A conversation with some fellow Hobart Instagrammers recently in the very pleasant surroundings of the new Evolve Spirit Bar at MACq01 on Hobart’s waterfront suggested that the best way for a business to make money was to sell air and/or water. That is, base ingredients that can be had for little or nothing.
The skill is in converting those base ingredients into business gold through the alchemy of turning them into a compelling experience. Examples quoted on the day included the bottled compressed air that is the essential element of scuba diving operations and the distillation of base liquids into premium whiskies and gins.
MACq01’s kitchen team proved the point moments later, serving up a delicious bite that included the tang and crunch of crispy fried sardine bones, brilliant use of an item that would usually be discarded.
Bones feature, along with fossils and other artefacts (and a tempting wall of whisky) as decor and talking points in this bar, the latest addition to MACq01, which has embraced stories and their telling as it’s unique point of difference.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join a storytelling tour with MACq01 master storyteller Justin Johnstone Smith, who also offered proof of the alchemy principle. We started outside MACq01, around the Footsteps to Freedom sculptural installation by Rowan Gillespie honouring the convict women transported to Van Diemen’s Land and the children who sailed with them.
While Tasmania is rich in stories from its colonial past, and these form the basis of many successful tourism operations large and small, Justin and his colleagues at MACq01, which calls itself Australia’s first storytelling hotel, use some basic tools to bring their stories and the nearby streets of Hobart to life in a way that elevates the experience.
Justin led us on a stroll through central Hobart, regaling us with snippets of stories that were both fascinating and highly entertaining. He is precise in his information, clarifying whether a story is documented historical fact or amusing anecdote or rumour, citing his own and others’ research into their verisimilitude.
Using ViewMaster slide viewers, non-digital devices that may people my age will recall as toys from childhood, the streets of Hobart are shown as they are now and as they were at key points in history through use of historic photographs.
I have been frustrated on other occasions where tour operators have endeavoured to do this using more modern devices, which are generally impossible to see properly when outdoors on a sunny afternoon as we were. The ViewMaster achieved the task brilliantly while adding a playful note to the experience.
Our tour proceeded for around two and a half hours and included stops at the Town Hall, Treasury Building, Franklin Square, Saint Davids Park and Parliament House. Justin pointed out that a regular tour would have more stops, but as a photography tour, we were spending more time at each place.
I had been under the impression that these storytelling tours were limited to MACq01’s guests, but the good news is that anyone can join by contacting the hotel and booking, for what sounded like a pretty modest cost.
OTHER NOTABLE STORYTELLING EXPERIENCES AROUND TASMANIA
The Ship That Never Was – Strahan
‘The Ship That Never Was’ tells the dramatic and hilarious true story about the last Great Escape from Sarah Island.
Port Arthur Historic Site and its nocturnal Ghost Tours – Port Arthur
Guides skillfully relate the history of Port Arthur by day, while by night they tell tales of mystery and murder.
Her Story at the Cascades Female Factory, South Hobart
Part history lesson, part roaming theatre show, Her Story is an accurate and emotional depiction of the harsh life within the Cascades Female Factory in 1833.
West Coast Wilderness Railway – Strahan and Queenstown
Stories of the railway’s construction, the professional and commercial rivalries that fueled along-running feud and the lives of those who lived along and relied on this connection in a remote part of Tasmania are shared with passengers.
There are many other tourism experiences around Tasmania that also include quality interpretation and story telling.