Round 19 – North Melbourne v Melbourne: When I Get Down To Hobart Town

When it comes to booking holiday accommodation, my form-line reads like the over-raced nag that grimly plugs away for years on country tracks and only rarely salutes. So our weekend in Hobart is off to a flyer when Mrs. Smokie gives our room the tick of approval. “It’s a cracker,” she declares. I’m chuffed. We are already feeling refreshed by our walk around historic Battery Point, breathing in the chilly but fresh morning air. The omens are all positive.


It is only a hop, skip and jump from our digs down to the Ball and Chain Grill in Salamanca, venue of the second Tasmanian Almanac lunch. Convicts erected the building when this colony was still known as Van Diemen’s Land. If the first was the “inaugural” and the second is the “annual”, then surely next year and beyond these lunches will be the “time-honoured”! The upstairs function room is heaving. Demand for the lunch has been strong; so much so that to seat everybody an extra table is hauled in after the expectant patrons have devoured the canapés. Harmsy is on fire – interviewing Sal (his mob “Intuit Technologies” are the lunch sponsors) and Greg from “Blundstone” (major sponsors of the Footy Almanac).


It is then the turn of North Melbourne assistant coach Brad Green to chat to the crowd. Looking as good as if he retired just yesterday, he talks us through his stint at Manchester United, where he trialled as a 15 year-old. He talks us through his stint as the captain of the Australian under-16 cricket team and his teammates Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and George Bailey. And, of course, he mentions his stellar 254-game career with Melbourne FC. He is generous with his time, and forthright on the prospect of a permanent AFL presence in the Apple Isle. Soccer, cricket, Aussie rules. What talent! And what humility! As John Howard might have said, the vibe in the room is now relaxed and comfortable. And why wouldn’t it be given the guests, the sense of community, the excellent food on our plates, the convivial conversation, the anticipation of tomorrow’s AFL match, and the Cascade Pale Ale being liberally consumed?


The long day ends with a visit to the Prince of Wales Hotel. In the bar, Flynny, Dips and Harmsy are perched on stools like three sages, taking in the Hawks-Swans match being beamed through on a tv in the corner. Advice is being offered to Buddy Franklin (“His hands are like cymbals, with the ball clashing off them”) and James Cicily (“Anyone would think he has played 200 games, the way he carries on”). Plenty of others are critiqued, not the least Will “Hot Lips” Langford. To my mind, it is another coaching master-class from Alistair Clarkson that secures Hawthorn a 6-point victory.


On a Saturday morning in Hobart, all roads seem to lead to the Salamanca Market. The crisp Hobart air has put a spring in the step of Mrs. Smokie and I as we make our way through Arthur’s Circus, down Kelly’s Steps and into the throng of the market. Normally not one to advertise my allegiance, this morning I have on my Kangaroos scarf – circa 2008. Many of the others browsing the stalls are displaying their footy colours; on balance, I would say it is a tie – there are equal numbers of the Demons’ red and blue and the Kangas’ blue and white. I open my wallet only once – and that is for a Jolly Jumbuck “a spit-roasted marinated lamb, lettuce, carrot and apple bushpepper relish kabab”. My taste buds instantly inform me that it is worth every cent of the $10 I shell out for it.


Hobart has a plethora of wonderfully preserved old watering holes. We have arranged to meet for a pre-match heart-starter at the Hope & Anchor Tavern, which advertises itself as the “Oldest Licensed Pub in Australia Circa 1807.” A quick ale and it is time for the bus to Bellerive. Flynny, Dips, Harmsy and I cram in – it is standing room only. The lights of Blundstone Arena, which will soon be turned on despite the 1:45pm start time, loom before us. I weigh up the competing colours of the commuters and decide that this time it is the Roos who are clearly in the ascendancy. Another omen, perhaps?


Blundstone have been kind enough to offer the four Almanackers tickets into their corporate hospitality area. The suite is actually in the Cricket Tasmania library, and it is located behind the goals at the city end of the oval. Had we not been protected by an inch of toughened glass, we would almost be able to reach out and touch the goal umpire. There are three walls of shelves packed with cricket books. As a collector of cricket tomes I can barely contain myself, but despite feeling like a child at Christmas I have Mrs. Smokie’s words ringing in my ears. “Don’t embarrass yourself,” she said as I departed for the game.

Old mates in the Blundstone Library

The match itself will not be remembered for its quality – more for the dour struggle of two teams battling the inhospitably windy conditions. The Kangas’ skill errors are a constant source of frustration. For reasons indecipherable, the Ricky Ponting Stand imposes itself on the game, regularly drawing the ball from the boot of North players and driving me to distraction. Ben Brown is a constant threat, Higgins is much of the play, and Andrew Swallow is playing his best game of the season (the conditions are suiting him to a tee). North is a measly goal up at three-quarter time, but has defended stoutly – keeping Melbourne goalless in the third term. Despite the endeavor that we have shown, putting a lie to the tanking talk, I am not confident of holding on. But Dips reckons we will win.

“The best corporate box in Australia” Who could argue?

And North does win. As we always do against Melbourne. Both of the two last term goals into the wind at the library end elicit a deserved celebration from most in the box. Flynny and I are breaking into song, extoling the virtues of Majak Daw, who takes an important mark late in the game but has been a non-entity otherwise. We are all loosening up. Laughs are constant. Chris and Greg, the Blundstone boys, are generous and engaging hosts. At siren time, glasses are refilled and we toast a deserving North Melbourne victory.


How 20 men squeeze into a 16-seat mini-bus for the trip back across the bridge to Hobart town is best left in the “What happens on the trip stays on the trip” file. But it goes without saying that the mood is light and the banter plentiful.


Sunday sees Mrs. Smokie playing tourist: after losing the circulation in my hands, we almost get blown from the peak of Mount Wellington; the displays at MONA are almost enough to leave us feeling dark and depressed; but we are buoyant again a much-needed late lunch in historic Richmond.


It has been a wonderful, relaxing and enjoyable weekend. Dare I say, it has been a cracker! Of course, the cherry on top has been North Melbourne’s fighting defensive win. I reckon I could do this all again next year. What say you, boys? Mrs. Smokie?


NORTH MELBOURNE    4.4    6.4    9.8    11.10 (76)
MELBOURNE                 2.0    8.5    8.8     10.12 (72)

North Melbourne: 
Brown 4, Simpkin 2, Waite, Swallow, McDonald, Thompson, Higgins
Melbourne: Garlett 3, Melksham 2, T McDonald 2, Oliver, Hogan, Hunt

North Melbourne:
 Brown, Higgins, McDonald, Swallow, Ziebell
Melbourne: Oliver, Gawn, Lewis, Garlett, Tyson

Umpires: Fisher, Harris, Pannell

Official crowd: 13,939

MALARKEY VOTES: 3. Brown (NM); 2. Oliver (Melb); 1. Higgins (NM).


About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Brilliant Smoke. Absolutely brilliant. Pretty much long weekend of the year for me. Had a ball. Hobart is superb, the kind people of Blundstone were superb, beers were superb. Food was superb. Harms and Flynn snoring not superb.

    I’m going next year to the time honoured lunch. Thanks again to Blundstone for their generosity of spirit. Magnificent hosts.

    My Salamanca market breakfast was a pork and bacon sausage in a bread roll with a coffee. It’s a natural hangover killer.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    That brief moment after opening the door to your accommodation, waiting for your partner’s opinion, is one of life’s scarier moments. Sounds like you chose well Smokie.

  3. Grand stuff. The cricket library looks like a beauty. Do they have a papyrus detector on the door for the absent mindedly light fingered?
    I reckon your mob should move to Blundstone permanently. Biggest home ground advantage in the league. Far South Melbourne Kangaroos?
    Shandy the Labrador still has nightmares about PF snoring.

  4. Mark Duffett says

    Great to meet you and Mrs Smokie, and equally great to read that you had pretty much the classic Hobart visitor experience over the weekend. I was wondering how you were going while trying to maintain my boundary throw-ins against the wind at Lindisfarne’s notoriously exposed ANZAC Park, a little way up the Derwent from Blundstone Arena. If I’d known you were so snugly ensconced in the warm embrace of Blundstone hospitality, I wouldn’t have worried!

    Presumably after rating the weekend a cracker, you’d be keen and raring to go for a repeat next year.

  5. great weekend account Smokie.

    Hobart is a vibrant spot and with pubs as old as the colony, good food, wine, footy Mona and Mt Wellington, all in two days..sounds superb.

    What did Mrs Smokie do whilst you were at the footy

  6. Dips – it was truly a great weekend. A mixture of everything.
    Swish – I can totally relate to that. It was a rare win for me on that front.
    PB – the fact that we were in a cricket library was sensational. The books were sorted alphabetically according to the author. One of our number was a little disappointed that “Confessions of a thirteenth Man” was not on the shelves. I dont know about a permanent move, but I could handle another North game to take it to 4.
    Mark – great to finally meet you at the lunch, and I look forward to catching up next time. The AFL boundary umps were also having real trouble with their throw-ins.
    Kate – Mrs S had a relaxing afternoon. I was home in time to take her out to dinner.

  7. Dave Brown says

    “Don’t embarrass yourself” – the sort of matrimonial support built upon years of experience, Smokie? Great report – love Hobart and your Roos appear to be able to snaffle wins more often than they might in Melbourne.

  8. Great article,Smokie as are the comments above don’t embarrass yourself mmm might have heard that line once or twice

  9. The great travel writer Bill Bryson once said that opening the door to a hotel room is one of life’s great excitements, and I agree. However, as many have noted, if it’s a room for you and your wife- and you’ve booked the accommodation- it’s also a moment of interpersonal terror. There’s significant meaning in that simple turning of the key, or swiping of the security card!

    David Walsh, the founder of MONA, would make an intriguing bio-film.

    Sounds like a wonderful weekend Smokie. Well played!

  10. John Butler says

    An account to leave us envious, Smokie.

    Mrs S has always been a woman to get straight to the point. :)

    And a win! Score!


  11. Luke Reynolds says

    What a weekend you had Smokie. Hobart is such a wonderful place.
    Any chance North might host Collingwood at Blundstone Arena next season?

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