In decades past, the good burghers of Hobart often referred to their home town – the capital of Tasmania and now a burgeoning city of 218,000 – as ‘Slowbart’. There never seemed to be much going on here, much less anywhere else in the state. Local food and wine were mired in 1976; the arts scene danced a slow shuffle to the 'finding funding' blues; Tasmania was the laughing stock of Australian cricket; and – with the honorable exceptions of Dire Straits in 1986 and Faith No More in 1993 – no big-name international bands ever toured there. A listless malaise permeated the entire island: Tassie was, quite literally, a non-event.
Fast-forward to 2015… My, haven’t things changed!
Tassie’s big-ticket culinary event is the Taste of Tasmania (thetasteoftasmania.com.au), held on the Hobart waterfront over five days around New Year’s Eve. Timed to coincide with the finish of the epic open-ocean Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race (rolexsydneyhobart.com), the Taste recently clocked up 25 years of fab Tassie food, wine, beer and entertainment. It’s generates a huge buzz, with local producers, winemakers and restaurateurs cooking up a storm as the yachts dance across the harbour. Wander through the aisles, grab a glass of something cold, a plate of something hot and tune-in to some live bands.
Along parallel lines are the Devonport Food & Wine Festival in the northwest (devonport.tas.gov.au/food-and-wine-festival) and Taste of the Huon Festival (tasteofthehuon.com) in the southeast, bookending the state’s appetite in March. Not to be outdone, Festivale (festivale.com.au) is Launceston’s version, in February. For the craft beer boffins there’s the Tasmanian International Beerfest (tasmanianbeerfest.com.au) in Hobart in November.
Blessed with a clean environment, fertile soils, rich fisheries and plenty of rain, Tasmania is a foodie nirvana. Superb seafood, nuts, mushrooms, apples, stone fruit, raspberries, blueberries, truffles, organic meats, honey, craft beer, single-malt whiskey and cool-climate whites and reds… To eat and drink well here is almost second nature. Before you go get a hold of the SBS TV series Gourmet Farmer (www.sbs.com.au/shows/gourmetfarmer) for a preview of the island’s food bounty.
On the arts and music front, the big new developments here are spin-offs from MONA, the devastatingly good Museum of Old & New Art in Hobart.
MONA FOMA (aka Mofo; mofo.net.au) is the Festival of Music & Art, held in January. Under the auspices of Brian Ritchie, the bass player from the Violent Femmes, it will be as edgy, progressive and unexpected as the museum itself. Then, in the still depths of the southern winter, Dark Mofo (darkmofo.net.au) arrives. Skirting the frayed edges of Tasmania’s guilty conscience, this noir package delivers a taut, seductive and joyful series of happenings, installations and performances that will rattle your rusty cage.
Towing a more trad arts line, 10 Days on the Island (tendays.org.au) is the state’s premier arts event, running for (you guessed it) 10 days biennially in March, with events right across the state. Perhaps inspired/threatened by the goings-on at MONA, 2015’s ‘10 Days’ promises a vigorous reinterpretation of formats and thinking. We’re excited.
Also making a reappearance in 2015 is the quirky Festival of Voices (www.festivalofvoices.com), turning Hobart into a singing city for three days in July; and Tasmania’s biggest outdoor rock fest, the Falls Festival (fallsfestival.com.au), held at Marion Bay south of Hobart over the days encircling New Year’s Eve. Falls delivers left-of-centre big-name internationals (Artic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, The Flaming Lips) and a slew of Australian talent (Dan Sultan, Paul Kelly, Angus & Julia Stone) – bring a tent and try to get at least some sleep. More woolly sock than arena rock, the Cygnet Folk Festival (cygnetfolkfestival.org) is a three-day fiesta in January with good vibes, low-key performances and workshops south of Hobart.
If you’re a cricket fan (or just curious), catch Tasmania’s state team, the Tasmanian Tigers (crickettas.com.au/teams/tasmanian-tigers) cracking the willow over the summer months. From zeros to heroes, the Tigers have won both the five-day and one-day formats of the national comp three times in the last decade (having never won either in the many decades before this), with a steady stream of Tasmanian state players also making the cut for the national squads. Given the population disparity between Tasmania and the mainland states, this sustained performance is nothing short of amazing! In the quick-fire Big Bash League T20 (look it up!) format of the game, watching the Hobart Hurricanes (hobarthurricanes.com.au) are also value for money.
If the biceps and tight shorts of the Australian Football League (afl.com.au) are more your flavour, in 2015 the North Melbourne Kangaroos are slated to play home games at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena, as are the Hawthorn Hawks at Aurora Stadium in Launceston. Grab a beer, a meat pie and yell your head off from the stands.
Speaking of Tasmanian Tigers, in 2015 the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery in Launceston will deliver a unique exhibition of rare artefacts, photos and stories entitled The Tasmanian Tiger – Precious Little Remains. Since the last known specimen died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936, the Thylacine (aka Tasmanian Tiger) has become emblematic of much of what has driven and damned Tasmania since white settlement. Hunted, diseased and deeply misunderstood, this shy, stripy wolf-like marsupial didn’t stand much of a chance once European interests started to encroach on its terrain: it was officially declared extinct in 1986, the requisite 50 years after that last, lonely Thyalcine died in the Hobart Zoo.
Such is the ongoing fascination with the Thylacine that sightings still occasionally make the nightly news, however frustratingly unconfirmed they may be (no-one ever seems to have a camera handy…and if they do, digital images these days are all too easily doctored and debunked). For an insightful read before you head for the exhibition, pick up David Owen’s Thylacine (2011) or Col Bailey’s Shadow of the Thylacine (2013). For a more Hollywood spin, check out Willem Dafoe acting grumpy in 2011’s The Hunter. Are you out there Thylacine?
Charles Rawlings-Way and Meg Worby are freelance writers based in the Adelaide Hills. A Hobart native, Charles drags Meg back home to haunt his old haunts and check out some new ones whenever humanly possible. Follow Charles on Twitter @crawlingsway.