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.