Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery: a new gal's in town

A celebration of the colonial era runs deep through modern Hobart, writes Louise Goldsbury.

Rather than moan about the attention lavished on Hobart's other cultural icon, the state's original museum has joined the city's climb to coolness. Reopened last year after a summer makeover, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) is drawing visitors back to its heritage buildings, giving them a reason to stay an extra day.

The site's Bond Store, virtually unaltered since 1824, has been opened up to the public for the first time. Bolstered by gum tree pillars, the convict-built red brick and sandstone structure used to supply the young colony of Van Dieman's Land with everything from alcohol to ammunition. It's now housing displays about those Europeans' home-making in the area, told from the perspectives of both the settlers and the indigenous people.

Twelve new major exhibitions are spread across an additional 2000 square metres. According to TMAG, its collection is the broadest of any single cultural institution in Australia; however, the museum is primarily, unashamedly, Tasmanian. Established 150 years ago, it's the one place that the state's entire population has visited at least once in their lives, even if it was on a school excursion.

Shaping Tasmania: A Journey in 100 Objects is a trail of 99 objects selected by curators, plus one object chosen by the locals. The item they thought best encapsulates the community's past? An old Gladstone bag, carried by a generation of blue-collar workers at Hobart's zinc works.

The most interesting exhibits include a regional herbarium, comprising more than 250,000 specimens, and a large section of colonial decorative arts. The compilation of 100,000 colonial photographs, dating from 1848, is also well preserved largely thanks to the cool climate.

This commemoration of the colonial era runs deep through modern Hobart, which was founded in 1804 as a penal colony. The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts contains 19th century paintings, furniture, china and books. Several B&Bs, as well as private homes, are housed in heritage-listed cottages built by convicts.

The Sally Wise Cooking School, in the Derwent Valley, teaches a convict and colonial cookery class, making preserves and baking in a slow-combustion wood oven (in place of the outdoor ovens they would have used back then).

Sally, a bestselling author of several cookbooks and a regular guest on ABC Local Radio, teaches small groups in her private kitchen, using fresh produce from her garden. In three hours, she whips through an extraordinary number of dishes: breads, cakes, tarts, jams, relishes, chutneys, sauces, gravy and a tender roast lamb.

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Damper is nowhere to be seen. "As they got increasing access to ingredients, people really wanted proper bread," she says. "But meat was most important - it was said to be the faith, hope and charity of Australian cuisine, eaten three times a day, because they had year-round access to livestock."

Fruit and vegetables were seasonal, "which is why there was such an orgy of preserving", she explains. She demonstrates how easy it is to bottle apricots and lemons and to make cordials for a refreshing summer's drink. Various sparkling concoctions of pears, ginger, mulberries and raspberries are offered throughout the class, along with copious tastings of the food.

At the end of the session, the grass-fed lamb (recently grazing in a nearby paddock) is served with a redcurrant gravy, which Sally has to admit is one of the best meals she's ever made. It's followed by a cheesecake dessert of blackberry and rhubarb plucked an hour ago from the backyard.

Sally tells me her husband isn't too fussed what he eats, so she loves to dine with fellow foodies, and almost begs me to return one day to share a dish she's been wanting to try for years: possum in a pumpkin. Any excuse will do.

The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism Tasmania.

Tea to tapas

The cafe and small bar scene is thriving in Hobart. Every Friday, Gourmania Food Tours runs a three-hour graze around the city's tucked-away venues, avoiding tourist spots, such as Salamanca Place.

The walking tour starts with a pot of tea and pastry at Jackman & McRoss, followed by a coffee outside Yellow Bernard espresso bar. Perked-up participants then move on to cheese and wine-tasting, before finishing with another wine and charcuterie plate at Sidebar.

A highlight is the tapas and salads at Ethos Eat Drink, one of Hobart's oldest and most unusual buildings. The converted stable used to be a pharmacy, and the owners salvaged hundreds of items uncovered by the renovation. Chemist's bottles have been turned into chandeliers and milk jugs and packing crates hold herbs.

The guide is French-trained pastry chef Mary McNeill, a sixth-generation Tasmanian, who points out the hottest restaurants in town, such as Garagistes in a former garage, which has set menus and a long list of organic, biodynamic and natural wines.

Touring there: $95, including food, drinks and local guide. Bookings essential. Maximum of eight participants. See gourmaniafoodtours.com.au.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Virgin, Qantas and Jetstar fly direct from Sydney to Hobart. See virginaustralia.com; qantas.com.au; jetstar.com.au.

STAYING THERE

Salamanca Wharf Hotel: In a quiet street behind the famous Salamanca Place markets, this new self-contained hotel is a few minutes' walk to Hobart's waterfront. Rooms from $225. See salamancawharfhotel.com.

Villa Howden: About 20 minutes' drive south of the city, Villa Howden sits on the peaceful shores of North West Bay near the Huon Valley tourist route. Rooms from $395. See villahowden.com.au.

COOKING THERE

Sally Wise Cooking School: Saturday morning classes cost $150 a person. The next convict and colonial cooking class is September 6. Bookings essential. Phone (03) 6261 1336. See sallywise.com.au.

ART THERE

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: TMAG is open daily from 10am-5pm; admission is free. See tmag.tas.gov.au.

MORE INFORMATION

discovertasmania.com.au

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