swagger in like the rest of you “real” pilgrims. It will be great. What a Camino this will be. Guess we could call it the “Gentleman’s Camino”, ladies included. Besides, wouldn’t you feel silly spending all your hard earned cash on a van that no body used. I think we have a responsibility to protect your investment. Besides, the driver looks cute.

      BTW, no more 4 mph training walks for me. Hate to admit it but I am a bit sore from that, but then, there is no possibility of walking like that on the Camino.

      Keep us out of the junk folder. 😦 We deserve better. πŸ™‚

      Steve “BBBBB”


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