Tasmania: it was good to be away from home and even though we had a television in most places we stayed, so that we kept in touch with the news in a rudimentary fashion, it was a relief to be away from the electronic media. It was good to be reading novels and out in the fresh (very fresh) air most of the day, talking and thinking. As soon as I returned to computer-use, various muscular-skeletal problems I've had recently, returned. I'd like to work out how to restrict computer use in my daily life - I'll have to practise some tough parenting on myself!
I composed a running commentary in my mind while I was there, even though this blog isn't really a diary. I don't have any compulsion to keep a paper diary these days (I've only kept one of those for brief periods of my life). So I'm not quite sure what to do with my thoughts - they push me towards writing them down, but I'm essentially interested in communication rather than meditation, which is why I blog, though my blog seems a puny thing at the moment.
I'll at least attempt a bullet point account:
- day 1: straight from the airport in our rental car to Salamanca Markets in Hobart. Some people had said, why bother with markets, they're all the same - but they aren't. Features of the Hobart markets which I haven't seen up here (which doesn't mean they aren't here): homemade fruit leather; hippyish girly headbands (I bought a pink one!), Peruvian musicians. It all reminded me of Camden markets in London - not least because it started to rain, so we retreated into a cafe for lunch and enjoyed the diversity of the people around us - not so much multiculturally, but age-wise. There were people of all ages and types. Our bit of Sydney is much more for only the beautiful people. It was also nice to be among people in winter clothing - scarves, coats, woollens. ... We drove north of Hobart to visit Chauncy Vale - I'd recently read my childhood copy of They Found a Cave to Olle. I'll try and write a seperate post about that. We visited the house, which was basic and cold but very beautiful and quiet, set four km off the road. Then in a drizzle, we walked up into the bush, climbing to the first stage of the caves. It was immensely thrilling for me to be there.
- day 2: from our hotel room, we could see Mt Wellington in sunshine and see snow on the ridges. On the drive up, cars came down with big lumps of snow on their bonnets. Halfway up, a white mist descended. We stopped at the first big patch of snow and Olle threw snowballs in a delirium of excitement. He would have stayed there all day but was finally persuaded to head for the summit. No views to be seen - it was a whiteout - a freezing whiteout. Not exactly a blizzard, but there were icicles on the leaves and despite cotton gloves, I felt like I was moments away from getting frostbite. The enclosed viewing centre had old B+W photos of hardy men and women (including Charles Darwin!) walking up the mountain (not a photo of Darwin, just the story) - once again I thought about how much more physically active those past generations were. Down the mountain we went with our obligatory chunk of snow on the car, to the waterfront for fish and chips for lunch - there we spotted a seal in the harbour, hanging around one of the seafood cafes. We watched it for a long time, as it twirled and twisted in the water. Co-parent had her photo taken with a sculpture of a lesser-known Antarctic explorer, as she'd just read a book about Scott's expedition ("I may be some time"). We walked around the arty warehousey buildings and explored Battery Point. Not sure what to make of Hobart - it probably used to be very pretty but now has some hideosities (concrete block buildings) plonked in the middle of it. That evening we found the livewire restaurant area of North Hobart but made the mistake of choosing second-rate Vietnamese.
- day 3: to Richmond, a 'heritage' village, but being with child meant that we ignored the convict-built bridge and visited a maze - two mazes, in fact. The first was built with low wooden fences and took us about 20 minutes to solve. The second consisted of high wooden fences and it wasn't long before I began to feel slightly panicky and trapped - it was really difficult and the fences were too high to see over and couldn't be climbed. In the end we saw the middle through a gap in the fence but couldn't find the way there, so we all scrambled under the fence (getting mud all over ourselves) just so that we could say we'd made it to the middle. Then we had trouble finding the way out. ... We drove on towards Port Arthur , views and rainbows along the way. (Tasmania had a lot of spectacular rainbows.) Port Arthur: I might not have gone but many people had said it was not to be missed. We were lucky - golden sunshine on a crisply cold afternoon. It's strange to report that my overwhelming impression was of how pretty it was - strange for a place of cruelty and murder. (Although one identifies with and can't stop thinking about the people who were unlucky enough to be there that day, it also slides into place as another example of human brutality, of which there have been many at that location.) O had a frightening experience when he was dive-bombed by plovers who nest on the lawn. That evening in the motel, it was very cold and we were shocked that there was only a thin synthetic blanket on the bed until we discovered an electric blanket. Even so, who wants to sleep with a furnace under them and nothing on top?
- day 4: First thing, three hours at the Taranna Tasmanian Devil sanctuary - brilliant! Later, on the drive to Freycinet, we passed some logging trucks, but overall didn't see much evidence of what we'd been warned was a depressing feature of Tasmanian roads (and forests). We'd booked to stay in a Lodge cabin, which in retrospect was a financial mistake as it was costly, we arrived at 5pm and had to check out at 10 the next morning so didn't really have time to enjoy it - may as well have stayed somewhere cheaper. And the expensive food in the restaurant was only so-so.
- day 5: More misty rain. We walked up a bush path to the lookout over Wineglass Bay, which was obscured by mist, though over the 30 minutes we stood there, parts of it came into view. On the way up a man of about 70 struck up a conversation with us - he'd been travelling around the island on his own and was keen to chat. I gathered he had worked in advertising. He'd travelled a lot and immediately asked if we thought Tasmania was as scenically impressive as it's made out to be. This was a subject co-parent and I had discussed too - yes it is pretty, but most of Australia is pretty. Much of the coast around Sydney is beautiful. Wineglass Bay is 'just' a beach, not especially special, in my eyes. The rocks surrounding us at the lookout were more interesting and impressive. Touristico advertising hype gets in the way of reality, as usual. ... (We didn't make it to the Tasmanian wilderness areas; if we had perhaps my response would be different - though he had been to the west coast and still asked the question.) This man kept mentioning the places he wanted to see (eg the Himalayas) and "then I'm done, I've seen it all". We entered into this conversation too, as both of us have been to most corners of the globe, but I'm always aware of how easily such talk slides into a checklist and of how privileged we are to have done the travelling we have. (Politically privileged as much as anything - co-p, for example, rode the Magic Bus through Afghanistan and Iran to the Mediterranean years before those were 'troublespots'.) It was an interesting conversational encounter which lasted about 45 minutes in all, as we walked up and then down together. Australian men of that age group often have an arrogance about them which comes from having always been dominant in social situations - they were young adults pre-feminism. They can be good company but their assumption of leadership and knowledge usually gets on my nerves in the end. ... A few more short bushwalks on the peninsula before moving slightly north to Bicheno, where we checked into a self-catering cottage - it was a relief to eat in. But before dinner came a dusk visit to see the fairy penguins coming ashore to nest - there's no other word for it but magical. However, our guide was yet another man of that 60+ generation, who thought it was oh-so-cleverly-funny to ask if anyone in the group disapproved of the title 'fairy penguin' on politically correct grounds. I'm sure half the bunch didn't even get his 'joke'. I wished I could have come up with something witty to say ("some of my best friends are homosexuals"?) but couldn't, so let it pass. [Afterwards, co-p reckoned it's best to just let that generation fade out.]
- day 6: slightly aimlessly driving northwards, we passed a field where I caught a glimpse of some brown and white animals huddled together in a pen. I drove onwards for 30 seconds wondering to myself what they were, then decided to find out, so turned back and pulled over. A flock of turkeys with one sheepy friend stood up and hurriedly came towards the fence when they saw us. How sweet! A bit further on, co-parent spotted a coffee van parked on the fishing docks of the small town we were passing through - the same van's photo was in our guide book. So we stopped to buy a drink and she told the man in the van about the photo - he hadn't known about it and was keen to see it. We got talking and he turned out to have moved to Tasmania from inner-city Sydney (I could tell that he immediately realised we were a same-sex family and was absolutely cool with that. Everyone else was very friendly too - but I wasn't always sure they realised we were a couple as it's not the first thing people think of when they see two women with a child and occasionally you get that penny-dropping moment where a look of faint puzzlement changes into embarrassment. On the other hand, you get lots of pure friendliness and couldn't-give-a-damness.] ... Our drive took us into a valley to visit the St Columba waterfall, which was spectacularly wild and rainforesty and isolated and on the road back down I spotted a wombat standing still by the side of the road - I never tire of wombats, they're about my favourite marsupials. So we stopped and watched it eat for a minute then slide off down the steep bush slope. Carrying on westwards across the northeast was one of those drives where you want to stop and take a photo every time you go round a bend - it was all so pretty - cute, as dairy pastures usually are, but grand and wild too. I got a bit nervous as dusk came on though, driving on a very twisty mountain road with the locals tailgating me. Glad to finally arrive in Launceston, where our hotel tv news told us that John Howard was also in town.
To be continued (with more photos)...