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End of an era in Kurri Kurri as hoteliers Billy & Di Metcalfe call last drinks at the Station Hotel

When retirement comes around, not everyone can look back on their career and tell stories of runaway giant mud crabs, buying hotels from infamous gangsters, staring down wild mountain men, and raising almost $500,000 by convincing members of your local community to call themselves Mongrels, but Billy and Di Metcalfe aren’t just anybody. They are hoteliers.

After 45 years in the industry and 20 years running the Station Hotel at Kurri Kurri, Billy and Di Metcalfe recently hung up the bar towel, calling it a day on a career that has been colourful to say the least.

For Di, an industry veteran who spent 25 years working in hotels before taking the plunge and leasing their first hotel at Stroud, and Billy, a former manager at Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter, life behind the bar has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs but both are quick to say they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I spent so many years in pubs as a barmaid, in the kitchen, and doing the books, and I knew how it all worked,” Di said.

“Everyone said to me that I should do it for myself and when the opportunity came up to lease Stroud Hotel, we took the plunge.

“At that stage Billy was still working at the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter so for the most part I was at the pub by myself. Our kids were in their 20s and off living their lives so being a one pub town the relationships I built within the local community became very strong.”

In addition to the day-to-day running of the pub, Di describes her relationships within the area as nothing less than polarising.

“For the most part everyone was supportive and quick to jump in and lend a hand whether that was by pulling out carpet, painting, or just helping out in general. Likewise, I always tried to go above and beyond to really be a part of the community by having barbecue nights and cooking on the nights our kitchen was closed so people could come by, have something to eat, and join me downstairs watching whatever happened to be on television that night.

“But there was an element in that area who weren’t so friendly. We called them the mountain men and on one occasion I went toe to toe with them in a dispute over a carton of beer. I called the police who insisted on waiting for additional officers to arrive, but I wasn’t backing down. I barred them after that, and they didn’t give us any more trouble.”

While Di was certain her time at the pub had provided enough eye-opening stories to fill a book, another she thought worth mentioning was the day two giant mud crabs escaped from the kitchen and made their way through the back of the hotel before pounding their claws on the door for freedom.

After four years and a truckload of tales, the couple left the Stroud Hotel and purchased their first freehold pub the Station Hotel at Kurri Kurri, once owned by Sydney underworld figure Abe Saffron.

It was then that Billy left his job at the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter and took on the full-time role of what Di affectionately calls ‘public relations manager’ of the pub.

“He’s was always out there making everyone happy and I got all the work done,” Di said.

“It sounds funny, but Billy loves people and that is the mark of a great publican.”

“It sounds funny, but Billy loves people and that is the mark of a great publican.”

While they are quick to have a laugh at Billy’s uncanny knack of making new friends wherever he goes, there is no denying his warm and engaging personality had a huge impact, not just on the pub but throughout the community he loves.

“I grew up in Pelaw Main in Kurri Kurri, and most of my family is here as well,” he said.

“This place means something to me and over the years I’ve been able to give and get a lot of local support for organisations that are out to help people.”

While Billy has been, and continues to be, involved with numerous community groups including Kurri Kurri Rotary Club and the Richmond Vale Rail Trail Committee, it is his mountain bike group the Kurri Mongrels that really gets his heart racing, in more ways than one.

The cycling group, which holds several rides per week all leaving from and returning to the Station Hotel, provides a social outlet for men, women and families of all ages while other members participate in longer fundraising rides in support of non-profit groups like the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

“Together the Mongrels have raised more than $400,000 for charity groups since we started out and I’m proud of that,” Billy said.

Although they both admit Di was the engine room behind the scenes at the Station Hotel, they also agreed that Billy and hoteliers like him are what’s missing from the modern industry.

“Having him out there wanting to connect, wanting to talk to local patrons, and genuinely forming relationships is what local pubs have always been about,” Di said.

“That’s starting to disappear in favour of group ownership and while I love this industry and the lifelong-friends we’ve made, it is a shame to see the heart slipping out of it.”

Since retiring in May, the couple, now in their 70s, are looking forward to three things; relaxing, spending time with family, and travelling.

“Just this morning I made French toast for my family for the first time and we have ordered an RV that should be ready very soon,” Di said.

“It was hard to say goodbye because some of our staff have been with us for 18 years, but while we will still be spending time at the pub as patrons, we’re also looking forward to spending quality time with family and seeing some more of the country.”

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