Striding up Runnymede Street into the heart of Battery Point and the beginning of Friday night with the dark and the cold pressing down upon me, I take in my surroundings. I dichotomize Arthur Circus, Australia’s only circus, with its cottages built close to each other as if they’re all huddling together around a scrub campfire.
These are streets with houses and restaurants and stores all pushing for attention, right up on the footpath. There’s no sweeping front lawns and yawning gum trees, but cobblestones, and a distinctly London-like topography.
I’m in Hobart for a conference and tonight the Crows are hosting the Bulldogs back at Adelaide Oval. As there’s also a pub back in my hometown of Kapunda called the Prince of Wales I involuntarily step inside the Tassie version, and find my place at the side bar.
It’s a snug corner populated with eccentric locals and bohemians and ordinary folks and tourists who seem to possess some organic ownership over this space. One of the staff, Aaron, is the brother of Nathan with whom I worked in Singapore. Between his pouring and my emptying, we chat in a necessarily staccato way.
I then have a yarn with a raspberry farmer, Phil and his partner Mary, about Turkey. How do these conversations commence? Together, we roam through Kusadasi and its heady lanes of Irish bars, and on to Istanbul and the Bosphorus and the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque, and then, finally, to Gallipoli.
Phil offers me half of his burger. I buy his wife a Bacardi and Coke. Just like the Crows, we’re all winning. Later, they move to the front bar, to dance to a jazzy blues band.
After the siren, I again cut across Arthur Circus, and head down the hill.
Saturday, late afternoon and the dark is rising as I amble past the chippy and the curry house towards the Shipwrights Arms, all white and majestic like a billowing sail. Safely inside and perched like a parrot on a stool, I examine her stained-glass windows and nautical photos.
There’s Sydney to Hobart memorabilia including pictures of my favourite yacht, Brindabella, while across the wall is a black and white depiction of HMAS Vampire. By the door is a rack. Black coats hang as if deflated ghouls. The footy’s on a tele and Sydney’s again galloping towards the finals.
Suddenly, I realise the aural beauty. The commentary is muted, and there’s no music pounding down from ceiling speakers, and no jiggly death clatter from hidden pokies. There’s only the lowing conversations from happy knots of folks. No TAB and Sky racing insistence, just human voices like a heartbeat line, traced on an ECG, with laughter providing the graph’s healthy spikes.
It’s a pub in which chat is treasured. The business plan could be: encourage them to talk and relax, just like they would at home. I could be in Cornwell or Yorkshire.
The Shipwrights Arms has but five beers on tap, and around its lavish bar are scattered some older blokes who each buy a stubby, and pour it into a small glass. Although I wasn’t born, it seems very 1955. I recognise one fellow from last night at the Prince of Wales. He’s just retired, and is heading to Sicily next week for a few months. He’s pretty excited. I’m happy for him.
In another nook, by the fire, I see another television screen. The darts is on and Barney is in strife against Chisnel in the Shanghai Masters. By the bar, just next to me, Ted and Ron and Bruce are ribbing each other with the gentle affection of old mates. They drink pots, and talk of absent friends and golf and the daily driftwood of a quiet island life.
I know I should pop into a most marvellously named pub, Doctor Syntax, over in Sandy Bay, but time is against me. It’s branded after a famous nineteenth century British racehorse, and as I’m in town for a literacy convention the name should also be personally symbolic or hyperbolic, but maybe instead it’s a name for an editing franchise. Having trouble with apostrophes? Call Doctor Syntax on 1-800-COMMA.
When I walk into a pub I try to look at the floor for I reckon this can be informative. Polished concrete? Run for your life! The Whaler, in the heart of Salamanca Place, has old worn tiles that echo with Moby Dick and Ishmael and the swish of harpoons.
Inside is deep like an old friend’s hug and chocolate dark and above the bar timbers there’s stained glass that’s austere and haunted and vaguely Eastern European. In front of me a circle of young women, possibly tertiary students, are all in black coats. One, clearly the alpha, is setting a fierce Chardonnay pace, and she’s lapped her peers. I’ve seen this movie before. It could be lights out at eleven, for her.
Given it’s a uni pub there’s music. There’s 60’s soul and then songs featured on hip alternative films from the nineties. It makes me smile. A girl from the circle shuffles a few steps across the prehistoric tiles to Morphine’s “Buena” and its saxophone, all sultry and snaking and menacing, but when no one joins her, she flops onto her stool.
There’s an early evening ease, but then an agitated young guy and two barely clad girls burst in, and the spell is broken. There’s now a ménage a trois edge. Time to bolt. I tip down my ale and head home to the footy and Rockwiz.