Help Me Through the World

  • Bridge Hotel

    Bridge Hotel

    I have spent a fair bit of time now looking down into the Forth River valley, hanging out in the high country near its headwaters. Sometimes I reach down from the rooty banks of the Forth with a water container and scoop up some its water for my consumption. It is some of the best water a person can drink.

    From here, the water rolls down some cascades, snakes along through dense forest, picks up a few tributaries, and goes through two hydroelectric impoundments. It empties into Bass Strait under a railway bridge in Ulverstone, but not before passing one of the most picturesque pubs in Tassie, the Bridge Hotel in a township named Forth.

    This gorgeous inn calls to mind, perhaps, a Gasthof perched on some Bavarian stream – but the big and elegant eucalypts immediately opposite quickly dismiss that illusion. Instead, the odd local beer or cider is available, alongside the usual suspects in Australian pubs. It’s one of those great country venues that brings together an eclectic mix of punters, milling about and mingling, keeping the social gene pool from becoming too stagnant.

    It keeps its history too. It was built in 1871; it was the second pub in the neighbourhood, although the other, the Hamilton, burnt down before the end of the century. The Bridge Hotel endured its own blaze, too, which was supposedly lit deliberately in the scandalous 1970s – the same scandal also saw its proprietor, Ern Morrison, murdered by “a Lillico farm labourer”. (I am repeated gossip picked up on an information board at a lookout above the town.)

    The last time I was there – one afternoon at the peak of summer, after a berry-picking outing – the venue was surprisingly packed. Live music lifted into a warm coastal breeze, carried beyond the valley.

    This is a venue known for music, but it was unexpected on a Tuesday afternoon. Everything was explained in quick chat, however, with a bloke smoking a doobie out the front. It was a wake, he said. A bunch of Tassie’s best musicians had come along to send off the deceased. I was welcome to join them.

    People say that a ghost lurks about the upper rooms of the Bridge Hotel. You will be told this sort of thing in pubs all over Tasmania. As a willingly irrational person and an over-eager historian, I allow no doubt that these ghosts are everywhere. For we are surely not present only in the places where we currently stand, nor in the current time.

    But perhaps that is the sentimental bias of someone who is now roughly 15,000 kilometres from his home. I began this blog about fifteen months ago and titled it in homage to the colourful names of public houses in the early days of beer drinking in Van Diemen’s Land: Help Me Through the World was a pub you’d have found in Hobart in colonial days. But now that I have gone off into the world for a time – into the fray of the contemporary tragedy of world politics, further afield in search of the historical forces which have shaped my life – these beer-googled ruminations are perhaps of no great help to me.

    (Although I walked past a hotel called The Bridge just yesterday, in one of my early aimless rambles on this other continent.)

    It is with all this in mind is that I now conclude the pub tour of Tasmania, and say farewell for now. From this point, though, will come fresh efforts to think about the meaning of things – and I invite you to join in these with me.

  • Hamilton Inn

    Hamilton Inn

    At this time of year you have to treat yourself and go down to Bushy Park. This is the largest hop farm in the southern hemisphere, and these beautiful plants have now climbed up the trellises and are heavily laden with gorgeous green flowers, nearly ready to be picked and popped into brews all around the world.

    I took up residence in a cottage there for a few days with my dear friend James, who works on the estate in an enigmatic capacity. That is to say, I don’t know what he does – but he sure seems busy. Whilst inspecting the ecology of hop cultivation (I was on assignment for esteemed beer journal The Crafty Pint), I went swimming in the Derwent and tasted relish from the local ladies in the second-hand market.

    In the evenings, James and I visited the pubs of the Derwent Valley. It is a peculiar fact that you can’t buy a beer in Bushy Park, but there a couple of good ones in the vicinity. The Hamilton Inn is one of them, a beautiful architectural relic from an era in which Hamilton was the launching pad for some of the most ambitious exploration journeys in Australian history.

    When the Hamilton Inn was built by convicts in the 1820s, little was known of what lay to its west. Pardoned convict William Roadknight was the bloke who started its nearly 200-year history of hospitality. The thorough ‘On the Convict Trail’ blog lists several names that it has gone under in that time: The New Inn, Hart’s Hotel, and the West Coast Road Hotel.

    Even as recently as last year, the hotel was being refurbished. I had gone in as part of a small cohort of bushwalkers, looking for an 11:30a.m. beer – we were unable to get one due to the renos, and had to settle for scones and coffee. But the bar is open again, completely decked out with a clutter of historical bric-a-brac, including timber-fellers’ equipment and sepia photographs of bygone footy teams.

    I have chatted with the proprietor a couple of times now, a smart Sydney native who has a grudge against overgovernance. He is very chatty and has incorrectly presumed that I am someone with any measure of clout in Tasmania. Perhaps I string him along a little bit; I like the conversation.

    James and I, however, were engrossed in our own discussions on this occasion – and in our own beer. We immediately seized upon the Two Metre Tall stubbies in the fridge. This is the only brewery in the Derwent Valley, with its legendarily idiosyncratic brewer a passionate advocate for the spirit of terroir in beer. Originally a winemaker, Ashley Huntington spent years creating beer that was largely dismissed by the Tasmanian beer market until his styles became in vogue.

    It’s a little bit – sour,” the lady at the bar warned us. We assured her we were aware, and looking forward to something with tart tasting notes.

    The Derwent Valley is one of our special places and there should be more beer there. The world needs more Two Metre Tall types: loud, bold, hand-gesturing and headstrong. And these old convict-built pubs should be honing in on what is unique in the region, unashamedly promoting that which is off-centre.

    The next night we went to the Gretna Green Hotel, where I had one of the great country pub evenings of my life. It was such fun that I forgot to take any photographs, and I will probably never do a write-up of it. Oh well.

  • Shipwrights Arms

    Shipwrights Arms

    It may be a bit of a stretch to call myself a seafarer or even a ‘grotty yachtie’, but after spending six days aboard a 75-foot ketch last week, I am ready to consider myself part of Tasmania’s long-standing marine culture.

    The boat was not mine, the seas were unbelievably calm, and my primary purpose on board (as far as I can tell) was to do backflips off the sponson – and learn nautical terms.

    There is an intricate history of Tasmanians launching themselves from the coastline and into adventures on the waves. This begins with Aboriginal watercrafts – there were a couple of different types of boats invented by the original Tasmanians – and continues through to the colonial explorers such as Cook, Bligh, Baudin and Flinders, and beyond that to characters like James Kelly and Jorgen Jorgenson. There is the famous seafaring skill of the Bass Strait islanders, and of course, the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, the Wooden Boat Festival, and all those lovely people who go pottering down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel or the Tamar River every so often.

    And now there’s me, soaring off the
    Lady Eugenie with athleticism and flair.

    Having woven myself so seamlessly into Tasmanian traditions on the water, it seemed fitting to visit the old sailors’ pub when I returned to Hobart. The Shipwrights Arms in Battery Point has been offering its hospitality to returning sea-goers since 1846, and retains its welcome to mariners of all kinds.

    Shippies calls itself an old-school pub, and in many ways it is, with locals leaning on the bar and taps slowly being poured. Victuals are provided, and one would certainly recommend the chowder over the vegie burger, whilst the beers provided range from Cricketers Arms ($6 a schooner) to the local Captain Bligh’s stout on nitro, which I’ve not seen anywhere else, and which has kept me going on quite a few winter’s nights in the past.

    It’s easy to find a table and some patrons to regale with your nautical exploits. This pub has also been fortunate enough to bear the lyrical profusion of Tasmanian poet Pete Hay, who exults:

    Hailfellowship in the Shipwright’s Arms
    Tempts me aboard. The tap-room
    Surges with cheer and song, drowning
    The creak of anchors, the river’s slap.

    Some hours later I had told quite a few souls about just how many backflips I achieved in six days on a yacht.

    In 170 years, though, this place will have heard of quite a few such accomplishments. I am happy for mine to sink into the walls, into the timber, to fall beneath the din of all that “cheer and song” and become part of history’s background noise.

  • Cascade Gardens

    Cascade Gardens

    Hobart is defined by its waterfront, but its identity comes from its backdrop. It is always there – kunanyi, Mount Wellington, the mountain – and although it is not always visible, when it is, the dolerite crags that loom over the second-oldest city in Australia are unmissable, and unforgettable.

    But the mountain is not all rock. It is also vegetation – flowering heaths, stands of eucalypt or myrtle, romantic tree ferns must all be equally considered part of the mountain. And so too must the water, which trickles down in runnels and then crashes down in waterfalls, before funneling into myriad streams that run through suburban Hobart and into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

    In Hobart, these are invariably called rivulets, and they are the greatest gift that the mountain could offer. It is due to these rivulets that Hobart could come into existence. And it was the use – or exploitation, some might say – of these rivulets that made the ex-convict Peter Degraves a wealthy man.

    Another day I will write a brief biography of Peter Degraves; suffice it to say that
    the life of this brilliant and ruthless man was not without controversy. His career, however, was intricately woven into the fresh water streams of the mountain; and the most lasting reason for this is the Cascade Brewery.

    In 1824 the Cascade Brewery began, and that is remarked upon by the signage on the front of the castle-like brewery (in the other year recorded on the façade, 1927, extensions were carried out; unrecorded is the year 1967, when major rebuilding works had to be done followed that summer’s severe bushfires). Peter Degraves was still incarcerated at this stage; it was his brother-in-law, Hugh Macintosh, who been an officer serving the British Army’s interests in India. Unlike Degraves, Macintosh was “neither an entrepreneur nor an industrialist”. He was also not as skilled as Degraves at rewriting his own history and establishing his own monuments – and so it is Peter Degraves whose name will forever be associated with this iconic building beneath the mountain.

    I was chatting about all this with a tour group, as we perambulating from the peak of kunanyi towards the Cascade Brewery. Once again I was a guest of my mates’ tour company See Tasmania, and it is not gratuitously but with gratitude that I bring their name forward once more. The mountain had provided a few more tremendous hours of weather:
    we struggled against bellicose winds on the summit, only to be smothered in humid warmth under the thick green canopy of Myrtle Gully. We were due for a beer.

    The profile of this building against Mount Wellington will never get old – the light-suffused sandstone standing in the foreground of weather-worn dolerite – no matter how many tourist brochures it winds up on. A sunlit jug of pale ale also suits the sandstone exquisitely.

    I am a northern Tasmanian by origin, and I am only a little ashamed to say that the long-held dispute between either end of the island about whose beer is better is still entertaining to me. But it is increasingly irrelevant. Cascade, of course, is now owned by SABMiller, in turn owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. These vapid names should alert us to the fact that global business offers us an utterly boring and unpoetic future. We are lucky in Tasmania that at least Cascade and Boags, our oldest breweries, still produce the beer in their local, historical buildings. Places we can go after a bushwalk with some good people, to have a jug beneath the mountain.

  • Stanley Hotel

    Stanley Hotel

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that don’t like Stanley. This little town, on the far north-west coast of Tassie, huddles around a magnificent volcanic plug, which has been afforded the cheerful name of The Nut. It picturesquely lives on a modest peninsula that hangs out onto Bass Strait. Its historic buildings are close to 200 years old, and its newer buildings fit in tastefully and respectfully with them.

    It also has a lovely old pub, which sits stylishly in the centre of town, and has done so since 1847. And for the last fifteen years, the Stanley Hotel has been owned by a family who trace their roots in the area back to its first European settlement – and have helpfully published their ancestral lineage on the pub’s website.

    I first discovered the Stanley Hotel when it played host to a bush poetry slam in 2009. Pugilistic poet Geoff Goodfellow competed against musician James Blundell, both of them approaching the coastal village’s history in their performances. This atypical pub gig seems typical for Stanley, which was also the setting for a Hollywood film shot in 2014, The Light Between Oceans.

    They say plenty of locals got to play as extras in the film, and although I haven’t seen it (I don’t see many films), but I suspect the pub features in its scenes as well. And it would have played its part bloody well too.

    The pub itself has plenty to offer. It has a classically dim bar, a cheerful bistro, a wine cellar, and a sunny verandah. The grub is highly regarded, and I suppose it well should be, as the north-west of Tasmania produces some of the best meat, seafood, dairy and vegetables you’ll ever find. All are showcased in the menu. They even have a local brewery on tap – although it’s still a fair distance away from Stanley (most things are), Seven Sheds is certainly the closest brewery, and their Kentish Ale was pours nicely on a summer afternoon after you’ve hoofed it to the top of the Nut.

    There’s something about the light in Stanley – people say this sort of thing about ‘the light’ everywhere, I know, but hear me out – that offers up life’s events in a much more simple presentation. The marine tones and the air’s clarity (don’t they also say that the north-west of Tassie has the cleanest air in the world?) soften everything. Shades of blue and white reach from the sea, and meet the green and chocolate colours of the landscape. Even the confused playlist over the pub’s speakers doesn’t distract.

    I am aware that I have simply raved about the town of Stanley, but such is my affection for it. I am sure one could find plenty of unpleasantness about the town, but as it happens, I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t like Stanley. Even the town’s name is great: Stanley!

  • The Top Pub

    The Top Pub

    I like a beer, yes, but the main reason why I’m writing a pub tour of Tasmania is because I am fond of finding local peculiarities, and there aren’t many better places to find these topographically-determined oddities.

    It can take a bit of effort though. Sometimes it feels like you can meet the same bloke in every pub. I remember a photographer of rural Australia saying that every town has its barfly called Jimmy or Robbo or whatever, and his story is the same from Humpty Doo to Bonnie Doon. He’s white, he swears a bit, he’s drunk, and he’s eager to talk.
    Avoid that person, the photographer said, if you want to see the real textures of remote towns.

    The figure behind the bar – a pretty young woman with both exemplary manners and a strong resolve – is equally stereotypical, but is even more likely to be unique once you’ve scratched the surface. So too the background figures that may exist in this sort of pub: the cook hovering over steak sandwiches, the owner struggling to make ends meet and trying to figure out social media.

    I was determined, as always, to go beyond these dreary characters as I wandered into the Top Pub at Rosebery upon arrival one midday. Luckily I had a legitimate conversation-starter to come into the hotel: I was on assignment, and looking for a rough road to a river site somewhere just out of town.

    Argent fucken Track?” roared a fella in flannie and goatee (and I should warn that in the quotation that follows, there’s plenty of that middle word). “Good fucken luck finden that, I don’t reckon anyone’s been there for fucken years!”

    Rosebery is a mining town, on the slopes of a mountain that has offered up zinc, copper, and gold. In Tasmania, tensions have long existed over the use of land, and going into a pub in a mining town talking about features of the landscape can cause some concern that you’re a militant environmentalist. But Tasmanians of all stripes are strikingly parochial: they love their towns and surrounds, as well as the region’s histories. And the best way to get past the stereotypical version of an Australian male – to find out what is particular and peculiar about a burly bloke – is to uncover how their lives come to pass as part of the unique ecosystem in which they occur.

    So although I didn’t get any solid directions for the road, I did hear a story set on Argent Track, from some aeons ago, when the protagonist went wood-hooking and almost got his ute stuck. And this soon moved on to an even better story, told by another patron.

    I can tell you about a bloke who used to run, overnight, from Rosebery, over Mount Black, to Tullah, so he could meet with his girlfriend,” he said knowingly, and grinned. “Because that silly man was my father.”

  • Imperial Hotel (Branxholm)

    Imperial Hotel (Branxholm)

    The winding roads through north-eastern Tasmania create one of the most pleasant vehicular journeys on the island. As you head out of Scottsdale, the region’s hub, you find yourself passing through some of the most idiosyncratic towns on the island. Communities only a few kilometres apart will bear very distinct personalities. The area has unpredictable vegetation too: large dairy paddocks will suddenly give way to thickets of rainforest. Modest mountains rise a stone’s throw from the coast.

    In recent years, the north-east has been synonymous with economic woes and rural decline. The local footy competition – always a sure indicator of a community’s health – is now defunct. But as the tourist trade continues reinvigorate Tasmania (as well as create new challenges for the place), there are encouraging signs in this part of the state as well.

    The mountain bike trails that have been developed in the former tin town of Derby are one of the greatest examples of reimagined landscape I can think of. The trails are being hailed as world class, and in 2017, Derby will host one of the major mountain biking events of the year.

    When I passed through Derby the other day, the campsite was packed to the rafters, and the main street was a hive of activity. (The Dwykingshore bookstore was unfortunately closed, however.)

    The Imperial Hotel in neighbouring Branxholm was not so busy. There were several men in blue-and-white checked shirts, and a dandruffy dog named Tyson. Of all the towns in the region, Branxholm will perhaps have the hardest work reviving its community. In its heyday, it too was a tin town; it has also been a timber town. But these industries are either no more, or seriously diminished.

    The quiet nature of this pub was highlighted by the arrival of a sales rep for snacks. T
    he discussion between proprietor and sales rep was hard-hitting, about whether Smiths still did a chicken, or how many packets of Cheezels would be needed for the next month. But there is no doubt that the arrival of mountain bikers to the area has had a knock-on effect here, and will continue to do so – especially with a couple of thousand expected for the competitions in a couple months’ time.

    This is good agricultural country too, and there is a wonderful crop that is growing all around the Imperial Hotel, in such a way that it can only be deemed one of the most aesthetically pleasing country pubs in Australia: Branxholm has hop vines clambering up the trellises, waiting to bear their lovely green fruit in autumn.
    The pub itself is a picturesque timber edifice, more than a century old, with an elegant balcony from which the sunsets, over the fields and forests of north-eastern Tasmania, are said to be magnificent.

    On top of that, the grub is good. One of my mountain biking mates, who is building a business in Derby, has been staying regularly at the Imperial of late. Somewhat irreverently he has told me that I have to add to my commentary on the hotel: “Sharon must put crack in the food, it’s so good.”

  • Cradle Forest Inn

    Cradle Forest Inn

    Moina, it is said, means ‘water rat’ in an Aboriginal language. The name was given to the little township that grew around a mine up near Cradle Mountain. It’s not exactly the sexiest name, and nor was the Moina Tavern the sexiest pub going. But still, I was keen to visit it, and write about it, especially because it was part of a landscape I know pretty well: the road to Cradle Mountain.

    But early on last year it closed, and then, when I came through one gloomy winter’s afternoon, it had been rebranded altogether. A sweet shade of pink had entered the forest. This was no water rat: this was Petroica rodinogaster, the lovely pink robin, and it was the emblem of the new Cradle Forest Inn.

    Tassie’s high country has its own vernacular architecture, and an endemic style of hospitality – there’s a to live up to. On the Middlesex Plains, just beyond Moina, the stockman Dave Courtney welcomed the first recreational visitors to the area. He was a brooding, bearded behemoth in black, emerging from his bleak hut on the misty moors, and looking for all the world like a murderer: and yet he brandished only a billy of tea, and his presence on the plains was an unforgettable experience for travellers in the early part of 1900s.

    Tasmanian tourism should be like this, and in contrast, I cringe a little at how feeble a lot of it actually is. If you don’t have imagination or flair, I don’t think you should work in tourism or hospitality. So although I found the pink robin promising, I had worried at the flash new branding of the old Moina dive: sometimes it’s as if instead of just cleaning a joint up, hoteliers and proprietors choose to scrub the bloody life out of the place. 

    But there was a lot to like about the Cradle Forest Inn when I swung by early in the summer, on my way to a camping spot on the Vale of Belvoir. There was no beer on tap, but there were bottles, so I bought a local favourite and perched myself by a window. It’s a nice refit: lots of exposed beams constructed from familiar timbers, cool and spacious and attended by the ubiquitous high country fireplace. 

    And the young lad who served me my beer had a personality; he found a little detail (in this case, my camera bag, which is a childhood lunchbox) and made conversation about it. He forgot to give me change, and instead of apologising like a brainless dill, he had a laugh about it as he fixed up his mistake. It left a good impression.

    In another part of the inn, a Chinese family was being ushered to their table. The menu looked like it’d impress them; I was happy enough with my beer. The sun had come out, and I went out to the porch to breathe in the familiar fresh air of Cradle country. The ferns, myrtles and eucalypts made up a familiar palette; pink robins surely would come grubbing around this backyard.

    I took off across Middlesex Plains with Kendrick Lamar playing. I half-thought ould Dave Courtney might emerge from his grave, ghastly and grumpy at the racket I was producing across his home country.

  • Royal Oak Hotel

    Royal Oak Hotel

    Tomorrow night – Christmas Eve – I’ll be here. So will a lot of other people. I’ll know a good few of them. Whatever seasonal trauma might be inflicted upon me on Christmas Day itself, I know that there will be some old mates at the Oak the night before, making merry and girding themselves for their own family frenzy.

    A lot of my Launcestonian mates have come and gone over the past decade, but this time of the year brings at least some of them back, to say g’day and merry xmas and so on. There will be plenty to catch up on, as there is plenty to reminisce about, and plenty to wonder about with regards to the future.

    The Oak is a fitting venue for this kind of banter. For a lot of us, it’s a storehouse for our treasured hometown memories. This was, I recall, the first pub I ever went into. And although there are things I would change about this place, I’m also thankful that it’s hardly changed.

    Likely, most of the conversations tomorrow will be rushed and hurried. There will be hearty handshakes, careless kisses, and probably some wrestling. Pint glasses will be refilled several times over; some of the night’s events will slip away unremembered in the morning; and we will all have shaped ourselves up nicely for a day of disappointing our family members.

    Ales, Wine, Fine Food: so reads the text on the southern façade of the Royal Oak. This old building is has been a public house since 1844, and licensed under the current name since 1851. Its original owner was the entrepreneurial and mercurial Antonio Martini, born in Andalusia. Communication, Spirits, it says on the eastern wall. It’s no coincidence that the local ghost tour begins and ends here: this place has seen it all.

    I’ve seen, and done, a fair bit myself.

    A final note: it was 2a.m. on Christmas morning a couple of years ago when I staggered towards a leprachaun-like character on Paterson Street. He was pleading for my help in fixing his car, a shiny new sedan which he’d just commandeered over a traffic sign
    he’d failed to see. I’m no mechanic, but I was pretty convinced that his vehicle was buggered. Thankfully so too: this sozzled gentleman intended to drive the 80 kilometres to his home on the north coast.

    It is probable that we will all do mad things this Christmas, but don't do them at the helm of heavy machinery.

    On the other hand, if you’re in Launceston, come and have a wrestle with me.

  • Inveresk Tavern

    Inveresk Tavern

    Earlier this year I moved to the Launceston suburb of Invermay. It was a big change for me: away from the hillside views and South Esk access I was used to, I was now in the low country alongside the North Esk, surrounded by mechanics and takeaway stores. The day I was supposed to move in, the neighbourhood was evacuated for flood. I was being initiated into life as a swampie.

    Such was my ignorance of Invermay that I didn’t realise in what close proximity the nearest pub was: a minute by foot. And even then, it wasn’t until a rare sunny afternoon appeared this winter that I found myself a possie and a pot at the horseshoe bar of the Inveresk Tavern on Dry Street.

    Invermay, I would argue, is one of the most colourful suburbs in Tasmania. I’ve had a great time wandering the neighbourhood, or even just looking out my window at the parade of characters that make their way down my dead-end street. It’s also a storied place: laid out on reclaimed land, the streets and houses have a unique characteristic that is worth preserving. I say this pointedly, as a number of houses, including two from Dry Street itself, are among the many delisted from heritage protection this month.

    In 1989 social theorist Ray Oldenburg coined the term ‘third place’ for the kind of semi-public, semi-private social space that pubs provide along with cafés, places of worship, and various other shared spaces that are neither work nor home.

    I follow Oldenburg in saying that
    communities need a variety of suitable third places. In fact, my ‘critiques’ (if you can really call them this) of Tasmanian pubs are written with this in mind: a good pub is one that offers a ‘neutral ground’, cultivates an environment for conversation and humour, and positions everyone on a level playing field as soon as they enter.

    The Inveresk Tavern fulfils these criteria in a surprising amount of ways. I have enjoyed the Inveresk in all seasons and moods, with food and drink, watching footy or enjoying silence, yarns with strangers or a mob of mates. From hard-to-find Tasmanian craft beer to XXXX, the tap selection is impressive and unassuming. And it has a horseshoe bar.

    Most of all, though, I want to praise the Inveresk Tavern for inviting various communities of migrants to Tasmania to use their space every Sundays over the past months. A weekend ago, I went in with my dad to enjoy a meal prepared by the Afghan Women’s Friendship Group. The meal was delicious (especially the ash-e-reshteh, a noodle soup), and it went well with an ale off tap from Hobart’s newish Shambles brewery; but most importantly everyone involved was welcoming.

    This is a classic Tassie pub which has successfully created a space that welcomes myself, my old man, swampie regulars, and a handful of good-humoured Hazaras. This is the sort of third place that’s a gift to our community.

    That it’s a stone’s throw from my house makes me a lucky local.

  • Yolla Tavern

    Yolla Tavern

    I am increasingly smitten with Tassie’s north-west. This is fertile country – not just with crops sprouting from its vivid blood-red soil, but with the kinds of stories and characters that make a geographica of this island so much fun to write.

    It’s complicated country too. Less than two centuries ago, this was a woodsy tangle of myrtle and wet sclerophyll; it was not much loved by colonists, until the woodlands were largely wiped out, revealing the volcanic earth. My ancestors were among those who cleared a pocket of native forest and instead planted potatoes. Nowadays agricultural townships are scattered all throughout this area, with poppies, vegies and radiata pine springing up from the ground – and sheep and cows populating the paddocks.

    This is fine dairy country, too, and it’s no surprise to find that Tasmania’s first butter factory was up this way (Wynyard, 1892). People up here are also quirky, adaptive and resourceful, so it’s not too surprising to find that the pub in the town of Yolla (population 198) is actually a repurposed old butter factory too.

    Settled in the 1880s on Camp Creek, Yolla’s butter factory opened in August 1932. At its opening, the local paper of that day praised “its architecture features and mechanical lay-out”; it would, the Advocate reported, be “considered by experts to be the most modern in Tasmania”.

    I have found an archived photograph of the Yolla Butter Factory, and comparing it with its form today as the Yolla Tavern, it is not too much different. The concrete façade stands; some of its original windows are still set in place. The signage, of course, has been altered, and perhaps the biggest improvement is a series of sculptures of beer cans erected around the exterior walls.

    Inside, the Yolla Tavern is cluttered with all the important furniture – a good long bartop, a couple of taps with commercial lagers at hand, a pool table, a humble wood fire – as well as all the pub paraphernalia you’d expect to clutter every scrap of available space on the walls. Live music hits the tavern occasionally as well: recently, it hosted Bo Jenkins, according to a poster: “A Fine Blend of Country Blues & Rock.”

    I was in for a midday beer, just as the pub opened; it was quiet and dark in the bar, compared to the boisterous, bright and windy afternoon outside. The back window framed a cleared field, more of that lurid dirt exposed to the sunshine. Beyond the pub, I was going to explore more north-west novelties: there’s a sanctuary for freshwater lobsters not far out of Yolla, for example, that is worth a visit. So too is the pub in the old butter factory.

  • Hamers Hotel

    Hamers Hotel

    In the past, I’ve had ambivalent feelings towards Strahan. I treasure it for being in the far west of Tasmania, and for having at least a little of what makes western Tasmania special: rain and wind and whalebones, the sense of being and outpost, forest and hills, and a big dark river running at its limits.

    On the other hand, it’s a popular tourist haunt, and half the town is owned by the RACT. Somehow, the Strahan which prospectors traipsed into in the old days seemed to have been tamed.

    It had become many years since I’d visited Strahan, but lured to the western districts last month, I made it my business to finally return to the town on the Macquarie Harbour.

    A major drawcard was a chance to visit my mate Rhys, who has recently been stationed as a ranger based in Strahan. His jurisdiction covers a decent portion of Tassie’s west, and his current accommodation is in the old Customs House in Strahan, a Federation-era building of no little charm.

    Ranger Rhys is himself a man of considerable charm. There are not too many people who can comfortably manage a chainsaw, a boat and a DJ’s decks, but Rhys can. He’s good for a yarn and
    very occasionally can be roped into a beer or eight. When I ran into him last, he was showing off his newest possession: a pet rock.

    So I trundled down the last stretch of the Lyell Highway, into the calm and quiet of Strahan, and had some chicken burritos and some tinnies with Ranger Rhys at the Customs House.

    The next day we lunched at Hamer’s Hotel, one of the great historic pubs of the west coast.

    If time, and fire, hadn’t been so harsh out this way, there would dozens of these pubs, in Strahan, Queenstown, Trial Harbour and Zeehan, as well as a handful of towns which are no longer in existence. A list of the licensed hotels in this neck of the woods from the early 1900s is astounding: Hunter’s, Sullivan’s, Montagu’s, Zeplin’s, Harvey’s, and so on, alongside a bunch with royal names.

    Hamer’s Hotel was one of the first, and though it was out of commission for a while, the current version was rebuilt in 1936. (Gaffney’s Palace, another early hotel built of huon pine, run under the auspices of a Miss M.V. Gaffney, unfortunately was not reconstructed after fire wiped it out in 1912.) Hamers are a well-established family in Strahan, and even the account of an early bushwalker (Jack Thwaites), having overlanded to the west coast, ends up Hamer’s Hotel.

    I remember Mrs Hamer, the licensee, rolling barrels of beer along the footpath and into the cellar,” the old Quaker recalled in an interview in the last months of his life. “We had upstairs rooms, and hanging outside the upstairs window by our bedroom was a great thick rope, so that in case of fire you let yourself down on this rope – nothing if not efficient.”

    The bar was largely empty when we made our way in; one small old lady sat at the bar, indulging in a little bit of gambling. While I brusquely ordered my beer and chips, Ranger Rhys was typically polite. “May I please have a pub squash?” he gently enquired.

    The next day I got a text message from him. “Came 3rd in poker at Hamer’s last night,” it read. “I’m DJing a rave in December, you should come down for it.”

    I dare say I’ll be back in Strahan again before a few years have passed.