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Good Friday in Battery Point

Arthur Circus in the heart of Battery Point (no, that’s Claire; Arthur Circus is the location)

Disembarking at our St Ives apartment late on Easter Thursday I decide as I’ve now run 67 consecutive days that this should continue. It matters not that we’re now in another state. So, in the Good Friday morning stillness I jog south on the Sandy Bay Road.

There’s a trickle of traffic and I pass the Doctor Syntax pub: solemn and grey and vaguely medieval. I love that there’s a comic figure, British thoroughbred, play and rock album all named for this medical and grammatical character. Easing down the footpath I vow that we’ll invest an hour late one Easter afternoon. The roadside signage promises all manner of pubby treats. There’s a beer garden too.

Further along is the Sandy Bay bakery with thickening knots of folk on the street, all poised with lattes and brioche things. I pick my way past.

Then I turn off Sandy Bay Road and steer towards the water and Errol Flynn Reserve. Named for the celebrated 1930’s Hollywood star who was born in Hobart, the reserve is neither swashbuckling nor braggadocious. It’s surprisingly modest and utterly lacking in Freudian imagery.

A whale blubber pot in Salamanca Place; yum.

The hushed streets and handsome weatherboard homes and benign, flat river remind me of the play for voices, Under Milkwood and I wonder, slogging along, about Captain Cat, Nogood Boyo and Mr. Mog Edwards, those most magnificent creations of Dylan Thomas. I recall the beginning-

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea

With the Hobart atmosphere resting gently on the bay, I steal across the Royal Yacht club of Tasmania carpark towards the Derwent Sailing Squadron. Many 4WD’s have nosed their broad beaks into the spaces although I spot no sailors on the balcony. Dry-docked craft hang about like timber phantoms.

My destination is the Wrest Point casino, defined by its dire 70’s concrete tower reminiscent of Glenelg’s Revolving restaurant, itself for some time now an empty, hideous blob. If nothing else Hobart’s casino seems persistent. I nod at it. I’m rarely a casino patron but there used to be an excitement in visiting one. Now it seems to me that there’s a sharper sense of occasion popping down the servo Sunday evening for a block of fruit ‘n’ nut.

Completing a U-turn, I’m now on a dirt coastal path with a curmudgeonly sign forbidding dogs. Why escapes me and I then encounter a pair of happily defiant owners and their snouting hounds. People and Hounds- 1, Authorities- 0.

In a playground I pass a ruddy-cheeked couple with a toddler, all surging towards a stationary swing, their worlds necessarily shrunk. Puffa-jackets, flat whites, and singular smiles. They’re having a very good Friday.

Kelly’s Steps leading into Salamanca Place

Swinging into Napoleon Street and as promised by the motel receptionist I confront a hilly challenge. With nothing like it in pancake Glenelg, I tiptoe up its sharp tarmac, my calves pinging like a submarine radar. The sunlight bends in across me with kindly promise and assists my ascent.

Rumbling up the curiously named Trumpeter Street the sail-white and seafaring-blue façade of the Shipwright Arms gladdens me as I drift past. It’s inviting and stately but there’s an abandoned rum can by its front door. What should I expect at a nautical pub in this most nautical town? I promise an hour in its lounge-room like front bar by week’s end (gee, our week’s fast filling up).

Homeward bound through Battery Point, noted bakery Jackson and McRoss sits invitingly on the curb, all close and confident, like many Hobart frontages, as if they’ve been plonked there by the road, direct from London. It’s prosperous and caffeinated and sticky-bunned beneath its green sign. For these peoples it’s already a good Friday.

Drippy-browed and clingy-shirted in the motel foyer I poke the elevator button. Our MONA ferry departs in an hour.

Your correspondent’s beer in the Shipwrights Arms
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Battery Point Boozers: Brave Journeys into Hobart’s Hotels

SA

Striding up Runnymede Street into the heart of Battery Point and the beginning of Friday night with the dark and the cold pressing down upon me, I take in my surroundings. I dichotomize Arthur Circus, Australia’s only circus, with its cottages built close to each other as if they’re all huddling together around a scrub campfire.

These are streets with houses and restaurants and stores all pushing for attention, right up on the footpath. There’s no sweeping front lawns and yawning gum trees, but cobblestones, and a distinctly London-like topography.

I’m in Hobart for a conference and tonight the Crows are hosting the Bulldogs back at Adelaide Oval. As there’s also a pub back in my hometown of Kapunda called the Prince of Wales I involuntarily step inside the Tassie version, and find my place at the side bar.

It’s a snug corner populated with eccentric locals and bohemians and ordinary folks and tourists who seem to possess some organic ownership over this space. One of the staff, Aaron, is the brother of Nathan with whom I worked in Singapore. Between his pouring and my emptying, we chat in a necessarily staccato way.

I then have a yarn with a raspberry farmer, Phil and his partner Mary, about Turkey. How do these conversations commence? Together, we roam through Kusadasi and its heady lanes of Irish bars, and on to Istanbul and the Bosphorus and the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque, and then, finally, to Gallipoli.

Phil offers me half of his burger. I buy his wife a Bacardi and Coke. Just like the Crows, we’re all winning. Later, they move to the front bar, to dance to a jazzy blues band.

After the siren, I again cut across Arthur Circus, and head down the hill.

*

Saturday, late afternoon and the dark is rising as I amble past the chippy and the curry house towards the Shipwrights Arms, all white and majestic like a billowing sail. Safely inside and perched like a parrot on a stool, I examine her stained-glass windows and nautical photos.

There’s Sydney to Hobart memorabilia including pictures of my favourite yacht, Brindabella, while across the wall is a black and white depiction of HMAS Vampire. By the door is a rack. Black coats hang as if deflated ghouls. The footy’s on a tele and Sydney’s again galloping towards the finals.

Suddenly, I realise the aural beauty. The commentary is muted, and there’s no music pounding down from ceiling speakers, and no jiggly death clatter from hidden pokies. There’s only the lowing conversations from happy knots of folks. No TAB and Sky racing insistence, just human voices like a heartbeat line, traced on an ECG, with laughter providing the graph’s healthy spikes.

It’s a pub in which chat is treasured. The business plan could be: encourage them to talk and relax, just like they would at home. I could be in Cornwell or Yorkshire.

The Shipwrights Arms has but five beers on tap, and around its lavish bar are scattered some older blokes who each buy a stubby, and pour it into a small glass. Although I wasn’t born, it seems very 1955. I recognise one fellow from last night at the Prince of Wales. He’s just retired, and is heading to Sicily next week for a few months. He’s pretty excited. I’m happy for him.

In another nook, by the fire, I see another television screen. The darts is on and Barney is in strife against Chisnel in the Shanghai Masters. By the bar, just next to me, Ted and Ron and Bruce are ribbing each other with the gentle affection of old mates. They drink pots, and talk of absent friends and golf and the daily driftwood of a quiet island life.

*

I know I should pop into a most marvellously named pub, Doctor Syntax, over in Sandy Bay, but time is against me. It’s branded after a famous nineteenth century British racehorse, and as I’m in town for a literacy convention the name should also be personally symbolic or hyperbolic, but maybe instead it’s a name for an editing franchise. Having trouble with apostrophes? Call Doctor Syntax on 1-800-COMMA.

When I walk into a pub I try to look at the floor for I reckon this can be informative. Polished concrete? Run for your life! The Whaler, in the heart of Salamanca Place, has old worn tiles that echo with Moby Dick and Ishmael and the swish of harpoons.

Inside is deep like an old friend’s hug and chocolate dark and above the bar timbers there’s stained glass that’s austere and haunted and vaguely Eastern European. In front of me a circle of young women, possibly tertiary students, are all in black coats. One, clearly the alpha, is setting a fierce Chardonnay pace, and she’s lapped her peers. I’ve seen this movie before. It could be lights out at eleven, for her.

Given it’s a uni pub there’s music. There’s 60’s soul and then songs featured on hip alternative films from the nineties. It makes me smile. A girl from the circle shuffles a few steps across the prehistoric tiles to Morphine’s “Buena” and its saxophone, all sultry and snaking and menacing, but when no one joins her, she flops onto her stool.

There’s an early evening ease, but then an agitated young guy and two barely clad girls burst in, and the spell is broken. There’s now a ménage a trois edge. Time to bolt. I tip down my ale and head home to the footy and Rockwiz.

whaler

 

 

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