We first saw it a year ago.
It stands on the edge of a park.
We’d been to a café (I was going to write “local café” but as Jack Nicholson’s character scowls in A Few Good Men, “Is there any other kind?”) and drifted through an op shop where Claire bought me a retro print.
Williamstown is set on the Barossa’s southern fringe among low, rolling hills and in spring is green and awakening. There’s creeks and dairy cows and vineyards too.
Despite these natural advantages and a handsome townscape it features the world’s most forlorn barbeque. Williamstown’s park comprises mighty gums, a tempting playground and a modern gazebo with splendid potential sites in the shade, or on the soft grass for a meat cooking machine.
No, our little barbeque finds itself cruelly exiled on a grimy concrete slab by a road and a carpark and some garbage bins. There’s no shade to protect against the summer sun and the brutal concrete and black road amplify the heat. It’s surely victim to a town-planner’s hoax, signed-off by an anti-snagger, or a medium-rare Scrooge.
It sits there in silence, a shrunken parody of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could lend portent to a (deleted) scene in which man (sic), guided mysteriously, marks a key evolutionary moment for our ridiculous, slight species, and happens upon pine-nut and spinach chicken sausages.
So, after discussing this peculiar barbeque over the past year Claire and I decided to visit it last Sunday. I don’t think we were disaster tourists on a bus to Chernobyl, but were certainly motivated by a need to understand this oddity, forsaken in its bewildering mise-en-scène.
Planning a late breakfast we arrived at noon and the barbeque was available. With its winding, narrow roads Williamstown is a Harley riders’ destination and across our vista hordes of these bikes postured and crackled as the weekday lawyers kneaded their needy egos.
Ignition complete and hotplate warming I put down some bacon and bread and eggs while Claire poured thermos coffee.
There was laughter and roaring from behind the public conveniences. I was curious. Distinctly masculine, the bellowing was in concert and suggested a raucous performance. Claire investigated. “I couldn’t see in but it’s coming from the back of the pub.”
A couple of matching polo shirted lads crept through the carpark and sabotaged a tired-looking 4WD. They’d come from the pub. “Ahh, footy trip,” we concluded as the lads eased the wipers off the glass of their mate’s rusty wagon before continuing their mischief inside the cabin. I hoped the owner wasn’t a meek viticulturist who’d kitted up in a handful of B-grade games, and that by sundown he wasn’t guts-up in an amateur remake of Wake in Fright.
I flipped the eggs.
With the Barossa’s footy season over for most sides it might’ve been some Tanunda types or the local team. Within an hour or so, out the back of the pub a timid back-flanker would be dacked, or find something disturbing in his beer, or both.
I sipped my coffee.
A family and their dog walked past to the playground. A boy followed on his tricycle, entirely unlike Danny in The Shining. I checked my watch. The Crows match against Carlton started in a few minutes. I liked our chances.
This curious, heartlessly contextualised little public barbeque; pushed out by its own park; banished by the ancient, sullen gum trees; forever crouching; haunted but defiant by the road and carpark and garbage bins, had cooked our breakfast impeccably.
In the Sunday sun we sat and munched our bacon and egg sandwiches.
Pulling up at the Broadway pub on Friday afternoon Claire remarked on how atypically easy our drive had been from the city to the beach. So much so that the car’s clock displayed our triumphant arrival as –
This, of course, scientists will gladly tell you is the optimal afternoon pub starting time, at least in the southern hemisphere. Locating a cosy table in the beer garden we let an hour drift away and all was providential in our world.
Saturday our local footy team the Glenelg Tigers were hosting a twilight match and the boys and I headed down. Sitting on the eastern side the late winter sun (now, we all acknowledge that spring only commences after the equinox on either September 21 or 22, don’t we?) poured honeyed light across the grass, the sky and us.
As is customary Alex, Max and their mates watched minimal minutes of the match, their attention taken by hot chips, each other and roaming about the oval.
Glenelg skipped away early and kept West Adelaide subservient throughout, and it was a spectacular afternoon. The fresh air and stroll did us all some good.
Once each winter month we set our fire bucket going with some red gum and spend a glowing evening on the patio. Claire struck a match as we made our way home from the footy and we enjoyed a few hours in the crackling warmth.
Games give the night some diverting structure and we engaged in Family Feud which is based upon the eponymous TV show. One night I flicked on the box and caught this question, just before the show was axed. This may have been the question that finished it off, but I still can’t decide if it’s towering genius or beyond moronic. We surveyed our studio audience and got their top 100 responses to this:
Name something a spider might think about?
Saturday night I read a question for Claire and Alex that went:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Claire and Alex called out running and cycling and others but couldn’t get the final reply which had seven responses. There was much guessing and frustration. Remember the question was:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Coming from the country that bought us Sco Mo and Warney’s autobiography called My Autobiography and XXXX Gold (at best a bronze product) the fourth reply was, you guessed it, exercise.
Sunday dawned as Father’s Day and we had Mum and Dad and my sister’s family over for a BBQ. It was sunny and warm and gentle. We ate lamb and chicken and beef. We had tossed salad and Thai noodle salad and red wine from McLaren Vale and the Barossa.
We spoke of renovations and footy and holidays. We then had Mum’s bread and butter pudding which may have had its origins in poverty but is now emblematic of comfort. The day was affirming and then it became late afternoon and with waving and tooting that was it.
It had been a glorious 48 hours in Glenelg.
While it would be an exaggeration to say it’s a hot August night it’s at least a delightfully mild August evening in Semaphore when I pull into the Exeter’s carpark.
Inside I gaze about and think it’s a pub that straddles the fuzzy line between olden working men’s boozer and a more inclusive family venue. Maybe it’s both, or neither.
I’m early and in this situation would usually take a wander about the salad bar and form a plan of attack. Potato salad? Possibly. Coleslaw? Nup, not enough carrot and too much cabbage. Pea and corn? Arrh, now here’s a treat. Takes me back to the Kimba Cricket Club barbecues after training on Thursdays when there’d be seven blue ice-cream containers, each complete with a tin of peas and a tin of corn, lovingly upended by seven bachelors as they rushed (or not) to the town nets by the oval.
But, of course, the pandemic means salad bars are barred, possibly even at country cricket clubs.
I have a Session Ale and Claire settles upon a house red. It comes from a large, stainless steel dispenser that could’ve once smothered sticky-fingered and faced toddlers with soft-serve ice-cream in a Pizza Hut. The bar staff member simply pushes a button and deep red plonk eases into Claire’s glass! Sadly, the spectacle outstrips the shiraz, but still, it was a diverting eight seconds.
Subconsciously designating tonight a Neil Diamond tribute I think about the Greek Theatre and so order the seafood duo which comes with calamari, so beloved on Santorini if not in Croydon.
Claire decides upon the pie, mash and peas, noting that pies are notoriously difficult to destroy. And, of course, she’s right. Serve up a steak and everybody’s got a view. Too tough! Too stringy! Should only be eaten medium-rare! Take the same meat and stick it under the comforting cloak of pastry and there’s only happy, munching silence.
We eat on the lower floor not far from the indoor playground which has attracted running, boisterous kids. That’s the problem with having an indoor playground in a pub: the kids treat it like an indoor playground. I know. My boys bloodied themselves here a few years’ ago.
The upper floor has sport on screens everywhere, but there’s only one near us and it’s showing an A-League final. Remember back in April when sport across the entire planet stopped apart from the Belarus Premier League? Now, to my shame I couldn’t tell you how Torpedo Zhodino FC is travelling.
Claire’s pie is a treat and my seafood duo is excellent. My salad comes with cherry tomatoes. Sometimes these can be a watery disappointment, like a Backstreet Boys song, but mine are zesty little bombs.
Pubs around the land are showing the Horn v Tszyu fight from Townsville, but I head home to watch Micallef with the childish hope that Darius Horsham will call the host, “an economic girlie-man.”
And so, the year rushes on. I pause to consider and be still.
Don’t you agree that one of life’s little thrills is turning the key to your brand new motel room? There’s all that expectation and excitement, then – click – the door swings, and you make your cheerful way in.
Now, I’m sorry to say this, Brad, but my experience at your motel didn’t live up to this promise.
The first sensory shock was the smell. Yours is a handsome city, stuffed with natural and cultural charms so I’m curious as to how you recreated what I can only guess is the pong of a plague-stricken medieval village. Of course, I instantly leapt at the window to let in some air, but it had been painted shut. Can you believe it? Like a feudal serf, the stink was going nowhere.
That very evening, a combination of fatigue and accommodation-driven disappointment meant I was exhausted. I needed a decent night’s sleep. You know those days, Brad, when you fall into bed and flop into the gorgeous, unbroken slumber of a babe? This, I’m troubled to report, was not me.
How horrid must it have been to lug the mattress up the stairs, given that it’s made of concrete? It put me in mind of an inner-city heli-pad. Or a road, a magnificently – engineered road, somewhere in, say, Germany, where Formula 1 race-cars are tested. Have you ever tried sleeping on a road, Brad? I now have.
Remember I mentioned the window was painted shut? I then hoped this might suggest my room would be quiet for when I was, you know, attempting to slumber. During the day I had the impression that your motel was located in a picturesque part of town, populated by charming yet respectful artisans. Wrong, Brad.
After sundown the laneway directly beneath my window (eternally closed), became a movie set. No, movie sets for as near as I could tell the following blockbusters were being filmed, simultaneously: a spy thriller; the latest instalment in a teen horror franchise; an especially energetic gangster epic, and in a genuine surprise, something with sharks! Even though we’re an hour from the beach.
I love the movies, Brad, I really do. But when I’ve had a taxing day of challenge and disillusionment, I don’t want to sleep on a movie set. Not even one that’ll lead to multiple awards and break box-office records. When dawn arrived like an otherworldly ogre I felt as though I was in my own zombie flick. And because of my unsleeping evening I required no make-up.
As a motel manager, I’m sure that you’re a reasonable and sympathetic person, Brad. So much so that I trust, after hearing of my misery, you’ll provide a full refund.
I look forward to receiving this from your company.
Coopers were like AC/DC.
Just doing what they’d always done, and their version of playing the same three chords over and over presented as reliance upon the red, green and yellow beers also known as sparkling ale, pale ale and stout. The fans loved it and thirsts were quenched and all were merry.
But the emergence of craft beers and brewers has forced Coopers into reinvention. In recent years they’ve launched a Session Ale and an XPA. Today, a Hazy IPA hit the market, sort of.
We were promised, courtesy of a moderate advertising and marketing campaign, that it’d be available on tap and in cans. No pub in Glenelg has it yet and neither does any local stockist.
I drove to a large beer and liquor emporium whose name sounds like Dan Murphy’s and found cartons of it on the floor. Yippee!
But there was none in their fridge so I asked, “Any cold Hazy IPA?” The young employee blinked at me and said, “We only got these about midday.” Being someone who could grump for his country I questioned, to nobody in particular, “So in the seven hours since no-one thought to put any in the fridge?”
It was as if I had dropped the needle onto Back in Black and could only hear radio silence.
So, what’s it like?
The hue is Coopers: murky and mysterious and promising mischief with its dark citrus presentation. This continues with the nose that has necessarily departed from the yeasty hoppiness that sung Coopers down the generations.
Angus Young’s amp has been turned off and instead a weedy boy is on the decks. The black t-shirt brigade won’t be thrilled, but then again, they probably don’t care as they’re kicking back in the shed with a long neck of sparkling ale.
At 6.2% the Hazy IPA is more Highway to Hell than Best of the Backstreet Boys so no chainsaw chores after a couple. Unlike the one-armed drummer in Def Leppard you might struggle to play the Stratocaster minus a limb.
But, as such it’s surprisingly easy to drink, even more so than the acclaimed Vintage Ale which I confess I find difficult to love. It’s too big and cumbersome for me and is work, not fun. Something beer should never be.
I do wonder if Coopers are self-cannibalising as their beers are competing with each other. The name Hazy IPA is a nod to the East Coast beers of Massachusetts and perhaps a desperate sign as Coopers beers are historically hazy.
Indeed, it’s expected.
Maybe, like AC/DC they’re just trying to keep up with the kids.
- The Alfresco Bistro is undercover.
- Our bartender is from Mt Isa where she suggests there are 36-degree winter days. This is better than Mt Iso where life is decidedly grim.
- When Claire orders our meals the bartender displays excellent up-selling skills asking, “Shall I add another red on your bill for later?”
- It’s Happy Hour with all beers $6.50. However, XXXX Gold is $6.60 which is more than the necessary disincentive.
- Two beardy lads are playing pool. A pool table is rare in my pub travels.
- Claire asks for a house red and the bartender brings three bottles for her to choose from – a Coonawarra, a Langhorne Creek and a Barossa Valley.
- We meet our dear friend Chris (also Kapunda High class of 1983) who works at the Osborne Naval Shipyard.
- Chris has been to Spain for work many times. Once in the south of Spain he asked a local, “What’s that big island over there?” The local replied, “Africa.”
- His trip to the UK’s Goodwood Festival of Speed has been cancelled. With his refund Chris will buy a beer-making kit so he can brew ESB.
- Two guitars hang on the wall. No labels identify these so I assume they were lost property.
- Chris and I both order the fish and the fillets are most generous.
- Claire takes much of her (vegetarian) pizza home and finishes it for lunch on Thursday.
- Our meals come with petite bread rolls. Pleasingly, these are warm and not, as many I have had, fresh from the fridge and colder than the beer.
- The Happy Hour blackboard advertises an Alien Brain Annihilation. This seems optimistic. I have never seen an alien, not even in Semaphore.
The police officer was uninterested.
“It’s likely no-one will claim it. You might as well keep it. Buy your kids something.” I imagined people I know- my parents, old bosses, footy coaches- nodding at my choice so I disagreed and said, “I think I’d prefer to bring it in.”
Earlier I’d found some money on the footpath by Semaphore’s Palais pub, and on my way home I rang to get advice.
With my local beach-side police station closed on the weekend (most convenient that crime and problems only occur during business hours) I called in a few days’ later, and this constable also urged me to keep the cash. The paperwork’s clearly a menace.
I wondered what might’ve happened when I was a boy, and I prefer this old world when the gruff, local copper would’ve taken the money from across a big desk and said, “Why did you take so long to bring this in? The person who lost it is probably worried sick.” I’d have been sent scurrying with no thanks or praise, but a clip under my ear.
Surely, we need our police to be the most moral members of society.
I was last at the Palais during the previous millennium, and now the interior’s all light and white and Gatsby-like in style. Claire and I meet in the Beach Bar and there’s cheery clusters of punters about.
I see a sign promising happy hour pints from $5, but my pulse stabilises glumly when I learn this only applies to XXXX Gold. Still, my pale ale and Claire’s red are agreeable and we find our table.
My fish ‘n’ chips arrive all boy-scout proud and substantial. The salad is coleslaw although it’s labelled as red cabbage slaw, and I’m reminded of when my childhood idols Sherbet changed their name to The Sherbs. I cared not for this and only wanted to hear Ripper ’76 and its opening song, “Howzat” blasting on the Pye 3-in-1.
Happily, The Slaw was zesty while my chips were golden and crunchy. I initially left about ten on my plate for reasons of personal health, but Shaun of the Dead-like ate them all with little awareness of my autonomous hand shovelling them into my yawning gob. This happens to me often. The CCTV video footage would be incriminatory.
Dwelling more upon coleslaw I pondered if it weren’t the CD player of the salad world, neither sexily retro nor fashionable among hipsters, with potato salad the resurgent vinyl record, and quinoa and feta the trendy streaming service.
Let’s not leave cabbage out in the cold.
On yet another cloudless winter’s day we saw the sky grow pink and orange across the gulf and discussed how this is both a delight and a worry.
Courtesy of the $14 daily special Claire’s burger was impressive in size and flavour despite the accompanying river of mayo. She also found her mound of chips a midweek treat. It’d been an excellent visit.
The Palais is spectacularly located on the esplanade just north of the jetty, and climate and contagion permitting, would be worth a return fixture as spring slides into view.
With winter having fled north leaving sun and windless days behind Alex, Max and I ventured out for our third rail journey. The Seaford line heads from the city to the coast and then continues south over the dunes and through rolling foothills. It’s nearly forty kilometres long.
Beginning at the city’s new station, the vaguely subterranean Oaklands, we arrived at the terminus and stepped out into Sunday morning and circumnavigated a shopping centre with quite possibly the continent’s best Big W. Or worst, it’s difficult to analyse.
Homeward, we alighted at Brighton and strolled to Jetty Road and located an outside table at the Beach Pit. Our meals were well-priced, prompt and tasty. Mine came with a compulsory Sparkling Ale.
Three hours after departure we returned to Oaklands with talk of completing our series by taking the Gawler train in a few Saturdays’ time.
Yes, I thought to myself, the boys are now old enough to experience Womma.