Colin Whelan has turned his passion for photography and his love for the bush into a new venture.
The former head photographer for National Rugby League (NRL), who now lives at Huskisson in the NSW's Shoalhaven, has just released his second book.
And no, it's not about rugby league as you might have guessed.
It is in fact about pubs.
Drinking In The River is the first of a planned three-part series of pubs along the riparian arteries of Australia.
Volume one looks at The Memorable Pubs and Unforgettable Characters of the Murray and Edward Rivers.
It's his second book on pubs after his first book, Pub Yarns: The pub, the whole pub and nothing but the pub, sold out both its editions.
"I just love going bush," he said.
"Pack up, get on a motorbike, throw in a camera and just ride.
"And of course along the way you have to call into those pubs in those little towns.
"I fell in love with those little country pubs and of course, along the way you meet some amazing people and hear some amazing stories."
His passion for the bush started when he was just 13, to settle a bet he hitchhiked from Sydney to Perth and return in 11 days. Five years later, he learnt the nuances of pub culture from Frank Hardy and Jim Buckley at Jim's Newcastle Hotel in Sydney's Rocks.
Colin spent 36 years as the NRL's official photographer through his business Action Photographics and as he put it "as the boss you get to decide what games you want to cover."
"I had to make sure every game every weekend was covered," he said.
"That included the games in Brisbane and Townsville.
"When the draw came out, I would manipulate the coverage to ensure if they were the last games of the weekend I was able to cover those games."
Before season's start, he had ridden a motorbike to both Townsville and Brisbane and left them there.
"When the weekend games finished, I'd talk to staff and clients, make sure everything was fine and the next day I'd jump on the bike and go bush," he said.
"At that stage, I was a motorcycle rider who was going to the bush and going to pubs. I fell in love with the pub culture, the places and the communities.
"Over the years I've become a pub aficionado who happens to travel by motorbike."
When a mate was starting up a magazine, he asked if I would be interested in doing a story a month on a pub, its characters and communities.
"I jumped at it ...that was 107 months ago," he laughed.
"The more you dig, the more you find out."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Having worked with publishing house New Holland over the years on numerous rugby league books, the suggestion of doing a book on pubs was never far away.
Pub Yarns: The pub, the whole pub and nothing but the pub was born three years ago, where Colin took a journey to some of the most memorable and extraordinary pubs in Australia.
A love of rivers and the important role they played in Australian history led to Drinking In The Rivers.
Its final release had a few hiccups, with COVID playing havoc with planned publication dates, with the first of the three-part series released in September.
It covers Col's journey from Benambra, right along the Murray and Edwards Rivers, eventually finishing in Goolwa in South Australia.
Along the way, he visits places like Corryong, Tintaldra (where he meets one of my best mate's aunties and have had a couple of wild nights myself in that pub), Jingellic, Albury, Howlong, Coroa, Mulwala, Cobram, Tocumwal, Echuca, Gunbower, Barham, Koondrook, Swan Hill, Moulamein, Gol Gol, Mildura, Renmark, Mannum (home of the ex-Bogan Hotel), Murray Bridge and Meningie just to name a few.
"Each day while I was on the road I'd do research," he said.
"Working two or three days ahead I'd have researched the town I was going into, find out the history, get a hook for a story, there's always something.
"Be it illegal gambling with the SP bookmaker, murder - stories of the past. And I'd try to wrap those stories into modern times. Talk to the old-timers in the pubs, get their takes on these stories.
"Let's face it, everyone has a story."
Admitting he is more at home in the "harsh red dirt country" he said he found it a nice change to be among the often "lush countryside."
"I got to visit a lot of little towns and some extraordinary pubs and meet some amazing publicans who are really looking after their pubs," he said.
"There were some really interesting characters and people I met along the way. I'll remember their stories and generosity for many, many years."
And what's his secret to approaching someone he doesn't know in a pub and getting them to open up?
"I'm very open about everything," he says.
Let's face it, everyone has a story. You've got to not be afraid to ask those embarrassing questions.Colin Whelan
"I have everything in the open, my camera is visible from the start and if they want to stop while we are recording we do," he said.
"I also go for people who look interesting. Sometimes I arrange to meet people I've heard about. And it's not just the men, there are lots of women in pubs and women who run or work in pubs. It's interesting to hear their stories and what they have to deal with.
"I just sidle up to them and once they realise I'm not humbugging them, not just being a sponge, you can tell and share stories with them, people talk to you.
"I've led a pretty varied life and can swap stories."
Even to the extent of at one stage having a "hit put out on his life" - but that's another story.
"You've got to not be afraid to ask those embarrassing questions," he says.
"Most people don't ask - there is no boring answer to the questions 'how'd you lose half your finger?' 'Who bent your nose for you?' Who bit off half of your ear?'
"Or questions that will trigger an answer 'Who was the worst boss you worked for?' or 'Who's the worst publican?'
"Once you get that connection - it usually just flows.
"But my subjects are always of the understanding that the recorder can be turned off at any time - if there's something they don't want recorded, they just have to hit the button.
"Often once people get started you can't stop them, which is great, they are obviously comfortable."
Sometimes things are shared that no one knows about - take two mates who have drunk together at the same pub for 30 years - one revealed in "his younger days" he had actually had "a stint in jail".
I got to visit a lot of little towns and some extraordinary pubs and meet some amazing publicans who are really looking after their pubs. There were some really interesting characters and people I met along the way.Colin Whelan
His mate exclaimed 'you've never told me that'.
"You never asked!" was the reply.
I suppose the lesson there is you never really know everything about somebody and don't be afraid to ask questions, even one of your "best mates".
"When we are finished, I feel honoured they have taken the time to share a bit of their life or history with me," he said.
"People say 'why do you want to talk to me? I'm just an average person'.
"There is no such thing as an average person, everyone has a story.
"You've sometimes just got to scratch the surface to find it. And all pubs have stories as well.
"People often ask me 'what's your favourite pub'. I don't have one.
"They are all different in their own ways. I don't have a favourite recipe for what makes a great pub.
"But an essential ingredient is that the publican has to have a sense of custody - custody or love and respect of the establishment - if you don't look after it, it will die.
"A licensee or publican actually in the pub is better than a manager - I feel they are more invested in it and more in tune with the pub if they are actually there, rather than just being a manager."
Unfortunately, since he completed his journey four of the many characters featured in Col's book have passed away.
And if you would like to hear more about Col's many adventures you can head along to Jervis Bay Brewery on Thursday, October 28 from 7pm where he will be doing a live mike session called "Just how pub cultured are you?".
It will be an interactive discussion on the etiquette and culture of drinking, of sharing stories, of shouting drinks.
The evening will include a trivia quiz with copies of the book as prizes and 20 per cent of all sales on the night being donated to the Brewery's charity of the week.
Volume one of Drinking In The River - The Memorable Pubs and Unforgettable Characters of the Murray and Edward Rivers is available in local bookstores or by visiting www.nothingbutthepub.com