Crescent Street is a getting a new “Australian” bar in the coming weeks — although the venue’s French owners seem to be off to a rocky start.
The first media attention that the bar received was a whole column in the Gazette criticizing its name, Ayers Rock. That name refers to a huge sandstone monolith in the centre of Australia, with major spiritual significance to many Indigenous Australians. The issue is that for two to three decades (depending on how you measure it), the site has been called by its name in the Indigenous Pitjantjatjara dialect: Uluru.
The Gazette’s Allison Hanes notes that a number of Australians in Montreal expressed distaste at the bar’s name. The “Ayers Rock” name derives from Henry Ayers, a colonial-era politician, and has mostly fallen from use — it’s a colonial relic, and something that would cause most real Australians to raise an eyebrow.
Of course, the internet white-guy brigade in the Gazette’s comments section inevitably accused Hanes and the Australians she quotes of being too easily offended, overly sensitive SJWs, blah, blah, blah.
Fortunately, Eater Montreal is well-qualified to weigh in on this issue: I, the editor, am a born-and-raised Australian, and this place raises a whole lot of red flags beyond the tasteless name. After all, they can name it whatever they like, but if your Australian-themed bar is considered a joke by many of the local Australians, you’re probably not doing it right.
Anyhow, let’s start with that name. Hanes is right: it’s poorly-chosen and a little offensive, although these arguments probably won’t make big waves in Montreal. There are relatively few Australians here (in comparison to say, Vancouver), and even fewer Indigenous Australians, and most Quebecers would have little knowledge of Indigenous Australian culture, and in particular, the naming conventions around Uluru.
But it’s not just the use of that name — it’s that by choosing it, the bar is showing how out of touch it is with Australian culture and society. Few Australians below the age of about 50 calls Uluru “Ayers Rock” — I’m in my 30s, and while I recall the Ayers Rock moniker being used as a child, I more or less grew up with Uluru. Uluru was officially added to the name in 1993, and in 2002, it became the primary name for the site in most contexts (although some vestiges remain, such as the nearby Ayers Rock Airport).
The closest comparison point in Canada might be the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit. It was called Frobisher Bay until the late ‘80s, when it returned to its Inuktitut name, and it would certainly feel strange to hear it called Frobisher Bay in 2020.
Similarly, there’s a certain confusion to even hearing the name Ayers Rock used: it automatically feels dated, and it screams “out of touch”. That leads to another issue here: the owners of Ayers Rock (the bar) seem to be aggressively out-of-touch with Australian society and culture, which is more than a little concerning if you’re going to theme an entire bar around the country.
Unsurprisingly, Hanes’ article notes that the owners are not Australian (they’re French), but not to worry: “The creator of the concept has travelled in Australia many times. He really likes the country, its history, culture and festive atmosphere.”
That’s cool that he likes Australia, although the bar name would suggest that he hasn’t paid a whole lot of attention to its history or culture (the Uluru naming convention thing is common knowledge to anyone with modest on-the-ground experience and the ability to absorb basic information).
Again, he’s allowed to “appreciate” Australia in the form of a themed bar as much as he pleases, but he also fully deserves any criticism he receives when people with more knowledge and connection to the place say that the entire concept is tacky.
And tacky does seem accurate here: there are already five iterations of the same bar in France, complete with the Ayers Rock name. To be fair, the original Lyon location opened in 1997, when the Ayers Rock name was a little more standard, but it hasn’t really aged well, and there’s not really any clear reason for why the Montreal location also needs to be named Ayers Rock (especially when the owner has several other bars without that name).
The Lyon location leans on various hackneyed stereotypes of Australia that have been pulled mostly from the ‘80s or earlier — Fosters beer (which is neither cheap nor good), Paul Hogan imagery on its social media, a wood-heavy “outback” interior (inexplicably with a disco ball), and a mounted, possibly taxidermed crocodile on the wall. Plus, a Facebook comment from the pub suggests that the Montreal edition won’t even sell Australian beer. Montreal could do with an Australian pub done right — but this ain’t it.
It’s hard to really see this working in Montreal: the city’s Australians already seem think it’s an embarrassment, and it seems like even without the issue of the name, it would be read as fairly garish and unappealing to most Montrealers with a dash of taste — plus, a washed-up Crescent Street location will probably only taint it further. Maybe all us snowflaky Australians will be proven wrong, and it’ll be a hit — but the level of cluelessness in this venture suggests that this probably won’t happen.