Grand Final 2016: Country Pubs and Club Sandwiches

A meandering drive north from Adelaide, the Clare Valley is among my favourite places on the planet. Lush hills host rows of Riesling and cabernet vines, and settlements are sprinkled about, appearing as English villages.

But allow me to be precise. The valley’s best town is Mintaro and in its centre is the superb Magpie and Stump Hotel (est.1851). I’ve minor affection for its architecture although leaning against its bar I first heard a publican say, “Another cup of tea, Vicar?” which amuses me more than it should.

Its beer garden is perfect: generous lawn, tables and chairs, swaying gum trees. Luxuriating in the Magpie and Stump’s faultlessness my lunch arrived: a club sandwich. Of all the cultural contributions of New York state, this, I’d argue, is its finest. How can one not love a club sandwich?

*

Following a voluntary diaspora during which our group lived variously in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Gilgandra, we’re back in Clare for the long weekend. I love tradition, and am thrilled that this one is back after too many years.

The old world tone of our visit is enhanced by the medieval floods and tempests. Notwithstanding the problematic marvel of electricity Clare suffers continuing phone and internet outages, meaning we must pay cash for everything. It’s like 1974. My sideburns seem fluffier.

The footy’s approaching so I veer into a winery to collect some sparkling cabernet-shiraz. Despite his splendid location, and gentle days crafting gorgeous things, in our lengthy experience the vigneron remains the grumpiest man within a light-year. I creep in.

“G’day mate. How’s things?”

“Yeah, well, you know we haven’t had internet for three days. Can’t use EFTPOS. What do ya want?”

But there’s something endearing in his longitudinal consistency, and I wonder if it’s a performance, a learned expectation. With two bottles of Anastasia (90+points) under my arm, I retreat.

*

With the wife away for work in Noumea (yeah, I know!) wrangling the boys during the grand final is a challenge, but there’s a pub, the Taminga, just down the street from our digs. On the footpath we’re welcomed by a bouncing troika of red, white and blue balloons while the red and white pair flutters too. Inside is bright and the floorboards and exposed brickwork are stylish. There’s a kids’ playroom. The boys bolt. Sorted. We claim some barstools.

The match is underway. Flagging the impending tension, minutes and minutes pass without the opening score. Old mate Mozz and I watch and chat, exchanging news over our crisp ales. The Bulldogs hurl themselves into the contest, but we know Sydney is undeniably classy.

A footytrip of lads bursts into the Taminga. They’re all wearing nametags. My collective noun is wrong – it’s a buckshow. I ask the groom’s brother, “So, what’s the plan?”

He replies, “The top pub, the middle pub, the bottom pub.”

Brilliant. On this afternoon his exact words are repeated by other buckshow participants, in country towns across this wide, brown, occasionally soggy land.

The second quarter is colossal with lead changes and surging, ruthless football. After a week of apocalyptic storms, the sunlight bends through the windows like liquid straw. Three farmers are anchored at the bar, and I don’t think they lift their backsides all afternoon. Josh Kennedy rampages across the MCG like a pirate, like a Wall Street wolf.

As it’s grand final day (and Mum’s in the Pacific) I get the boys a lemonade and bag of chips. If it was 1974 and I’d a HQ ute parked out the front, they’d be in it with the AM radio on. With the groom having enjoyed a costume change from Freddie Mercury to nondescript showgirl the buckshow invades the middle pub. Thanks to mine host half time also heralds happy hour, and like Black Caviar on the turn, Mozz starts to accelerate.

The final hour of the season is astonishing. During other deciders I’ve been neutral, but today demands that like the rest of the galaxy my red, white and blue scarf is on, at least metaphorically. The Bulldogs are tremendous, and now the Taminga becomes seismic.

And at the siren there’s Boyd and Johannisen and Picken and Beveridge and Murphy. The boys watched the last quarter with us, and they’re excited too. How could they not be? I’ve appreciated this grand final more than any since last century. 2016 will forever be talked about with wide smiles and damp eyes.

It’s a weekend of rebirth both in Footscray and up here in this patchwork valley of vineyards and fetching hamlets. I can’t wait for next year.

 

SYDNEY SWANS            1.2   7.3   8.5   10.7 (67)

WESTERN BULLDOGS  2.0   7.1   9.7   13.11 (89)

GOALS

Sydney Swans: Kennedy 3, Mitchell 2, Parker, N. Smith, Rohan, Franklin, Hewett

Western Bulldogs: T. Boyd 3, Dickson 3, Picken 3, Cordy, McLean, C. Smith, Stringer

BEST 

Sydney Swans: Kennedy, Mitchell, Rampe, Heeney, Jones, Hannebery

Western Bulldogs: Johannisen, Picken, T. Boyd, Macrae, M. Boyd, Dahlhaus

INJURIES 

Sydney Swans: Franklin (right ankle), Hannebery (left knee)

Western Bulldogs: Johannisen (calf)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Stevic, Meredith, Jeffery

Official crowd: 99,981 at the MCG

Our votes: Johannisen, Kennedy, Picken

 

 

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. Good stuff Mickey,did you have any dramas with the floods ? Sounds like a fantastic tradition
    ( mind you the better half gets the 3 votes for being in Noumea )

  2. “Sunlight bends through the windows like liquid straw.” Perfection.
    Drank at the M&S a few times in the 70’s on our Easter trips to Clare races. Mintaro’s other highlights are the slate quarry that serviced every antiquarian billiard table and the magnificent Martindale Hall that was used as the girls school in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Built by a bloke who went broke for a woman who never came – I love a mad folly.
    Maker of the Anastasia please and a rating. AE and I are working our way through Australia’s dwindling sparkling reds. Another mad folly – for consumer and winemaker alike.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Mickey, did the Taminga have the big screen, or was it the old CRT job, perched high up the corner, oblivious to newfanglised HD, with half of the scores cut off in the bottom left hand corner and no sound?

  4. Rulebook- the flooding was evident with the road from Tarlee to Clare washed out in places. The Clare golf course was sodden too and we could only get out there late Sunday. My boys spent as much time in the mud and creeks as my ball.

    PB- Anastasia is made by Mintaro Wines- about a three wood from the pub. It’s about $25 and has a distinctive palate; not overly bold a long way from the red cordial of some cheaper drops.

    Swish- correct! I like that their tele screens are small and old-fashioned. Reminds folks that their focus should be on each other and not just the box. They also possibly did all their coin on the renovations!

    Thanks men.

  5. Luke Reynolds says:

    Internet and phone outages. Having to pay cash for everything. Sounds like a trip to Kardinia Park.

    Going into a pub that’s over 160 years old is something special. I like the sound of The Magpie & Stump Hotel. Sounds like a great way to spend a GF. Reminds me that there’s so much more of this fantastic country I have to see.

  6. Luke- the storms and enduring aftermath reminded me again of our vulnerability and reliance on technology. Beer and coffee are the only cash purchases I make as I find it pretentious to thrust my card at the bar staff when I’ve bought a pint.

    The Magpie and Stump changes hands quite often, and I sometimes entertain the idea that we could buy it. Of course apart from pouring ales, talking to punters and fancying myself as mine host I’ve no idea about the challenges of running a pub, but never mind…

    If you get an opportunity it’s worth a visit and like the rest of the planet the Clare Valley is now dotted with boutique breweries so you could claim your travels!

    Thanks for this.

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