When Laura’s Peninsula Hotel turns on its beer fridges for the first time in nearly 12 months in April, patrons will have the opportunity to raise their glass to its beloved former publican and great mate of its new owner.
The popular watering hole has been closed since early 2023, following the tragic death of Kev “Stumpy” Darmody, who was a staple behind the bar for more than 20 years.
Jockey-turned-hotelier Stuart Wiggins, who was friends with Mr Darmody for over three decades, has been revealed as the man behind the plan to reopen the pub and reenergise the tiny community, about 310 kilometres north-west of Cairns on the Peninsula Developmental Road.
The affable new owner of the Peninsula Hotel laughed when he recalled how he met Mr Darmody in the New South Wales village of Sutton, not far from the nation’s capital.
“I was a jockey for 16 years, and when I retired, I took on a pub not far up the road from where Kev and his brothers were all born,” he explained to Cape York Weekly.
“I kept meeting his brothers one after the other and thought, ‘how many of you are there?'”
Mr Wiggins eventually went on to own a number of Canberra hotels with his mate, although he admits he still is not sure how he made the transition from racing thoroughbreds to being a publican.
“Once I was done jockeying, I got into the pub game, but I don’t bloody know how,” he laughed.
Mr Wiggins is no stranger to Laura or the pub, having made the trip north from Canberra “two or three times a year for the last 20 years” to visit his friend and offer a helping hand.
“Everything you see at that pub is done with a pick and shovel, and the poor bastard was just living on painkillers,” he said, referring to Mr Darmody’s ailing health as the years progressed.
“We actually looked at buying the original Quinkan Hotel before it burnt down.
“It was dirt road all the way from Lakeland then, but we went and had a look at the pub and the figures and all that, but it wasn’t long after that it burnt down.”
Mr Wiggins said it had been a slow process to purchase the business and transfer the liquor licence, adding he was confident “everything will fall into place in the next week or so”.
The pub was the social and spiritual heart of Laura and the surrounding properties when it was operational, and Mr Wiggins said he wanted to help get the town back on its feet, even though he is not able to mirror his friend and spend 20 years running it.
“It can’t be a long-term thing for me, but it’s sad to see what [the closure’s] done to the town,” he said.
“It’s turned it into a ghost town, so it will be great to reopen and bring the town alive again.
“If, one day, someone comes along and offers me money for it, happy days.”
Mr Wiggins acknowledged running a pub in a small, remote community was not going to be “a walk in the park”, but said his background in hospitality and, most recently, working in security at Parliament House in Canberra, positioned him well for the challenge.
“I thrive in customer service and bend over backwards to make people happy,” he said.
“The feedback’s been good; I think everyone’s pretty happy and excited that we’re reopening.
“I’m just hoping to bring some good food into the place and good atmosphere, and keep Kev’s legacy going.”
Mr Wiggins said while the memory of Mr Darmody would always loom large over the pub, he was planning a visible homage to his friend and former business partner.
“I’ll have a seat there for him in the bar, and I’ve even got a little sign to call it Stumpy’s Bar,” he said.