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