ANZ, 3: Hobart diversions

Hobart clocks

Hobart is a town having the great attraction that mostly it has not been worthwhile to knock down old buildings of character and put modern featureless blocks in their place; so it still has many fine buildings.

I have been half on holiday this week in Hobart: that is, I have tried to combine a bit of sightseeing with a half-day’s work each day. The result is not very satisfactory, since things have come in faster than I could deal with them, and I have been aware of falling further and further behind.

But I did manage to see some of the attractions.

I went twice to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The first time, we arrived at 3.45 to find that the museum closed at 4; so we had to go back another day to see it properly. Here is a dinosaur you may not recognise: it is a Muttaburrasaurus, named after the central Queensland town where it was found.


I walked to the Queen’s Domain and spent a happy morning in the Botanic Gardens. Unlike the Mt Coot-tha Gardens in Brisbane, they don’t concentrate on local flora, but cover a large part of the globe. I certainly didn’t see everything, but I enjoyed a small stand of Wollemi pines, under two towering araucarias (a bunya and a hoop pine, I think they were), and the Japanese garden, rather informal but very peaceful.

On Tuesday, Des FitzGerald, my classmate from the University of Queensland in the mid-1960s, discovered I was in his home town and got in touch. We spent Wednesday afternoon having an email conversation, and arranged to meet up on Thursday morning.

Then Rosemary and I set off to walk to the Conference dinner in the Cascade brewery, along the path beside the Hobart Rivulet (the stream from which the brewery takes its water). We were walking along the path trying to spot birds in the undergrowth when a man came walking his dog the other way – it was Des! Hobart is a small enough town that this is not a wildly improbable coincidence, and at least we knew to look out for each other; had he not known I was there we might have passed without recognition.

Before the dinner, we were given a tour of the Cascade brewery. The brewery claims to have been founded in 1824, and the facade also bears the date 1927. It turns out that it was a sawmill in 1824, and only became a brewery eight years later. The brewery was built by convicts of rough-hewn sandstone. The date 1927 refers to the upper floors, built of much smoother cut sandstone. The story is that the company bought an expensive piece of brewing equipment from Switzerland, and when the engineers read the specification they realised it wouldn’t fit in the brewery; so they had to add some extra floors to fit it in.

The visitor centre across the road is set in lovely gardens, with perhaps more tree ferns than the Botanic Gardens.

On Thursday morning Des picked me up and took me to Hobart’s newest and most famous tourist attraction, MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art), which has made quite a name for itself in the art world already. This innovative gallery was supposed to be one of the conference excursions, but someone had bungled: the excursions were scheduled for a day when the gallery was closed.

The most extraordinary thing about it to me was the building. Set on a headland in the river, connected to the mainland by a narrow neck, the sandstone hill was hollowed out (and reinforced or clad with concrete where necessary) to make vast underground galleries. Much of it was taken up with an exhibition, just opened, by Gilbert and George. These artists are not really my cup of tea (though I enjoyed their denunciation of bankers), and they seemed to set the tone for much of the rest of the exhibits. But there was much interesting to see. Two large pieces by Anselm Kiefer, one taking up a whole room. In fact, this was also a surprise: having gone to the basement and then to the end of the gallery, we came out into daylight, having emerged from the hill much lower down. (Later when we went outside to the chapel we were able to look in at this exhibit.)



About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to ANZ, 3: Hobart diversions

  1. MONA, the infamous house that math built… David Walsh & gambling-business partner Zeljko Ranogajec honed their stochastic serendipity in the decades after graduating from University of Tasmania. Walsh with a degree in math, Ranogjec in commerce. You have to read between the lines to discern the major reason for their eventual gambling mega-success. Despite their mutual mathematical prowess, they had to learn some of the hard lessons of gambling from experience. The real genius and path to eventual riches, came with Walsh’s realisation that they could shuck the differential from high-roller premiums offered by large gambling org’s. To parlay the house’s high roller incentives into profit, they only had to do slightly better than the average punter, whilst operating on a suitably industrial scale. Impressive nerve, never-the-less.
    I’ve read they nearly bankrupted Tasmania’s TAB… sales executives cheering on the massive end-on-end increase in turnover whilst their margins went steadily south!
    The inevitable challenge from the Australian Taxation Dept. came about five-six years ago with lawyers at fifty paces. The prospect of taxing gambling winnings in the manner of the tax dept’s ambit claim was never going to be fully realisable & an eventual settlement was reached. One which allegedly, still nearly bankrupted the MONA enterprise. The best write-up of the whole Walsh back story I’ve come across is by Tasmanian journalist, Richard Flannagan.
    MONA is a massive vanity. A world class ego-compensating folly from a formerly shy & retiring ‘Aspy-math-nerd’. A friend whom met him described him as being unprepossessing, albeit somewhat eccentric. His social skills likely of limited value outside of the MONA court circle. Although he still likes to protect his privacy and promote a not-insubstantial, self-cultivated air of mystery, from his blog posts it’s readily apparent he enjoys rubbing shoulders with private-jetterati. Celebrities such as ‘Sting’, whom are prepared to fuel-up for the distant trip south and a personal tour of the MONA art-catacomb.
    Personally, I enjoyed my one visit to MONA. I found it subversive, confronting, disturbing & wryly amusing, all at once, in a way no other gallery or museum could be. All credit to David Walsh.

    • Thanks for that Phillip — a fascinating story! I had heard a bit of it from Des on the way out to MONA, but the details are where a lot of the interest lies.

      My sister, by the way, told me that she loves the building, but doesn’t consider the contents to be art.

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