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.)