1

Mystery Pub: The Beer Smells Like A Microphone in John Doe’s Local Bar

The bookshelf’s stocked with crime novels and old Lonely Planets. I’m an incurable bibliophile so have a quick squizz. There’s also a stack of board games including, to my surprise, Twister. This is a tiny bar and I reckon if the plastic, colour-dotted mat is rolled out the writhing tangle of arms and legs might give some sizzle to the meaning of Happy Hour.

John Doe’s Local Bar is a welcome addition to the grog-scape in this southwestern nook of the CBD. It’s home to some great pubs such as The Duke of Brunswick and the Gilbert Street Hotel but provides an appealing contrast for passers-by and residents. I continue to struggle however, with the notion of “local.” Can a bar or pub be anything but local? A remote or distant bar might really squeeze on the drinking handbrake.

On the surrounding footpaths are wine barrels converted to tables with a sprinkling of brave punters bunched about. It’s a frigid spring afternoon so Claire and I sprint inside and secure a spot. Like the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the astronaut Dave Bowman hurtles through a psychedelic rush of things galactic and trippy, there’s much visual stimuli in this cosy boozer.

A quick scan reveals walls of beer coasters; a footy tipping chart; an old technicolor juke box; posters advertising the meat tray raffle on Fridays, live music, comedy nights and above the bar a small TV is set to Sky Racing with the gallopers in the dusk at Scone and Coleraine. My vista could also be a deleted dream scene from the Big Lebowski or an exhibit in the Tate Modern or Hobart’s MONA.

Approaching the bar there’s a man leaning dangerously into his drink and I wonder if he’s, “Makin’ love to his tonic and gin.” He might be making unwise preparations for Twister Night and mumbles something about buying some shots to which I can minister no helpful advice other than, “Good luck with that.”

I order a Prancing Pony Session Ale for me and a white for Claire and then spy a large wine rack under the big TV. All upright, there’s dozens of bottles shoulder-to-shoulder as if they’re ready for some grim but vague battle. It’s a phalanx of Cabernet Franc. At the end of one shelf is that most celebrated vintage: Coopers Sparkling Ale (750ml). Close inspection reveals these are the highly drinkable 2021.

Claire is most smitten because dotted throughout and in the centre of our table are lit candles. These contribute significantly to the bonhomie. The atmosphere is welcoming lounge room and surely, this must be the aspiration of every small bar. Pubs in Melbourne’s Fitzroy do this well but it’s rare in Adelaide.

On the TV screen next to the orangey, dancing fireplace a cricket match flickers green and gold. It’s Australia v India from Mackay and bowling with O’Reilly briskness is Kapunda’s own Darcie Brown. A couple of days’ ago she took 4/33 and became the youngest Australian female or male to grab four wickets in an ODI. Claire and I comment that Darcie looks like her Uncle Paul and grandfather, Bernie.

Three portly chaps have dropped anchor at the bar and appear as if they might be moored in the marina against an approaching storm. The bar does seem to attract folks from neighbouring homes. They could be here for the BBQ that’s soon to a-sizzle on the footpath or maybe there’ll be karaoke later. It’s a busy, ambitious place. I wonder if they have Macrame Mondays or if I’ve missed Sonnet- Writing September. Minimalism isn’t part of the strategic plan here.

Glancing again at these chaps I’m sure one is Paul and a real estate novelist. And his friend is Davy, who’s still in the navy. He probably will be for life.

Or maybe they’re all professional Twister players.

0

An Alberton Afternoon

In the dining room there’s an upright piano.

This declares much about the Alberton Hotel: traditional values, a vibrant history, a suggestion of simpler, better times when live music was the entertainment.

Of course, there’s also a sign forbidding anyone to touch it. It’s a truth widely acknowledged that nobody wants their salt and pepper squid sound-tracked by a kid or drunk uncle banging out ‘Chopsticks.’

Still, there’s nostalgic delight in a pub piano.

The front bar bursts with football memorabilia. Framed premiership photos, ancient posters, murals. Both the Magpies and the Power. Which one is it? No, sorry, it doesn’t seem like one club. Drop Igor from Siberia in here and ask him how many clubs he can see. Igor will reply, “Is two.”

But it’s a traditional front bar and promoted on the website as one, ‘enjoyed by all the family’ and there’s kids in here with dad and granddad all around a table, in their Power tops. The atmosphere is pre-match, festive, Saturday.

Velour coats, black cans and fags are in vogue out in the sports garden. There’s a gigantic TV screen showing the early spring races. My Coopers pint is well-priced at $7 and while nursing this, Nature Strip, one of the country’s best sprinters, wins at Randwick.

A brisk shower squalls over as my beef parmigiana arrives, hearty and tasty, with a decent tangle of golden chips (mercifully not buried beneath the schnitzel). My salad includes pickled purple cabbage, and it’s an unexpected treat.

*

Today I’m also making my Alberton Oval debut. How can this be? Unlike Glenelg Oval, parking’s easy and there’s no 2-hour limit. I see no sneering knots of yoof in Everlast tops, and the lawns all look clipped. It’s a handsome suburb with splendid villas and bungalows. I enjoy the walk.

Coming through the Bob McLean Gate, the cheer squad is going off-chops. And we’re still a few minutes before the bounce. I’ve not seen (or heard) a real SANFL cheer squad for years so congratulations Port.

I survey the ground. It’s long and broad and the turf is immaculate. Like the best sporting complexes, it’s a measured mix of the historic and the modern. The old grandstands are low and cosy while the Allan Scott Power Headquarters is sleek but not daunting.

I locate the imagery I was anticipating. The Dry Zone is empty. There’s an octogenarian in knee-high ugg boots. Near me is a skull completely covered in a curious tattoo and then, of course, I see his hairstyle opposite, Greg Anderson, whose locks, I suspect, will forever be 1990. While he was a fine footballer, his Vanilla Ice mullet should also enter various halls of fame.

A bar offers Point Nine beer by Pirate Life. It’s a ‘hop forward ultra-light.’ I ask for a 2007 grand final commemorative lager, the One Hundred and Nineteen, but they’ve sold out.

Unlike Glenelg home matches there’s no shrill, unrelenting music between quarters. Just a welcome chance to chat. Ducking into the Social Club it’s festooned in celebrated iconography. Ebert, the Williams family, Ginever. Unforgivably, no Bomber Clifford. This is a unified crowd, a mob who love their preacher, a bunch happy with their evangelism. Ambling about the ground the sense of community is indisputable.

Port’s in front all game courtesy of a five-goal opening stanza. The swirling breeze makes for scrappy footy punctuated by lightning bursts when one side gets clear. Glenelg’s not been in great form over the past month but has scrambled some last quarter escapes. While the Magpies get good service from some of their AFL types in Hartlett, Mayes and Woodcock they’re not the difference.

After seventeen consecutive wins, with all this significant history looming, Glenelg’s final minor round match is a loss at Alberton. But I’ve enjoyed an afternoon plunged in football culture.

However, and this really disappoints: I don’t spot a single duffle coat.

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Pub Review: Charlie Watts and the Ramsgate

Freshly painted like a Cunard ocean liner, the Ramsgate is a big, majestic seaside pub.

It puts me in mind of similarly white-washed beach-front boozers in Brighton, England and St Kilda in Melbourne. It’s Friday evening and Claire and I are about to dine with Nick and his wife, Chris.

Someone once observed that Glenelg’s Moseley Square is for kids and that you graduate to Henley Square as an adult. I’m not sure the demographics are quite this dichotomous, but it’s a curious thought. I feel lucky that we can enjoy both.

The barkeep speaks my language (a local dialect- Friday Night Thirsty), “We’ve imperial pints for $7.” This was welcome news indeed, but it troubles me that in our tiny colony we differentiate between pints (425ml) and imperial pints (568ml). Surely, a pint is a pint. And I, governor, vote for the big one. It’s like we’ve a South Australian minute that only runs for 45 seconds.

We’re shepherded to our table.

Port and the Bulldogs are playing on multiple screens. A few Januarys’ back Nick and I and some chaps booked lunch in the Ramsgate beer garden to watch the Sydney Test, only to discover that it was showing endless UFC fights. Unable to quickly get some neck tatts we slinked off to the front bar and the gentler magnetisms of cricket.

Nick and I’ve been mates since our Kapunda High days when we bonded over Skyhooks and the Stones’ 1981 album Tattoo You (predating UFC). Later came Midnight Oil and Dylan (for his 21st we gave him a book with the entire collected lyrics of his Bobness) and Nick Cave.

There’s sharing of family histories with ships departing from Hamburg mid-1800’s and Polish Hill and the Victorian goldrush. It’s a compelling privilege to hear the remarkable yarns tracing how you all came to be sitting at the same pub table on an August night. The waiter pays us three patient visits before we’ve decided on our tucker, such is the gusto of our yak. It’s a positive metric.

Claire and Chris finish their bubbles, so Nick asks for a Running with the Bulls Grenache, made in the Barossa. The wine’s Spanish narrative, I’m sure, is designed as a point of difference from the largely German motifs of the valley. Initially, it’s a little sharp but then softens, like a 1950’s hospital matron.

Nick and I have the first of our compulsory conversations about the Rolling Stones and again agree that “Gimme Shelter” is their finest song. I mention reading once of its opening being characterised by “apocalyptic dread” while Nick speaks in awe of Merry Clayton’s backing vocals, probably the most revered in music history.

War, children
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

Given Charlie Watts’ passing days after our discussion this chat now seems a little haunted.

Claire enjoys her butter chicken while Chris and I each settle upon the lime-infused squid. There’s no audible complaining. Nick’s steak is delayed due to human error, which philosophically, I’d argue, is the only real type of error. Ultimately, he’s pleased with it.

There would seem to be Teal-flavoured human error aplenty on the big screens for at half-time in the footy Port’s only managed a solitary goal. The pub’s front door is shut so we can’t hear the yelping from Alberton.

It’s a prosperous and lively place, this Ramsgate and our night’s replete with conversation, cups and respectable nosh.

Tomorrow night’s a full moon. We stroll up the balmy, windless esplanade for a nightcap.

0

Macbeth marks strongly but misses to the near side

How evocative to attend the Goodwood Theatre for a performance of Macbeth.

It’s a play I’ve been spellbound by since I was at school and studied it in Mrs Maloney’s class. When she was a teenager this small theatre is also where my wife Claire made her theatrical debut in Lola Montez but, Your Honour, to my continuing shame I have no recollection of this.

While I’d read and taught the Scottish play countless times, the recent realisation that I’d never seen it on stage startled me. The Goodwood stage was raked towards the audience at an alarming angle and was diamond-shaped. It made me concerned that the artistes might tumble onto the spectators and make us unwitting, additional victims of the supernatural bloodletting.

Our state premier Mr Steven Marshall took his seat just in front of us. Looking like a Kelvinator draped in shapeless black shade cloth, his personal security chap sat next to him. I decided to behave myself. Given the play is about civil mayhem and assassination it is surely tax deductible for all aspiring and upright politicians. I trust Mr Marshall kept his ticket stub. Regicide’s always in vogue.

The production was arresting and visceral and I since discovered an article which argued that in this most sinister of Shakespearean texts made notorious by words such as dagger, cauldron and weird the most unsettling word is the.

Best illustrated by this famous section as lady Macbeth urges her husband-

Your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower,

But be the serpent under ’t.”

Academics argue that instead of using the generic a, the definite article the as in the serpent rather than a serpent implies an underlying idea, a lurking agency and invests it with greater menace and unknown symbolism.

*

Friday afternoon in the city and Claire led me by the hand along the harried streets as we evaded the suits and clots of yoof and e-scooters. I felt warm anticipation and the joy of unveiling surprise for it was the monthly moment of personally curated escape that is Mystery Pub.

Tucked away in an almost secreted nook The Historian is like a summery London boozer as the punters were a-throng outside and in. Squeezed in around a pillar on our stools there was pub clamour and buzzing bustle. I was reminded of Jordan in the Great Gatsby who remarked that she loved big parties because, “they’re so intimate.” Our conversation took on a conspiratorial quality and we could’ve been Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in isolated Dunsinane castle, save for the murderous scheming and horrific descent into lonely madness.

*

I took Alex and Max and their mates to the Glenelg v Centrals game Saturday and can report that the five of them saw upwards of five minutes of footy, collectively. This healthy apathy transported me back to Kapunda games as a kid when the match was often just a loose backdrop, a vague context that gave shape to the afternoon. What a marvellous fortune to be able to take in this beachside frivolity in the late winter. And kids under 18, are admitted free!

During the A grade when I was about ten I ran after my footy among the pine trees behind Freeling Oval and almost stepped on a snake catching some winter warmth. Heart a-pumpin’ I stopped and then like a lorry took a wide arc to snatch my Lyrebird footy. Again, Macbeth and its reptilian imagery comes to mind-

We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it.

She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice

Remains in danger of her former tooth.

*

Our Sunday morning pattern is to take the dogs Buddy and Angel (Buddy and Angel does sound like a dreadful movie in which two unlikely LA cops solve a previously impenetrable crime and win grudging praise from the grumpy Chief of Police) down the beach for a scamper among other hounds and humans.

The winter storms have dumped giant mounds of seaweed over the sand. On the grey, swirling days I could almost sense the hideous witches from Macbeth huddled over a bubbling pot, described thus

By each at once her choppy finger laying

Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so.

It’s an invigorating and elemental way to begin a Sunday and the brisk air does us good and Angel, such a timid, delicate puppy, yelps with delight and leaps like a hare. She’s a beach dog, more Enid Blyton than The Bard.

*

My old school friend Chris, now splitting his time between Angaston (Ango) and Adelaide texted asking me of my Wednesday night plans. I replied, “What have you in mind?”

My phone buzzed with his clear wish- “Meat and three veg.”

So we took our meat and (limited to potato) veg at the Duke of Brunswick. Unlike the charmless beer barns of the anonymous suburbs this pub’s an inner-city delight. Warm, snug and with glowing lighting it invites talk of hometown mates and ancient bonds.

In my week of diverse gratefulness, this is another luminous episode.

While the Duke of Brunswick is well-named there’s other British pubs like the Ape and Apple, The Cat and Custard Pot Inn and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn (try the ploughman’s lunch).

But I’d opt for the title given Macbeth just before he slays King Duncan-

              The Thane of Cawdor.

That’d be an apt boozer for a gloomy winter’s night.

2

Mystery Pub

“As we enter our autumn years, we’ll need other hobbies apart from going to the pub,” Claire said philosophically, if not medically.

“But we already do,” I replied, possibly a little sensitively, “We research pubs, talk about pubs, and I write about pubs,” I added self-consciously, if not metacognitively.

A well-being expert (not Tony Abbott) once said that there’s three ingredients for a good and happy life: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. Mystery Pub neatly meets all three once a month for an hour. What a psychologically robust concept it is. So affirming.

Our wedding photographers said the best photos of couples are not when they’re kissing, but the moment just before, when there’s the briefest space and time. It invites the photo’s audience to imagine what next happens and engages them more actively. It’s delicious. Maybe Friday afternoons in a dappled beer garden are like this too. All expectation and simmering bliss. Or maybe that’s a silly stretch or an inappropriate analogy.

But I love the pub for an hour on Friday afternoons.

No more than sixty minutes. Watching strangers arrive, all animated and bustling. I wonder about their lives and private joys and terrors. Then the gradual uplift of buzzing chat punctuated by ruptures of laughter. A chance for Claire to try a new shiraz. I sample a craft ale. The promise dangling in front of a weekend. The transition between work and play.

Our shared, joyous cusp.

Here’s a retrospective of our Mystery Pubs. Some have been triumphant (Mount Mary) while others a little underwhelming (Forth) but still worthy of a visit. The architecture, the history, the mise en scene. Some are female (Lady Burra, Mount Mary, Grace Emily) and others are male (Duke, Benjamin) while some are geographic with Inglewood connoting LA and West Oak evoking medieval England (Meet me at the West Oak, not the East Oak and we shall duel to the death with our jousting sticks).

Anyway, August is Claire’s pick, and I look forward to ambling in for that idyllic hour of escape and discovery.

24/9- John Doe’s Local Bar

13/8/21- The Historian

2/7/21- Lady Burra Brewhouse

4/6/21 – Grace Emily

7/5/21- The Kentish

4/4/21- Inglewood Inn

5/3/21- Parkside Hotel

6/2/21- West Oak

22/1/21- Mount Mary

12/12/20- Forth (Jetty Road, Glenelg)

20/11/20- Maylands

18/9/20- Duke of Brunswick

15/8/20- Benjamin on Franklin

0

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.

1

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.

2

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.

*

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.

2

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