The Union Hotel - Stanley

The Union Hotel

We drove back up to the North like men possessed, the Queenstown images flashing back to haunt us every time we blinked. 

We turned to Wild Man in a silent plea. Luckily, the quintessential guide had seen it all before and knew what to do to improve our final memories of this state.

"What you blokes need is a good beer".

He was right, and Wild Man had just the town. Away from the big smoke of Hobart and Launceston. Away from the horror of the South West. To a little place he knew off the beaten track in the North West: Stanley. A town of only 576 people (up from 484 in 1901), not much has changed since the Union Hotel started serving beers in the first half of the 19th century.  According to Wild Man, Joseph Lyons, Tasmania's only Prime Minister (1932-39), was a regular drinker there. By his account Joseph was particularly fond of the "Lucky Duck" drinking game which reached its peak in 1878, the year he was born.  We had our doubts.

As we approached, we asked Wild Man for directions. 

"Head for the nut", was his only tip.

We pondered this for about 10km. Then all was revealed. 

The Nut!

And there it was, standing out on the peninsula like a proverbial K9 ball, or, as Matthew Flinders put it in 1798, a 'cliffy round lump resembling a Christmas cake'.  We headed for it, and before we knew it we were sitting at the bar of the Union Hotel which sat, along with the rest of Stanley, smack bang under the nut.  

"Couple of Handles?", asked the barmaid.

"Na, make em Pale Ales", was our reply, even though we were back in Boags country. We didn't get to see Southern pubs as much as we would have liked, and there was no way were going to miss out on drinking one of our favourite drops in its home state. We did like the use of the word handle though.

Pale Ales at the Union

As we savoured our Pale Ales, we couldn't help but overhear the conversation the locals were having around the other side of the bar.  One of the older blokes had told a younger bloke off for drinking bourbon, which obviously wasn't manly enough for these parts. "Wadda mean?", said the younger fellow. "This'll get you at least as pissed as beers". "Bullshit", said the older bloke. "I could knock off 20 of those". "You reckon??", was the reply. The older man took a sip, and smiled. "Wadda you been drinking all your life, Fanta?".  And so it went. 

Some 20 minutes later, it was settled. The older bloke had to drink 20 mixed bourbon cans in 7 hours. If he did, the younger bloke had to pay for the cans, and give him 100 bucks. If he didn't, he paid, and he had to cough up 100 bucks himself. The older bloke was confident, "I'd bet my house on this". Luckily, this herculean dispute was not to be resolved that evening. 

Our inquisitive glances did not go unnoticed and we were swiftly challenged, not to a fight, but to a game of pool.  Tassie rules: two shots off a foul (cf Sydney, which is one).

Pool with the locals

As tends to happen, we got to know these men as we bought each other beers and played pool. Wild Man in particular got on well with them as, like him, they worked in forestry. One 42 year old bloke had been working full time in the industry since he was 10. "Isn't that illegal?", we asked. He just looked at us, and played his shot. 

Wild Man with the local bourbon drinker (note Boags poster)

Some hours after that, with every Jimmy tune played and games both won and lost, the barman, who had been drinking with us, looked at his watch. "Boys", he said, "time to hit the frog and toad". We mistakenly thought this was the end of it, but fresh beers were bought, and the lot of us (including the barman) trundled into the room right next door to the bar - the pub accommodation reception area. 

This was obviously normal procedure because within minutes the room had been cleared and the locals were challenging each other in arm wrestling competitions. We immediately had a flash back to our tour of the Boags brewery in which the guide had pointed to the Strong Arm logo and stated, somewhat clinically, that "arm wrestling used to be quite a popular pastime in pubs about 100 years ago". In some places, as it turns out, time stands still. Before we knew it, us soft city folk were talking on these hard as buggery loggers in their national sport. You little beauty.

Sorting the men from the boys

It was kicked off by the big shouldered bloke who had been a full time logger since he was 10. The possibility of an early demise did cross our mind.

Wild Man leading the charge

But with Wild Man as our representative, we were soon cleaning them up. Of course, their 20 beer handicap had nothing to do with this at all. 

Victory is ours!

And with that, our little Tasmanian adventure was over. We had fed pigs beer, seen the devastating effects of combining logging with mining, arm wrestled with men who depended on logging to feed their families, drunk all sorts of Boags and Cascade variants, and toured two of Australia's most famous breweries.

Who wouldn't be happy with that.

Take a break from drinking like the author of this article did - Read why and how in his book Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers