Delighting in Little Things

Leaving Launceston behind, I am on my way back to Hobart for my flight out of Tassie this afternoon.  Surprisingly it’s only a couple of hours drive from Launceston straight down to Hobart so I have plenty of time to stop off and see some sights along the way.

The first one that catches my eye is the town of Perth!  I am from Perth in Western Australia, so I was not expecting to find another place named Perth in Australia, especially here in Tas – a good photo to send home.

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The drive is pretty straight, but there are a number of towns you drive through or past along the way.  A lot of the towns seem to be very quiet with buildings seemingly abandoned or closed.  I can imagine that economic times have hit these little rural towns very hard.

Further along National Highway 1 is the turnoff to a town called Richmond (not to be confused with Richmond in Melbourne).  I had read that Richmond was a great historic town to visit, so I turned off the highway preparing to make a detour.  It can’t be far, I thought, looking at the fuel gauge.  Probably should have fuelled up in Launceston, but surely there’ll be a station soon.

Well, the winding road to Richmond was long.  I kept thinking ‘surely it’ll be around the next bend’.  But I’d turn the corner and there would appear another town, a town that wasn’t Richmond.  Anyway, eventually I arrived in Richmond, having started to seriously worry about my petrol situation long ago. I breathed a big sigh of relief.

I fuelled up first and then set out to explore the town, which was indeed every bit historic.

After driving around the busy little streets of Richmond, I decided that Richmond Gaol would be my first port of call, mainly because the car park was almost empty.

I paid my $9 entry fee and embarked on my self guided tour of the gaol.  Built between 1825 and 1840, it housed not only male and female prisoners, but also the gaolor. Whilst it doesn’t take long to tour the grounds, it’s a really interesting place to visit with lots of information about the prison giving you a real glimpse into the past.

One of the prisoners of Richmond Gaol was Ikey Solomon.  He was an English criminal who because a ‘successful receiver of stolen property’.  He was tried at London’s Old Bailey in 1830 and was then sent to Richmond Gaol in 1832.  It is thought that he was the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist.  He is also the main character of Bryce Courtney’s huge novel ‘The Potato Factory’.

Anyone who’s ever stopped at a country town bakery knows that this is where you best baked treats, so I wasn’t going to pass up a visit to the Richmond Bakery.  Good old fashioned cooking.  It was hard to choose what to try, but I was glad I went for the apricot tart because it really hit the spot.

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After wandering the streets, I decide to visit the Old Hobart Town Model Village before getting back on the road.  And I’m so glad I did.  What a cute little place.  Basically it’s a large scale model of the town of Hobart back in the day, complete with funny little characters doing all sorts of things like spewing over a bridge, taking a leak, getting drunk or working hard.  I spent quite a lot of time there taking in all the little details.  Little placards give you information about what has changed over the times.  I’d highly recommend a stop here.

Leaving Richmond wasn’t such an ordeal as I was able to take a different route out of town rather than going back the way I came and before long, I was back in Hobart with plenty of time to spare.  What to do with some time on my hands?

Well, I didn’t manage to get to the Botanic Gardens when I arrived, so up the hill I went, parked and trotted off to inspect this haven on the hillside.

The gardens were established in 1818 overlooking the Derwent River.  Today, there are over 6,500 species of plants here and the gardens make a lovely place to sit back and relax, whilst enjoying the views.  Beautifully laid out, the gardens are a haven of peace and quiet – perhaps except for wherever groups of children running around playing.

The Japanese Gardens were a treat, as all visits to Japanese gardens inevitably are, with a little red bridge leading between different sections of rockeries and garden.

Glimpses of the Derwent can be seen through the trees where their branches have been shed of their leaves from the winter months.  Really a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad to have had time to fit it into my itinerary.

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After a week that went just too quickly, it was time to drop off the car, check in for my flight and head home.  I was so glad that I had finally made it to Tasmania, and like all trips like this, wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.  I would love to make a return visit so I can drive up the west coast next time, perhaps when all the berries are in season, and fill up on some more of that awesome fresh Tasmanian food and wine.

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My advice?  Stop talking about it and just go.

 

You Little Devil!

Last stop in Hobart is the Salamanca Markets.  It’s definitely one of those things on the must do list for your visit to this neck of the woods and you won’t be disappointed by the row after row of tents selling all sorts of goods.  The perfect place to go shopping and the best bit is there are loads of places to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat while you ponder that purchase.

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Leaving Hobart behind, I am on my way to historic Port Arthur.  The drive only takes about one and a half hours, but I’ve decided to make a stop along the way to check out some cute little devils that can only be found in Tasmania.  The Unzoo, the first of its kind in the world, is home to a number of devils and works hard at preserving this endangered species.

So what is an unzoo?

An unzoo is a concept born of John Coe.  The philosophy behind it is to remove the cages and management of captive animals and focus instead of building relationships between the animals and visitors and in the case of the animals, let them act and roam as close as they would to when they were in nature.  It’s basically a move away from the days when animals were simply kept in cages for our entertainment.

There are a number of devils at the park but your first stop should be to watch the video about them in the presentation shed.  I was quite surprised to realise that they were so vicious and to learn that their jaws were strong enough to snap your bones into pieces.  There is a video of a devil crunching some bones and I can assure you the sound is something from a horror movie.

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Check out the devils den if you can get down on your hands and knees enough to crawl through the tube, and you’ll pop up in a dome where you might be lucky enough to be surprised by a devil or two scratching around.  After seeing that video, I must admit I’m a little scared to see a devil’s mouth so close up – even if I am protected by a massive bubble.

But that’s nothing compared to seeing one eat in the flesh.  At the unzoo you can have the opportunity to watch a devil being fed.

Of course, there are other animals here to see and you shouldn’t miss the bird shows.

Now it was on to the historic settlement of Port Arthur.  Despite having been told the weather in Tassie can be pretty miserable at times, today – with its clear blue sky – was a perfect day to explore Port Arthur.

A small talk and guided walk kicked off the exploration before we were left to roam the grounds ourselves.

Between 1830 and 1877, Port Arthur operated as a penal settlement.  Men and women convicts, most of whom would have been poor young people from rural areas or big city slums of Britain were sent here to be punished for crimes that most of us would call trivial.

Life was harsh here and there was little chance of escape.

Shipbuilding also took place here.  It was introduced in 1834 to give the convicts a useful skill to take with them once their sentences had been finished, and only those who were well behaved or deemed to be receptive enough to take up the challenge, were allowed here.

When transportation ceased in 1853, the site saw several changes of usage – as an industrial prison, a welfare centre for aging, infirm and insane prisoners and a township, renamed Carnarvon.  The name Port Arthur was reinstated  after 1897 and Port Arthur was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010.

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Unfortunately, the historic settlement was the sight of Australia’s worst ever mass killing when intellectually disabled 28 year old Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded another 23 here in 1996.  The tragic killing lead to the introduction of tougher gun laws in Australia.

That evening I stayed at Stewarts Lodge which was right on the edge of the Port Arthur site.  I don’t normally wax lyrical about the accommodation I stay in because it’s more about the travel for me, but this?  This was something wonderful.  My little ‘hut’ was a spacious apartment with both the bedroom and lounge overlooking the beautiful forest.  There was a gorgeous wooden deck off the lounge complete with local bird wildlife, a spa bath in the bathroom and a generous kitchen – I really should have stayed longer.  Best of all, there was no internet or phone reception.  Just like the old days!

And then when the sun started to set, OMG – how beautiful.  I walked down to the bay, a short distance from my apartment to watch the sun setting over the water.  Beautiful pinks and mauves washed the sky until the moon made its appearance over the water.  It was so peaceful and heavenly.

I was going to enjoy my one night here – with the help of a little cheese, pate and sparkling wine and some amazing views – and then tomorrow, I’d be on the road again.

 

 

A mountain of wonders

I hadn’t planned to start my day this way, with a slight panic attack.  In the early hours of the morning, I decided that with time to kill before I headed off to explore MONA, I would take a drive up to Mt Wellington, just for the sake of it.

The windy drive up the mountain was nice – it was quiet with little traffic on the roads and it looks as thought it was dawning a beautiful day.  I kept driving with the scenery changing slightly as I would my way up to the summit when I made the mistake of looking out my driver’s side window.  It was only a brief moment, but what I saw started my heart fluttering.

Looking out the window again quickly, it was clear what had startled me.  Clouds.  And I was driving up through them and above them.  It was the strangest feeling – a weird kind of ‘I’ve lost all control’ feeling.  I’ve flown hundreds of times now and I see clouds out the window all the time, but I’ve never driven up into the sky!  I started to panic and had to pull over to the side of the road for a moment, reassuring myself to continue the drive to the top.  It was weird, but it was ok.  You just weren’t used to it.  Keep going.  Something in my head told me that if you kept going, it was going to be worth it.  So I kept driving looking only at the road ahead and not out my window.  And I arrived safely to the top of the mountain.

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I can’t even describe the absolutely beautiful view that awaited me at the top.  But I can describe the cold – bloody freezing.  The thermometer in the car read 6 degrees, which made me think it would be warmer when I left the comfort of the car, but I guess being 1,269 metres above sea level and with a smattering of ice covering the ground, I should have known it would feel colder.  My teeth were chattering and my hands were numb as I tried to capture the wonder of what I was seeing with my camera.  Just as well I had thought to pack my beanie at the last minute!

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Others had the same idea as I did, so I wasn’t alone on the top of the mountain, but it certainly felt like I was on top of the world.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to top this, but the day had only just begun, so I headed back to town to swap my car for a boat and check out the Museum of Old and New Art.

I like a bit of art and everyone had been raving about MONA since its construction in 2011 so I booked myself a Poshpit ticket on the Mona Roma and off I went.  The Poshpit is a separate section of the Mona Roma boat.  You pay a little extra, but you get priority boarding and disembarkation, yummy little canapes (savoury on the way, sweet on the way back) and complimentary drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for your 30 minute journey.

MONA is the brainchild of David Walsh, a professional art collector, gambler and businessman.  Yes, that’s right – gambler.  He made his fortune developing a gambling system used to bet on horses and other sports, which led to quite a row with the Australian Taxation Office back in 2012.  He was requested to pay $37 million in taxes from the profits of his gambling system.  The issue was sorted out in a secret deal and MONA, a world class tourism draw-card, has remained open.

The art in MONA is not going to be to everyone’s liking, but then that’s the point of art really – to generate discussion.  And there are some pieces which you may want to hide from your children’s eyes or cleverly mislabel as ‘flowers’ – if you’ve been, you’ll know which piece this refers to and if you haven’t, well here’s a spoiler….

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MONA is a day trip.  A destination.  You get there by boat, by car, by bus or by helicopter (should that be the way you roll) and once you are there, not only can you entertain yourself at the museum, but you can stroll around the grounds taking in the sculptures and the views, set yourself up for a wine-tasting, have a picnic or grab something to eat from one of the restaurants.  Sometimes there’s even music or movies!  And if you don’t think one day is enough, you can stay the night.  So if the art doesn’t entertain you, something will.

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MONA was awesome, but the day wasn’t over yet.  I took a walk around the historic precinct that I was staying in, wandering the streets of gorgeous old sandstone homes and businesses.  Battery Point is one of Hobart’s oldest and historic areas and it was named after the battery of guns that was established on the point back in 1818 as part of Hobart’s coastal defences.

Rumour has it that Hollywood actor Errol Flynn was born here in 1909 at Queen Alexandra Hospital.  Andrew Ingliss Clark, the principal architect of the Australian Constitution also lived here at Rosebank Cottage.

Taking on Tassie

Whilst travelling in Europe last year, I was asked a number of times about different cities and places in my home country of Australia.  What upset me about this was that I had never visited them myself and couldn’t talk about them.  Those who live in Australia, or have traveled there themselves, know that Australia is definitely not a cheap country to either live or travel in.

It’s a sorry state of affairs to find that it’s cheaper to travel overseas than to travel in your own country.  You could get a week in Bali for the same price as it costs for a couple of nights in the South West of Australia (Margaret River region) or a flight over to one of the other capital cities.  But that’s the way it is.

So while I was living in Melbourne and living so close to most of the other capital cities in Australia (I’m a Perth girl), I made the decision to make sure I visited them.

One weekend was spent in Brisbane checking out Southbank, bussing it around the city and hanging around Fortitude Valley, but didn’t really feel any great vibe there – I even tried to leave earlier (sorry Brissy).

Getting out and about in regional Victoria was awesome – Bendigo, Ballarat, the Yarra Valley, the Great Ocean Road, Daylesford/Hepburn Springs and the Dandenongs – beautiful country.  You can spend your times tasting wine and farm grown fruits, listening to the birds, soaking up historical vibe, photography views that stretch forever and watching the sun set through the trees.

I had a weekend in Sydney where I pretty much holed myself up in my hotel doing nothing cause – well I don’t like Sydney.  But I thought I’d give it another chance.

But the one place that I was so glad to have visited was the one place that perhaps gets mocked the most in Australia.  Tassie.

Tasmania was once a part of the Australian mainland – though probably around 10,000 years ago.  Today it lies a short plane or ferry ride from Melbourne so I jumped on a Virgin Australia flight and found myself arriving in Hobart a few hours later.  I had a week up my sleeve so I hired a car from the airport and started off in exploration of the east coast of Tassie.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I had no plan really other than where I would spend each night according to how much I wanted to drive.  I had chosen the east coast simply cause one of my best friends back in Perth called St Helens home growing up and knowing that the historic settlement of Port Arthur was also on the east side, it seemed as good a side to choose as any.

Arriving in Hobart city, I was struck by the lack of high rise buildings and the small town feel of the place – particularly because the capital cities of WA, SA, QLD, VIC and NSW all have relatively large city centres with skyscrapers, apartment buildings and financial centres.  Hobart in comparison, felt cosy, personal and homely.  Beautiful old colonial style buildings lined the streets, the waterfront looked beautiful and the surrounding hills were green and alive.

I headed to my hotel, an actual hotel (pub hotel), the Prince of Wales and checked in for my stay in Hobart.  Located in a historic precinct at Battery Point, the rooms were nothing special at all (think old school, man style hotel rooms), but I wasn’t here to spend time in my room and the area couldn’t have been more charming.  It was a short walk from Salamanca Place, Brooke Street Pier, Sullivan’s Cove and well, pretty much everywhere.

My time in Hobart started with a trip to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery down near the waterfront.  The tour starts in the old bond stores which were built in the late 1820’s to relieve pressure on the Commissariat Issuing Store across the road near Sullivan’s Cove.  It stored bonded goods (such as tobacco and alcoholic spirits), grain and other material needed to supply the colony.

Standing in this section of the gallery, I am reminded that if I was standing here 180 years ago, I would have been standing in water as this is where the waters of Sullivan’s Cove flowed before the land in this area was reclaimed.

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Further inside the museum there are many exhibitions, some permanent and some temporary.  The first I came across was “Our land:  parrawa, parrawa!  Go away!” which tells the story of the local Aboriginal people and their interactions with early colonialists following the invasion of Tasmania.

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Ningina Tunapri is an exhibition focusing on the lifestyle of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and includes some great displays of boats, huts and beautiful shell jewelry.

The museum is brilliant with loads of interactive displays and hands on exhibits so that you get the best learning experience out of your visit.

There were even some stuffed little friends – the thylacine (the long extinct creature also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, though there are still some unconfirmed sightings…) and the Tassie Devil (more on him later!).

Back in the car, I take a drive a little out of town to see the Cascades Female Factory.  It was the name of the place that got me intrigued enough to visit because I really hadn’t read much on the history of Tasmania.  Operating from 1828 to 1856, this is where women convicts were sent to be imprisoned and reformed, though many never left once they entered its gates, mainly due to illness and high infant mortality.

Australia was one of the few places in the world were women convicts were sent for incarceration.  The Female Factory was the primary site of imprisonment and it sought to remove female convicts from the temptations and influences of town in order to reform them.

It is Australia’s most significant history site associated with female convicts, and though there is not much left of the prison itself, the way in which the site is presented leaves a sad and hollow feeling inside.  With the beautiful misty Tasmanian hills in the background, it’s hard to imagine the sadness and hardship of the lives of those on the inside.

It was built to hold 700 women and their children, though at its peak, there were more than 1,200 incarcerated here.

After such a sobering visit, I drove around the streets surrounding the area, past the Cascades brewery rising out of the mist, pondering how lucky we have it today and feeling a little sorry for the harshness of life that abounded in these early Australian colonies.  I was sure there were plenty more of these history lessons to come in the week ahead.