Battery Point Boozers: Heroic Journeys into Hobart’s Hotels

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 gums 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 a pub back in my hometown of Kapunda also 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 settled 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 have a yarn with a raspberry farmer, Phil and his partner Mary, about Turkey. How do these conversations start? 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 cut across Arthur Circus, and head down the hill to my digs on Salamanca Place.

*

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 Fox Footy 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 Chissy 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 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 also 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 with 60s soul and then songs on alternative film soundtracks 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.

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Timely Mickey. We’re staying at the Prince of Wales for the Almanac lunch – July 28 lunch at the Ball and Chain. All welcome. Check out our Calendar of Events.

  2. Rulebook says:

    Well played,Mickey entertaining as always you took us all to tassy

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Wonderful Mickey. So many fantastic watering holes in Hobart.
    The New Sydney Hotel, right on the edge of the CBD, is my favourite, with Prickly Moses regularly included on their rotating tap list.
    Polished concrete- run for your life indeed!!!

  4. Thanks JTH. I stayed a thumping handpass from the Ball and Chain, and it was busy every night. An excellent sign.

    Cheers, Rulebook. That was my first visit. I’d love to return and get to either the footy or cricket at Bellerive.

    I didn’t get into the CBD this trip Luke as there was plenty to occupy me within a gentle walk of my digs. Sunday afternoon I did a hop-on, hop off bus tour and found some other spots worth exploring, including the Cascade Brewery and the park about the Governor’s residence. Next time!

  5. E.regnans says:

    Hi Mickey.
    Yes, Battery Point will do that, I think.
    Traversed those hills and dales on foot many times.
    The Shippy’s a particular favourite. That front bar, with a Cascade Stout.
    I was huddled at a high table there one evening when Charles Woolley and Ray Martin and a host of other gents started up the story-telling.
    It’s a story-telling pub.

    I enjoyed a good walk from the Shippy’s to the premiership-winning Sandy Bay -South Hobart Cricket Club one evening, too – via Errol Flynn Reserve.
    Ahh, Hobart.

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Treasured chat. And daily driftwood. Lovely Mickey. Much the tone of your pieces.
    I’ve never been to Tassie … might be time.

  7. Er- yes, a story-telling pub. There should be a national register of these. Some places just want to grab your coin, and others really want for you to luxuriate into the space; to treat it as your own. The Shipwrights Arms has sailed (sorry) into my top ten!

    Mathilde- that was my first visit, and there was much to like. Those I met and observed seemed to have a singular contentment, and were largely unbothered by the perceptions of others. Thanks for that.

  8. Tassie is a winner.

  9. A lovely yarn, as always, Mickey.
    Every pub has its own feel, its own story to tell. It’s just that sometimes we don’t particularly like the feel or the story, so we need to find a place where we do.
    That Salamanca / Battery Point area really does retain an old maritime feel.

    I’m looking forward to being down there on the 28th with a crew of Knackers.

  10. JTH- my brief Tassie experience confirmed, again, the Australia is not one nation, but many view.

    Smokie- I reckon there’s (sea) legs in your theory about pubs and their story. Because, if the beer’s roughly the same, then there must be other differentiators. And, of course, it really works when the pub narrative and our personal narratives intertwine, and it becomes a shared place.

    Thanks.

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