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Pub Review: The Greenock, Barossa Valley

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Located on the north-west edge of the Barossa, Greenock was a town I typically ignored in my youth.

Coming from Kapunda for footy or cricket we’d drive through it in a minute on route to Nuri, Tanunda or Angaston. Sometimes, after a hot afternoon in the field you’d swing by the Greenock pub, five of you in an old Holden furnace (six in a HQ if it had a bench seat in the front), and each get a longneck in a brown paper bag for the meandering trip home.

Now, Greenock is a destination. There’s a handful of bright cellar-doors and the excellent Greenock Brewers, run by Chris and Lisa Higgins. Also chief among the attractions is the pub and on my annual June sabbatical I meet old school mate Nick there for lunch.

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The local cricket club is nicknamed the Schlungers and their teams comprised an assortment of blokes usually called Nitschke. Playing at their home ground was often memorable, and one distant day my friend Bob’s bowling career came to a tragicomic and delayed death with an eighteen ball over (which only contained seven legal deliveries). Despite being an opponent he brought curious relevance to the GCC’s official prayer: Blessed are we who are cracked, for we shall let in the light.

Walking into the pub you instantly feel a sense of earthy relaxation with the curved wooden bar, fireplaces and dining rooms both spacious and snug. Given our reverent understanding of history Nick and I order Norton burgers, named for former mine host Norton Schulter who ran it for many years along with his son Mick. The Schulters have owned the pub for 150 years. Norton recently turned ninety.

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Norton (on left) a publican’s publican

We each nurse a Trafalgar Pale Ale and chat about times old and new; local footy and the AFL; Tarantino and the Stuttgart beer festival; Vampire Weekend and boys and utes and misbehaviour; family and love. Winemakers and farmers drift in. Outside, the world spins with blind delirium.

Decades ago Kapunda fielded an indoor cricket team on Thursday nights in Tanunda. Despite having some decent cricketers we were no match for the side filled with Schlungers and other Barossa notables like Horrie Moore who were so cocky they took to fancy dress. Once they whipped us while wearing rubber boots. Another time, in dresses. Humbled, we’d break up the despondent quarter-hour drive home by pausing at the Greenock for a healing cup and Fats would press C6 on the jukebox which was, “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis. Back then we were all caught in a trap.

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The Schlungers

For a while some pubs engaged in a pissing contest to see who could serve the biggest schnitzel and you’d often get one flopping off your plate the size of grandma’s best tea-towel. Now, the competition has moved from acreage to height and burgers and it’s all culinary architecture and perilous scaffolding and intimidating the diner into meekly deconstructing their meal in an act of surrender. Happily, no shallow displays of Freudian compensation in the Greenock today and we find our Norton burgers approachable, just like their eponymous inspiration.

And the chips are great too.

In this complex, unknowable time the Greenock pub is a sanctuary within the sanctuary of the Barossa within South Australia’s sanctuary. An easy amble from Adelaide, the pub and its unpretentious charms make this hamlet a terrific destination.

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Bongo, Crackshot, Fats, Lukey, Pete, Rocket, Swanny, Whitey, Woodsy and me

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“I’m Dale Kerrigan and this is my story.”

An undeniably great movie line as there’s a simplicity and a plain beauty in it. With this Australian cinematic classic in mind I begin today’s entry: I’m Michael Randall, and this is my pub story.

Among the first and most notable casualties of 2020 and its other-worldliness was the King’s Head pub in Adelaide on King William Street. It’s been our Kapunda catch-up venue for a few years now, but has succumbed to viruses both airborne and fiscal.

A temporary hosting hostlery has been found in the Holdy, a Glenelg pub formerly owned by the Chappells although I’m unsure if third sibling Trevor was involved. If he was I imagine he spent much time in the cellar as ordered by older brother Greg.

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After introductory cups and opening remarks there were lamb shanks (much better than Armitage Shanks and more easily digested) and schnitzels and nostalgia and laughter and medicinal refreshment. The wintry sun streamed in and caught our noggins, variously hirsute or not.

A late omission was old mucker Matey who had an excuse (sport shooting out north) and O’s, who did not (couch-bound). Still, we had an effervescent quorum and invested a diverting afternoon and some disposable income.

Regrettably, our luncheon coincided with the Crows game from Brisbane. Circumstance and fierce indifference meant I’d not seen a second of their already bleak season and that morning I’d vowed to not see any of it, preferring instead to wash my hair or scrub toilets.

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However, above my head like a drive-in movie screen (most memorably the Barossa Line near Tanunda) was an unavoidable TV and my eyes were drawn to it and the silent disaster unfolding.

But this was of only minor distress for we spoke of the sale of Puffa’s pub in Kapunda and the imminent local footy season (Bombers v Freeling up late July) and absent friends and ridiculous ephemera. And I’m sure, at some point of HQ Holdens, crashed and otherwise.

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When we began departing I shook the hand of Fats’ son Blake who was about to escort his dad home, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Lovely to see you. I blame your father for anything bad that’s ever happened to me.” Much giggling followed and I’m sure Fats will one day say something similar to my boys.

We tumbled out into the Sunday light and headed off by foot and car to our suburbs and homes and even Kapunda. We will do this again soon, likely at Christmas. The stories will not change.

I hope so.

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92 days

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On the kitchen wall is a calendar.

Despite phone reminders and pinging emails I like to write events and notes in its date boxes. Things like ‘Lunch with Mum and Dad’ or ‘electricity due’ or ‘flea powder’ (dogs not boys). In February I took my annual pleasure in adding all the Glenelg games and felt the frisson of the footy season stretching out like an endless holiday with its attendant joys and hopes.

But then, of course, it didn’t happen and now five of those home match-day reminders have been and gone, virtually crossed-off, and Saturdays have been soundless at Glenelg oval. No knots of punters making their way through the Cornes Gate and down to the Fred Phillis End or over to the grassy mound in front of the scoreboard, with the beer caravan staffed by past players nearby.

I’ve not really missed it for footy is a luxury. Happily for me other indulgences have moved into that space, like gas filling a vacuum. Like many I’m in a place without the traditional weekend markers and I’ve adapted.

This has been true of the pub too.

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The last time I was at the Broady was on Thursday, March 5 at 4.45. It was a calm autumnal afternoon when I met Mozz and Puggy in the beer garden and the sunlight slanted in through the frangipani tree to the glass-topped wine barrel by which we had our Coopers Session Ale.

Like many events of minor significance it was unidentified at time, and heading home I quickly dwelt upon the agreeable hour I’d had with two old mates. My thoughts were mostly of Sweden as Claire and I were flying there the next evening.

So, I’ve not really missed the pub either. Sure, I’m an enthusiast and promote the charms of my local with unwavering evangelism, but life has been full and fulfilling without it.

It’s been 92 days since my last visit and my sins have been multitudinous, if not luxurious. I look forward to a beer from a keg. With the curious exception of Coopers Sparkling Ale all beer is better this way. That’s at its best from a long neck.

Over the last week I’ve made a couple calls to the Broady to gauge how to construct a visit (there’ll be an app for this soon, no doubt). A casualty of our new world order is spontaneity. Swinging by the pub unannounced now belongs in a SBS history documentary (you know, after yet another on Hitler and his demise).

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Biomedical reasons require that our pub experience will be wholly at a table. Standing or getting a round at the bar are prohibited and my first-world, privileged self is pre-emptively mourning this.

Across the week Claire has repeatedly said, “But I’ve never seen you standing at the pub.”

“What if I want to? It’s my human right, like owning an iPhone. I stood at the pub only eight months ago.”

We’ll arrive around 4.27pm. We’re booked in.

I’m excited and strangely nervous.

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The 10.21 to Belair, stopping all stations

It was eerily reminiscent of the 1980’s horror film When A Stranger Calls. The boys and I were at a sunny outside table finishing our pub lunch when with sharp urgency my phone rang.

We all jumped above our affordable and hearty plates and I looked at the screen: Belair Hotel.

Ashen-faced and putting my hand over the phone, I whispered to Alex and Max, “The call’s coming from inside the pub.” With quivering voice I answered and it was Lauren from the bistro wondering where we were. I explained that we were already at the pub, enjoying our lunch.

With wide, now watery eyes I wondered if I wasn’t having a Sixth Sense moment and that maybe we weren’t actually at the pub on a glorious Saturday. Maybe we weren’t anywhere.

Then Lauren from the bistro laughed it off maniacally, her voice chillingly distant, and saying that they were having troubles with their booking system in the first days after opening back up. But then she added in a barely audible murmur, “You are here, aren’t you?”

And then our cinematic episode concluded leaving the audience uneasy and wondering if my giant burger and the boys’ pizzas and my Uraidla Pale Ale pint was as agreeably refreshing and zesty as I’d thought.

Or if they even existed at all.

 

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While trees are inanimate boys are not

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Note the better class of graffiti

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On our way

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Built in the 1890’s for the huge recreational crowds

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Alex and Max improving their physical health, cognitive performance and psychological well-being by moving uncooperative branches

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After our 21 kilometre train trip our hike began

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Playford Lake

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 Adjacent to Glenalta train station the Belair pub offers paranormal family dining experiences

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Club Review: The Cobdogla Club

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I need to apologise to the wonderful Kimba Area School Year 9 class of 1992 whom I took on a week-long camp to Burra, Barmera, Renmark and Clare.

Planning the event I booked some aquatics at Lake Bonney and struggled to find another activity when I stumbled across the Cobdogla Steam and Irrigation Museum. It somehow seemed reasonable. Recently in the car my youngest Max said to his brother Alex, “Why would you ask Dad a big-brained question when we know he’s a small-brained man?” and dwelling now upon that early- 90’s afternoon, I see this as a terrible pattern on my behalf.

I should’ve taken the Year 9’s to Lake Bonney and demanded they jetty-jump for six or seven hours. Provided they had their swimming jeans.

We had a tour guide: an aged man of terrifying, non-infectious passion and an ability to lecture at length matched only by his ability to not sense the crushing boredom he was inflicting upon his audience. If teenaged violence had erupted that day in Cobby, no judge would’ve convicted anyone.

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He spoke to us for 45 excruciating minutes on the world’s only working Humphrey pump with charcoal-fired gas producers. During his unbroken monologue I found myself wondering if I’d turned off the iron, how the Nicaraguan soccer team was travelling and what Allan Border might’ve had for breakfast that very morning. I’m sure the actual inventor of that wretched pump would’ve nodded off himself.

So, again I’m sorry. I owe you a drink.

However, just up the road is the Cobdogla Club which is one of my favourite places. We were there last Thursday and this happened to be Schnitzel Night. If you live in this part of the world the pubs and clubs have it neatly organised so that every night of the week is Schnitzel Night, although this could be both a dietary blessing and a curse.

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On the front door is a friendly sign asking the patrons to not swear, and in 2020 when the casualisation of this is rampant, I like it and get the boys to read it.

Inside is spacious and rustic. The boys rush to the free iPads which is fair enough as they’ve endured a horrific ten-minute car ride from the holiday park without a device.

The drinks menu is broad and the wine prices seem frozen at 1995. A glass of white (no, not Hock) is $4.70, and the lack of Coopers on tap is disappointing, but XPA cans are a fiver.

The salad and veggie bar is always a treat. Brussel sprouts are what Max calls, “balls of leaves” and I inhale six. There’s corn, carrots, and cauliflower and broccoli bake. It’s terrific.

We talk of the coleslaw. It can’t be easy being coleslaw, especially if you’re mostly cabbage and therefore overly pale and grim. Next to the rich colours of the beetroot and the Asian noodles you, poor coleslaw, look more ghostly than the long-gone inventor of the Humphrey pump, sitting quietly across the fields, in its dusky horror.

The schnitzels arrive quickly and are a generous size. They’re tasty, perfectly cooked and in another demonstration of the Cobby Club’s timelessness, the meat isn’t on top of the poor fecking chips, making them squashed and sweaty as happens in too many places forcing diners to go through the mindless ritual of rescuing their fried potato friends.

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No, dickhead. Not like this.

Who started this nonsense? Bring them to me, and I will scold them for 45 excruciating minutes, in an unbroken monologue, about the profound annoyance of this, and how in a world crying out for simple, uncluttered joy we must keep our schnitzel and our chips separate.

But, of course, this doesn’t happen at The Cobby Club. And that’s one reason we’ll be back next year.

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Pub Review: The Lighthouse Wharf, Port Adelaide

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Lighthouses have significant symbolic power as they represent saving innocent lives, but also those lost to the infinite power of waves. Tributes to consuming love and optimistic simplicity, lighthouses are also emblematic of aspirational elegance.

Besides, who hasn’t entertained the thought of a month in one, with the person of your dreams?

According to them internets Australia’s lighthouses are variously classified as: active, deactivated, destroyed, automated, solar-powered, survived cyclone Tracy, abandoned, struck by lightning, and my favourite, kerosene-driven. Is kerosene still available? I hope so, and might later pop down my local servo with a rusty tin and get some, just to keep in my shed.

With its suggestions of whale-boned corsetry Lady Bay Lower Lighthouse in Victoria is an evocative example while Malcolm Point on Lake Alexandrina features the country’s only inland lighthouse built to support River Murray trade. I can picture Sigrid Thornton frowning beneath its towering majesty in a big frock and bonnet. It was turned off in 1931.

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South Australia has 27 lighthouses and there’s one on the Port River following its relocation in 1986. Red and white, cast iron skeletal and hexagonal, it stands 82 feet tall and is adjacent to the Lighthouse Wharf Hotel.

Drifting in around 5 bells as part of my now annual visit to this part of town I’m impressed by the light and breeze and welcoming mis en scene, all exposed brickwork and craft beer taps. I mention Greg Phillips the former publican, Port Magpie powerhouse and sire of Erin Phillips, herself an icon, but the bar staff reply

“I’m only new.”
“Check with Nick. I’ve only been here a month.”
“Greg who?”

Waiting for my $5 happy hour pint of Coopers Pale Ale (delicious and inexpensive) I note a poster advertising the pub’s Trivia Quiz Nights. I can only conclude that these include questions like

What is the most common form of trivia?
Did Shakespeare use the word trivia in any of his comedies?
What are the top five topics for trivia in Moldova?
Should pubs avoid tautology in their marketing and have either trivia nights or quiz nights?

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Old mate Bob and his lad Jack join me out the front and we take in the Customs House, sailing ships and knots of punters (maritime metaphors are compulsory down here) who are also in their Thursday, Adelaide Test eve, chirpy cups. Jack has a Coke and a bag of chips, which is surely all that an eight-year-old needs after basketball training and with a mere month until Christmas.

Nautical suburbs are inescapably compelling and Port Adelaide, with its tangle of narrow streets and grand architecture, is wonderful. However, its promised rejuvenation seems a way off. Bob and I agree that a key strategy must be to increase the local population with affordable housing.

The Hilltop Hoods are playing in the background and urging us in myriad ways, to myriad unforeseen destinations. We have another beer.

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Lighthouses feature in music too. British prog-rock pioneers Van der Graaf Generator have a song in their sludgy catalogue called, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” a ten-part, 23-minute concept piece ruminating on the complexities of lighthouse keeping, what with all those storms and ships smashing upon jagged rocks and sailors perishing. But it’s not blasting over the speakers in this beer garden today.

I prefer Sydney troubadour Josh Pyke’s paean to these beacons called, rather unconfusingly, “The Lighthouse Song.” It’s about the beauty of binary and the need to flee a crushing planet.

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those fuckers in

We vow to return soon. There’s much left to experience such as a meal hopefully not featuring a schnitzel inexcusably crushing its desperate bed of hot chips, live music, and that most potent symbol of great hostelry, the giant connect four game in the beer garden.

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Pub Review: A Story from the Story Bridge Hotel

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The waitress plonked down two Beef and Guinness pies, but my food envy was immediate and crushing.

Like a grinning fool I had ordered mine with chips and coleslaw, but ever the better judge, Claire went with mash and green beans.

Bugger I thought.

It was strangely wintry Friday in Brisbane with the temperature pathetically marooned in the teens (some would suggest not unlike my psychology). Flying in from Mackay like characters in an old Paul Kelly song a tropical storm threatened.

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Appropriately, we were in the Shelter Bar of the Story Bridge Hotel with our dear friend Stephen. We all went to Kapunda High, but it had been years since we’d sat around a pub table. Working in aviation he’s lived in Queensland for many a decade.

Continuing my misappropriated maxim of act local, drink global I opted for a Balter XPA, brewed down the road in Currumbin, while Claire chose a house white. Mine was tasty and compelling, but it was late afternoon on a Friday; a time when I’ve been known to stick my bonce in a sheep trough and come up smiling.

At school and in those golden years immediately following we were close with Stephen. He owned a new lime green Gemini. It had that most miraculous automotive accessory of the late twentieth century: the sunroof. Which when coupled with a Midnight Oil or Australian Crawl cassette made for unparalleled exhilaration on, say, the straight stretch past Freeling in transit to Adelaide Oval.

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Dining and sipping Stephen reminded us of the old Story Bridge boozer. “It had low ceilings. Was always smoky and sweaty. I saw many bands in here. It’s one of a few iconic Brisbane pubs.” Looking about all was glass, polished timber and shafts of light. I wondered if the renovations had robbed it of its rough charisma, and imagined that I could be in Perth or London or Singapore.

Then I spotted a brush turkey pecking a chip in the beer garden. Perhaps not.

Our pies were magnificent.

The meat was tender, the pastry was suitably flaky and inviting to both fork and mouth, and the caramelised onions slumped over the lid were a zesty, brown treat. My coleslaw was a little bland; a result of over-reliance upon cabbage in the same way that if Prince Charles was a sole after-dinner speaker, then the entertainment might be wanting.

Claire’s mash was pinnacle potato. Of course.

Immediately upon collecting us at the airport I recalled why we’d been friends with Stephen. He was interesting, thoughtful, witty and generous. Although it’d been years, too many years, we chatted as if one had simply ducked into the loo and re-joined the circle in Kapunda’s Clare Castle Hotel.

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We spoke of the re-emergence of vinyl records and Stephen’s proud purchases including Daddy Cool and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica which like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was an album that only revealed its curious but profound charms when our adolescence was safely in the rear-view mirror (of the Gemini).

We had another drink. I stayed with the Gold Coast’s own and Claire switched from house white to house red. This was catastrophic (in a decidedly first world way) with the wine undrinkable, even, I suspect, by alcoholic cats. I wondered about the marketing potential in travelling about our vast country, and cataloguing and reviewing house wines for a specific, perhaps, caravanning audience. As my old Wudinna mate Dick would say, “It’s a pissabolity.”

Having moved easily and happily between the present and the recent and not-so-recent past it was time for us to go. It had been a wonderful afternoon of nostalgia and news.

Kangaroo Point’s Story Bridge Hotel is a superb place for old friends. Especially those who shared many a moment in a lime green Gemini.

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Pub Review: Dingo Pub

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Rodney splashed more chardonnay into the glass.

Moving about his bar with suppressed nervous energy, he now declared, “As I’ve filled it above the line I’m obliged by Queensland law to inform you of this because you mightn’t want the extra wine.”

Unsurprisingly for a Kapunda girl, Claire dismissed that idea with a, “No, thanks, that’ll be fine.”

It was around 2pm on a Tuesday in Dingo Beach. We were in the Whitsundays. We had explored the beach- the tide was out- but did not swim because of stingers and Irukandji jellyfish. I had read that Irukandji jellyfish actively hunt their prey. I had little interest in becoming prey to a tiny, blobby marine killer, especially as Glenelg had just won the SANFL premiership.

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Rodney has four beers on tap: XXXX, XXXX Gold and two types of Great Northern.

Generally, I have limited truck with these, and might’ve opted for a stubby of Coopers, but surely the traveller’s obligation is to be brave and try to experience life as a local.

So, I took a deep breath, steeled myself and heard these words fall, haltingly, from my quivering gob, “I’ll have a pint of Great Northern, thanks.”

I felt unsteady on my thonged feet. To offer her support in this difficult circumstances, Claire rubbed my forearm kindly.

The kitchen had shut so we had an impromptu lunch of cheese and dips and olives at our beer garden table. Rodney did not mind.

A few other Tuesday patrons drifted in and mostly headed to the smoking section. There were older men with orange shirts and ghostly goatees. On the tree between us and the beach a riot of kookaburras took up brief residency, announcing their arrival with brash, Motown song. Then they flew off, possibly seeking Coopers on tap.

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Our Mersey cheese was tremendous. It really is the Allan Border of cheeses: predictable, attacking when required; defensive if needed. I stuck another piece on my Jatz (traditional not pepper).

On Sunday we’d bought some supplies in Mackay and seemingly both possessed by one of lesser demons in The Exorcist, stuck some rosemary and gin olives in our trolley. In appropriate contexts all three are excellent, but put together and Father Karras can’t save you or Regan, despite the power of Christ.

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The tub was swiftly despatched to Rodney’s beer garden bin. Apologies to the bin. Apologies to Rodney. Bins deserve better.

We spoke of the town, its wide beach and family-friendly foreshore with playgrounds and barbeques and endless picnic tables. We were both taken by the islands dotted about the ocean. Coming from South Australia our experience with off-shore land masses is largely informed by Granite Island. Switzerland is better served by islands than us.

Keen to swim Claire asked Rodney of this and he began his repetitive, circular discourse: ”Well, me and my kids go swimming all the time without stinger suits. But I don’t want to tell you what to do. You might get stung and come back and sue me.”

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Claire nodded.

Easing into his work, like Keating and the Redfern speech Rodney continued, “Me and my kids go swimming all the time without stinger suits. But I don’t want to tell you what to do. You might get stung and come back and sue me.”

Claire excused herself, having developed a sudden taste for gin and rosemary olives (albeit in the bin).

And my pint of Great Northern?

It was cold and flavoursome and the head was creamy and inviting. In its proper context at the Dingo pub it commanded the stage with quiet confidence.

It was utterly delicious and, of course, now back in a shoe-wearing state, I’m unlikely to ever have another.

About half an hour from Airlie Beach, the Dingo pub is a must when in the Whitsundays.

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Pub Review: The Duke of York

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It was the most Antarctic of days and the first song played was that most summery number, Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy”. But this is no seasonal jingle, only tolerated on high rotation, for a brief window, before being shelved for another twelve months. It’s an exquisite, year-round Christmas narrative, and the guitarist in Adelaide’s Duke of York pub lends it his kind, engaging voice although he drifts occasionally into nasally Kath ‘n’ Kim suburbia.

As Billy Joel didn’t quite note, it’s a pretty quiet crowd for a Thursday, and a regular crowd hasn’t shuffled in. However, the bar bloke is charismatic and helpful, talking us through the drinks and food offerings in a way that’s more barbeque banter than sales pitch.

Accommodatingly, for those of us who remain numerically, if not monetarily bewildered, all main menu items are $12.90 (or 12.9 as modern minimalism has it) and this egalitarianism is excellent. My dining partner has the Angel Hair Pasta w Roast Pumpkin, Broccoli & Eggplant in an Argentinian Pesto.

While I find Eggplant, or indeed, eggplant, like a Morrison government cabinet member, entirely devoid of charisma and indigestible, it’s met with approval although the pesto, while inspired by Buenos Aires, is more rumour than admissible evidence.

There are countless culinary crimes in our cosy first world lives, but burying chips beneath a schnitzel, like a careless mobster in a shallow grave, is inexcusable. I’m happy to be a vigilante and even a mercenary, but should not have to rescue my own fried potato chunks. Won’t somebody think of the chips?

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In the Duke’s defence (the pub, not John Wayne) tonight this is a minor offence and my meal is otherwise terrific. In the happy manner of a mum serving at a country footy canteen the bar keep even asks me if I’d like some gravy to accompany my chips. This alone guarantees the sentence is only a good behaviour bond.

As we dine and the rain lashes the city we note on the wall a patchwork print of a bespectacled cat. This, of course, is fiction and nonsense, for cats are entirely self-absorbed and take no interest in others or the world, and so have no need for improved vision. I say this in full knowledge of August 8 being International Cat Day, and August 7 being International Cats Eating Bananas Day. Only last week one of the boys said he’d like a cat for Christmas. I was planning to do a turkey, but if it keeps ‘em happy…

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With a nirvana of happy hours spread across the week, the Duke is eager to placate here too. Some ridicule Carlsberg for being European VB, but I fancy a glass of it when opportunity arrives. So I do, and a tenner for an imperial pint (as opposed to our decidedly un-regal standard pint) is crisp value, while Claire selects a red wine and finds it generous and warming (personally, if not globally).

The guitarist (is it illegal for those playing inner-city pubs to not sport a beanie?) moves onto English wunderkind George Ezra and his catchy toon, “Budapest” and it’s a cordial track for a bleak night. He then tackles Paul Kelly’s omnipresent, “To Her Door” which, according to the lyricist, could very well star the protagonist from, “How to Make Gravy.”

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I love some early August intertextuality, as we nod our thanks to the strumming soul and head to the Festival Theatre for the Book of Mormon, and critiques of cultural colonialism and healthy doses of hysterical dysentery.

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Wednesday in Fitzroy

 

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Rainbow Hotel, 27 St David St, Fitzroy

Another mild afternoon and I’m pleased to arrive before sunset to enjoy the interplay between light and shade and architecture and the human form. And also to enjoy the beer. It’s steak night, but despite the eager salespitch it’s too early for me.

There’s two rooms in the beer garden, and as I’m training myself or maybe the pubs of Fitzroy are training me to look up, I see upturned umbrellas and an old, stylish bicycle. Bicycles are everywhere in this suburb. There are a rich symbol of all that’s good here.

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I suspect it divides the punters but I like a Chesterfield in a pub. There are no candles but instead bedside table lamps throughout the front bar. A former employee swings by with his new born girl and the bar staff are excited. It’s great to see.

Having necessarily ignored the Bridge Road stout given its 12% punch I finish my Four Pines Pale Ale and depart, both garden and bar now bursting with cheery folk. I’d happily return.

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Napier Hotel, 210 Napier St, Fitzroy

Approaching this pub it’s white and bright and lit up like a Madrid square. Stepping through the front door it’s darker than a Thai cave but boasts beautiful stained glass windows.

Sitting in an ante room the Doobie Brothers are playing and a family is eating in the dark. I’ve been in brighter ghost trains. Throughout the pub are large, satirical Phantom artworks that explore gender politics.

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I sip my Moo Brew Pale Ale and John Fogerty finishes “Green River” and we move to an early Miles Davis number. Next to me (I think) I overhear another ubiquitous footy conversation, this time about the Sydney Swans and the possibility of yet another late run at the finals.  Back in the front bar two women are talking of travel and trees- “It was beautiful and under it was just like a room.”

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The Standard Hotel, 293 Fitzroy St, Fitzroy

The first thing I see is mightily impressive. It’s the take away drinks fridge in the front bar. Standing beside two women who are eating steak I order a Beechworth Pale Ale. One has a guitar case next to her.

On my way to the huge beer garden- again with many separate spaces I note that there’s much Fitzroy footy club memorabilia. It speaks to me of pride in the past and a certain defiance, but I also suspect that this is a suburb still in mourning for the loss of its team. I wonder how many locals now support Brisbane? How many in this close, vibrant community connect with a team thousands of miles away in the muggy, ambivalent north?

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Out in the beer garden it’s dark. I’m almost the only punter not wearing black. In a function room there’s a clot of attractive, smiling, young suits who’ll soon inherit our catastrophe.

Boonie, Elvis and Keef photos are above the bar, all brilliant in their excess and singularity. What to make of the visual overload? Is it pollution? Is it competing for the narrative or there as comic relief? Or just stuff to look at while waiting for your drink or friend?

Labour in Vain, 197A Brunswick St, Fitzroy

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I enter to Dire Straits working their laconic way through “Sultans of Swing” and take an inner gasp as I consider that this song is now in its fifth decade.

Some young lads are playing pool and of course, like all contests there’s thrills and disappointments, equally. Wandering about, I see a bloke ascending the stairs. One of life’s eternal mysteries is what lies at the top of the stairs. I’m always intrigued. Before he disappears I yell out to him, “What’s up there?” He replies, “The smoking area.” I stay on the ground floor.

With Newtowner Ale as brewed by Young Henry in mit I find a spot by the window. The world moves by. These are big windows letting folks look in. Most other Fitzroy pubs I’ve seen are secretive, daring you to wander in. It’s breezy out.

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Like others in the suburb, Labour in Vain displays a concerted dedication to the past. There’s nothing contemporary on the walls or in the space. Why? Maybe pubs are places of escape, a refuge from our saturated lives. And the past is always a distraction, good or bad.

Billy Corgan’s whiney voice suddenly fills the bar with a Smashing Pumpkins’ song that like most of them, I find overrated. In the 1990’s they did nothing for me. And now they do double that.

Union Club Hotel, 164 Gore St, Fitzroy

To employ a cricketing metaphor, DNB.

For two pubs earlier I got a message from David Wilson offering to meet for a beer. I’ve heard the term disruption used recently in various learning contexts, and guess that my plan now enjoyed a happy disruption for I returned to the Napier and found David in the front bar and we chatted about cricket and footy and family and work and writing. It was great and I thank him for this.

I’d had myself an evening.

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