Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tasmania Pure

We've just returned from a wonderful week in wet, cold and windy Tasmania. The first stop was Hobart so I could represent the Department of Education at the 5th National Indigenous Education Conference.

The conference was huge, with over 600 delegates. It opened at the Hobart City Hall last Sunday night. The mood was welcoming and mellow, but the political dialogue and the tensions around Indigenous issues in Australia always give the debate a very serious edge. The photo below shows Jim Everett on the left, a Tasmanian Aboriginal man who MCd the conference. He was later arrested at the weekend, along with his mate Michael Mansell, for demonstrating against some development that placed Aboriginal heritage sites at risk (big front page news in the Hobart newspapers!).

I loved the special insight we were given about Aboriginal culture in Tasmania at the Museum and Gallery. The history of the relationship of Tasmanian Aborigines and the colonisers is a violent and tragic one - and quite politically loaded since the incarceration of the last of the traditional people.

In amongst all the tragedy I loved seeing the fibre exhibition celebrating contemporary Aboriginal craftswomen's interpretation of traditional basket weaving techniques. Along with their beautiful shell necklace making it's more powerful evidence of the resilience of traditional Aboriginal culture and beliefs in Tasmania.

We left Hobart on Wednesday afternoon in our little hired Hyundai Getz for Strahan on Macquarie Harbour on the NW Coast. It was a 5 hour drive, along the gentle, green Derwent Valley north of Hobart, then the slow mountain roads of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the arid but brilliantly coloured moonscape/landscape around Queenstown, over 30km west of Strahan.

We arrived in time to walk around the inlet to Regatta Point and watch the sun set behind Strahan Village on Wednesday evening.

We climbed the hill in the morning to enjoy breakfast and the view from the deck of View 42o Restaurant on what proved to be our last sunny, warmish morning in Tasmania.

Before heading off to Cradle Mountain we took a peek at Lettes Bay a few minuted South of Strahan. It is obviously a fishing village with rough shelters spread all along the "parkland" at the water's edge. We could imagine fishermen descending on the village at the weekend, starting up their tinnies and taking some pride in their little "squats". It struck me as a kind of Tasmanian blokes' Paradise.

Cradle Mountain National Park was only a three hour drive from Strahan, but a whole world away. We settled into the Cradle Mountain Chateau, enjoying the warmth and comfort as the weather turned cold, wet and windy in the mountains.
We managed to get in a short "Enchanted Walk" on our first afternoon. The vegetation was amazing in this alpine environment. Freakish fungi and algae outgrowths and water gushing and rushing in clean mountain streams everywhere. The picture below shows the clumps of button grass that are the predominant ground cover, in the open away from dense tree cover.

We learnt that this is what a healthy Waratah plant looks like in its natural environment.

We explored the grounds of the "Chateau" and enjoyed watching the bird life and family groups of pademelons making themselves at home in the environment, without any apparent fear of humans.

This pademelon was enjoying his dinner just outside the balcony of our room.

Although our only full day at Cradle Mountain on Friday dawned cool and cloudy we set out with high hopes of seeing the mountain and Dove Lake in its best light. To get there as quickly as possible we took the little transit bus to travel the over 8km to the mountain.

Our 7.7km circuit of Dove Lake allowed us stunning views of the mountain and its mirrored crater lake as the Cradle Mountain ridge gradually emerged from the layers of mist and cloud that had covered its peaks when we arrived.
It was breathtaking to see this landscape and we were absolutely elated by the experience. So elated that we made the decision to continue walking, around Lake Lilli to Ronny Creek, then Snake Hill, back to the Visitor's Centre, over 8 kms walking, mostly along the Cradle Valley, giving us close up encounters with wombats, an echidna, endless button grass, King Billy pines and pandanas - all unique features of this national park.
We celebrated our wonderful day of experiences and our great effort in walking over 16kms with a slap up meal at the Chateau that night, the highlight of which was the unlimited supply of fresh Bruny Island oysters and delicious Tasmanian salmon (cooked whole and served rare the way I like it).

We left Cradle Mountain on Saturday morning in rather wild and stormy weather as we thanked our lucky stars we'd been able to time our visit so well in the previous day and a half. We headed East through isolated little hamlets, bypassing Launceston, stopping for a short while at the very retro Campbell Town before heading North East to the Freycinet National Park, around a four hour drive including stops.
In driving rain, wind and very limited visibility we made the decision not to do any walking in the park, thereby passing up the chance to see Wineglass Bay etc etc. We made do with a rather damp, cold and grim stalk around a small bit of Coles Bay as we tried to discern the The Hazards - the mountain backbone of the Northern part of the Freycinet Peninsula through the rain soaked clouds.

We gave up fairly quickly and drove away from Freycinet around Great Oyster Bay to the seaside village of Swansea where we settled in to our very comfortable beach side cabin (at inner city hotel prices) for the afternoon, watching DVDs and snacking as the steel grey ocean churned and the wind and rain blew horizontally against the windows. The next morning we heard on the news that 83cm of rain had fallen on Swansea overnight. We drove back down to Hobart yesterday morning watching the estuary waters along the coastline spreading rapidly around the highway. It was only 11o in Hobart.
Back in Canberra now, much cooler than when we left but the garden is already drying out and needs a drink.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bali Ella

We entertained our friends with a Balinese inspired lunch this weekend and it reminded me I hadn't posted any pictures of Ella on her first visit to Bali last month (not counting the in-utero visit back in 2006).

Ella seemed to love Bali as much as we do. Being with her Mummy and Daddy the whole time, swimming in the pool, Balinese desserts and fruit drinks, endless variations on beaded shoes and making conversation with the locals proved to be her favourite things about Bali. She is quite insistent she wants to go back "one day" (with her Mummy and Daddy).

Josh and Jody and Ella enjoyed this amazing seafood feast on Jimbarin Beach on their last evening in Bali. Despite everything being so beautiful and fresh Josh and Jody were struck down afterwards by a terrible tummy bug (Ella was fine thankfully). First time any of us has ever experienced food / water related illness in Bali in our six or so visits! Bad luck!

Melbourne Erin

Our niece Erin left Canberra to join her John in Melbourne at the weekend. We know she is happy and excited about the move, to be back with John, establishing a wonderful new home, career and life in this wonderful city. But it doesn't stop us feeling sad waving her off on this great new adventure.

Thank you Erin for all the joy you've brought us over the years. I remember this Christmas afternoon in 1987 so well, in our very green and shady back garden, with you and the the rest of the kids so calm and happy after our huge celebration day together.

And 22 years later, thank you for allowing us to be a part of yours and John's beautiful wedding in April this year.

We will miss you Erin, and your John, and will look forward to catching up in Melbourne whenever we can. Good luck!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sculpted by Sydney

This year our "sisters and spouses reunion (long) weekend" in Sydney coincided with the "Sculpture by the Sea" exhibition from Tamarama to Bondi. We avoided the weekend crush by using our first Friday morning together to experience "Sculpture by the Sea". We walked from Coogee to Tamarama, along the new Sesqui Boardwalk on this cool, windy, overcast Sydney morning.

Glamorous Tamarama beach had been transformed into a stunning, sandy, gallery space. I loved seeing giggling schoolchildren, coachloads of tourists and earnest locals interacting with the works, against the fabulous backdrop of ocean and sandstone cliffs.

One of our favourite works was this spectacular, slow moving, kinetic sculpture set high above the cliffs above the Southern end of Bondi Beach.

But none of us could work out how to pick a winner from this diverse collection of works!

We braved the early Friday afternoon bumper to bumper traffic on Parramatta Road to travel West to Auburn for a late Turkish lunch at Cafe Mado and then coffee and Lebanese pastries at the wondrous Abla's at Granville. We also found it hard to resist a visit to Authentic Turkish Delight at RT's at Auburn.

We were able to meet up with Jeremy and Claire and the boys in Coogee this weekend too. We had great fun sharing an early evening meal at our favourite Clovelly Pub and Sunday morning breakfast at the newly spruced up Barzura's on the Southern end of Coogee Beach. Angie was in fine form and enjoying the opportunity to spread his influence around Sydney and Ollie was inspired by his Poppa's explanations about playing Chess.

We crammed a lot in on Sunday. Bus, then train to Milson's Point for the Kirribilli Art and Design Markets, then walk to Lavender Bay and a wander around Wendy Whiteley's garden. I didn't get to have much of a wander. I tripped on the wet stone stairs, twisting my ankle/foot and falling flat on my behind. I had lots of kind people to help me recover but it made walking for the rest of the day very painful.

Wendy was working in the garden. She must have groaned seeing me topple over on the stairs (..another likely lawsuit perhaps!). She came over for a chat after a while and checked I'd survived. She told us that the sculpted stone tablet we'd noticed at the entry to the garden was new and that the words were from a Van Morrison song on his Astral Weeks album.

One of my kind helpers suggested we walk back to Milson's Point via the boardwalk around the harbour, past Luna Park. It proved to be a spectacular way to go.

Ferry to Watson's Bay - lunch at Doyle's - back to Coogee - then on to see An Education at the Randwick Ritz. What a day!!!

Ros and Pete headed back to Sandy Beach this morning, we all headed back to Canberra. Our four days together will be treasured until the next opportunity to meet again!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Melbourne Cup

We celebrated our last Melbourne Cup Day holiday in Canberra with a family gathering at our house. The kids played their favourite hot weather game on our very green (for once) grass, taking advantage of our first few days of really warm weather for the season. When not keeping out of the way of the hose (just a trickle) the grown ups were excited to hear about Josh and Jody's plans for their new business and the latest about Jeremy & Claire's new office.

Ella found the big boys very rowdy at times but she did her best to keep up, and keep out of the way when required.

Ollie thought he'd hit the jackpot when he drew Allez Wonder in our family sweep. I was excited for him too - a Bart Cummings horse and a female jockey!! Maxie ended up taking home the sweep pool. She'd drawn Shocking.