30 JULY, 2006 - For the Porters, now in their third generation behind the bar at the Plainland Hotel, hospitality runs in the blood.
This July the family celebrates sixty years since Richard and Rita Porter took over management of the Warrego Highway landmark, at the gateway to Queensland's Lockyer Valley.
Their children Bob, Robyn and Annette have a wealth of memories from the early years at Plainland, when the modest pub building doubled as the family's home. Bob Porter described his father as a showman at heart, popular at local charity concerts and a lifelong lover of vaudeville.
"Dick ran a pretty unique operation," he said. "He and our mother never owned or drove a vehicle, they never had more than one holiday in thirty years of running the pub, and their sacrifice was what allowed us to go on to boarding school and get our education."
Richard Porter came from a family that had long been in the hotel game, even before leaving Ireland in the 1900s. At one stage he and all his siblings held pub licenses throughout south-east Queensland.
In the days when the old swaggies were still on the roads, Richard and Rita would often provide a night's rest on the verandah and a breakfast in the morning for those down on their luck.
Later, after meeting his wife Julie at the Commonwealth Bank where they both worked, Bob would continue the family involvement into the modern era.
The elder Porters leased the Plainland Hotel from Castlemaine Perkins until the 1976 upgrade to a four-lane Warrego Highway forced the option of either moving or demolishing the old pub, which stood directly in the path of the proposed highway. When Bob and Julie Porter purchased the freehold for a then-huge sum of $60,000 and began the task of moving the hotel in several pieces to its new location, service continued as usual in a makeshift bar out the back. Meanwhile, a caravan was the couple's 'bridal suite' for the first few months.
The investment paid off handsomely, with several extensions and renovations expanding the original hotel - a bar and family quarters that still included outhouses at the back - into a modern entertainment mecca employing twenty-seven staff. Pub TAB arrived early on, a bottleshop following in the early 1990s, and a family restaurant in 1995. The Hotel prides itself on freshness and quality in dining, sourcing all its meat and produce locally. Their chief suppliers of fresh meats are Schulte's, a local fixture on the Highway for nearly as long as the Porters.
Bob, a former head of the Lockyer tourism association, has always been forward-thinking about the benefits that travellers bring to the region, and the Hotel has grown accordingly over the years.
This decade the third generation came on board, Bob and Julie's son Mick now managing the Plainland along with his partner Shelley. Committed to protecting the Hotel's future and conscious of the risk of 'going out of fashion', Mick Porter drove a major redevelopment of the ageing pub in 2002, bringing it 'into line with the twenty-first century'. The QHA-award-winning upgrade (Best Hotel Redevelopment Under $1 Million, 2003) added a popular dining deck - breakfasts are now served on weekends - an expanded four-sided bar and funky modern design, while preserving the pub's distinctive rural charm. The one thing that never changes is that touch of family hospitality.
More recently Porters Plainland has extended its service again, taking on a nearby hilltop bed-and-breakfast and opening a second bottleshop on the opposite side of the Warrego Highway.
The Porters' sixtieth-anniversary celebration dinner in Laidley raised $8,000 for Hotel Care Week, with funds shared between the Toowoomba Hospital and vital medical research at several Brisbane hospitals.