The hotel was on a hill at the top of the town. It was a low square building made from brown tumbled bricks and a flat colorbond roof and fake Colonial windows, built around 1979. I pushed open the door that led to the dining room and wondered what kind of building it had replaced. Probably a double- or triple-storey grand Victorian with lace ironwork and staging posts and a dark, cavernous public bar and a ladies lounge and bedrooms with bedsteads opening off long corridors upstairs and a share bathroom at one end of each corridor and a smoking lounge at the other.
We sat at a table in the middle of the room near a large heater stove inside a round iron guardrail. The stove was sleeping through summer, waiting for the colder days ahead. Ball lights and fans with imitation rattan inserts hung from a low ceiling. The fans turned slowly. It was still humid and far away, muffled thunder boomed. This was Saturday and the thunder had started earlier in the afternoon and would not stop until Monday. As it grew darker, lightning could be seen dancing about the hills.
There was no décor, just walls. The doorway we had entered was in the north wall, and at one end was the bar and over the rest of it was a random collection of pictures. There were pictures of dogs including a long-eared cocker spaniel, pictures of flowers, and several ancient, fading sepia prints of the local area; old sawmills and narrow gauge trains and teams of horses. The dog and flower pictures looked kind of bumpy and Tracy told me they were tapestries and I had no reply to that. Two or three dusty potted plants stood on a half-hearted platform at one end of the room and the servery opened out of the other end.
The south wall was glass from hip-height to ceiling and it stretched the length of the room. From the hotel’s vertiginous position high on the hills, the window seemed to overlook most of South Gippsland. That explained the lack of décor in the rest of the room. It wasn’t needed.
There was table service for food, but you bought drinks from the bar near the servery and they put it on the tab. I ordered a bottle of Limestone Coast chardonnay from that mystical part of South Australia 'that was inundated by sea as recently as two million years ago'. The waitress brought the bottle in an aluminium cooler and we sipped the limey coolness and watched a large table of about eight restless elderly ladies who kept looking around as if impatient for the bill. Curiously, they all had identical grey hairstyles and pursed lips. Their hair was cut into severe bobs just below ear height and they looked like a church committee out for a quick dinner before a torrid annual general meeting. One straggler was eating some sticky date pudding and trying not to enjoy it. After a while the waitress brought the bill and they all fished around in their purses and got rid of as much small change as they could, and then they pointed their noses to the door and left. One snuck back and drained a wine glass. She would be the treasurer.