Tasmania - 24/03-01/04/15

Burnie is an important port on the north coast of Tasmania. We didn't see it in very good weather. Like UK but slightly warmer!

And so to Tasmania and the last leg of our Great Australian Walkabout.  Our plane from Melbourne being delayed, we arrived in Hobart at 18:30 and by the time we'd picked up our car, it was 19:00, with a three and three-quarter drive ahead of us, to Burnie in the north-west.  Still, as we've said before, driving in Australia is fairly stress-free and while Tasmania, being a lot hillier than the mainland, doesn't have the long, straight roads, it was an easy journey, though we did arrive at our friend Gwen's home well after her normal bedtime!  Sorry about that, Gwen. 

Gwen is a friend of Martin's from his time living in Sydney in the late sixties.  She and her then husband, Stan, showed great kindness to a rather lonely young man on their farm in Parkes, out to the west of the Blue Mountains, and now, after forty years as a farmer's wife, Gwen has made the move to Burnie, an important port town.  She is still a dear friend and we were grateful to be able to find her again in her new home.  Once a busy lady, always a busy lady and despite some mobility issues, Gwen spends her days in a wide variety of activities.  She is very creative and is always learning new techniques to satisfy the urge to make something.  Quite an inspiration! 

We had a lovely day out together, driving along the coast to the little fishing/tourist town of Stanley.  Thanks to the person earlier in our travels who recommended it - we can't remember just who it was.  Stanley is a pretty little town in the most dramatic setting, under a plug of rock they call the Nut, and has delightful shops and places to eat.  It also has an interesting colonial home to visit (Highfield) that has recently been used as a setting for the forthcoming film of the book "The Light Between Oceans".  Members of Liz's reading group, take note.

Leaving Burnie, we took the east coast route back to Hobart, spending two nights in St Mary's on the way.  Martin's diligent research turned up a wonderful B&B in that little town.  The east coast of Tasmania is extremely beautiful and we enjoyed the drive very much, but Tasmania's real attraction is in the Great Outdoors and probably wasted on us.  Large parts of the state are inaccessible except to hardy trekkers and long may it be so.  We're happy to drive around the easy bits and admire the rest from afar. 

On the day we returned to Hobart, we visited Port Arthur, famous (infamous?) setting of the early penal colony.  We had been once before, in dreadful weather, so it was good to revisit on a warm, sunny day so that we could take our time exploring.  It's a strange, paradoxical place.  The setting, a deep harbour surrounded by high hills thick with dense bush, is stunningly beautiful, but the story of what went on there is sometimes quite harrowing.  Only the most recalcitrant prisoners were sent there and the regime and the punishments for misbehaving, were severe.  The "Separate Prison", where the inmates were kept in complete isolation and absolute silence, seems now to be a place of mental torture, but was set up with reforming intentions.  In other areas, there was a wide variety of workshops, where men could learn useful skills as well as making a useful contribution to the development of the young colony.  And "Puer Island" was, for its day, a model of enlightened thinking.  Boys as young as nine were transported for their crimes, but in Port Arthur, they were separated from the older men and attempts were made to educate them and turn their lives around.  Depending on who is talking, Port Arthur was either "not a bad place to be" or " a living hell".  I don't know which, but I do know that it makes a fascinating day out.  Maybe Dartmoor Prison could learn a few lessons when it closes down.....

We stayed in central Hobart, in an apartment hotel, which meant we had room to spread out for a few days and relax on our own in the evenings, but our days were full.  The Sunday was spent with yet more old friends from Goroka, Lynn and Rick Giddings, their daughters Lara and Sonya, and John and Pam Vandenberg.  Martin had worked alongside Rick, John and Pam and Liz had taught various Vandenberg and Giddings children, so once again, it was wonderful to see the way everyone's lives have turned out.  Lynn and Rick have both been unwell lately, so Sonya and Lara cooked and looked after us, and it was just like old times, talking, talking, talking as the hours went by.  The only difference (and it's a good one) is that no-one drinks as much now as we all did then!!

When we said to anyone that we were going to Hobart, all said "Are you going to MONA?"  Of course, we said that we were, because that is now one of Hobart's chief cultural/ touristic destinations.  The Museum of Old and New Art was founded in 2001 by a Tasmanian millionaire, David Walsh and, apparently, he has described it as "a subversive adult Disneyland".  Personally, I think it might not be as much fun as Disneyland.  Getting there is fun - you have a very pleasant ferry ride up the River Derwent to the building, which is built downwards.  You can barely see it as you approach - after disembarking, you climb 99 steps to the entrance, then descend four floors into the bowels of the earth in order to work your way up through the art.  And therein lies the rub!  One wants to be a little bit open-minded about Modern Art, but we, and, I should say, the vast majority of visitors, need some help in interpreting the various installations, video presentations and sculptures on show here.  The notes given (in iPod form) are no help at all, the long and convoluted explanations can only possibly be of interest to the already initiated.  For the utterly bewildered, they only compound the confusion.  There were one or two accessible pieces, but the great majority of the work left us in the dark.  Literally.  If you've been there, you'll know exactly what we mean!  Never mind, it was a nice boat trip and now we can say we've been and give an opinion.

For our last day, Lara Giddings invited us to lunch at her place of work - Parliament House.  Lara is now the Shadow Attorney General of Tasmania among other offices, and in the previous Labour administration she was Premier.  Back in Goroka days, it was mum Lynn who  "maintained the rage" over Gough Whitlam's dismissal from office in 1975, but Lara has taken up the socialist cause in a very practical way, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to parliament in Australia, then the first woman to hold the office of Tasmanian Premier.  She's a very impressive young (of course, she is older now than we were when we knew her in Goroka!) woman and still has much to achieve, we feel.  But having lunch with her and then getting the tour of Parliament House, was just good fun and we are very grateful.

Tasmania is perhaps the state we know least well and we have really enjoyed this opportunity to see a bit more of it.  Let's hope we will be back.

Stanley with The Nut in the background.

While staying with Gwen in Burnie, we all went on a day out to Stanley, a pretty village further west along the coast.

"Highfield" near Stanley.

With Gwen Kingham at Burnie.

We spent a couple of days touring the north-east coast. Everywhere there was stunning scenery like this.

Port Arthur is a World Heritage site. Please follow the instructions! Notice in the male toilets in the entrance block.

This is why there were few attempts at escape. Port Arthur was surrounded on three sides by thick bush and the sea. On the land side Eagle Hawk Neck was a narrow isthmus guarded by a line of fierce dogs.

The main cell block. Individual cells on the lower two floors for those deemed irretrievably bad and dormitories on the upper two floors for general prisoners.

Remains of a ground floor cell.

It might not look too bad, but in the Separate Prison, there was solitary confinement and total silence for months and years. No contact with anyone - fellow prisoner or guard. Even the soldiers communicated with each other by signs.

Even on Sundays they were kept isolated from other prisoners when they attended their religious service. They wore masks to hide their identities

The free civilians and the military and their families lived in relative comfort, but they too were prisoners of sorts ....

... but had a close approximation of an English country garden to take their minds off the privations and brutality.

Lunch with the Giddings and Vandenbergs at Pontville.

99 steps up from the ferry, then a lift down four levels to start the visit by working back to the surface.

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart.

"Shaduf", somewhat outclassed by the beautiful sandstone from which MONA is carved.

The artist calls this "Untitled"! Three piles of coal surrounded by more coal in sacks .....

This is more like it! Sidney Nolan's "Snake" - 46m x 9m (150ft x 30ft). This room was specifically designed to take the work.

A few of the panels are faces - Aboriginal Australian and PNG inspired panels

Another of the 1,620 panels.

View from the summit of Mt Wellington 1,271m (4,170 ft) over Hobart.

Parliament House, Hobart.

Liz with Lara in the Premier's seat in the Legislative Council chamber.