Tales from Tasmania at MACq 01

As the winter solstice rolls into the sleepy city of Hobart, David Walsh’s winter arts festival Dark Mofo descends. It bleeds into the waterfront and inhabits Macquarie Point, bringing with it ritual bonfires, swarms of arty tourists and curious Tasmanian locals. This year it coincided with Tasmania’s most anticipated luxury hotel opening in more than a decade, MACq 01, the official hotel partner for the 2017 festival.

Imbued with a strong sense of place in both design and concept, MACq 01 has been named and modelled after the old shipping shed, Macquarie Wharf Shed 1, which previously occupied the prime waterfront position. A classic Scandinavian mix of glass and timber, the exterior of the pitched-roofed structure has been built with white cypress, with the intention that the building will age to the same patina as the wharf beneath it. 

I encounter my first local Tasmanian hero in the lift, where more than 15 of the MACq 01 character voices are on rotation. Intrigued, I continue on, passing the room of Taffy the Bee Man (aka Helmer Henry Hastings Huxley), a 1930s Tasmanian beekeeper interpreted by the MACq 01 illustrator as a kind-eyed man with a flowering beard. Then I come to my suite, home of Francois Fouche, more commonly known as Big Frank – a professional wrestler and one-time bodyguard to Shirley Temple. 

The latest property from the Federal Group, the team behind luxury eco-lodge Saffire Freycinet and art-centric Henry Jones Art Hotel, MACq 01 is a ‘storytelling hotel’, a concept that has been built from tourism market research. What draws visitors to the clean air and small-town feel of Tasmania? Arts and culture, and the local produce. But the biggest pull is the local residents and their real-life stories. With this knowledge, the Federal Group sent two researchers on a six-month trip around Tasmania to visit small towns and communities where they unearthed the local heroes that each of the hotel’s 114 rooms are now based on. 

In-room dining at MACq 01

My Executive Waterfront Suite has been designed to embody the colourful and quirky Tasmanian character (one of five categorised traits decided on by the hotel). The key theme of MACq 01 is local. The bed features a specially commissioned headboard by Tasmanian artist Troy Ruffels, who made a series of digital collages depicting the Tasmanian landscape; the pre-mixed Negronis in the minibar are by Hobart distillery Süd Polaire; and the furniture is made by local craftsmen. The real hero, however, is the space, realised in the expansive bathroom and the outdoor balcony complete with a set of quoits. The sloping design of the rooftop offers uninterrupted views of the waterfront. 

A MACq 01 butler attends to guests in each of the 27 suites. Young but eager to assist, Sam is readily on call, with each turndown service accompanied by a hand-signed letter detailing the Dark Mofo activities of the day and information on the hotel’s various tours and offerings. Among them is the chance to be shown around the hotel’s character rooms with one of the three resident ‘storytellers’, a brewery tour at the local Hobart Brewing Company or an exploration of the historic Wapping district. This is the true MACq 01 difference – a hotel that supports the city’s cultural events, effortlessly weaving them into its own story. 

The downstairs lounge gives voice to the history of Tasmania’s indigenous people. The circular stone fireplace, crafted by a local stonemason references oral storytelling, while cabinets display artefacts of the traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal toolkit. Laminated pages from The Mercury newspaper hang at the service area in the Story Bar, and the steel and recycled wharf timbers that have been used in the design of the Old Wharf Restaurant hark back to Tasmania’s various industrial histories. 

But the real beauty of the hotel is spoken at sunset, when the sky behind it turns a pastel purple and the glass front glimmers in the sinking sunlight. For its final performance of the festival, a helicopter appears in the distance and begins to duck and dive to the wailing sounds of the Siren Song being emitted from strategically placed speakers on the rooftops of surrounding buildings. This is why people come to Tasmania, and MACq 01 has by far the best view.

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