Bedding down at Hobart’s stylish new wharf-side hotel, we’re regaled with tales of the town’s colourful past and reminded – again – why we love the Tasmanian capital right now.
If there are two things we know for certain about Hobartians, it’s that they have a penchant for colourful, woolly clothing and they love a good story.
Perhaps it’s the cooler climes that beg for tales told huddled by a fire, or it could be that Tasmania’s history is woven thick with characters as brightly hued as its much-loved apparel. From Indigenous ancestors to settlers and convicts, Hobart has an over-abundance of stories to share.
Recognising this inborn need to spin a yarn, the Federal Group (of iconic Tassie hotels Henry Jones and Saffire Freycinet), decided to gift Australia with its first storytelling hotel, MACq01. The location itself, on a wharf right on the River Derwent that once witnessed the malodorous unloading of harpooned whales and lice-ridden convicts, is the site where many stories began and ended.
Before we delve into those stories, though, we must nod effusively at the superb design of MACq01. In an era of concrete blocks stuck with random coloured panels as an afterthought to design, this building is a sheer delight. Beautiful in materials (white cypress designed to age to the patina of the wharf on which it sits) and pleasing in angles, the building is actually an asset to her surroundings.
While MACq01’s raw, minimalistic style suggests a Nordic influence, the architecture is in fact modelled off the shipping shed that was demolished to make way for the hotel. This is either ironic or quite fitting, depending of your point of view, considering the hotel pays tribute to Tasmanian history.
The wharf today, with its gleaming hotel, pleasant salt-spray scent and puffa jacket-wearing ramblers, would be unrecognisable to the likes of the characters MACq01 embraces in its storytelling. Take Isaac ‘Ikey’ Solomon, for example, the presumed real-life inspiration for Oliver Twist’s Fagan.
A thief or ‘fence’ of some renown in London, Ikey mounted an escape en route to London’s Newgate Prison with the help of similarly nefarious counterparts. He absconded to New York with his stolen freedom, leaving his wife, Anne, to be arrested in his place and whisked off to Van Diemen’s Land. When news of his beloved’s capture (beloved may be an overly kind term for someone who suffers the consequences of their spouse’s crimes) caught up with Ikey, who was swindling Brazil by then, he stuck his thumb out for the next ship leaving to the Antipodes and landed in Tassie.
It took a year for the local authorities to send word back to Old Blighty that Ikey was in Hobart (as a free man, no less), and for the predicted response to arrest him and freight him back came. Off again to London he went, wifeless, only to be ping-ponged back to Hobart after being sentenced to fourteen years in the colony. There he remained, wifeless again following a never-resolved quarrel, until he died and was buried in a Jewish cemetery in 1850. The cemetery was bulldozed in 2002, Ikey and all.
Ikey’s is just one of the 114 stories that adorn 114 guest room doors at MACq01. Each hand-collected story is sorted into one of five uniquely Tasmanian characteristics and behind the doors, rooms are styled to fit the traits. The ‘colourful and quirky’ room, for example, is well, colourful and quirky. Guests might also find themselves bedding down with ‘hearty and resilient’, ‘curious and creative’, ‘grounded, yet exceptional’, or ‘fighting believer’ characters.
As doorkeepers of your room, the heroes of these yarns include a French-Canadian expat bodybuilder who claimed to have been Shirley Temple’s bodyguard in Hawai`i. Another door tells the story of a soft-hearted publican and rumoured-madam, whose ingenious bell system enabled her to keep tabs on clients serviced in the rooms above her bar. The tale of a bouncy Tasmanian by the name of Sue Becker, paints the portrait of a wildly popular star of TV show Boomph with Becker that served the dual purpose of informing women on exercise and entertaining men with Sue’s skimpy leotards and perplexingly (read: arousing) flexibility.
All these tales are recited to guests with the theatrical enthusiasm of a street performer by MACqo1’s Storytellers, who handily double as your (unofficial) concierge. They’ll also point out the Tasmanian artefacts stylishly archived behind glass in the restaurant and bar, and will take you on a wharf or door tour at your request.
Next time you’re in Hobart, we highly recommend grabbing some woolly socks, a Storyteller and a room at MACq01 for a yarn of historical worth (and mirth). Whether you come for the stories or the sleek styling, this hotel just about warrants a trip in itself.
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