COUNTRY pubs have long been the heart beat of small towns.
At the average pub in any Australian country town, it's often the case that the town looks to hotels for support, camaraderie and even direction for some of life's great conundrums.
But the coronavirus pandemic has meant pubs have been forced to close their doors and liimit the services they can provide.
In some towns, pubs have closed doors completely during COVID-19 with the expense of staying open threatening to shut them for good.
But for others, there was no considering closing. Staying open was the right thing to do for the town.
In central Victoria, the Redesdale Hotel, The Bridgewater Hotel Loddon River and the Axedale Tavern were three of many pubs offering small town residents an alternative to cooking.
In March, hospitality venues began to plan for a life of solely takeaway service.
Axedale Tavern owner Garry Van Wynan didn't consider shuttering the business during the pandemic.
He has operated the cafe for the locals who wanted a takeaway coffee and offered take-home pub meals for people who didn't feel like cooking.
"We wanted to stay open," Garry said. "We're getting a lot of support from locals, with COVID-19, it's 20 minutes into Bendigo to get food or other things.
"We have always been a good supporter of the community. (People) are supporting us because we supported them. We get people from Heathcote, Elmore, Goornong and a few from Bendigo."
"The second (lockdown) has been slower than (the first), I think people are a bit more scared of coming out. We're opening less hours than we were but we have also got a cafe, which helps.
"But it's hard because people can't stay and chat. You can keep up with the goss but normally everyone is around the bar."
Like so many others in the hospitality industry, pubs cautiously and optimistically opened their doors to 20 dine-in customers at a time at the end of the first lockdown.
Redesdale Hotel owners Garth Campbell and Beth McIlwain took over the pub five years ago. Before they arrived, it had sat empty for three years.
Garth said it wasn't viable for them to open during the first lockdown.
"Everyone' weathering the same storm. We re-opened as soon as we could with the limits," Garth said. "Everyone was so compliant. People reached out and said thanks for taking it so seriously. We are strict on compliance.
"But to have a big pub and to have 20 people in it feels heartbreaking when we normally have 80 or 90 in the dining room and the public bar full.
"Now we are open on Friday and Saturday nights more as a community service. It's about mental health for the community and giving people a reason to get in their car and drive.
"Most people are more than five kilometres from town, so it's an opportunity to leave the house, see a familiar face and say 'how are you?'
Garth said many people had missed the classic pub staples like parmas and steaks.
"People said they missed chicken parma, we would sell 3500 of those a year," he said. "We sell a lot of steak as well, it doesn't travel well though so there's a steak burger on the menu.
"I'm a chef by trade and I run the pub. To go from being super busy five days a week, to nothing isn't good."
Bridgewater Hotel owners Virginia Hyland and Greg McKinley took over the pub last September and used the first lockdown to renovate.
"We renovated the outside and when the shutdown in March happened we started renovating the inside," Virginia said.
"For us it's been interesting. We would never have done extensive renovations if we hadn't got shutdown. We're both lucky to have other business still standing, that's been a big plus.
"When we finished renovating, we opened for in-house dining a week (before the current lockdown). So people got a small taste of it.
"They've been coming and collecting takeaways but the week we were open, everyone was in and it was busy."
Each hotel said they aren't seeing the same income they normally would but that government funding was helping.
"We probably do about 30 to 50 meals each night for takeaway. It's not too bad, it's about an average spend 25 bucks a head," Garth at Redesdale said.
"We're lucky to be doing around 10 per cent of our normal business. (We are) entitled for next the round of government funding and have JobKeeper for the staff but it's just really hard."
Virginia said the Bridgewater pub is eagerly awaiting the lifting of lockdown.
"Last week we did 38 meals on Friday and 42 on Saturday, so not huge amounts," she said. "But the good thing is were renovated and ready.
"I'm from Bendigo, where there's a pub on every corner. When we took over I didn't realise how much it is (the heart of a town). Talking to the locals, it's a place for everyone to go to.
"We're probably the only contact (a lot of people) have with a lot of people and we can't do that at moment."
The Axedale Tavern's Garry said JobKeeper had been a big help to his business.
"We have got eight on JobKeeper, which helps heaps," he said. "The only problem (when restriction ease) will be with table service because we need extra staff.
"People aren't allowed to go to the bar for a drink, so having 20 or 50 people in the restaurant on table services means you virtually need a dedicated (bar waiter) but that's the way it will have to be."
Garry said it wouldn't just be country pubs that needed support.
"We just need to get a bit of word out there to support country pubs and city pubs," he said. "Places like the Queens Arms (in Bendigo) are trying to keep going and have got a lot of competition with takeaway places. They are probably more harder hit that we are."
When we get through this, we hope people take time to travel to small towns.Virginia Hyland
Coming out of lockdown, the hoteliers are hoping to see people re-exploring their home state and supporting struggling businesses.
"We heavily rely on tourists and people travelling through," Virginia said. "We understand why they locked us down but ... that has impacted on us in big way. We're it's all finished very soon. When we get through this, we hope people take time to travel to small towns and support them.
"Pubs are the heart of a town. It would be nice for lots to come visit us. We're an amazing art deco pub right on a river. You don't get that anywhere in central Victoria."