Is there anything more lovely than being taken to a mystery location for lunch?
The investment another makes in you courtesy of this wish to treat you with singular affection elevates a shared meal into an act of kind-heartedness, and converts a lazy hour or so into a lush, cinematic episode.
We left Robertstown (population-248) and headed through Point Pass (population-110), Eudunda (population-828), Sutherlands (population-unsure as no available census data, but clearly very few) and suddenly, when I was most curious about our destination (surely, we’re not going to Morgan?) it appeared on our right.
As a Kapunda youth it enjoyed a particular mythical, even ironic status. Set beyond Goyder’s Line among the salt bush it’s a place mostly visited after a day up the river, skiing or fishing.
Bounded by a nightmarish plain there’s no mountain at Mt Mary, and despite its population recently doubling from 6 to 12, I’m unsure if there’s even a resident (non-deceased) Mary. The town features ten homes, the pub, and a (possibly working) telephone box. It’s a living pioneer museum.
Exiting the Thiele Highway (named for Eudunda author Colin) we took a town tour and saw the former general store which was run nearly a century ago by Claire’s grandparents. Passing multiple cars in the town we almost forge another lasting connection as outside one abandoned house we scarcely avoid an accident. In a town populated by only a dozen persons this might have been tricky on the insurance claim.
Strolling into the Mt Mary hotel there’s a sumptuous lawn out front and given the frequent Armageddon winds and rare rain this is to be applauded. It’s an emerald welcome carpet. Although it’s a tick before noon there’s in situ patrons anchored to the bar having settled into an it’s-Friday-so-why-not drinking and conversational rhythm.
Coopers on tap is another predictor of bonhomie. Every worthy beer is better on tap apart from Sparkling Ale which finds its lofty peak when enjoyed from a long neck, but as this is the last holiday excursion I relax my rule-book and the host pours me one. Central to her endless research, Claire orders a house red. We repair to a table by the turf and as front-line ambassadors, greet the stream of sunny visitors.
Social media offered insight into the pub’s raison d’etre just prior to the November lock-down when mine host Donna urged that there was, “still time to hitch up your goat and get your drink on.” As we all know life is better with goat.
Disastrously, most of our regional train lines were torn up decades ago, including the Kapunda to Morgan track. Sitting in our untroubled afternoon we imagined boarding, say, the 9.42 from our former hometown and alighting in Mt Mary to dine and take refreshment! How a-quiver we would’ve been with me wearing a top hat and Claire easing along the platform in a Sigrid Thornton big dress.
Sometimes in a suburban pub meals can be bought and then instantly appear as if they’d just been dinged in a microwave. Those with a rapacious appetite might welcome this swiftness, but it has the anticipatory allure of a KFC drive through. Our Mt Mary meals are delivered by the chef forty minutes later which allows time to chat with each other and the publican, Donna, during which we learn about the pub, her husband Craig’s earth-moving business, the local 86-year-old horse rustler and her commitment to the local fauna.
Claire’s deconstructed vegetable stack is tasty and the polenta chips are a treat although, as has been noted by many, the non-meat options can seem overpriced. Are these subsidising us carnivores? My beef schnitzel is exquisite. It’s sizeable but not of ridiculous pillow-case dimensions and the vegetables are a wonderful accompaniment; the Hutch to the schnitzel’s Starsky.
The pub’s on the Mad Max road to Morgan but is an emerging foodie destination, and we’re told folks visit regularly from places like the Barossa and Waikerie. Sadly, the trains have stopped, but out back, unpowered sites are $9 per person.
As always, goats camp free.