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A Nissan Exa, Eagle Super Beer and The Farrell Flat pub

In 2007 the UN announced that our world population was now more urban than rural.

The migration had been happening for centuries and like many global trends it only travels from the abstract to confronting reality when viewed up close, and late on a Sunday I saw it in Farrell Flat.

I’d never been there, but it’s only a short drive from Polish Hill so off we went through Mintaro where the fire bucket was ablaze in the Magpie and Stump beer garden, and past the paddocks, tinting towards green under the winter sky.

With wide streets and snug old homes Farrell Flat is appealing. The primary school is the focal part of town, as schools should be, and the main drag’s inviting with rows of tidy shops sitting under gum trees.

Driving east there’s the tennis courts and golf course. While the fairways need rain, the black scrape of the 18th looks well-used and I peer into the clubhouse window for that wizened knot of golfers clunking their beers together before settling into their post-round ribbing of each other.

However, the school’s shut, permanently. As are the tennis and golf clubs. Every shop in town is empty. On the way in we spot the park where the once-celebrated dog trials were held, but the last of these was in 1996.

We stop to take a photo of a white Nissan Exa. It sits rusting in a yard. Two dogs bark at us. This Exa is missing several panels. I owned one from 1991 until 2003 and at the end my odometer was frozen on 297,000 kilometres.  

Check in the boot for bodies

In the middle of the pub’s front bar is a Harley. On a wall is a sign advertising Eagle Super which was last brewed in the 1990’s. Across from this there’s a montage of old photos featuring 1950’s Hollywood sirens like Marilyn Monroe.

Behind the bar is Chef, the publican. He is a chef by trade and is from Darwin. He owns the Harley, and tells us, “The pub gives me somewhere to live and pays for my food and fuel.” He adds that, “I can go for three or four days and not have a customer.”

I want to offer my sympathy, but more than the wide wooden bar separates us from Chef.

There’s a TV high in a corner however the screen is blank. There’s no music. I order a beer which is a Coopers stubby from the fridge. Kegs are long gone. Claire orders a brandy. It comes in a large tumbler.

Publican and customer high-five goes badly

At Chef’s suggestion we tour the pub and various silent sitting rooms as well as the guest bedrooms. Pausing in the large dining room I imagine a far-flung Saturday night with farmers, footballers and young families, all buzzing with laughter and talk of rainfall and the school fête and upcoming weddings. Late on this Sunday it’s dark and still. The fireplaces are cold.

There’s plenty of room for a beer garden too, but I see only weeds and dirt.

Back at the bar another couple is there. We chat about their day in the surrounding wineries like Pikes and Paulettes and where they’re from in Adelaide. Taking advantage of Farrell Flat’s free camping they’ve escaped with the caravan and left their teenage boys at home (one recovering from his private school formal).

Claire buys a bag of chips. Like the town and pub itself Chef seems as if his past was more optimistic than the present. He has a low opinion of the community’s future and its aged citizens.

No, the pub’s not haunted

Mintaro’s Magpie and Stump pub was closed for about a year before the current owners took over and reinvigorated it with spectacular success. Its publican told me that their first June long weekend they did over six hundred meals. It’s now a destination pub.

Drinks done we say our farewells to the campers and to Chef.

Outside in the twilight we take in the Farrell Flat silo art. It depicts a train under full steam as it hurtles along by a wheat crop and under an effervescent, purple sky.

The vitality and hope are striking, and I’d like to think that in this handsome hamlet life might imitate art, but just as with the relentless march of urbanisation, greater forces may have already spoken.

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Riesling Trail Ramblings

Recycling an abandoned railway line, The Riesling Trail runs from north of Clare out at Stanley Flat to Auburn in the south. It makes its good-natured way past wineries, over bridges and through hamlets.

Flashing along on our e-bikes between the Mr Mick and Tim Adams wineries we overtake ambling families and dogs straining at their leashes, feel sombre by the Sevenhill cemetery, and gush at the former Penwortham station. Sometimes the trail takes a commanding view over the vines and moderate hills, and then with close rows of trees leaning in it becomes a leafy tunnel, all secret green and Famous Five thrilling.

The Watervale pub inspires contemplation of our deeply advantaged situation. Claire and I discuss our charmed lot, uncommon safety, and this opportunity to indulge in food, wine and wonder. It’s a high point during an afternoon of discovery. Last time I was here was decades ago on a Sunday watching the SANFL footy grand final (No, not a Centrals’ victory) on TV with a crew from Kimba. While the front bar’s skeleton is unchanged all around has been converted into a succession of remarkable spaces and the pub’s now a prettily realised expression of quietly engaging light and warmth and luxury.

Its menu is modern, and I suspect, of initial concern to many, a schnitzel-free zone. I have lamb cigars (who knew that sheep smoked?) and roast potatoes while Claire has a toasty which is elevated to artform. Sitting outside by a bespoke fire bucket, we receive table service from the owner, Warrick Duthy, and then two staff, both sporting French accents. I wander wide-eyed and open-mouthed about the boozer with its stylish rooms and nooks and Chesterfields, and the pub manages to suggest both the Clare Valley and Chipping Norton.

Despite an excellent exception in Pikes at Polish Hill River all the wineries only offer paid samplings with which I’d have no quibble however we’re mostly herded to a corner and asked to unromantically tick some boxes on a form (not unlike completing a breakfast order the night before in a country motel) before a paddle of five mean-spirited glasses is plonked in front of us while the winery staff otherwise unblinkingly ignore us.

This McDonaldsisation appears unstoppable. If I was attracted only to the product it might be fine, but I like to natter with the folk behind the counter, make some connections, and hear some stories. The narrative richness has been poured down the sink (or spat into a spittoon). If I’ve enjoyed myself, I’m likely to buy some slurp.

Our day would’ve been incomplete without learning (no, not learnings) about the trail, each other, and the wine. I’m not especially open to culinary adventure but had this instructive chat at Crabtree Wines on its hill overlooking Watervale:

Viticultural Host: Can I interest you both in a muscat?

Me: No thanks. I don’t like dessert wines.

Viticultural Host: Ours is great. It’s liquid Christmas pudding.

Me: Christmas pudding? I might try a splash.

And with a sip it was mid-afternoon on December 25. Belly-full adults like bears on the warm cusp of hibernation stretched in their chairs as regular blurs of kids dashed about and an album of yuletide standards (Frank Sinatra captaining his team here) drifted above our paper party-hatted heads. This evocative power is chief among the charms of wine and not a gift I often find in the generally global and utilitarian beer. I may try muscat again.

With its name a homage to Rome, Sevenhill is not simply a winery but a village founded by the Jesuit order around 1850. Among the striking church, former seminary and college, and majestic setting one notable detail grabbed us. On the narrow veranda as we pushed inside to the tastings room sits an untidy box bursting with sporting goods. Folks are welcome to help themselves and leap about on the large lawn while dodging the picnickers with a few dobs of a footy or a game of cricket (Dad’s hammy at persistent risk).

I love these heartening offers of civic glee.

Weaving our late-afternoon, bicyclic way back to the trail, we pass the Stations of the Cross, distributed among the scrub and beneath the gum trees. For Claire Sevenhill is evocative so we speak of and remember our Catholic pasts and family and childhoods and distant lives. Shutting my eyes (not typically recommended when riding) I could be frocking up at St Roses in Kapunda for Saturday night altar boy duty.

Minutes later my e-bike battery gives way and with a final blink is dead (days later in an Angaston pub my mate Chris asks if this could’ve been due to the extra load) and in an image of despair I’m cruelly forced to pedal. Claire finds this somewhat amusing and fizzes past with high voltage as I start to huff and puff. Effortlessly vanishing into the darkening distance, I’m unsure but hearing, “Climb every mountain/Ford every stream” she might have been singing (her lungs unchallenged) a taunting tune from Sound of Music.

While it’s been windless and cloudless dusk now closes in, and after thirty-four mostly delightful kilometres our bikes are wheeled down a sloping driveway to the hire company shed.

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A Hoppy Trinity of Outback Pubs: Cradock, Hawker and Blinman

From our hulking 4WD we could see the Cradock pub, but were stopped by a film crew. It was the first day of our honeymoon, and Claire asked about the plot, actors and release date while if I wasn’t ravenous for a beer I might’ve inquired about the impact of the golden, autumnal light on the cinematography.

Airy and uncluttered, the pub is both modern and historical, and presents with an eastern suburbs confidence. There’s substantial wooden tables out the front and in the dining room as well as an inviting ropes and climbing area out the back for the kids and, I imagine, adults wobbly with too much Bundy, an enthralled audience, and no regard for the nearest hospital being prohibitively distant.

Our publican is Dickie Anderson, and he’s laconically easing through his hours. Noting there’s no tap beer I say, “I’d love a Sparkling Ale stubby.” He scrambles about in the fridge and frowns, “Umm, sorry, we’ve none left. Someone drank it all. That’d be me!”

So, on the cusp of a glorious week in the ageless, still desert we sit and look. At the ornamental ute, the firepit, the quiet bush.

Is there much better than late on the first afternoon of a holiday?

*

With its wide, noiseless streets, and mix of handsome houses and pre-fab government dwellings, Hawker reminds me of both Kimba and Wudinna.

At our B&B we met Nigel, who turns the key and we’re embraced by the smell of baking bread from one of those 90’s models that everyone had, and he’s excited to show us the TV dedicated to his DVD library of tourist videos. There’s even one demonstrating how to use the coffee machine. Nigel’s thought of everything.

The Hawker pub is cosy and seems happy to cater for its eclectic audience of locals. At the bar is a young mum with her double babies crawling about on the carpet unaware but building considerable immunity. A cheery chap takes the schnitzel orders.

On the wall is a footy tips chart with a solid list of names. I don’t check but know in capitalised black texta there’ll be Dogga, Blue, Young Kev, and Old Kev (possibly relatives, but maybe not).

Claire and I find a rickety table on the veranda, and the pub cat slinks by so we can give her the pats and tummy scratches she utterly deserves.

Across the road’s a park and a knot of kids tramps through. Claire takes a photo of the deepening sky. This sunset doesn’t simply close another Thursday but is one of reassurance and gratitude. Quietly triumphant, it seems intended just for us.

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Cocooned on our honeymoon I’d forgotten it was school holidays until we arrive in Blinman and it’s swarming with pedestrians and cars. We spend time at the cemetery peering at the headstones and conjecturing about the kind of lives led, concluding they’d likely been hard and only dotted with fleeting sparks of joy.

At the North Blinman pub there’s an animated lunch group under the veranda. Whether aware or otherwise, they’re undoubtedly privileged to be meandering about in this safe and simple section of the world.

Claire is eager for a red. Our barkeep is an earnest woman and she promotes the house Cabernet (pronouncing it with an unironic emphasis on the t).

My sporadic wish to collect stubby holders might be the middle-aged male equivalent of buying souvenir teaspoons, but across our week there’s none on offer, so again, I ask only for a beer.

Lawn would be an inappropriate curio in this arid land, so the beer garden sits on designer dirt.  A series of James Squire umbrellas shades the punters and we plonk down among them chatting effortlessly about our day and our hectic, astonishing month.

The Blinman self-describes as the Pub in the Scrub, and I think of Buckleboo just north of Kimba which boasts the Club in the Scrub. I wonder if in a tiny hamlet beyond Goyder’s Line there’s an unlikely but locally loved massage parlour advertising as the Rub in the Scrub.

My wife and I then stroll about, glasses in hand, pausing along the walls covered with old sepia photos of pioneers and celebrated pub denizens and ponder their lives too.

What’s the narrative purpose of a honeymoon? Is it for a couple to luxuriously combine the past and the present, and then together paint a canvas that’s a landscape, but also a portrait of their deeply desired future? For our freshly intertwined lives, I’m very sure.

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Sentimentality and alienation in Adelaide pub architecture

I’ve just discovered my new favourite place in my old favourite place.

Now in its third year the Broady beer garden is always a delight. Week’s end; a brisk hour; Saturday and Sunday stretching out with languid promise.

Claire and I took up residence last Friday around 5pm and found ourselves at a wooden bench by the back wall. With the noise washing over and about us and the throng surging we were in a captivating little nook. The effect of the foliage was to secret us and intensify our isolation and we became distant witnesses to the garden’s spectacle, and the muffled, if deafening drama and comedy.

I was reminded of Jordan, the glamorous, but golf-cheat character from The Great Gatsby who whispers: And I like large parties. They’re so intimate.

A beer garden should enable theatre and connection and sometimes even privacy. The Broady’s does this. The space allows gregarious but also discreet moments.

The Hahndorf Old Mill Hotel is a big pub on the main street of this lovely old Germanic town in the Adelaide Hills.

Alex and I were up there last Saturday. He’s just turned thirteen and to mark this we drove up for the afternoon and evening. We wandered about and made our compulsory visit to the Fruchoc Shop and I said, “Where would you like lunch?”

Helpfully, he replied, “In there” as the Old Mill Hotel appeared.

Hahndorf is historic and there’s a constant architectural aesthetic across the main drag with charming evocations of Bavaria through dark timbers and inviting warm places and Hofbräu available in big steins.

But, I will never understand how the hideous glass and metal roof of this inn was ever allowed. It’s vaguely 1980’s in its visual impact or more likely inspired by the Jupiter 2 from cult sci-fi TV series Lost in Space.

What is it doing in this genteel, rustic village?

It can only have been designed by the evil Dr. Smith. Will Robinson and the robot (the real star of the programme) would look on in horror before we’d hear, “Warning! Warning” Judy would have (again) sought comfort in the arms of the gruff and unloveable pilot Don West, who openly hated Dr. Smith.

Gee, it was a complex social ecosystem on the Jupiter 2.

Even Penny’s chimpanzee-like alien pet named Debbie would have put its hands or long ears over its eyes at the sight of The Hahndorf Old Mill Hotel’s ugly roof.

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Pub Review: The Windmill

A great man once said that every time you walk into a pub, there’s a story. As Dale Kerrigan would’ve narrated if he were me, “I’m Mickey Randall and this is my story.”

Suburbs like Port Adelaide, Norwood and North Adelaide are home to many pubs and geographers and historians and pissheads will happily bend your ear with a truckload of reasons for this. Prospect, just to the north of the city, is not one of these blessed locales.

However, fear not for it hosts the Windmill Hotel.

Our Kapunda group was slightly diminished in number, largely due, I suspect, to some not knowing the date. The week between Christmas and New Year can interrupt one’s sense of time, what with all the couch, all the cricket, all the Coopers.

We dine inside and not in the beer garden and this seems an accurate choice given that the garden is wholly cement and fake grass, and two of our party are drinking cider as if they’re elderly extras miscast in a Welsh coming-of-age movie. But, far be it for me to editorialise upon the refreshments of old friends.

I can report that the Windmill has a daily schnitzel special, offering these for only $10, as if it’s September, 2007 and Port is a very good chance against Geelong in the AFL grand final. While toppings such as gravy or parmi are extra this still represents tremendous value.

The meals are great and punctuated by talk of the cricket and local boy Travis Head who, we agree, has poor foot work and seems to make too many very handsome thirties. Discussion then moves to cars and more particularly four-wheel driving across various outback settings, and after a fashion I deftly move the subject to a topic with which I’m more familiar: neurosurgery and specifically neurosurgery as it pertains to the cerebrovascular system.

As Crackshot has recently moved to Prospect and indeed, lives around the corner, he suggests adjourning there for a mid-afternoon coffee. Once we’re there and enjoying our post-lunch lattes, Fats comments that, if he thinks about it deeply, this really is a disastrous state of affairs. “Coffee, Bah!” he almost spits across the immaculate stone bench-top. “Never mind”, I comfort him, “It’s OK.”

And it is for in early 2021 we have planned to go to Puffa’s, one of Kapunda’s iconic pubs, for a Saturday barbeque on the balcony.

There’ll be no coffee.*

Chip suffocation is the biggest killer of over-40s in this country

*No, we actually enjoyed our coffee and being hosted by Crackshot

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Wednesday Schnitzel Club

If I really, really think about it Australians love schnitzels more than Germans.

This is a modern truth and the bitter border war between South Australia and Victoria over whether the cheese and tomato topping is parmi or parma shows the fierce affection in which this dish is held. Of course every linguist would tell you the abbreviated form of parmigiana is parmi.

Like the best traditions this one evolved without planning or strategy. One night Chrisso rang to see if I’d like to dine Wednesday evening at the Purple Parrot on Brighton Road (long gone) and it went from there as we asked other largely Kapunda High alumni to join us. Over four years we went to the pub 159 times and more often than not, had schnitzel.

We kept a 96 page exercise book (courtesy of Marryatville High) and took turns recording the details of these Wednesday nights. Here’s five entries from the diary.

7/5/97 Kensington Hotel Attendance- Nick, Mickey and Chris

  • a fantastic discovery. Somewhat secreted and little discussed but very good
  • Stout Season officially launched. Nick and Chris worked their way through a solid thicket of black n tans
  • impressive jukebox in the front bar- Dylan, Doors etc. No techno or dolphin-waxing shite
  • C and N had such a lovely time that they were unable to recollect next week’s venue

4/6/97 Brompton Park Attendance- Chris, Nick, Paul, Greg and Mickey

  • another gem
  • “no colours, patches, parrots or pirates”
  • good draught beer on tap
  • substantial schnitzels and Puggy’s frail, 98-pound weakling physique evoked considerable sympathy from the cook and so she force-fed him two schnitzels
  • local lads provided tunes via a jam session

27/5/98 Cumberland Arms, Waymouth Street Attendance- Stephen, Bobby, Nick, Mickey

  • Dean Jones has retired
  • Deano and cauliflower out; spinach and Potato Twins (chip + mash) in
  • crusty bread- played rodeo clown role- skilled, dangerous and highly valued but largely misunderstood and unappreciated
  • schnitzels were butchers’ gold- quite magnificent
  • innkeeper and stove staff were hospitable and jovial folk
  • Nick suggested a beer and video evening watching Slapshot

24/6/98 Producers Hotel Attendance- Bobby, Stephen, Nick, Mickey

  • false start as only breakfast and heroin for sale
  • moved to the Griffins Head
  • don’t touch it- couldn’t get a proper black n tan because inept management didn’t know how to handle the electronic cash register
  • 20 cents for tomato sauce
  • food average so adjourned to the Crown and Anchor to talk about Uncle Greg

21/8/98 British Hotel, North Adelaide Attendance- Bobby, Nick, Chrisso, Mickey, Woodsy, Lukey, RP, Crackshot, Stephen, Abba, GS Chappell

  • 100th pub visit
  • then went to the Exeter and PJ O’Briens
  • hint- pints of sparkling ale may be injurious to your health
  • adjourned to Club Dimora (Nick’s townhouse) for nightcaps, poopsticks, spa maintenance and a coma
  • called into the Austral at 11am for a quick beer (1 at 11, or 11 at 1)
  • retired hurt
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Pub Review: Glorious in Excelsior, Today-o

In June I chronicled our first pub visit in 92 days, and now I describe our final pub experience for, well, dunno.

Back then it was at the Broady in Glenelg South, and on this occasion circumstances allowed us to swing by the Excelsior in the inner suburb of Brompton.

The government’s lunchtime press conference saw our lockdown outlined, and so, with a singular wish, we made a booking.

I’d last frequented the Excelsior about twenty years ago as part of a loose, but committed collective which attempted to visit every hotel in Adelaide under the cross of a Wednesday Schnitzel Club. Back then the pub’s interior design was Phantom-themed as in the ghost who walks, man who can not die. I’ve since discovered this connects to Marvel comics hero Stan Lee’s lifelong catchcry- excelsior.

Now, this motif has been retired and the pub is a little more anonymous with standard boozer carpet and taupe walls and a circa 1998 Triple M soundtrack. But, its location is trendy Coglin Street and the mise en scène as we alighted our cars was suggestive of Melbourne’s Fitzroy given the proximity to the CBD, and aspirational and artsy population.

The service was friendly and the staff were certainly approachable. There was no gloomy subtext which in their position would’ve been fair. Ordering a Big Shed American Ale the advice was, “It’s highly drinkable and quite fruity.”

Claire opted for an entrée of parmi (not parma) bread and this got our last supper underway in a fashion of which JC may have nodded his Neoplatonist approval. It was a warm evening, but C’s glass of red was both generous and pleasant in that luxurious, midweek way.

Despite the swirling uncertainty in our city-state the pub patrons appeared calm and accepting. Nearby, a family with three young girls coloured in their books in functional silence. Even their pigtails were cooperative, laying still on their narrow shoulders. Thinking of the boys at their age, I shuddered at the likely fiscal and psychological tolls of a similarly modest mealtime.

My beef burger was satisfactory although I’m constantly dismayed at the absence of beetroot in these. Surely, its inclusion is as Australian as pineapple on a Hawaiian pizza. My chips came in one of those petite wire baskets about which I have reservations. Still, they’re better than suffocating them beneath a schnitzel which must soon enjoy a Royal Commission.

Claire’s salad was plentiful and enjoyed. The roast capsicum, red onion, baby bocconcini, and bacon all played their roles like a young Meryl Streep, whatever this means.

Strolling out into the early evening a clot of lads was settling in for the night on their apartment balcony and judging by the hollering were each about five beers deep.

We were all on the cusp of lockdown, but I remember that excelsior means upward and I nodded to myself and glanced again at the balcony.

Their approach seemed impeccable.

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Pub Review: In which our heroes discover that the Victoria Hotel is victorious and the Terminus Hotel is terminal

It’s 140 metres from Strathalbyn’s Victoria Hotel to the Terminus Hotel. However, a wide aesthetic divide reveals itself inside these proximate pubs. How did this happen? We were about to find out.

Arriving mid-afternoon, Claire and I saunter about the fetching park and gardens, River Angas, bowls club and swimming pool. As a measure of its prosperous agricultural location there’s many handsome and sprawling homes. We go to the oval where the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts are training ahead of Saturday’s Preliminary Final against the Willunga Demons. The surface is lush and closely mown. Circle work is underway.

We peer in the window of the footy club. The bar’s open and some parents are yakking around a table. Pausing on the verandah, with the yelling and the voices leaping about the damp oval, we conclude that with its small court and limited players, netball doesn’t need much vocalising whereas footy, played on massive meadows with 36 participants, demands constant interaction. The young Roosters move the ball well and I hear, “Macca, Macca! Run hard Josh. Good pass Scotty!” Their full-forward takes a few grabs and leaning back, Grenville Dietrich style, he slots a couple majors while we watch and chat, the soundtrack of Thursday afternoon training making me nostalgic for my own small, distant playing days.

The Angus river is known as the Amazon of the Fleurieu

The Victoria pub is open-hearted with a fire place, multiple tap beers, and exposed brick and stonework. After our strolling it’s a treat to park ourselves by the flames and, just as I think it needs some attention, mine-host emerges and hoicks on some logs before prodding it like a gruff publican. The orange warmth cloaks us and our cold thaws. In the morning, with snow forecast, we’ll drive to Mount Lofty and step out of the car into a tumble of silent flakes. In late September! In Adelaide! Back in the boozer, Claire has a sparkling white while I select a Balter XPA. Both are crisp and tipped in with joy.

The dining room features table candles and wine barrels sitting atop the ceiling beams in acknowledgement of our closeness to Langhorne Creek, picturesque home to fine cabernet sauvignon. My salt and pepper squid is fleshy and tasty and I ask Claire, “How’s your vegetarian curry?” to which she replies, “Curried and vegetably.” There’s a gladdening buzz in the bar as we jettison ourselves into the rainy darkness.

The Victoria is cosy and relaxing; unlike the eponymous British queen

Late Saturday, we learnt that The Terminus is truthfully named and my only doubt is if it best describes the clientele, staff, or pub itself. Recently renovated, it includes clean walls and a wide, self-possessed bar that have only rendered it charmless and incurably grim. It’s a place for devoted punters and should at least smell of fresh paint, but I detect despair and plummeting testosterone. Our drinks were slopped out by a sour type who ensured all her coloured-glass water bottles were filled to the brim before she lifted her lifeless eyes and sullenly served us, understanding, of course, there’s immense profit in tap water compared to tap beer.

Suddenly craving fresh air we bypassed the bent menfolk, watery-eyed over their warm glasses and, like the pesky kids in Scooby Doo, crept outside. A beer garden should cultivate sunshiny conversation and laughter but, despite overlooking the emerald park and the river, that of The Terminus merely nurtures ugly tables, upturned plastic chairs, unendurable dog poo, and disappointment.

The Terminus is unfun for all the family

I’ve been to Paris three times but, until last week, never to Strathalbyn which is less than an hour from Adelaide. How does this happen? We’ll soon return to its pastoral cosiness if not all its pubs.

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Pub Review: The Exeter, Semaphore

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.

Pie and wine night for C

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.

No, not nearly as nice as this

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.

seafood: yes, I hope you can
LNP operative

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.”

The Exeter’s lower dining deck
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Fourteen Notes on the Fed on Semaphore

fed photo

  1. The Alfresco Bistro is undercover.
  2. 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.
  3. When Claire orders our meals the bartender displays excellent up-selling skills asking, “Shall I add another red on your bill for later?”
  4. It’s Happy Hour with all beers $6.50. However, XXXX Gold is $6.60 which is more than the necessary disincentive.
  5. Two beardy lads are playing pool. A pool table is rare in my pub travels.
  6. 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.
  7. We meet our dear friend Chris (also Kapunda High class of 1983) who works at the Osborne Naval Shipyard.
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.
  10. Two guitars hang on the wall. No labels identify these so I assume they were lost property.
  11. Chris and I both order the fish and the fillets are most generous.
  12. Claire takes much of her (vegetarian) pizza home and finishes it for lunch on Thursday.
  13. 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.
  14. The Happy Hour blackboard advertises an Alien Brain Annihilation. This seems optimistic. I have never seen an alien, not even in Semaphore.

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