It was night; we were checked in. Our rooms presented to us by a quiet yet polite middle-aged woman who moved slowly up the stairs as if somehow weighted down with sandbags on her shoulders. She unlocked the rooms and with individual keys and ushered us down the long carpeted first-floor corridor to show us the remaining rooms, toilets, and showers. Her feet made creaking sounds as they touched the worn surface of the floor. The air was dense as the light dim. I inhaled gently in resistance to the stale tobacco odor that seeped out of the walls. I had the distinct feeling that 30 years ago the same decor would have been somewhat more conducive to the weary traveler and that perhaps our host was as surprised as we were.
The three story wooden building was over 120 years old and constructed between 1874 and 1886 by one time Scotsman and architect Frederick William Burwell. He moved to Invercargill from Melbourne in 1874 at the age of 28. Burwell then fled depressed economic conditions of the 1890s, migrating to gold-boom Western Australia in search of work.
Downstairs the pub was a mix of men and women, mostly wearing clothing that was the hard-wearing outdoor kind forestry or road workers use still bearing dirt and grime from the day's activities. I noticed one man's hand, at a table near to me, he grasped his beer glass with only two fingers and a thumb. I put my drink on the table and looked up and caught a sway of eyes over the clatter of conversation and the distorted crackling sound of a television showing a 10 pm news bulletin. The old set had been positioned above everyone's head on a swinging arm, so that comes out from the wall and with the presenter looking over us with a head of massive black permed hair and neatly fitting red suit in front of a blue background. My traveling companions looked on calmly and slightly nervous as one of them was approached... 'Where are you from....Auckland?
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All images © Alan McFetridge