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Isolated country pubs turning to gigantic eating challenges to bring in the crowds

A gigantic hamburger, weighing in at 2.5kg, sits on a plate in a pub in Southern Cross, Western Australia.
Finish the Railway Tavern's 2.5kg railway burger in under 35 minutes and you eat for free.

Facebook: The Railway Tavern

Vegetarians, look away.

In a bid to attract customers to their out-of-the-way, isolated establishments, country publicans are embracing the concept of "competitive eating" and all it entails.

Whether it is a giant T-bone, a plate of super-hot chicken wings or an enormous burger, eating challenges are proving a gold mine for some of Western Australia's isolated country hotels.

At the Railway Tavern in Southern Cross, owner Garth Holdem was inspired to start serving the 2.5-kilogram Railway Burger after a challenge from a workmate.

"I had a mate out at work who reckoned he could eat anything," Mr Holdem said.

A cross-section of a 2.5kg hamburger served at a hotel in Southern Cross, Western Australia.
A cross-section of the railway burger illustrates the challenge facing would-be diners.

Facebook: The Railway Tavern

Depending on your stomach capacity, the Railway Burger challenge is either eye or mouth-watering: three burger patties, a veal schnitzel, six pieces of cheese, three eggs, three rashers of bacon, three hash browns, two tomatoes and lettuce served on a whole Vienna loaf.

Finish the burger and a side of curly fries within 35 minutes and you eat for free.

Challenge reeling in customers

Situated 370km from Perth on the Great Eastern Highway, Southern Cross is known for mining and farming rather than tourism.

While the Railway Burger requires a fair amount of work to prepare, including two staff to put it together, Mr Holdem said it was also bringing customers through the door.

He said 20 to 25 people had tried the challenge in the few months he had been serving the burger, but none had been successful so far.

"I haven't even had to put up a Wall of Fame yet," Mr Holdem said.

The "Wall of Fame" at the Widgiemooltha Roadhouse.
The Wall of Fame records those who successfully complete the 1kg "Double Widgie Challenge" at the Widgiemooltha Roadhouse.

ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Sam Tomlin

Near-unbeatable record set at ghost town

Three hundred kilometres down the highway from the Railway Tavern is the ghost town of Widgiemooltha.

About 650km east of Perth by road, the town is most famous for the discovery of the Golden Eagle nugget at the height of the Great Depression.

Taking over the town's roadhouse and tavern three years ago, Lachlan Robson revamped the menu to specialise in burgers, including the 1-kilogram Double Widgie challenge.

"We wanted to bring people out here who hadn't come out here before," Mr Robson said.

Out of more than 200 attempts to finish the challenge, the success rate is around 40 per cent.

The current record is an eye-popping three minutes, set by Kalgoorlie resident Tiaki Kiddie earlier this year, with the steadily decreasing times forcing a new 10-minute limit for successful challengers.

Owner and operator Lachlan Robson outside the Widgiemooltha Roadhouse.
Widgiemooltha Roadhouse owner Lachlan Robson started the challenge two years ago.

ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Sam Tomlin

Peak body says growth of challenges is no surprise

While the challenges might seem like garden variety pub money spinners, the peak body for competitive eating across Australia said it was no surprise customers were keen.

"People love eating and people love competing," Competitive Eating president Billy Boyd said.

"We've had guys making special trips when they're in other states."

There is a strict delineation between multi-person competitions and solo challenges, with those split into numerous subcategories such as speed, capacity or chili.

While most venues offer a free meal or a spot on a Wall of Fame, there is significant money — thousands of dollars in some cases — on offer for serious competitors.

Competitors not blind to risks

Despite the enthusiasm from punters, doctors are concerned about the spread of the challenges, particularly in a time of skyrocketing obesity rates.

Mr Boyd said full-time competitive eaters were generally extremely fit.

"Between competitions, they'll be hitting the gym and be fit as a fiddle," he said.

"They just down these massive amounts of food when it counts."

Beyond the obvious choking and vomiting risks, doctors say ingesting significant amounts of food this rapidly could trigger stomach ulcers and other negative complications.

"There have been deaths in competitive eating before — usually at poorly-managed competitions," Mr Boyd said.

"You need to know your limits, take it easy and enjoy yourself."