2

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

 

 

.

 

 

 

2

Here I am, happy in Hobart

ferry

I’ve been accused, obviously in the past, by both strangers and loved ones, including my wife, of ridiculous and unknowable underdressing.

It’s dark as a pint of stout and only just past five bells here in Hobart. As luck would have it, I’ve located a stool in the front bar of The Telegraph, and let me assure you, I’m suitably clad for the climate.

It’s July, but the side door is wedged open, tempting a decidedly crisp draught to gush into the pub, and phantom about us, like an anonymous, yet Arctic ghoul from the Harry Potter series.

Ordering a Cascade Pale Ale and a pizza, I note that Old Mate behind the bar is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. A quick scan of the dark, convict interior tells me that he’s not the only one. If my wife were here, she may well now be in an involuntary foetal position, wailing for a Bundy and a blanket.

Scrutiny of the pub’s décor also tells me that stripping away the uptartedness, this is an old world, maritime boozer. I can almost hear The Pogues, playing Rum Sodomy & the Lash.

Already, I’m happy in Hobart.

*

With the MONA ROMA ferry hurtling up the Derwent there was music thumping across the deck. I was instantly smitten hearing Joe Tex and his 1977 classic “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman).” I mean, who wouldn’t be?

Australia is wobbling on the edge of drought and, even here in Tasmania, the hills are brown and thirsty. It’s a massive harbour, and is more Port Lincoln than Sydney with its expansive stretches and rustic, inviting appearance.

*

How tremendous to invest an afternoon in this most modern and confronting of museums?

The architecture is instructive for we are sent, mole-like, to the depths, and in exploring the exhibits, are to ascend, towards the light. This establishes a central theme of the vast collection, for it is about decay and marginalisation. MONA is more Nick Cave than One Direction. I’m eager.

It’s also surely a first-world indulgence that we have the luxury of introspection and probing questioning. Each room has a theme and the first two I visit are declared as opposites: faith and satire. I take an inner breath. Here’s two ideas I hold important. Are these so incompatible? Do I have to surrender one? I fear satire may be just in the lead.

I pause at an ancient TV which is looping endlessly through the clip of a band unsuccessfully trying to master the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen.” The singer holds a sheet of lyrics in front of her agonised face, while the drummer and guitarist are bravely attempting the same song, but in violently clashing tempos.

Each musician is an octogenarian.

It’s funny and probably cruel and I wonder what I’m supposed to think.

*

There’s a large cement cavern, vaguely reminiscent of London’s Tate Modern and its turbine hall, with its evocations of empire and space and dark. Along its length is Sidney Nolan’s installation, “Snake” comprising over 1,600 individual paintings across 46 winding metres. When it was conceived and assembled Nolan was already elderly, and I gasp at the colossal nature of his singular, ambitious vision.

A major departure, as near as my innocent eye can tell, from European galleries, is how this collection celebrates unheralded, everyday artists. Many of the works are Art Brut and Outsider Art, often by commoners and folks suffering mental illness, especially in the London-based Museum of Everything. There’s an insolent rejection of high culture, and a preference given to solitude, and the voices of the disturbed.

My audio companion instructs me in the work of a Prussian butcher who was fascinated by the cosmos and space travel, and created accordingly. Until recently he received no acknowledgement. How great, how vast, how rich is this planet?

I like that, at least in these very minor ways, there’s an arc towards democratisation.

I swing back through the galleries, past the dinosaurs assembled from found objects such as cable ties and one, a large asaurus of some note, built from both blank and pre-recorded cassette tapes, including incurably hideous disco tapes, but none by Joe Tex. By hang tight folks, if vinyl can make a comeback so can dinosaurs and tapes, like Ripper ’77.

I also take in a smiling hermaphrodite illumination and other happy collisions of ideas and amateur execution, including an entire darkened wall of vaginal casts, and its accompanying eight-minute audio commentary. I wonder if it has been commissioned by my favourite conceptual artist, Maude, of The Big Lebowski. I hope so.

Suddenly, the bright, southern day is rushing to the east. I’m back on the ferry and the Tasmanian velvet is pushing in, all over Salamanca Place.

I head to the pub.

maude