Author: geoffbarley2015

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.

Margaret River, Western Australia


Monday, October 28, 2018

Sign in The Henley Brook, a restaurant with a chicken theme
I dream of a world where a chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.

Margaret River
“Did you see a whale?” I asked a woman we met on the windswept bush trail on the way to the Indian Ocean lookout. “Yes,” she answered, “whales and snakes!” My eyes from that point on were firmly fixed on the path. In fact at the lookout we did see a whale breaching completely out of the water sending up a grand plume of spray. Fortunately though no snakes!

This is our 46th anniversary weekend and we have returned to the wine, chocolate, cheese, mango yoghurt and food centre of Western Australia. We are at Rosewood House, sleeping in a bed with a real mattress and best of all an ensuite bathroom. For 6 weeks it had been the climb down the ladder at 3:00 a.m., the walk to the communal bathroom, and the trek up the ladder again that reminded us we were truly camping.

What gives Margaret River its character is the landscape. On the same tree canopy lined road will be grazing Angus and Holstein cattle, eucalyptus trees and wildflowers, sheep, a brewery, a winery, pottery gallery, a furniture design studio, an olive oil and specialty food shop, cheese shop and art gallery plus bistros and restaurants associated with many of the wineries and breweries. Pastoral scenes of sheep and cattle are framed by vistas across mini lakes. One breathtaking scene gives way to another especially as the afternoon sun slides through the gum trees.

Food Highlight
Miki’s Open Kitchen has two sittings a night at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The menu is set. There is the option to add wine or sake pairings. Food is assembled right in the restaurant and lucky guests, like us, have a seat at the counter surrounding the chefs.

The menu had 6 (!) courses with 3 or 4 items per course. It looked daunting. Would I be able to finish everything? Each item was at most two bites – one scallop, one asparagus spear and my favorite – if only for the shock factor, a shot glass of exquisite broth with a squid tentacle. Geoff’s squid was short and meaty, mine was obviously a tentacle. I was so tempted to put the thicker end in my mouth and slowly suck the tentacle down waving it about. I didn’t but it would have made a great picture.

Each course was presented on a round metal tray, in a long ceramic dish or in separate tiny dishes just so in front of us. The server described every item to each guest.

I can’t remember having eaten so many entirely new flavours, every one exquisite. A dinner to remember.

Community Garden
In the centre of town community gardeners have created a quirky oasis with native trees, grasses and flowers. Pathways lead to small open spaces with brightly coloured benches. Hanging from branches and propped up at the base of trees someone has painted quotations about gardens, flowers, peace and solitude.

Every child is born a naturalist.
His (her) eyes are in nature open to the glories of the stars,
The beauty of the flowers and the mystery of life.

The first morning of spring
I feel like someone else.
~ Matsuo Basho

There was an air of wildness about the Garden.
It was the sort of garden in which you could garden if you wanted,
but if you didn’t, it would not matter.
~ Mona Walling?

If you have a garden and a library you have everything that you need.
~ Marcus Julius Cicero

In the open area with tables and chairs near the potting shed and next to the kitchen and community room, there was a couple with a guitar singing. For a donation everyone was invited to help themselves to tea or coffee and homemade sweets which of course I did.

Touring Day
At the Saturday morning market we found Gordo’s wines. We’d had his wine at a restaurant for our anniversary dinner 3 years ago in Margaret River and learned that he only sells it at the market, and he still does, and it is still good.

The surfers and sailboard surfers were out at Prevelly Beach on a windy afternoon. Margaret River started out in the 1960’s and 70’s not as a foodie paradise but as a surfing hippie town. The waves here range consistently from 2 to 20 feet making this a surfing mecca so this has become the site of the one of the world surfing championship beaches.

Food, food and more food…a seafood broth soup for me and a ploughman’s board for Geoff at the Eagle Bay Brewery. For lunch we sat with a view across pasture and lake, out to Cape Naturaliste lighthouse and beyond that the Indian Ocean. Planters with herbs and vegetables provide much of Eagle Bay’s produce and all the water for the beer is rainwater. Rainfall has declined 20% in the past 25 years which makes water conservation a high priority here.

Tomorrow we leave Western Australia, one of our favorite places for new adventures in Adelaide and South Australia.



Kalbarri, Western Australia


(Click any picture to enlarge it.)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Leaving Denham
Denham will forever be fixed in our memory for the night the wind defeated us. It was so intense, the shaking of the car so vigorous, and the sound of the whistling wind so harsh and unsettling, that at 9:00 pm, having gone to bed at 8:15 on a cool 15 degree evening, we unzipped our sleeping bags and got dressed. Geoff collapsed the tent and we slept in in the front seats of the car! We had a surprisingly good night in comparison to the previous windy night upstairs.

As compensation, in fact more than compensation, we drove in the early morning to the hot bore tub at the historic sheep station we’d visited the day before only this morning we were the only people in the place. Birds sang, muscles relaxed, and we began the day in great spirits.

Kalbarri National Park
Some days beg for superlatives. This is one of those days.

The sermon at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Kalbarri was theologically grounded, though like all the sermons I have heard in Western Australia it was from the epistles. In only one service has there even been a reading from the gospels which leaves me wanting to hear more about Jesus and less about Paul. The upside was that pastor and I had a really good chat afterwards. I am always seeking to build relationships across the theological divide in the Anglican Church with the Diocese of Toronto and the Diocese of Western Australia on different sides of that divide. So in spite of my early misgivings, our conversation was a good beginning to the day.

This afternoon we followed the park road south along the coast. At one lookout the woman beside me was scanning the ocean with binoculars. “Are you seeing whales?” I asked, which led to another conversation. “Weren’t you on the snorkeling cruise out of Coral Bay?” her husband asked, which led to a longer conversation about my chat on the boat with her husband’s sister who migrated from Scotland to Perth in 1988 and how this woman and her husband have just recently also migrated here from Scotland. To be in a place where we know no one, and then to find a connection however recent and tenuous, feels like a gift.

Then there were whales – many whales far out to sea but still visible as they rose from the water falling back in a spume of white spray. Again and again and again. Watching is sheer delight. Why do they expend all this energy? Is there a scientific reason, or is it, as I like to believe simply joie de vivre?

We walked from the headland down to a beach surrounded by red and gold and sand coloured sandstone shaped into waves by eons of water and wind. Overhangs create sheltered caves where I half expected to find aboriginal art.

At dinner in the local brew pub part covered with a wood stove for warmth in the evening, wasn’t there yet another conversation with a couple at a nearby table that I’d seen in church. They were explaining to the waiter that this was their 1st anniversary. He was 80, she 75. So I introduced myself as having seen them at the morning service. He told me that they and their spouses had been friends for years and had each nursed their spouses through long illnesses. Neither were looking for another relationship but…drives to church led to dinners together and friendship to love. Frieda said that this past year has been the happiest of her life, every day an extended honeymoon. They held hands entering and leaving church and the restaurant. Life is filled with the unexpected Frieda continued, every day is important.

A day of sheer delight and gratitude for Norm and Frieda’s joyous loving.

And did I mention laundry!!! My favorite caravan park activity – hanging sheets on the line in the wind and sun.

October 23, 2018
On the way from Kalbarri to Geraldton, where we are now in the library we passed Pink Lake also known as Hutt Lagoon. Pink as can be with salt crystals ringing the lagoon, it is filled with an algae that makes it the strangest coloured body of water I have seen.

Note to readers
We are on the road for the next few days and then into Perth to exchange the LandCruiser for a car and a quick drive to Margaret River – the land of chocolate, mango yoghurt, wine, Saturday Farmer’s Market, our anniversary on the 28th and one of my favorite churches in Australia.

So no blog entries until the end of October. Keep warm and enjoy Hallowe’en.

Denham, Western Australia (Part 2)


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hamelin Pool
Not much here except for the biologists among us, and for them this is a big BUT – here are stromatolites, the earliest form of life on earth. Their ability to photosynthesize sunlight and create oxygen led to more complex forms of life. The ones at Hamelin Pool are only (!) 2,000 years old.

Monkey Mia
It’s a rare event and we were here. Dolphins are fed 3 times a day at the beach and just 4 days ago a new calf was born to Piccolo who is part of this dolphin pod. This calf was so new he/she was swimming non-stop leading mom on a merry chase. In another few weeks the calf will figure out that the safest place to be for the next 3 years is snuggled down under mom’s side where there is protection from sharks and other predators. Today however, we were treated to a frisky youngster newly born, not entirely coordinated and exploring the wide world.

Historical Homestead in what is now Francois Peron National Park
When this was a working station as recently as the 1960’s the highlight of the year, according to respected stockman Arthur Pepper, was the sheep shearing. A good shearer was able to finish one sheep every 2 minutes. The hardest worker however was the cook who was baking bread before the station was awake and was still cleaning up and preparing the next day’s meals after the others had knocked off for the day.

There is always a shortage of potable water in Western Australia with much drinking water distilled in desalination plants. There is less of a shortage of bore water which may or may not be drinkable. Occasionally bore water is warm (32 degrees), as at Wooramel Station and sometimes it is a deliciously hot 40 degrees continuously replenishing the large old cement hot tub at the homestead.

Which is where we met-up again with Matt and his unnamed wife who we’d met on the Rio Tinto access road when their van had a punctured tyre (Aussie spelling) and we stopped to help. We saw them again at the pool in Millstream Chichester park, at Yardie Creek and finally had a long visit with them in the hot tub. They are on a one year trek around Australia. She’s a chemical engineer and he plays Aussie Rule Football, coaches, cycles competitively and works for moving companies on and off. Meeting people several times is not all that unusual as we are visiting the same places on our way south.

This area was first visited by the Dutch in the early 1600’s who were blown off course on their way to the Dutch East Indies. It was later mapped by the French which is why many names along the coast are French. Louis XVIII sent a scientific expedition to gather specimens and make notes on this new land, all in the spirit of the enlightenment. Though one ship met an inglorious end shipwrecked off the coast of South America on its way back to France, the other ships returned with specimens and descriptions of plants, animals and minerals as well as accounts of their encounters with indigenous people.

Imagine how different Australia would be today had it become a French colony.