On the im­pres­sive new MACq 01 ho­tel on the wa­ter­front

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front -

Tas­ma­nia’s lo­cal coun­cils have al­ways been an odd bunch. Once more than 40, there are now a mere 29. Some peo­ple think that is still too many, while oth­ers be­lieve democ­racy is such a good thing that you can’t have too much of it.

The statewide shenani­gans of lo­cal coun­cils are al­ways amus­ing and re­portable. Re­mem­ber the fuss when the mayor of River City of­fended Tas­ma­nia’s Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity by op­pos­ing plans for what she called “a guilt-rid­den mon­u­ment” at Mac­quarie Point be­cause she “did not kill the Abo­rig­ines”.

May­ors will rush in where colum­nists fear to tread. I’m cer­tainly not go­ing there ex­cept to note that, ac­cord­ing to the last cen­sus, some­thing like 20,000 peo­ple in this state now iden­tify as Abo­rig­i­nal. That’s a big bloc of vot­ers, whether you’re in lo­cal gov­ern­ment or have even greater po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

So it’s no sur­prise our mayor might have changed her po­si­tion to as­suage the of­fended Abo­rig­i­nal vote. I al­ways find mayor Sue Hickey lik­able and charm­ing (I trust that will con­tinue af­ter this col­umn) and I un­der­stand the politics of her call­ing for con­sid­er­a­tion of a more po­lit­i­cally cor­rect date for Aus­tralia Day, a po­si­tion also taken up by La­bor leader Re­becca White.

But that’s all I get. Mov­ing Aus­tralia Day a few days or a week or so in ei­ther di­rec­tion of the date of the ar­rival of the First Fleet is an unc­tu­ous and pa­tro­n­is­ing ploy. It does noth­ing to ad­dress the sys­temic so­cial, health, ed­u­ca­tion, wel­fare and em­ploy­ment prob­lems fac­ing Aus­tralia’s Abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion. Yes, a lot of coun­cil­lors went along with it, but didn’t they also sup­port those loony Christ­mas tree schemes?

I ad­mit to be­ing a foun­da­tion mem­ber of the River City Regress As­so­ci­a­tion but only be­cause we of­ten seem to re­place our built her­itage with new things worse than the old. I know I’ve been mak­ing a stink about the Fra­grance Tow­ers, but that does not mean I think ev­ery­thing new is on the nose.

I re­cently dis­cov­ered some­thing new on our wa­ter­front and love it. The $46 mil­lion, 114-room MACq O1 on Hunter St is great. I went there three times last week, twice for drinks with friends and once for cof­fee with my wife, Donna, who loved it, too.

Let me as­sure cyn­ics I was not in­vited to a free­bie open­ing. I paid for my drinks and Donna paid for my cof­fee. Come to think of it, I rarely get in­vited to the open­ing of any­thing. That is ei­ther be­cause I am thought to be in­cor­rupt­ible or be­cause in the higher ech­e­lons of River City I am as pop­u­lar as the Fra­grance Group’s Mr Koh at a Regress As­so­ci­a­tion bar­be­cue.

MACq 01’s Story Bar has a jour­nal­is­tic theme, which drew me there in the first place. The bar is adorned with fac­sim­i­les of res­o­nant Mer­cury front-page sto­ries down the ages. A video screen plays old black-and-white Tas­ma­nian tele­vi­sion news sto­ries. The bar and the din­ing area are lux­u­ri­ous, light and airy and look west across Sul­li­van’s Cove to the city and the moun­tain. Most of the build­ings prom­i­nent in the view are mod­ern shock­ers. It is some small con­so­la­tion they will be dwarfed to in­signif­i­cance by Mr Koh’s tow­ers.

The new bar and lounge are at­tract­ing an in­ter­est­ing crowd to amuse the well­heeled guests stay­ing in 4.5-star rooms. I ran into lawyers, artists, writ­ers, busi­ness iden­ti­ties and a bunch of jour­nal­ists, among them TasWeek­end’s won­der­ful On the Wing colum­nist. Birds of a feather, I sup­pose.

The group I mixed with ex­actly matched the MACq 01 project re­search. The own­ers wanted to em­body quin­tes­sen­tial Tas­ma­nian char­ac­ter­is­tics into their build­ing. Among those qual­i­ties they iden­ti­fied were: grounded yet ex­cep­tional, hearty and re­silient, colour­ful and quirky, and cu­ri­ous and cre­ative. Your hum­ble colum­nist ex­cepted, that summed up the mob I was with and the place it­self as well.

But too much gush­ing does not be­fit this col­umn. There’s a rea­son I don’t get in­vited to grand open­ings. No mat­ter what up­mar­ket mar­vels they cre­ate in Tas­ma­nia, it’s hard not to recog­nise the ele­phant in the Fed­eral Group’s din­ing room. Like the ghost at the wed­ding feast in

Mac­beth, it’s the spec­tre of poker ma­chines. Angli­care Tas­ma­nia claims they suck about $200 mil­lion a year from the pock­ets of some of our poor­est. Yet, in large part, that river of gam­bling gold sus­tains such qual­ity plea­sure domes as Saf­fire Fr­eycinet and now MACq 01, and drives the vi­tal up-mar­ket sec­tor of our tourism in­dus­try.

It’s a co­nun­drum. Angli­care claims four out of five Tas­ma­ni­ans polled re­cently want to see poker ma­chines se­verely re­stricted. Yet Fed­eral Group boss Greg Far­rell says his re­search sug­gests it is not a big is­sue with the gen­eral pub­lic. Mean­while, he says his fam­ily com­pany con­trib­uted $343 mil­lion to the state econ­omy last year.

It’s hard to pre­dict how this bat­tle be­tween Church and Casino will spin out, but I can re­port that in the new pub’s stylish din­ing room I spied Far­rell sit­ting with a prom­i­nent gentle­man of the Angli­can cloth.

As I said, this new wa­ter­front pub draws an in­ter­est­ing crowd.

Pic­ture: LUKE BOW­DEN

The Story Bar at the new MACq 01 ho­tel is adorned with old pages from the Mer­cury.

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