Ross was the first place I ever got drunk.
I won’t mention what age I was, because my mother might read this (although that’s doubtful because she’s not computer literate). But I had a couple of high-school mates who were from Ross (Rossians? Rossites?) and there was a party on and I was invited. I cannot recall what I drank that night. UDLs? Goon? Bundy & Coke? Lemon Ruskis? (In my memory, the latter were the worst of all.)
Nowadays I tend to lean towards a pint of beer, and in far more moderate doses of course. But it’s still good to have a drink in Ross.
I have recently written a short history on the Midlands Highway, that old road which runs between north and south up the guts of Tasmania. Ross is an old town: Governor Lachlan Macquarie wandered through here more than two centuries ago and assigned its name, along with many others in the benign middle country of the island. The public hotel has stood here since 1831 or 1835 (depending on your source), with William Sadler its first proprietor; it has outlived its original competitors, the Scotch Thistle Inn and the Sherwood Castle Inn. Each would have been a handy stopping-point for victuals and accommodation on the old horse-and-gig journey between Hobart Town and Launceston.
Ross also lays claim to the third-oldest bridge still functioning in Australia. This bridge, spanning the Macquarie River, is also one of the most beautiful, with convict artisans having engraved archaic symbols into the sandstone, as well as the faces of certain local personages from the era.
This used to be known the Man o’ Ross Hotel and in fact, it was only three minutes ago, researching for this piece, that I realised that it no longer bears that name. It bothers me that it’s not the Man o’ Ross anymore, and in fact I shall keep calling it the Man o’ Ross from here on out. It’s the name of an Alexander Pope poem, for those who care; our man of Ross commemorated in verse was the darkly handsome philanthropist John Kyrle. "Is any sick? the man of Ross relieves / Prescribes, attends, the med'cine makes, and gives..."
Like many Tassie pubs, the Man o’ Ross has had its recent stints of being out of commission. In 2012, its closure was perceived as a harbinger of worse to come. “It’s a sad day when a pub like that closes,” the head of the Australian Hotels Association remarked at the time. Thankfully, it’s back open, and heritage pubs in particular are still going strong in Tassie, largely thanks to increased tourist traffic.
It was a blustery day winter’s day when I last went there. Yellow leaves were scattered in the swollen Macquarie. My companion and I only needed the briefest moment to make the decision to stop in at the Man o’ Ross, one of those fine conversations between two old mates. “Pint?” “Yep.” It was a short pause, but a good one, breaking up the journey on that well-worn highway; we were seated by the woodfire, served by nonchalant staff, and free to peruse the sports pages of the newspaper as we sipped our lagers.
And as always when I pass through Ross – a quick detour to the bridge, to acknowledge one of the personalities on the bridge, that old convict-explorer-policeman-pisspot, whose biography has become inextricably linked with mine, and whose finest commemoration is chiselled into the bridge in the town where I first got sozzled. (Although his nose has fallen off.)
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