Hobart: Australia's cultural hub

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Hobart: Australia's cultural hub

OLDEST THEATRE: The Theatre Royal, Hobart

Built among the public houses, brothels, factories and tiny workers’ cottages in the suburb of Wapping, the Theatre Royal opened its doors in 1837. Behind its creation was a consortium of Hobart’s business leaders, who wanted to establish a permanent theatre for the rapidly expanding colony.

Entertainment for the theatre’s original patrons ranged from musical performances to cockfights – there was even a seedy tavern known as The Shades, which operated beneath the auditorium with its own entrance into the theatre pit. Prostitutes, sailors and general riff raff would enter the pit with tankards full and create all sorts of drama of their own, much to the displeasure of the gentry seated in the boxes.

Since its opening, the Theatre Royal has been remodelled, refurbished and restored. Over the years it was saved from demolition several times and has withstood a disastrous fire, public criticism and the rigours of old age. Countless leading figures of Australian and international theatre, dance and music have graced its stage, and it remains a significant space for the performing arts, presenting an annual program of live theatre, contemporary music, dance and entertainment.

Tours of the Theatre Royal are conducted by the Friends of the Theatre Royal on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, costing $10 for adults and $8 for concessions.

MOST FAMOUS MARKETS: Salamanca Market, Hobart

It may not have the crunch of snow underfoot or the mulled wine of Germany’s Christmas markets, but Salamanca Market is Australia’s charming equivalent – showcasing Tasmania’s creative artisans, talented musicians and diverse producers. With the historic Georgian sandstone buildings of Salamanca Place as its backdrop and yachts and fishing boats moored nearby, this market is held every Saturday from 8.30am to 3pm – rain, hail or shine.

Around 300 stallholders peddle an assortment of wares with a good deal of it hand-made in Tasmania – everything from fashion and jewellery to ceramics and quirky accessories to tempting local produce. And visitors to the market can enjoy plenty of entertainment from the local and international acts around the place.

The historic sandstone warehouses surrounding the market serve as Hobart’s cultural hub – brimming with galleries, cafes, craft shops, restaurants and bars. Every Friday night, the Salamanca Arts Centre Courtyard rocks to the sounds of Rektango, with its gypsy, jazz and swing music.

BEST MODERN ART GALLERY: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart

There are no descriptions next to the artworks on the walls of this gallery. Instead, visitors are given a touch-screen device that is sensitive to their location in the museum, showing them works in their proximity. Called the O, it allows visitors to select the level of information they need and to vote for works they either love or hate.

Seeking to challenge the status quo when it comes to curatorial matters, MONA was unveiled in January 2011. It houses the nation’s largest private art collection, with works including Egyptian mummies, ancient coins and curiosities alongside some of the world’s most infamous and thought-provoking contemporary art.

The gallery is located in Hobart’s Berriedale on the River Derwent, 15 minutes’ drive north of Hobart’s CBD. MONA is open six days a week (closed Tuesdays) from 10am to 5pm. Admission to most of the public galleries and museums is free for Tasmanians, and $20 for visitors from outside the state. In addition to the gallery, MONA also features a vineyard, accommodation, fine dining, a wine bar and cellar door tastings.