For many years, Duane Davies was a common sight driving a White Roadstar in north Queensland while also helping his wife Gina Davies run a popular roadhouse for truckies beside the Bruce Highway.
The life of Duane revolves heavily around the road transport industry and his family.
These days he is still a part-time driver as well as a publican at what is believed to be one of Australia’s most haunted hotels.
If you stop off there and order a beer or spirit, try listening to one of the many witnesses – or you may even come into contact with a spirit of another type, with ghosts said to haunt the upstairs rooms at night.
l caught up with Duane at the Imperial Hotel in Ravenswood recently and yarned to him about his life as part of the road transport industry, and serving the industry at the Imperial Hotel – and of course, ghosts, over a cold ale in the public bar.
“We have had a lot of reports from people who have stayed here who say they have seen ghosts at night. People from Melbourne University were here and a paranormal group with detection equipment and I was told this is one of the most active places in the country,” said Duane.
“They must have put that on the internet because after that we had clairvoyants and paranormal people coming here.”
I asked Duane about his own personal experiences, and he spoke of two occasions that convinced him they were friendly ghosts who helped save the hotel.
“I had been asleep and was dead to the world one night and was suddenly awoken by a ghostly light in my room and I thought I was in the horrors. But it urged me to go downstairs and I smelt smoke and opened a door. An electrical unit in the cold room had caught on fire and I managed to put it out before it spread,” he said.
The second time Duane spoke of was after a Halloween Ball at the pub when a ghost appeared in his room warning him of danger.
“A line into one of two 180kg gas bottles downstairs had leaked and would have exploded if somebody had lit a cigarette. Luckily me and Gina don’t smoke but we had 50 Ulysses bike riders out the back and if one of them had have come in and used his cigarette lighter the place would have gone up – I managed to fix it and release the gas by opening doors. We get people from all over the country and overseas who come here to check out if there are ghosts,” he said.
Duane said the nearby Catholic Church was also reported to be haunted and several times people who have stayed there during the night before Sunday Morning service had beat a hasty retreat to the pub after claiming to see a ghost.
A previous publican had also told me about the haunted church more than 20 years ago and one of those who reported a ghost there was a religious minister.
Visiting Ravenswood is like travelling in a time capsule back to the late 1800s when it was the centre of a gold rush and had a population of thousands and around 20 pubs.
These days there are just two hotels – the Imperial and the Railway just up the main street, both built circa 1902.
The turnoff to Ravenswood is along the Flinders Highway, about 87km from Townsville and 47km from Charters Towers in the other direction.
From the turnoff it is 40km to the historical town and along the way you will see cattle – sometimes on the road because it is unfenced along stretches – and maybe even emus or goats.
Some time ago when the bridge in the main street was closed for repairs, local characters with a genuine bush sense of humour referred to the ends as East and West Berlin.
When the couple were proprietors of the Rollingstone Roadhouse which is between Ingham and Townsville on the Bruce Highway, Duane was well known for driving his trusty blue White.
That was between 2008 and 2014, when he carted material for treatment plants between Rollingstone and Townsville in his 1981 White Road Boss 300.
“I delivered sludge from a treatment plant near here to Townsville and the White was very reliable. When I was not in it I parked it next to the roadhouse on the other side from the eating area. I loved the old White and donated it to a family at Charters Towers. I still keep a picture of it at the Imperial here in the public bar,” explained Duane.
Both Duane and Gina are quality cooks and tantalise the taste buds of patrons at the Imperial with a bevy of great food.
“We get a lot of truckies who stop in here, bringing equipment to the local mine and others who deliver. Also some who are travelling further along to the Burdekin Dam come in,” Duane said.
Homemade food has always been a trademark of the couple and when they were at the Rollingstone Roadhouse their hamburgers were a big hit with truckies.
I had visited them there in 2013 and saw scores of truckies pop in for a burger or something else to eat.
“We used to get as many as 50 trucks a day stopping there and a lot were regulars. Many truckies phoned their orders through and the food was waiting for them. Truckies loved our big pieces of fish either battered or crumbed and our homemade pies, also toasted sandwiches and the burgers,” said Gina.
“They must have liked them because most keeping coming back for more.”
Before taking over the Rollingstone Roadhouse Duane and Gina had also previously helped run the historical Imperial.
Three years ago they leased the hotel from Gina’s family at Ravenswood, which has a permanent population of just 250.
“My parents had the Ravenswood Imperial Hotel, and from 1997 to 2004 we were there with them and prepared all of the meals. So that was a great experience for us at the roadhouse. Lots of drivers stopped there and there were two old trucks parked out the side,” Gina added.
They have taken those cooking skills with them to the Imperial and their homemade pies are much sought after.
“We get truckies stopping here and get a pie and we even get regular visits from members of the North Queensland Pie Eating Club,” Duane said.
The day I stopped at the Imperial with my wife Jenny, she ordered at short notice a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich.
“It was absolutely delicious and didn’t take long to be served,” Jenny said.
The Imperial also has beer on tap and my schooner certainly quenched my thirst after a long day’s work snapping pics of truckies beside the Flinders Highway.
I left the Imperial having enjoyed yarning to the couple. Pardon the pun but I had really gotten into the spirit of things.