Up the Derwent to MONA

I’ve been accused, since I was a boy, 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 Antarctic ghoul from the Harry Potter series.


Ordering a Cascade Pale Ale and a pizza, I note that mine host is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. A quick scan of the shadowy, 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 (she doesn’t drink Bundy; it’s her single exclusion).


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?


Much of Australia is wobbling on the edge of drought and, even here in Tasmania, the hills are brown and thirsty. The Derwent’s a colossal harbour, and is more Port Lincoln than Sydney with its rustic, inviting appearance. Years ago, the boast was that it could comfortably accommodate every navy in the world.



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


MONA’s architecture is instructive for we are sent down a spiralling staircase to the gloomy depths, and in exploring the exhibits, are to ascend, towards the light. This establishes a central theme of the vast collection, for it’s about decay and marginalisation, and the enlightenment this can bring. 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. 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 old 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 mismatched tempos. I reckon the drummer gets home by a half-length.


Each musician is a female octogenarian.


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



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


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


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


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


I move 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 cassettes, like Ripper ’77.


I also take in a smiling hermaphrodite illumination and other happy collisions of ideas and amateur but engaging execution, including an entire darkened wall of vaginal casts, and its accompanying eight-minute audio commentary. I wonder if it’s 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.


About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello


  1. Rick Kane says

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qryAwfpHG8o great band in case you don’t know them MR

    Love your wistful tales and take on things. And how you see and hear art most everywhere you go.

  2. I don’t “like” dark confronting art. I figure if I want to see that I only need a bottle of red and a night of ragged dreams.
    The top floor of the Musee Dorsay with wall to wall Monet and Degas is my bucolic idyll. Falling asleep on a haystack with a pretty girl fills the bill for me.
    Still, I like to be challenged and wonder at what happens inside the 6 inches of someone else’s skull. Art does that. So do you rambling journeys Mickey. Thanks for sharing.
    AE and I are off to the Guggenheim in Bilbao in September. Three hours of confusion and misery. Much like yesterday afternoon at Subiaco. But the Guggenheim has a Michelin starred restaurant overlooking the river for consolation. I’ll write and return the favour.

  3. Citrus Bob says

    Mickey R – does your experience mean that you will be heading to Mildura after the Crows are eliminated from the finals. The dates for “The Art of Football -MarnGrook? exhibition are from Wednesday 13th September to October 2nd and then at the Rain Moth gallery in Waikerie.
    See you there.

  4. Citrus Bob says

    PB – why go the Guugenheim when you can come to Mildura for very little compared with Bilbao?

  5. CB – to escape the West Coast Eagles. September in Europe is my favourite time. Finals can be digested over breakfast on the IPad. Losses (or the total absence of finals) salved with tapas and cava. I know the art would be better in Mildura, but I would have to deal with constant reminders of my disappointment.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Mickey. Some cracking pubs in Hobart. Could well be my favourite city to visit.

  7. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I love how on this footy site we can join the dots between it, art, travel, the personal, and music. Ultimately, they’re all connected.

  8. Rulebook says

    Mickey so such thing as under dressing in my book if I had my way track suits only good stuff

  9. Fair point Rulebook. However, I do think that going out in ugg-boots or thongs and socks indicates a certain lack of self-regard. But this may just be me!

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