Month: November 2018

Hobart, Tasmania – Part 1


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The island state of Tasmania or Tassie as the locals refer to themselves is hard to recognize as Australian. No hot baking sun, no wide open desert, no 1,000,000+ acre cattle stations. Instead Tassie has an oceanic climate with mild, rainy winters, cool summers and exquisite food – think razor thin sliced gin-infused salmon!

With a population just over 500,000 and growing faster than any other Australian state, Tasmania, according to the state government, has low unemployment, stable home prices and a sense of confidence. There is a culture of environmental stewardship which has prevailed over the economic interests of logging and hydroelectric generation, though not without controversy. The 20% of the state which is protected includes the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area with its temperate rainforest, crystal clear rivers and animals like the Tasmanian Devil found nowhere else.

Huon Pine
When settlers arrived they discovered a tree that was subject neither to decay nor insects. The Huon pine is the second oldest tree in the world, after the Californian bristlecone pine, and trees that die remain perfectly preserved, even in mud or water for thousands of years. We saw slabs that were 10,000 years old. They died after 4,000 years and lay on the forest floor for the next 6,000. It takes 500 years for a tree to grow to maturity, adding girth at the rate of 1 mm a year.

Huon pine was the ideal ship building material. Needing ships for its growing navy England sent a master shipbuilder to the penal colony, Sarah Island off the isolated Tasmanian west coast in the 1820’s. Under his direction convicts produced 131 ships in 12 year.

Gordon River Cruise

Strahan, population 658, has been the centre of logging on the western coast of Tasmania and is now primarily a tourism destination. Why? It is situated on Macquarie Harbour which is 6 times larger than Sydney Harbour but is separated from the sea by a treacherous reef with a narrow 200 metre gap which prevents it from receiving large ships.

We took a 6 hour cruise out through the harbour, and because it was calm we went out through Hell’s Gate and then back along the scenic Gordon River which used to be the logging waterway. Piners (loggers) lived in 2 layers of flannel shirts, always wet in the rainforest. As one piner said, the wool at least kept us warm. They would cut holes in the toes and heels of their boots so that the water could drain out. When one of their mates was injured the strongest piner rowed non-stop downriver for 14 hours to bring him to town. The doctor was away so the bartender who apparently had some experience in these matters, poured liquor down his throat, then proceeded to clean the wound and stitch him up. They were hardy souls!

The Last Ship to Sail from Sarah Island
In 1834 ten shipwright convicts planned the ultimate escape. They stole the ship they were building and sailed it across the Pacific to Chile. Of those who survived the crossing 4 were captured and returned to Australia to face trial for piracy and almost certain hanging. Their successful defense cleverly noted that the ship was not finished and never officially registered as a ship, and that they had seized it within the harbour and not “on the high seas” so they were found guilty only of the lesser charge of robbery of lumber. The story is told in Tasmania’s longest running play, 25 years of performances in beautiful Strahan.

National Parks
In Cradle Mountain National Park we walked the the 2½ hour circuit around Dove Lake. Sheltered rainforest with ferns gives way to eucalypts and then low bushes.

Two highlights in Freycinet National Park, one was sitting in our camp chairs, wine in hand watching the sun set over the water. The other was falling asleep midafternoon in the camper with sun streaming through the trees, a soft breeze warming my face and watching the eucalyptus branches being flung about in the rising and falling breeze. And always the smell of eucalyptus.

Spirit of Tasmania, Bass Strait, Australia


Saturday, November 9, 2018

Adelaide, South Australia
The words “boutique hotel” bring to mind an historic building, cozy lounge (living room), flowers and 100% cotton, preferably Egyptian, sheets. The Adabco Hotel is that and more. The “more” includes a common well-appointed kitchen and laundry for guests and surprisingly a clothesline. All this in Adelaide’s downtown.

Adelaide boasts a fascinating art gallery which, like all Australian art galleries, is free and filled with school tours. We’ve been impressed with the tour guides who reach the kids on their own level, and the kids who are attentive and curious.

The entrance to the gallery was through 200 kms of red yarn stretched in patterns of greater and lesser density, with arches and holes created by dense weaving of yarn, the yarn tacked to the wall in hundreds of places.

Our new vehicle is a campervan with indoor (!) gas elements, microwave and table that converts to a bed. The advantage is that we are always dry for which we are thankful now that there is much more rain.

McLaren Vale
Australia is dotted with wine regions. Thomas Hardy left Scotland in 1850 to make his fortune in Australia as part of the 19th century Scottish diaspora. Never one to remain idle he offered school lessons to boys on board (it is believed that a woman on board taught the girls). After a stint in the goldfields where he made money as a butcher and in droving cattle, he bought land, planted fruit trees and some Shiraz grapes and settled in McLaren Vale. His holdings later included a jam factory, brewery and glassworks.

The Lutheran Church in Narracorte was pastored by a very conservative transplanted America. Hymns were from an Australian hymn book which meant they were all new to me and referenced Australian place names. The sermon included a warning that a current bill before parliament would make it harder for Australia to be a Christian nation. I prefer a nation that is not allied with any one religion but where different faith groups respect each other but where the shared values of justice, rule of law, welcome for newcomers and a focus on the common good create a community that benefits all people.

You may notice that the place names we are visiting are wine regions.

When Geoff and I arrived in Sydney in 1973 we were invited out to our first dinner in an Australian home. Not recognizing the names of any wineries Geoff purchased a $3 bottle of Wynn’s Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon, this at a time when we would have bought ordinary wine in Canada for $5.95. “You shouldn’t have,” our host remonstrated, “we only ever spend $1 for a bottle.” We had unknowingly purchased a very fine wine. So we indulged ourselves and purchased some Wynn’s at the cellar door in 2018, but for more than $3 a bottle!

The Grampians
From rolling fields the countryside gives way to red cliffs and steep hairpin turns. It always seems more hair-raising driving in the outside lane where nothing separates the camper from a drop-off into the valley below. Back into the pasture land we stopped as border collies herded sheep from one paddock to the next. In another field llamas grazed while 2 donkeys licked each other’s neck and back. It looked for all the world as if they were also affectionately nuzzling each other. Was there any real connection or were they simply grooming each other?

A New Lives in Out of the Way Places
Out of the way places seem to attract adventurers and entrepreneurs. The Zumsteins began with an apiary in the bush. Then the couple hand built a rammed earth home and so fell in love with the forest and stream on their property that they wanted to share it with others. To this they added three more cottages and a tennis court so that they could welcome visitors seeking to escape the noise and heat of Melbourne. Their summer guests helped them dig out a large swimming pool over 5 years. Now part of the national park and ravaged by forest fires in 2014 it is an historical site, a reminder of the value of communal industry.

We found tapenade with figs and lemon at Red Rock Olives and The Chocolate Mill with handmade chocolates sourced from beans in west Africa and made into chocolate in Belgium before finding artisans in Victoria whose chocolates made me wish I could take samples home. Here too was a couple who made their own straw bale home and retail shop.

One of my favorite Australian cities, Ballarat, came of age during the 19th century gold rush. Evidence of its early prosperity is seen in the architecture of fine buildings and in the quality of its art gallery.

What do an art gallery, a former convent and a bacon curing cellar have in common? They are all venues for art as part of the 6 week inaugural Biennale of Australian Art. Our great good fortune was to arrive in town on the last day. It was the largest ever showcase of living Australian artists.

Having visited many of the sites around the city we returned to the Art Gallery to see again and take a photo of the stunning multi-hued, translucent colours bursting in a cosmic universe hanging, a piece by Asher Bilau. The event was ending and artists were gathering for the closing dinner, including Mr. Bilau and his wife. When he was not engaged in conversation I spoke to him and told him how much we enjoyed this particular piece. They wanted to know where we lived. It so happened that they had had guests from Canada. His wife pulled a coin from her purse and asked if was a Canadian coin. It was a loonie, she gave it to me and I will bring it home as a reminder of them.

We were privileged to chat with him for about 15 minutes about his art, interest in the universe and Canada. It was a highlight of the trip.

The joys of travelling are muted by the distance from family and friends so coming to Melbourne where we have both connects us to our time in Australia in the 1970’s (Ian Mitchell and Maree Bach) and to Auntie Marg and Uncle Dick’s farm in Arkell outside Guelph (Grace Lawler, cousin). We had lovely visits with all of them.

From here we take the ferry to Tasmania for the last leg of our adventure before Sydney, Vancouver and home.