This started, as most good ideas do, with Howard’s remark at a dinner party after a few glasses of the good stuff; “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say we’ve had a beer in every pub in Tasmania?”

Unlike most good ideas, this one survived the hangover and as there were two of us urging each other on, we were able to complete the project in eight months. Our final destination was the northernmost pub in Tasmania, Parers, on King Island. Taking airfares into account, this proved to be the most expensive beer we’ve ever had.

When we started we realised that we should take notes and photos, not only to enable us to remember where we’d been, but also to prove to doubters that the feat had actually been accomplished. So, for every pub, we recorded information on opening hours, beers on tap, facilities, general ambience and also enquired about the history. By the way, if you’re ever in a new pub and at a loss for conversation, just ask the barman or the patron alongside you when the place was built. Within minutes you’ll be chatting to old Bill down the bar who reckons the pub is more ancient than he, someone will be despatched upstairs to get some fading sepia photographs and you can settle down for an afternoon’s conversation, which usually includes stories of the pub burning down at least twice.

Our travels were organised as if for a military campaign with detailed itineraries being plotted, but the best laid plans can go awry and we realised after a few early setbacks that we needed to phone ahead to establish opening times. Pubs, particularly those in inner Hobart, keep remarkably different hours, especially on Sundays. We found some that did not trade on weekends at all and some that did not open until late in the evenings. Most would stay open until the crowd dwindled.

To establish our targets we acquired a list from the Licensing Commission of all premises currently licensed as hotels or taverns, 307 in total. We excluded clubs, although there are some whose membership rules are so flexible that they essentially operate as pubs. We found that larger establishments such as the Casinos and International hotels traded under a separate ‘special’ licence originally created so that they could open to serve tourists on Good Friday.

At each pub, to maintain concentration, we imbibed ‘a small light’. This request can give you anything between a 6 to a 10 ounce glass in different bars. On occasions where light beer was not on tap, we would share a stubby. We also examined the quality of bar snacks throughout the State, with the clear victor being Heemskirk’s freshly made toasted sandwich at Zeehan. Best value was the Shamrock’s famed ‘Beef Schnitzel’ and the most memorable was the hot beef roll at the Furneaux Tavern on Flinders Island.

As our journey proceeded we received ongoing encouragement and requests to accompany us, both from patrons and staff, and also requests to be informed if we actually did survive and write an account of our experiences. We found that over time our quest deepened from the initial ‘boys-own’ been there, done that, to an increasing appreciation of Tasmania’s history and the central role that pubs have played, then to the realisation that we were seeking our own notion of the ‘Holy Grail’ – the perfect pub. In our more lucid moments we contemplated the eternal verities: Who invented alcohol? Why? What is the meaning of life? Who Is James Boag? Who cares?

We encountered a diverse range of premises ranging from the rustic charm of the Gladstone to the sophistication of Hadleys. Those that we found most appealing were the older buildings with smaller, more intimate spaces, conveying a sense of history and warmth and offering opportunities for conversation without distraction.

However, pubs have always catered for more than this need and the traditional 20th century ‘public bar’ is fast becoming the ‘sports bar,’ complete with Tote, the big screen and pool tables. The ‘ladies lounge’ now caters for dining, live entertainment and gaming. Accommodation options vary from the backpacker standard of the Railton Hotel to the sophisticated accommodation at Cradle Mountain Lodge. A large number of the bigger country and suburban pubs aim to cater for all needs, providing Tote, Oasis gaming, bottle shop, bistro, accommodation and entertainment. At the other end of the scale is Hobart’s unique Joe’s Garage with its amazing surrounds of heavy metal and then just down the road to the Men’s Gallery …

A large number of pubs are changing, often to service the increasing number of tourists; some are just ticking over and looking apprehensively at the possible effect of smoking bans on patrons; a few seem in terminal decline. One of the most interesting aspects of the tour was the architecture, as Tasmania’s slow development and lack of population has allowed the preservation of many older structures which have long since been demolished on the mainland in the name of progress. The first section of this book examines the evolution of pubs in Tasmania from 1804, detailing the trials, tribulations and triumphs over the years. The second section records in snapshot those premises currently licensed as hotels or taverns, providing a comprehensive guide for the adventurous. In other chapters you will find the distilled wit and wisdom of the ages concerning life and drinking, our favourite Tasmanian pubs, pub trivia and our predictions for the future.

We hope this account will inspire others to set out on similar explorations. It is a journey best done with companions and with the serious object of research. Remember at all times that this is work and any shreds of enjoyment are purely incidental. Most importantly we need to give feedback to licensees as to what we appreciate (and dislike) about their premises and services, because we all get the pub we deserve.

Having completed our odyssey we resolved to write this account and sought help in defraying expenses. Our application to the Bicentenary Commission being unsuccessful (they probably felt we were having too much fun) we eventually decided to fund the venture ourselves, reasoning that not being beholden to any vested interests we would be able to offer a truly objective account of proceedings.

We would like to thank Peter O’Sullivan at the Licensing Commission, staff at the Launceston Reference Library, Peta Torres, Tony Walker, Owen Tilbury, Ralph and Susie Norton, John Taylor, Pat Sullivan, Phil Laing, Michelle Round, Michael Bok, Bob MacMahon, Frank Hussey, Graeme Phillips, Mark Smith, Stan Gottschalk, Melissa Smith, Shelagh Hyde, Emily Smith, Gill Ireland, Bokprint and the many others who have provided encouragement and support. Much information was gleaned from David Bryce’s groundbreaking ‘Pubs in Hobart’, Colin Dennison’s amazing photographic collection and David Radford’s soon to be published work on pubs in Launceston.

Finally, thanks to our long-suffering partners and families who had to put up with and explain our frequent absences from normal social intercourse (“they’re down at the pub again”), and thanks most of all to those dedicated publicans, staff and patrons who made this book possible and the journey such a delight.

Steve Hyde and Howard Smith
In search of the Holy Grail