Home' Journeys : Oct Nov 2015 Contents These days we expect to find wine in our restaurants and to
sample the best of the new wine in our vineyards. We can
discuss same-sex marriage, marvel at the breathtaking displays of
international art at MONA and as we do, we might congratulate
ourselves on Tasmania’s very grown-up attitude towards life
and living. But not so long ago, our community was not quite so
welcoming, nor as open-minded. Fifty years ago no independent
restaurant was allowed to serve wine or beer with a meal, ‘gay’
attachments were illegal and of course the MONA show would
have been unthinkable.
All through the 1960s, the quality of Australian wines improved,
wine consumption doubled and art censorship was challenged,
but Tasmania was still thought of as a beer-drinking island, where
nudity in art was obscene. Chloe might display her charms on the
wall at Young and Jackson’s, but Melbourne was far away. A few
Tasmanian hotels served wine in good, rather formal, dining
rooms, but pub dining was generally dull and cheerless.
Then at last, in 1968, a Licensing Commissioner decided. ‘We do
not think we should insist that restaurants should be of a standard
equal to that of first class hotels,’ and the first BYO licences were
Restaurateurs and diners had been clamouring for such a change
since 1961, when an enterprising newcomer, Arthur ‘Pat’ Collins,
who had already set up ‘the first eatery in Toorak Road ’ came
from Melbourne with plans for a bistro in the French country
style. Of course this must include wine, so his plan was opposed
by the hoteliers, who valued their monopoly on licensed dining.
Then Collins found a loophole in the law – he might set up an
independent restaurant in the basement of a pub!
Pat Collins’ Bistro, under the Ship Hotel in Collins Street, was an
instant success – underground, but not illegal. With the help of
a Melbourne architect friend David Yencken, Pat introduced the
first charcoal grill and commercial microwave. More important,
he created a place where people might meet for a social drink,
before finding a table. Few people knew what a ‘ bistro’ might
be, but Pat’s place was quickly recognised as, literally, ‘the only
place to go in the evenings.’ At lunchtime it was favoured by city
professionals talking politics and lady shoppers swapping gossip.
Closing time was called at 2.30pm, then in the evenings, a joyful
Bohemian atmosphere developed, where artists, lefty politicians
and young ABC broadcasters enjoyed the company of the students,
with their Old Nick Company of anarchic would-be actors. Collins
introduced us to the better Australian wines and to the pleasures
of informal, but not uninformed, dining. The f lexibility of a
blackboard menu allowed him to use freshest local produce in a
variety of European dishes that would be hard to equal today.
Pat subsidised the career of young musicians (at least two of whom
still work professionally) and the Bistro’s exhibitions helped
establish local and mainland painters, three of whom are still
working. One painting made the headlines when police received
a complaint that it was ‘obscene.’ Today Geoff Stocks’ Reclining
nude (behind Pat Collins, top photo) would not raise an eyebrow
and the dismissal of that attack and of other gratuitous complaints
helped shape present-day public approval of the MONA enterprise.
However in the sixties such transgressions were enough to blacken
the reputation of Collins and his cheerful little restaurant. Other
establishments resented Pat’s rejection of the jacket-and-tie dress
codes that were commonly forced on diners, and his acceptance
of gay and lesbian clients led to charges that he was corrupting the
young. Allegations of drug dealing were fabricated by his enemies.
Civil liberties scored a victory when the court dismissed a charge
of ‘possession of obscene photographs’, but despite that win, the
stigma lingered in conservative Hobart. In 1969 Collins was forced
to sell his business and return to the mainland.
Pat Collins’ enterprise and initiative began the coming-of-age
of a sophisticated tourist industry, but today the man and his
restaurant are all but forgotten. Last year was the centenary of Pat’s
birth in the East End of London. In September this year, my book
Sweetbreads out of Season was published, celebrating Pat’s remarkable
life and his lasting contribution to his adopted state.
Pat Collins’ Bistro,
under the Ship
Hotel in Collins
Street, was an
instant success –
but not illegal.
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2015 Journeys 53
IN TASMANIA TODAY
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