Australia

January 2015

 

January 1, 2015

Okay, we didn’t get home until the wee hours so we got up late. Today is a holiday in Australia which means nothing moves. We spent the day organizing “end of year” financials, paying taxes and insurance premiums. What a way to begin the year!

January 2, 2015

When we awoke the wind was whipping the trees. We had planned on driving to Hindmarsh Island and checking out the seal colony at the end of some jetty or other but with this wind, we would see nothing but breakers. We instead turned our bus to the east, heading towards Murray Bridge which provides a bridge over the Murray – who would have thought! There were other shorter routes but these involved taking a ferry and the internet was unclear on our status as a 4.5 ton bus. We were not in the mood to experiment and after reaching the town of Murray Bridge we changed our destination to “Kingston S.E.” and drove the coast road.

Kingston is the home of Big Lobster, a 60 foot tall, 4 ton fiberglass rendering of a lobster, located at the north entrance to the town and referred to by the locals as Larry“Larry”, although we don’t know why. The sign on the door of the roadhouse hosting “Larry” read “limited lobster available”. It is noteworthy that “limited” is an aboriginal word meaning “frozen”. We blew off Larry and headed for the caravan park just off the beach. It was time for a beach-walk and although there were beaches on our approach to Kingston, the smell of rotting seaweed was evident, even with the bus A/C set to “recirculate” and we saw no point in stopping. The Kingston beach however was soft sand with just a hint of drying seaweed. Children splashed joyfully in the surf, without knowledge or care of the Great White Sharks. We however are convinced that the Southern Australian waters are teeming with such creatures. We walked the sandy beach about a mile to a prominent jetty and spotted a large seal or sea-lion; I can’t remember how you tell them apart. It lay asleep on a bed of drying seaweed and only moved enough so that you could tell it wasn’t dead. I personally am convinced that wherever you see sea lions, or seals for that matter, their natural predator, the Great White Shark will be nearby – see above, re: kids playing.

Live sealIt moved!

At the end of the jetty was a recommended “restaurant”, which was predictably closed but was actually just a seafood store, probably selling frozen Maine lobster in the few minutes it was actually open. We found another restaurant in the small town, “The Old Wool Store” and although it was not slated to open for another 30 minutes, we managed to convince the staff to serve us beer until the kitchen opened. This was a good choice and we enjoyed all three corners of the food pyramid, Barramundi, chips and beer and then followed this with desert.

January 3, 2015

Umpherston sink holeUmpherston sink holeUmpherston sink holeUmpherston sink hole

Yesterday we had stopped on the highway to dump the contents of our cassette toilet at an approved dump site, when we noticed that the bus front quarter light fixture was hanging by its connecting wires. I grabbed a screwdriver and reinstalled it but of the two nylon fittings, one was missing and the other in bad shape. There were no auto parts stores in Kingston, thus we headed over to Mount Gambier this morning. Five dollars worth of fittings later and we were back in business but with the added security of having two screws holding the bus together instead of just one. We laid our next course in for Port Fairy, so named after a whaler bearing the unlikely name of “The Fairy”, that put in here in 1822. (my next comment made Annette laugh but she made me take it out) As we approached town we saw a board advertising the rodeo for 6:00 p.m. this evening.

We parked at a caravan site and contemplated walking through the local cemetery and climbing the fence into the rodeo grounds but from a distance, the fence looked substantial, so instead we hiked around the block. The rodeo was really great and we sat on makeshift bleachers constructed of hay bales inside a huge trailer. We picked the top row of bales, since most other spots had already been taken, without realizing that these were the best seats in the house, particularly after it began to rain. The rodeo began with motorcycle stunt riding by professional riders of the Australian FMX bike team. “FMX” is freestyle motocross and the riders jump their bikes some 75 feet into the air and perform various tricks while “in flight”. The demonstrations were heart stopping and finished with the lead rider performing a backflip before landing his motorcycle perfectly. I noticed that none of the riders were particularly old. We then watched bull riding, another sport suitable only for young men. They had introduced the bull riders and bronc riders, one by one during the opening ceremony; several were already limping and the rodeo hadn’t even begun. Most of the riders parted company with the bulls, well before the minimum eight second ride and the animals would run around the arena as though seeking a matador to gore. There were two cowboys (we would have called them “rodeo clowns” but Australians call them something like “protection athletes” – go figure) who’s job really was to protect the bull rider and also to get the loose bull into the stall. Very impressive to watch. These men would go right under the bull’s horns to drag a rider to safety and to push the enraged animal away. They wore some kind of body armor and one was tossed into the air by a bull but walked away as though it was part of the act. I don’t think that I have ever been this close to a rodeo before, because in the USA, the stands are set farther back to handle the bigger crowds. The power and anger of the maddened beasts was almost tangible.

Motorcycle flyerMotorcycle flyeropening ceremonythrown!ride 'em cowboythe audience

Next were the “bronc” riders and in this event, there were two horsemen to rescue the rider and to collect the loose bronco. Bronco riding is another sport for the young and invincible and I was impressed both with the skill, courage and determination of the riders and also with the performance of the two riders providing the safety and stock collection services. They were older cowboys and they seemed to be wearing their horses. The skill with which they caught the bridle of the runaway mustang, reached over and removed the saddle from the plunging animal and then herded it into a stall, all from horseback - truly remarkable.

The last competition we watched was the ladies barrel racing. The youngest rider had the best time, probably because she was not only a skilled rider but the saddle weighed more than she did. There were several ladies who were obviously both talented and experienced but they needed to lose the product of a decade or so of doughnut and french-fry eating in order to be competitive. The rodeo continued late into the evening but we listened from our caravan park on the opposite side of the cemetery. No, we didn’t climb the fence. We are too fat.

January 4, 2015

The highway east from Port Fairy passes through several small towns that have trees planted in an “Avenue of Honor”. These are Cypress trees, planted over 80 years ago as a memorial to Australia’s dead in both World Wars. They are immense and look much older than a mere century. The roads through Victoria are generally treed on both sides of the highway and the internet reports that a third of all highway deaths can be attributed to collisions with arboreal objects. We passed farms that had extensive dry stone walls outlining the meadows and remembered that these were built by returning soldiers from the “War to end all wars”, as a sort of “shovel ready” work project. There were pretty and quiet villages we passed through with older buildings dating from 1850’s, very reminiscent of England before the invasion of the Ottoman Empire in the 1960’s.

By now we were back in civilization, the “Outback” a distant memory and with lots more traffic to contend with. We stopped for the night in Geelong at a caravan park just across the Barwon River. Geelong is the second most populous city in Victoria and home to Ford Australia, a fact that is somewhat less noteworthy since Ford announced plans to shut down all Australian manufacturing activity by 2016.

January 5, 2015

We continued with our de-cluttering project today. Annette really worked hard sorting and packing and I worked less hard on more tax paperwork. I had a long conversation with a fellow resident of the caravan park who claimed to be part Aborigine, part Maori, part English and part German (you notice how nobody claims to be Irish except on 17th. March?). From his features, he might have had relatives who were aboriginal but Tasmania isn’t exactly famous for its aboriginal communities and I struggled to keep up with his genealogy.

The park here is too crowded and too noisy, we will be glad to be gone.

January 6, 2015

Today we drove through Melbourne and down the Mornington Peninsula to a delightful little park near the town of Mornington, across Port Phillip Bay on the opposite side to the town of Geelong. On the way, we drove through the middle of the city of Melbourne, along roads that still use electric trams for public transportation. Melbourne boasts the largest urban tram rail network in the world and it has been in operation since 1885. You would think that a 130 years later, someone would have worked out a better system. The number of commuters served by trams compares very favorably to the number who commute to work daily by bicycle, except of course that bicycles don’t soak up hundreds of millions of dollars capitalization and occupy half the road space. Politicians do like their little trains though.

Once clear of the urban center we found a truck wash and washed our bus for the third time this year. This was lots of fun as the truck wash had raised side platforms so that you could squirt the roof and make a dent in some of the dried on parrot poo we have been hauling around the continent. This would not have been possible with a tram.

January 7, 2015

A slow day today; we wandered around Mornington Village this morning and in the afternoon had an appointment to get our roof air-conditioner serviced. The technician cleaned the coils with compressed air and blew out the clouds of fine red dust that had settled there during our passage through the Outback. We have continued to dispose of surplus gear from the bus and its absence is finally beginning to show. It is truly amazing how stuff accumulates. The added bonus is that we keep finding items that we brought from the United States three months ago and have remained hidden and lost to us since their arrival.

January 8, 2015

This morning we set out for Point Nepean National Park. The city of Melbourne lies on the north side of a huge sheltered bay that is approximately 50 miles across, with 165 miles of shoreline. The south side of the bay is protected by two peninsulas that wrap around, leaving a small navigable gap called “The Rip”. On the east side of the bay entrance was a Fort Nepean, that had guns installed around 1880. I’m not sure what or who the perceived threat was in 1880 but the first shots of WW 1 and WW 2 were fired from here. In 1914 a single shot was fired across the bows of a German freighter as it attempted to leave Australia following the declaration of war. The same thing happened in 1939 but in this case, the ship turned out to be Australian.

In the early days of settlement, limestone was mined here and in 1852 a quarantine holding area was established on the point, that operated until 1980. The other notable event was in 1967 when the Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt went swimming off the beach and disappeared, presumed drowned. Can you imagine the media circus if Obama disappeared while swimming from a Hawaiian Beach? Janet Jackson’s 2004 wardrobe malfunction would pale by comparison.

It was lightly raining when we parked our bus but the need for exercise overcame our aversion to precipitation. It was a pretty hike along the road that had been used to service the fort a century ago. The surface of the trail was mixed soft sand and gravel and we were examining the various animal tracks when a red fox ran out of the bush ahead of us. He / She turned and stared at us, walked on a little and waited for us and then disappeared back into the bush. Really cool. We checked out the beach where Holt disappeared but didn’t spot the body.

There was the remains of a fence that separated the quarantine area from the rest of Australia and also a monument to the Ticonderoga, a clipper that departed from Liverpool in 1852, bound for Melbourne carrying 795 passengers and 48 crew. When she arrived off Point Nepean 90 days later, 93 passengers were already dead of Typhus and 450 were ill with the fever. Another 77 died before they were finally cleared into Australia.

Near the quarantine area was a cemetery that was used by the workers and families who serviced the fort, quarantine and telegraph operations. The dates on the old gravestones told a story of the high infant mortality rate of the era, when parents commonly witnessed the death of multiple children. Hard times and humbling when you consider our health care and life expectancy today.

When we left the park, it was a long drive around the perimeter of the bay to a caravan park at Hobson’s Bay, close to the terminal for the Tasmania Ferry. One of the park “on-line” reviews warned that it was a good place to meet homeless people and drug dealers. Well, it was a little seedy and run down but we passed an uneventful night, clutching our machetes, clubs and axes.

January 9, 2015

Today was for the ferry from Melbourne to Devonport in Tasmania. We had read that we needed to be at the terminal two and a half hours before our departure, thus it waiting for ferry-boatwas dark when we left the caravan park. Our “Tom-Tom” brand GPS has a sense of humor and she sent us through what looked like parking lots at the back of townhouses and gated communities. Her joke was easier due to the near total lack of road signs for the ferry. Our freeway exit was actually labeled, “Service Center”. What is this? A government sanctioned whore house? Place to fix your vacuum cleaner? A fill-up and a burger? Amazingly we found the ferry terminal and parked on a tight curve, straddling a painted cross-walk for about 20 minutes behind some other caravans (we based this on our sailboat experience wherein you find the marina / anchorage by looking for all of the masts), until the traffic ahead began to move. Then it was move and wait, move and wait. The brochure we were given warned us to mark our parking position on the ship and so I carefully looked around and wrote down the “G6” painted in four foot tall letters on nearby wall.

We found our assigned “Ocean Recliners” that were like first class airline seats with recline and foot rests but without the trays for your lap-top. The boat left ninety minutes later than scheduled and two hours later we passed through “The Rip”, where we had hiked to yesterday, the exit to the Bass Straits but with no 20 foot breaking seas, just a little chop. I soon fell asleep in my “Ocean Recliner” however my bliss was torn asunder when I was awoken by two security guys to check our tickets. Nobody else was asked. They then thanked me and left. WTF was that about?

The balance of the voyage was calm and finally an announcement told us we had arrived in Devonport, garage levels 3 and 5 were now “open”, garage level 6 and 7 must wait and further, there would be no access to the vehicles until levels 3 and 5 had cleared the vessel. As Annette and I waited, I began to ponder the conflicting fact that after we parked our bus, we had ascended two floors to the “seventh” deck. Seven minus two is still five not six. We decided to check it out and sure enough, our bus was parked safely on the fifth deck, right next to the “G6” sign. What a fiasco that might have been if we had continued to wait, blocking the garage exit for most of the fifth level!

Crisis averted, we drove through the empty streets of Devonport at dusk and found our caravan park near the town of Latrobe. The ferry food had sucked as usual – this is an international rule – and we were hungry, so we headed back out to the village to scavenge for dinner. The only place open was the Hotel and although the kitchen was closed, they were gracious enough to fix us toasted sandwiches that slotted nicely between the glasses of Tasmanian beer. We are here, in the land where it is brewed – Tasmania!

January 10, 2015

Last night Annette has spotted an antique shop on the way into the town of Latrobe and this morning she scoured the interior, looking for treasures. We hit the grocery store to replace some of the fruit we had been required to jettison to comply with Tasmania’s strict agricultural quarantine laws and then headed over to the Axeman’s Hall of Fame, a facility dedicated to the lumberjacks of yore.

The sport of speed lumber cutting supposedly began in Tasmania in 1870 as a result of a bet and the first wood chopping championship was in 1891 in Latrobe, at the current site of the Axeman’s Hall of Fame. The champions were all huge men - Paul Bunyan sized - tall, wide, thick and muscled, who could cut through logs at incredible speeds but who seemed to die at a relatively young age - thereby proving the point that big guys really shouldn’t climb trees. We had watched the sport “in the flesh” at Mitta-Mitta in 2013 and it is impressive seeing the wood-chips fly. How those guys still have limbs is a mystery to me. The Hall of Fame lies on the banks of the Mersey River, and this river was navigable under certain conditions by sailing ships. The inland port was used as a loading dock for wool and also for lumber, extensively logged in the surrounding area.

We wandered from the Hall of Fame, crossed the River Mersey on a footbridge and took a very pleasant hike through the woods of “Pig island”. This was much prettier than its name and no, we didn’t see any pigs.

Pig Island walkPig Island walkPig Island walkSherwood Hall

We next visited nearby “Sherwood Hall”, the restored home of 1850’s pioneers Thomas Johnson (ex-convict) and Dolly Dalrymple Briggs (part-aboriginal, see: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dalrymple-dolly-12877). Their respective biographies provide an astonishing window into frontier living of early Australia but the event that most affected us was that when Dolly’s husband was away, she heard a noise outside of the family cabin and sent her seven year old daughter to investigate. Aborigines attacked the daughter, pinning her to the doorframe with a spear through the thigh. Dolly wrenched the spear from her child, dragged her inside the cabin and for the next six hours, fought off the aborigines with a musket. For her heroism, the government granted her 20 acres of land at nearby Perth, Tasmania where her husband Johnson built her a cabin. This event barely touches on the lives of these hardy folks and they lived on to be successful local business people. The home they built together known as Sherwood Hall would have been a mansion by the standards of the time and remains an elegant reminder of times past.

How sharp are they?digging inpasturesthe Boyd FarmLlamasworking dogsllamas

We then travelled on to Westbury, to the farm of Glen and his wife Kelly (aka “Ned”) who raise Alpacas. We had met the couple in 2013 at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland, while they were similarly exploring Australia. Glen and Kelly have 110 acres or so and besides a couple of hundred Alpacas, have a Llama, cattle, two camels and a pair of working dogs – Kelpies “Smudge” and “Rosie”. When we arrived in the farmyard, we were met by the enthusiastic Kelpies and found Glen and Kelly feeding livestock. Since my knowledge of animal husbandry is restricted to the stage where the cooked portions are on my plate, I am always fascinated by this. Kelly fed a couple of baby alpacas generically called “Crias”, the males are “Macho” and the females “Hembre”, or as Annette says, “Cute”. The working dog “Rosie” (“Smudge” is 13 years old and like us, retired) stopped at the entrance to the pen containing the alpacas because she “knows” she isn’t allowed in there. Glen then let Rosie into the paddock containing the adult alpacas and she streaked off to “round them up”. It was funny to see the alpacas chase her because they will attempt to fight a single dog, fox etc. She was amazing to watch as she responded to Glen's single words of command.

We went out to dinner together at a fine restaurant inside the Cataract Gorge Reserve in Launceton. When we had arrived in Tasmania yesterday evening we had been impressed with the quantity of road-kill on the empty lanes but the volume of crepuscular wildlife was totally unexpected. There were wallabies and their ilk, seemingly everywhere and Glen kept up a non-stop specie identification. Supper was excellent and as we left the restaurant, there was a possum perched on the trash can with its nose buried deep in the garbage. Annette had to get really close with her camera before it fled and as we walked back to the car in the darkness, small furry forms scurried and hopped everywhere. What an exciting day!

January 11, 2015

What an exciting day! We began the day by watching Glen feed a young bull in the pen next to a couple of sick alpacas. Glen has been training the bull to be “handleable” and we watched as he scratched this gentle beast, while I envisaged the homicidal bundles of muscle and rage we had seen a week ago in the Port Fairy rodeo, a slightly mind-bending experience. Once the various invalids such as the sick baby alpacas had been fed, we all set off in a car to tour the area around Westbury.

Opium poppiesOpium poppies

Westbury is home to “Tasmanian Alkaloids”, a fact we were totally unaware of until Glen pointed out the fields of poppies behind barbed wire fences and garish signs warning of “poison” and “keep out”. Tasmania grows the poppies that produce over half of the world’s opiates and morphine drugs. I have always thought that if such drugs as cocaine and heroin were “decriminalized”, the free countries of the world could bury the illegal drug producers with our agricultural prowess. Just think of the power shifts! The South American cartels would cease to exist. Afghanistan would recede into a the forgotten, fly blown cess-pit that its inhabitants desire. The prisons in the USA would be near empty and we might usefully employ the thousands of overpaid government employees who allegedly “fight” our “drug-war”. I don’t see any downside - Tasmania shows the way!

Great Western TierGreat Western TierCentral Plateau

The scenery in Tasmania is magnificent, the English Lake District without the rain maybe. Purple hills with rugged cliffs as the backdrop to emerald green pastures that almost glow. We climbed the Great Western Tiers mountain range up to the Central Plateau or Central Highlands. This is an area of lakes and a series of these bodies of water were used for the earliest hydro electric plants. We stopped for a fine lunch at lakeside pub and shortly thereafter visited the “Steppes Stones”, a bush grotto containing thirteen stones bearing bronzes by artist Stephen Walker. The stones are arranged in a circle around a central stone, somewhat like the numerals on a huge clock. The site was almost hidden and you had to know it was there to discover it. From the stone circle, we walked a trail to the Steppe’s homestead. Annette was so excited on the trail when Glen identified scat that she had found as “Tasmanian Devil” poo.

Steppe stoneSteppe stoneWaddamana Power stationWaddamana Power stationlowlands

From the Steppe’s homestead we moved on to visit the Waddamana Power Station Museum. The Waddamana power station was the first to produce power for Hobart, Tasmania, beginning operations in 1916. The project to use the water from the waters of “Great Lake” was the result of a newspaper article published earlier in 1905 detailing the feasibility. Of course construction was a little difficult, due to the total absence of infrastructure and advertisements for labor described the worksite as, “an easy two day walk from Deloraine”. We got to tour the inside of the power plant and see the generators and machinery. I had always thought that the alternators that produce the electricity were given power by the water passing through a kind of radial turbine - like a jet engine. In fact the fancy name of “Pelton wheels” is given to a device that was in use by the ancient Egyptians. Essentially “buckets” are arranged on the circumference of a large wheel (the Egyptians used ceramic jars) and a jet of water turns the wheel at a slow 375 rpm. The alternators looked like a bigger version of an automobile alternator – OK, MUCH bigger, and the direct current power for the field coil came from smaller dynamos. The speed of the bucket wheel and hence the frequency of the electricity, was regulated by a mechanical governor based on centrifugal weights, like you would find on a steam engine. The governor adjusted the force of the water jet, presumably with some kind of valve. The voltage of the output was adjusted by the changing the voltage supplied to the field coils by the dynamos. It all looked so simple in principle but on a huge scale and I admired the engineers who designed and built it. Fascinating place.

echidnaechidnaechidna

On our return, Glen spotted an echidna crossing the highway, slammed on the car brakes, jumped out of the driver’s seat and took off across the highway after it, followed closely by Annette. He somehow caught it between his steel capped work boots, turned it over and lifted it by its feet, so that Annette might photograph the startled beast peeing and defecating from most of its orifices. What great entertainment!

Back at the farm, Kelly prepared for us a wonderful chicken stir fry and while she was creating this masterpiece, we took a walk around the pastures accompanied by Glen and Rosie. Rosie always runs ahead, trying to anticipate the needs of her master. At one point she took off chasing a bunny, a black streak moving at astonishing speed. Glen reluctantly called her back to him because he could not allow a working dog to become distracted by the pleasure of bunny-chasing whilst on the job. She did “head up” the alpacas however and it was entertaining to watch. Now alpacas do kick with their front hooves and will kill smaller predators. Rosie would tear around them and then abruptly stop and lay down, just as you have probably seen sheep dogs perform. The alpacas would back away but then a dominant female would charge at Rosie. If Rosie ran, the whole herd would chase her but they would all stop confusedly if she turned back, as she often did. She was so fast but on a couple of occasions, she was being chased by an alpaca when she would abruptly stop running to sit and scratch herself, not even looking at her pursuer. The alpaca would stop too and wait until she was ready to run again, as though this was part of a familiar game.

the llama herdllamas chase dogGlenready to ride!Alice the camel

On one of the back pastures, Glen and Kelly have a pair of camels. These beasts are huge, with their hump about 8 feet above ground level and the head held much higher. The larger of the animals was a young male and he bent his head down to sniff the top of Annette’s head before sliding his face alongside hers, cheek to cheek. This was not something I was going to experience because Ed’s momma didn’t raise expendable babies. Annette was able to give a command to this camel to “kush” and it sank to its knees so that it could be mounted. Pretty cool, huh? Just as Annette was about to place an order for delivery to Padre Island, Texas, the smaller female camel ("Alice") lashed out with its hind leg, missing Annette by a millimeter. Cancel the order for the camel. We will charge into battle on motorcycles – much safer!

Glen and Kelly were such great hosts and this was a memorable day, a great highlight of our trip.

January 12, 2015

This morning we bade farewell to Glen. We would have said “goodbye and thank you” to Kelly but she had already left for work whilst we slumbered on. It was a pretty drive to Hobart with a picture postcard perfect day and light traffic on the winding lanes. Our Tom-Tom GPS was still feeling mischievous and took us down a gravel road but she still managed to find Hobart and we arrived at “Treasure Island” caravan park, a somewhat bleak and windswept place that would have probably made Morgan and Long John Silver turn tail. We spent the balance of the day catching up with chores and e-mails.

January 13, 2015

This morning we headed over to visit the shot tower, at Taroona near Hobart. The shot tower was completed in 1870 by Joseph Moir. Joe saw a business opportunity in that Australia was importing lead shot from England in order to make cartridges for shotguns, a necessity for bird and rabbit hunters. He knew some of the basics of the 19th century technology to make lead shot, in that you pour molten lead through a colander and let the drops fall through air into water. He built the tower we were visiting from blocks of sandstone to a height of 190 feet. Then he spent months experimenting until he had discovered the secrets of making round lead shot. For over 100 years this was the tallest building in Tasmania and we pulled our bus into the parking lot to find it filled. We followed the driveway around until we had completed a loop and faced a steep hill and an “exit” sign. Where the hell was the overflow car-park? After a few minutes scouting, we gave up and I parked the bus on the side of the driveway. The climb to the top of the tower involved 318 steps to reach an open gallery with a 360 degree view across Storm Bay and also a view of our bus and the overflow car-park, which lies hidden, beyond the exit sign.

inside the shot towerview from the shot towerview from the shot towerview from the shot tower

Our next destination was the Hobart women’s prison called the “Female Factory”. We paid for the tour and were the only attendees of the great lecture given by guide, Ester. From 1610 onwards, Britain disposed of undesirables, who had offended the authorities in either criminal or political manner by transporting them to the new colonies. The American Revolution of the 1770’s cut off the North American destination and Captain Cook had reported that the Botany Bay area near Sydney might be suitable for colonization. The transportation pipeline therefore switched to Australia and over the next 80 years, some 165,000 people were transported to various penal colonies on the Australian continent.

When you consider that Britain had a population of around 7 million at the time, this represents about 2.3% of the population. If we take 2.3% of the population of the USA today, that calculates out as about 7.5 million, a number that matches closely with the total number of people currently in prison, on parole or under probation in the USA. What a great way to get rid of the trouble-makers and how cost-effective! Transportation was considered more humane than execution and in 1770, some 222 offences bore the death penalty, including for example, stealing goods worth over 5 shillings (60 cents at todays exchange rate), cutting down a tree, or theft of a rabbit from a rabbit warren.

Some 20% of the transportees were women and although I had assumed that many were repeat offender street walkers, this was not the case, as prostitution was not a transportable offence at the time. For many, the crime would more likely be pick-pocketing, theft, arson and the like. The prison guards were almost exclusively men, thus in the early days of colonization and until the first Australian gold rush, most of the available females were either convict transportees, or aboriginal women.

It is fairly obvious that the British authorities intended on establishing their class system in their new colony (For American readers, this is: At the top, aristocrats and landed gentry; next the merchant class, the people who owned businesses and farms; below them the people who worked in a “trade” such as masons, carpenters, plumbers and then at the bottom, the working class, the laborers, maids and gardeners. I will interject an anecdote here. My younger brother Anthony Steele, graduated from Cambridge University, one of the top universities in England, with an Honors Degree in Mathematics. He qualified as a member of the Royal Society of Chartered Accountants and went to work for the prestigious firm of Deloitte and Touche as an auditor. At an early performance review, circa 1975, he was told by his senior management that, “although his job performance was very good, they seriously doubted that he would be able to overcome his working-class background”. He quit and went on to become the youngest Professor in the British Isles) The female transportees were housed in the factory we were viewing, sort of a low security prison. While the women served out their respective sentences, they were trained as domestics and taught skills such as laundry, sewing, cooking and housekeeping. Many were sent out to work in the cabins of the early colonists, at no charge to the colonist. Naturally many of these women became pregnant but this too was a punishable offence and the penalty was a return to the “factory” and separation from their child. An early scandal was that some 75% of these children born to transportees died in infancy and it was not until the children of “other” colonist women, incarcerated here for “local” crimes, began to suffer the same fate, a public outcry forced the improvement of nursery conditions. A hard life but arguably a better one than the one left behind in the industrial slums of nineteenth century Britain.

The Cascade BreweryThe Cascade Brewery

We couldn’t leave Tasmania and Hobart without a tour of the Cascade Brewery. The brewery tour was a more an “outback” experience than other brewery tours we have been on, mainly because it is the oldest continually operating brewery in Australia, opened in 1832. You could fill books with the brief history of the brewery buildings but for us the most enjoyable story was the one wherein a fermentation tower was ordered from Zurich and when it finally arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, it was found to be too tall for the three story, stone building. An additional three stories had to be added on so that it would fit inside. Didn’t they check the specs on the internet first?

Hobart Pierprovisioning S/V Selmathey forgot the beerthey forgot the beer

We drove carefully from the brewery, to downtown Hobart to the dock that is the termination of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. There was a very large ketch S/V Selma (66 feet length – double the volume of S/V DoodleBug at 53 feet) alongside the dock taking on supplies. While I was off in search of an ATM, Annette chatted with one of crew. They are heading for Antarctica (see http://www.selmaexpeditions.com/en/selma.php) We suggested that their destination sucked, because there are no coconut trees in Antarctica and critiqued their selection of supplies they were loading, pointing out that they had forgotten the beer. The crewman maintained that it was too cold for beer and we know this to be true because years ago, we watched the movie, “Never Cry Wolf”. Vodka and Rum would be a better choice.

We left Hobart heading for the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary in Port Arthur, along a long, hilly and winding road down the peninsula. To add to the fun, it began to rain but we were encouraged because we saw for the first time, road signs warning of Tasmanian Devils. We must be going in the right direction! We hadn’t made any bookings but managed to score the last powered caravan site at the Port Arthur Holiday Park. Clean livin’, matey!

January 14, 2015

We forced ourselves awake because our goal this morning was to see Tasmanian Devils being fed at the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. It was still raining when we left the campsite and we drove through light rain and empty roads until we found the empty car park of the sanctuary. A lady swathed in a rain-jacket waved at us and wished us “good morning”, so we knew then it was open. As it turned out, only some of the trails were open but we saw a display of possums and then attended a lecture on Tasmanian Devils, with a pair of Devils performing in the background. The Devil’s appeared to be “fighting” for possession of a chunk of wallaby, our lecturer had dropped into their enclosure. They sounded as though they were in a death struggle but we were assured that this behavior is normal for Devils and they do share their meal.

trail closedTasmanian DevilTasmanian Devil

We learned that Devils are meat eaters and lousy hunters. They can’t sprint, have poor eyesight and they aren’t that big (around 18 pounds), thus they are scavengers. As the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, they eat every part of a corpse – flesh, skin, bones, fur, teeth and guts and when they are finished, they lap up the blood. Farmers are ambivalent towards them in that will take sick animals but on a positive (?) note, if an animal drops dead in the field, the farmer can let it lay, because in a few days it will be gone. The devils “share” a meal with other devils and since a dead cow is too big to eat in one session, they will set up camp in the interior of the carcass and eat it from the inside out. One farmer reported finding a dozen Devils inside the carcass of a cow. Annette thought that this would make a great Tasmanian Christmas song, “.... and 12 Devils in a dead cow....”.

There is an infectious form of cancer that is currently decimating the population. The wildlife people in Tasmania are executing a plan to quarantine a healthy population (on the Port Arthur peninsula), let the disease burn out in the infected population and then restore the Devils throughout Tasmania from this isolated group.

the Separate Prisonthe Separate Prisonthe Separate Prison

It was still raining when we left the Devil’s Sanctuary and headed on into Port Arthur to tour the “Separate Prison”. This prison was the maximum security prison in the Tasmanian system and was located on the remote peninsula where we were, as it had no road access at the time. The punishment for the worst offenders had been changed from physical to mental and the method used was solitary confinement and silence, very much like the system the French used as described by Henri Charriere in his book, “Papillion”. On the same site was a “Boys prison”, a sort of “Borstal” or “reform school” for boys aged 9 to 17 years, the average age being 14. These boys were too puny and underdeveloped to be of any use in the forced labor camps and the authorities had been at a loss as to where to put them. We took a boat ride to visit the surrounding islets and heard that when prisoners did attempt to escape by land, there was a “dog line” at the neck of the peninsula with a garrison of soldiers. Guard dogs were chained at intervals across the narrow strip of land and the dog line even extended a distance offshore, with dogs chained on floating platforms to alert the soldiers.

From Port Arthur we drove northwest, stopping at the town of New Norfolk for the night. The caravan park was on the banks of the Derwent River and we walked into town beside the river, to find a restaurant, while dodging the copious quantities of duck shit along the river bank. The ducks didn’t seem to mind the rain and watched us warily as we perambulated by.

January 15, 2015

Daughter Marian had wanted Annette to take some pictures of road-kill (strange child!), such as close up pictures of feet and claws, the type of picture you can’t usually get at zoo. I didn’t want to join these casualties as additional road-kill, thus I scoured the highway ahead of us for the combination of “fresh” road-kill and a safe place to park off the highway. About twenty minutes out of New Norfolk, I found the spot and pulled over and off the roadway. I watched carefully for traffic in both directions while Annette jumped out of the bus with her camera. She decided to pull the carcass of the small wallaby, or “Pademelon”, from the center of the roadway to the verge and as she did so, the pouch moved. Annette checked the contents of the pouch and found a single baby, who objected strongly to being molested and struggled to stay in the pouch. The mother was dead with massive head injuries but Annette examined the tiny hairless Joey and announced that it appeared to be uninjured.

Road Killchecking the pouchlive Joey

While cursing Marian under my breath, I fired up the computer to find a number for a wildlife rescue organization, while Annette heated water in order to generate a warm, moist environment for the orphan. Next followed a two hour high speed run along rain-slick, two-lane mountain roads to the village of Derwent Bridge. The road was a continuous string of steep hills, plunging descents with hairpin bends and I felt as though I was rowing the bus through the gears, with the exhaust brake howling as we descended. Finally we arrived at a café called “The Hungry Wombat” and our charge was dropped off for collection later that day by a lady who worked with the Bonorong Wildlife Rescue. We drove considerably slower when we left the café and headed, perhaps a kilometer, to our original destination of “The Wall”.

The Wall is a project by Tasmanian wood sculptor Greg Duncan to depict the history of Tasmania in a series of 100 linked panels. The panels are each three meters high (10 feet) and a meter width, thus the completed project will be 50 meters long (164 feet) with panels on both sides of “The Wall”. Greg is a wonderfully skilled sculptor and his subjects include the development of hydro-electric power, the lumber industry, as well as environmental issues such as the recent extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger and threatened species such as the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed eagle. We met the artist at the door as he confiscated Annette’s camera. He promised to return it however and said Annette could take his picture outside the gallery. I suggested that he adopt the procedure I had witnessed in Alice Springs, when a tourist asked an aboriginal man if he could take his picture. “Four dollars” was the aboriginal’s response and the tourist walked away. The Wall is a labor of love and the attention to texture and detail remarkable. An excellent stop.

We continued our journey to the northwest of Tasmania with a leisurely drive to the mining town of Rosebery. Gold was discovered here in 1893 with the main ore body being zinc. Today, zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold are all produced here. The campsite was next to the river and all night we could hear the sound of the falls and rapids. Despite the infrastructure of mines, cables and machinery, the town remains a gem, hidden in a deep and green valley.

The lady managing the caravan park promised to mail used stamps to Annette for her collection. However her joy was tempered by the fact the Bonorong Wildlife Rescue lady hadn’t telephoned a status update and Annette is now worrying about her pademelon, we had named, “Dallas”.

January 16, 2015

From Rosebery, the highway ran east crossing the Murchison Range, dropping down into Tullah and then turning north to follow the west side of the lake formed by the the Murchison Rangedamming of the Mackintosh River. We then ran into road-works, the road deteriorating into gravel and then dirt, as we worked our way up and over a mountain pass. It was raining hard and the road surface felt slippery in the slick mud. We plunged down the northern slopes towards the coastal town of Burnie, the road again paved and much smoother running. Our bus is trashed! Covered on both sides with a cream colored mud to near roof level. The rear windows were opaque and Annette worked hard with a squeegee to find the glass underneath when we stopped for diesel.

The winds were gusty with occasional rain squalls promising misery out at sea, when we arrived at the coast at Burnie. The internet link to, “What is there to see in Burnie” claimed “penguins” - but only after dusk. We had other plans. We picnicked near the beach, with the bus rocking in the wind, then made a brief expedition to the sand. We saw no penguin tracks, nor signs they had burrowed into the coarse scrub blanketing the hillside. Annette began to gather rocks on the beach but the wind from the sea was both cold and biting. I returned to the RV to add clothing and a glance out of the bus window showed me my bride was not far behind me.

sea horsessea horsessea horsesAnnette has oneplatypus

From Burnie we headed east to “Beauty Point”, home to “Seahorse World”. I had remembered to add a “tether” to my hat, which was fortunate as the wind whipped it from my head. Fortunately, the exhibits were all indoors. Seahorse World was approved by the Australian Government and the United Nations (how much was that payoff!) to breed endangered species of seahorses in captivity. The seahorses are then sold around the world for use in aquariums, thus reducing the pressure of commercial capture from the natural habitat. These are amazing “fish” and when I look at the variants of Leafy Sea Dragons, I cannot help but wonder how creatures this bizarre could have evolved. We next visited the adjacent Duck Billed Platypus and Echidna display. The platypus display was pretty similar to other displays we have seen in various zoos. The creatures are reclusive, which is how they have survived in the wild. The fact that the males have poison spurs on their hind legs also means that “up close” viewing of the animal is not possible. Far more fun was the echidna display. Our tour group sat in a circle on the floor of the echidna pen and they walked around and between us. The keeper placed small bowls of “bug butter” in front of us and we got to watch the echidnas scarfing this stuff down. They have the most amazing tongue, skinny and about six inches long. It flickered out and seemed to wrap across the food bowl, curled over the brim and cleaned off the sides, all in one swipe.

A century ago this sleepy village of Beauty Point was the third largest town in Tasmania, a port on the Tamar River serving the gold rush. I was pleased to note that the town received its name after a favorite cow that drowned here.

January 17, 2015

We had spent the night at the local caravan park at Beauty Point and in the morning headed down the highway to visit the Mining Museum at Beaconsfield. This was the site of the 2006 ANZAC Day mine disaster and rescue. The Beaconsfield mine was a working gold mine and seventeen men were working below when a minor earthquake caused a roof collapse. Fourteen men escaped unharmed, one man was killed and two others were trapped for two weeks in a tiny space. At the time the world watched the drama as the rescuers blasted rock to reach the trapped men and then cut a 50 foot tunnel through rock reputed to be five times harder than concrete. For us this was the first we were aware of this event, because at the time we were aboard S/V DoodleBug, anchored in the Endeavour River at Cooktown, waiting on repairs to a torn Genoa and without television or internet access.

Beaconsfield mine museumBeaconsfield mine museum

The museum was interesting in that until 2012 this was a working mine and much of the equipment is intact and in place. There was a an investigation into the cause of the accident, safety violations claimed and the mine subsequently closed with the loss of 150 jobs.

January 18, 2015

Today we took the ferry back to mainland Australia. The marine forecast promised 2 to 3 meter waves (up to 10 feet wind driven waves on top of a 10 foot swell) but this was a non-event. We saw six foot waves that wouldn’t have spilled the Chardonnay aboard S/V DoodleBug and we arrived in Melbourne almost on schedule, with two cruise-ships blocking the arrival dock. From here, we headed north out of Melbourne City, blessing the light Sunday evening traffic. It is hard enough navigating a transit of a four million population city without having most of the four million get in your way.

leaving TasmaniaAboard the ferry

We had rested during the ferry passage and wanted to get some miles behind us, when we noticed fresh road-kill on the side of motorway. Then Annette spotted kangaroos grazing in a field and we decided the collision risk factor had increased too much. We pulled into a rest stop at “Grass Tree”, some seven miles north of Seymour and about 80 miles from the Melbourne pier, where we camped for the night.

January 19, 2015

Another dawn departure, continuing our mission to get to the Brisbane area. We stopped for night at a caravan park in Coonabarrabran, a town in Warrumbungle Shire, where we could recharge the laptop and get a shower with unlimited hot water.

the usual road hazardsthe usual road hazardsDunnynot the visitor's gateThe Parkes dishThe Parkes dish

January 20, 2015

A later start this morning but we gained another hour, just for crossing the border into Queensland. Today was pleasant drive through fields stretching to the horizon, the view only interrupted by clustered grain silos. Our destination was to the south of Brisbane at the Gold Coast Holiday Park and we rolled in at 4:00 p.m. after a 2,100 kilometer dash from the Melbourne Ferry. We have rented a cabin at this park and now face the labor and logistics of making our bus presentable, so that it can be sold and somehow getting the stuff we have accumulated over the 10 months we have spent in Australia, into suitcases that fit the airline restrictions of quantity and weight.

This part of our trip is now over and what an adventure it has been! Australia’s highway one circumnavigates the continent in a distance of 16,000 kms. (10,000 miles) We have driven our motor-home nearly three times this distance, having made almost two complete circumnavigations, plus crossing the continent north to south, twice. This is an amazing place to visit and we will long remember its beauty, its variety and the warmth and friendship of its people. Australia, we thank you for this experience.