The bus journey on Friday 22nd back to Tauranga via Thames was enjoyable except for a most boring man who, for the whole journey, was subjecting the young woman who he sat next to, to details of the SIM card in his phone telling her over and over that it should have been topped up automatically by direct debit but wasn’t. He spent the whole journey from Thames to Tauranga telling her the same thing at least 3 times including every little detail of his account, phone calls he’d made to try to sort it out, what was said by whom, emails etc etc. The poor girl was trying to help him and had a great deal of patience. If he’d been sitting next to me I’d have given him short shrift or feigned tiredness and closed my eyes to shut him up. My over the shoulder glances in his direction went unheeded.
I picked up my hire car from the same place as before, paid a visit to Countdown supermarket for supplies and drove to Ohope Beach, just over an hour away, where I’d booked a small studio for 3 nights via Airbnb. It has a small bedroom, bathroom and tiny kitchen but is perfectly adequate and at only £25 per night very good value here. The owners, a young couple called Jessy and Daniel, live in the house above. When I went to say hello I discovered that they had also done some housesitting via Trusted Housesitters in England for 6 months.
This part of the journey is travelling around the East Cape, down the East Coast as far as Napier then across to Tongariro National Park. Maori culture is particularly visible on the East Coast and lots of brown signs point to various ‘Marae’ (meeting houses). The East Cape is slow-paced, quiet and everyone knows everyone. The drive around should be a rite of passage for NZers but many haven’t done it.
After dropping off my bags and filling the fridge I went to investigate the beach, about 200 yards from the studio. I’d noticed signs saying it was voted NZ’s most loved beach. If that’s true I could see why as it offers ‘the walker, bather, surfie or fisherman 11 kms of uninterrupted white Pacific beach sand’. It was pretty empty, being working hours still, but there was a father with four young children, teaching and encouraging the older two to surf while their mum took videos and photos. It was lovely to see.
I decided to walk in a westerly direction from about the middle of the beach right to the end, known as West End, surprisingly! On the way more people came to the beach, some with dogs, the odd surfer (not big waves today so good for novices I imagine), couples and friends just enjoying a stroll in the lovely warm weather. I came across a couple (Kerry – male and Lea – female) with a machine called a fish harvester that was letting out a length of fishing line. I stopped to ask them about it. They told me the line went out electronically and had been set to unroll for 20 minutes. NZ law allows no more than 25 hooks with bait and they’re allowed 8 fish each, so if they caught any more they’d have to put them back. Once the 20 minutes was up they were leaving it for an hour while they went back to their house, overlooking the beach, for dinner and would return to reel it in and see what they’d caught. I told them I’d be interested to see and they invited me to call on them at their home and suggested I might even get a glass of wine. I left them and decided I would take them up on their offer.
The end of the beach was further than it looked and my return walk was over 3 hours. I called at Kerry and Lea’s house and they’d only just got in with the fish, just 2 snapper but quite large and each one enough for two meals for two. I was offered a cup of tea (not wine!) and sat chatting with them in their lounge with huge picture windows overlooking the beach. I was only there for about half an hour as got the impression they wanted to watch ‘Doc Martin’ which had been paused on their large TV, and Kerry kindly offered to drive me ‘home’ as I was still 2.5 kms away and it was dark.
I’d booked a boat trip to White Island starting at 1pm on Saturday 23rd. This had been recommended by a lot of people so I thought I’d better go. It wasn’t cheap but it turned out to be well worth it. While waiting for the boat I had a cup of tea at the tour company’s cafe and noticed a nice man sitting on his own. I smiled at him but decided not to sit near him as he was smoking. While waiting for the boat I sat on a wall near a young woman who was reading avidly and asked her what the book was, which then got us in conversation. Her name was Kim and she was from the Netherlands. Of course her English was perfect. She told me she and her boyfriend (a few years younger than her) were travelling for 5 months, had bought a 7 seater car for $1600, had taken 2 of the seats out and slept in it. I thought this very resourceful but personally didn’t fancy the idea of sleeping in a car. They’d bought curtains and towels from opp shops.
White Island (Whakaari in Maori) is NZ’s only active volcano and is situated 49 kms off the coast of Whakatane. The island is estimated to be between 150,000 and 200,000 years old and originally formed from 3 separate volcanic cones. On checking in for my tour I was told the volcano’s alert level had just recently increased from 1 to 2, meaning it was ‘in a moderate to heightened state of unrest with the potential for eruption hazards and an increased risk to visitors’ and signed a form that I understood the risk involved. Yikes!
Our boat was one of four owned by the company (White Island Tours) and very nice too. I sat with Kim and we chatted for the whole of the 60 minute journey. She said her boyfriend had been nervous about going to the island when he heard it was an active volcano and was doing the walk I plan to do on Sunday instead. The crew were quite young, apart from the Captain, and very entertaining. The Captain said we might see dolphins or whales as they had on a recent trip out, but, sadly, we didn’t.
On arriving at the island we were all given a life jacket, hard yellow hat and gas mask and ferried in groups in a dinghy to the jetty. We spent about an hour or so being guided around a small part of the island and told to use our masks when necessary. It was amazing to see the steam and smell the sulphur. There were the remains of a factory and walls of buildings that housed men who had worked on the island collecting the sulphur, between 1923 and 1933. Apparently these men earnt twice as much as the gold miners in Waihi. Despite the harsh conditions there’s a thriving gannet colony and I was surprised to see grass and trees in places. We were told to wear the gas mask as the sulphur could make us cough and give us sore throats and that constant saliva also helped, so we were offered boiled sweets to increase our saliva! We all managed to get off the island without incident.
On the way there we’d been told to stay seated inside the boat but could sit on deck on the return journey which Kim and I did, sitting near the man I’d spied earlier in the cafe. I asked him where he was from and he said Copenhagen. He was married (just my luck!) with four children but had recently had some kind of problem and needed to get away. He was travelling for a total of 13 weeks and his wife had recently joined him for 2 of those, although that hadn’t been part of the original plan. He said it had gone well and the trip had done him a lot of good.
In the early hours of Sunday (about 0530) I was woken by two locked doors (that lead off the garage) in my room shuddering for a few seconds and thought it was the young owners above getting amorous! I thought no more of this in incident and later drove to Whakatane parking the car near the start of the big circular walk (Nga Tapuwae o Toi, meaning ‘The footsteps of Toi’) I’d decided to do. Kim texted me to say it had taken her boyfriend 5 and a half hours to walk it yesterday, including a lunch break. A lot of the walks in NZ have Maori names and are historic, often in the area where Maori used to live, this one being no exception. It includes pā (hillfort) sites of major historical significance, superb native forest with spectacular pōhutukawa trees (known as NZ Christmas trees) fabulous coastal views, beaches and an abundance of birdlife.
Ngā Tapuwae o Toi (The footsteps of Toi) is aptly named as it traverses the heart of what was once the great chieftain Toi’s dominion. His stronghold, Kapu-te-Rangi (Pā of Gentle Breezes), is one of the oldest known pā sites in the country and is a highlight of the Kōhī Point portion of the walkway.
I started the walk through forest, steadily climbing and passing through the important Pa site, then walking along the clifftops with superb coastal views. After rounding the headland there were lots of steps down to Ottarawairere Bay. I only read while doing the walk that this wasn’t accessible during high tide, fortunately it was low tide otherwise I’d have had to retrace my steps, which would have been disappointing. The walk continued across the beach and then up lots of steps and down steps the other side to arrive at the West end of Ohope beach. It was about a 30 minute walk along the beach to then cross the road to Ohope Scenic Reserve. The walk went through forest and then through some private land (where I crossed my first NZ stiles). There were some steep sections and it ended at the bottom of a gorge (although that wasn’t obvious) then walking along the road to get to my car. I really enjoyed the walk and thought it was putting some mileage in my legs in readiness for the big one (Tongariro Crossing if I do it). It had taken me 6 hours,which included lunch and getting slightly lost twice, and I was tired at the end.
Views during the walk:
I reluctantly left my little studio in Ohope Beach on Monday morning (25th). It was going to be a hot day. Not long after leaving I saw a brown sign to the Nukuhau Saltmarsh so thought I’d stop as was in no rush. Apparently a saltmarsh helps to keep a harbour clean and this one is of national significance, providing habitat for secretive marsh birds such as the fern bird (Matata) which I could hear but couldn’t see. There was a variety of rushes and flax:
I thought this was a good idea of Basil Simpson’s to plant a tree in 2003 before he died in anticipation of having his ashes buried there when he finally died in 2008:
My next stop was Opotiki, just 36km from Ohope going East (as I’m travelling in an easterly direction around the East Cape. I stopped at the i-Site office and was told there was an interesting reserve, Hukutaia Domain, 8km away with a Maori burial tree, one of Opotiki’s main attractions. There was a track which took about 25 minutes to walk around through native bush with some ancient trees, varieties of fern and fungi. Like the Saltmatsh, volunteers care for it. It was set aside as a reserve in 1918 mainly to protect the burial tree. From 1930-1970 Norman Potts, a keen local amateur botanist, travelled throughout NZ to collect plants for Hukutaia whose work was continued through the 1970s to 1990 by Marc Heginbotham.
Burial trees are highly sacred to the Maori people. Exhuming bones of the distinguished dead was an ancient practice conducted in accordance with ritual. Sometimes slaves were sacrificed to add prestige to the occasion. The bones were scraped clean then painted with oxide of iron (ochre) and hidden in a cave or hollow tree where they would not be found by tribal enemies. If a person desecrated a burial tree (or cave) the offender’s death would follow. This particular burial tree is a puriri tree (hard and durable timber) is called Taketakerau and is guarded by two wooden statues.
From there I drove for 27kms to a historic bridge off the route I was travelling. It was well worth the drive, different scenery to the coastal route (which most of the time went inland) as it went through a deep gorge. The bridge was a short walk along a gravel path from the car park. This bridge is the second to cross the Waiheke River, the first having been destroyed by flood in 1918. This bridge was likely built in 1922. It’s a single span multiple rope or harp suspension bridge spanning approximately 60 metres and is one of only two of its type remaining in NZ. It fell into disrepair but a conservation project was initiated and the bridge was officially reopened in 1995. The bridge was originally needed to link the farms of the Tauranga valley with the outside world and stands as a monument to the settlers’ commitment determined to make a living off the land of the Waioeka, an inhospitable place.
I briefly chatted to a young French chap over our respective picnic lunches on a bench in the shade. He was travelling alone in a small camper he’d bought and was hoping to sell it for a similar price before returning home.
I drove back into Opotiki, which seemed quite a dishevelled town if you can describe a town in that way. Lots of shops had been closed and it generally looked rather shabby. However there was a Church of interest and a theatre, now a cinema. As luck would have it, just as I approached the church a lady opened up the main door. I followed her in but she told me the internal doors were on some security system which she couldn’t control so we stood looking in as she told me the history of the church, Hiona St. Stephen’s. It’s a small wooden church built in 1862 whose original minister, Reverend Carl Volkner, was thought to be a government spy by the local Maori Whakatohea tribe during the land wars and executed there in 1865. As a result a Maori man, Mokomoko, was wrongly hanged for his murder and in 1992 was posthumously pardoned by the governor-general.
I continued with the lovely drive, circuitous and really scenic and arrived at Waihau Bay Lodge, which looked lovely on the outside, where I was staying the night in a budget room. The lodge looked lovely from the outside but when I was shown my room my heart sank. It absolutely stank, the windows not having been opened to air it. There was one very soft king size bed and two single beds. The only other items of furniture were a mirror in a corner and a big, dusty old fashioned TV taking pride of place in the room which didn’t work anyway. There was a kitchen which could be used and that also stank of fish, with a rusty old empty (defrosted) chest freezer in the corner. There were two toasters but no kettle so when I asked for one was given a pan to boil the water.
I went to the bar for a pre dinner drink and someone asked if anyone had felt the earthquake early on Sunday morning. I asked where it was and was told that the centre of it was in Opotiki (36km from Ohope where felt the shuddering) so I said I had felt it but had thought it was the people above lovemaking, which raised a laugh! I had dinner of fish and kumara chips with salad (I’d earlier been told that they pan fried their fish with margarine!) and went to my now slightly less smelly room to read. I could not believe that I’d paid $60 for that room, more than the lovely little studio in Ohope Beach had cost.
I woke early on Tuesday so got up, had a quick breakfast outside and left by 7.30am as realised I had a fair drive to get to the next overnight stop and didn’t wish to stay a moment too long in that room although it did have a nice location overlooking the bay:
My first stop was to be the East Cape lighthouse, the most easterly point of NZ. Once I got to Te Aurora I took the East Cape Road, 20km of road half of which was unsealed, so quite a bumpy drive. There were one or two houses but this really is as remote as you can get. It’s recommended to walk up the 800 steps to arrive at the top for sunrise, but that would involve camping and a very early start in the dark, but I know some people have done that. By the time I was there it was 10am. The steps were initially very shallow and gradually got steepish but it wasn’t that taxing. Just a few steps from the top I met a lovely Kiwi couple called Lil and John and stood chatting to them for at least 30 minutes. They’d done loads of travelling, mainly backpacking and were currently doing a bit of travelling in NZ with their caravan. They live in Tauranga and offered to put me up, but I declined graciously (I’ve spent a lot of time there) and said I was booked in Rotorua, but said I’d try to meet them for a cup of tea en route to dropping off my hire car.
(Bottom 3 pics: views from the East Cape Lighthouse)
After my chat and visit to the lighthouse with some wonderful views, it was back to the main route and a drive around the east side of the Cape. Amazing how different the scenery was, not half as attractive weirdly as the west side. I stopped at Cafe 35 along the route as it had been recommended, for tea and scone, and then got to Tolaga Bay at 4pm. My Airbnb here was a nice little cabin, no one was around but the door was unlocked with key on the inside. I dropped off my things and went straight out to explore the beach, which was disappointingly full of driftwood:
I decided to walk back to the cabin and spotted a woman with a Jack Russell. I got level with her and she asked if I was travelling and we got chatting. Her name was Maria and she told me that she was nearly 65, that 18 months ago she’d decided to sell her house, most of her belongings, pack her car and take off around NZ not knowing where she’d go. She said it was the best thing she’d ever done and was really happy. She was staying in the backpackers of the Tolaga Bay Inn, had initially meant to stay for 2 nights but was still there 2 and a half months later, but leaving the next day not knowing where! I felt she was a kindred spirit. She had no children, although told me she’d miscarried a girl when she was 19 and a boy when she was 42, and never married. She had bundles of energy and had been walking the landlord’s dog, Roxy, morning and evening and was going to miss her.
Maria told me about a nice walk at the end of the beach up onto the headland for views of the countryside on one side and the beach the other. It was clear that not many people went up that route judging by the rickety steps and leaf strewn, weedy path but it was worth it:
Maria had also told me that there were exercise machines along a road, which looked rather out of place especially with the grass growing around them but I had a go:
Later, back at the cabin, I met my hostess, Beatrice a French woman, who lived at the house next door with her Kiwi husband Hugh. She seemed very pleasant. However, unusually for an Airbnb there were instructions about cleaning the cabin before leaving and stripping the bed. After doing so in the morning (Wednesday) I popped next door to chat some more to Beatrice and met Hugh, both very nice people and I should have liked to have spent more time talking but on with the road trip! Later on, when I reviewed the Airbnb I mentioned how surprised I was to have to clean the whole cabin before I left. Beatrice said she would have to look at the instructions (lost in translation I think) as she didn’t mean that I cleaned the bathroom, just leave the kitchen free of dishes and empty bins, which I’d have done anyway.
Only a short drive today but there were a couple of things to do before leaving Tolaga Bay which has the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere (660m). Just as I arrived, 3 van loads of Maori school kids with their teachers (I haven’t mentioned that the whole East Cape area is very popular with the Maori people as this was where their descendants first settled) who went half way down the wharf jumping off into the sea and back up a ladder.
The wharf was built in 1929 and commercially functional until 1968. It’s been restored after dedicated and expensive preservation efforts.
The other local thing of interest was a walk to Cooks Cove Walkway where he stopped in 1769. Lovely walk initially up some steps, across country then through some forest, down lots of steps (I was thinking about having to walk back up them on the return). I was accompanied for some of the way by a lovely young English couple in their mid 20s, Rose and James, I’d been chatting to at a lookout. They’d bought a camper van and had been working as cooks during the ski season at Mount Ruapeho but said the skiing was pretty awful, yet they had a great time cooking and socialising with the guests. They’d also done some kiwi fruit picking which had been hard but well paid. They’d been travelling/working since October 2018 and were going home next April after 3 weeks in Japan. I do so love these random chats with people. You can get a real connection pretty quickly, mainly because we all love travelling, yet know you’ll never see them again.
Down at the Cove in the sea were lots more school children – what a nice way to spend a school day I thought.
On the way back, and up the steps, I got chatting to a man from Bolton. His wife went off ahead, preceded by their daughter who lives in NZ. He and his wife come to NZ for 6 months during UK winter each year. They’d hoped to be able to live permanently in NZ where both their children live but the country brought in a new rule preventing this. I got the impression he wasn’t too bothered but his wife was.
I had the next 2 nights booked in an Airbnb in Gisborne. After a quick stop in the town I paid a 45 minute visit, just before closing, to the Tairawhiti Museum & Art Gallery (best regional museum) which focuses on East Coast Maori and colonial history. There were excellent photographic displays also.
I went to the house I was staying at and met Catherine, my hostess. After a brief chat over tea I walked to the harbour for a nice (expensive) dinner then back to the house for a longer chat. Catherine’s husband Peter had died of prostate cancer 14 years ago, she told me he was 84 when he died. She’d been 24 when she married him and he was 47, and have a son, Romilly who lives in Gisborne, and daughter Cat(riona) who lives in Amsterdam. We had a very enjoyable conversation and she asked me to join her for dinner tomorrow night which I accepted and I think isn’t something she often does.
There is an interesting website about Peter Brown’s art with links to their children’s interests. Romilly is obsessed with board games and has started a little business making the pieces used in the games from polymer. Cat is a very good photographer: peterbrownartist.com I also came across an interesting article about an exhibition in 2015 of all the family’s art:
Augustus John had noticed Peter Brown’s portraits when the latter was studying at the Slade School of Art in London and invited him to his studio. Catherine is a talented artist herself (mainly still life) and met her husband when she went to his art classes. The house is decorated with their artwork and I was given a private tour!
On Thursday morning I had breakfast with Catherine and another chat. She’s very easy to get on with and seems to enjoy my company. She’d told me last night about Titirangi Hill (the hill that dominates the town) and the Mt Everest challenge for people to walk up it 68 times within 2 months as it’s 130 meters high and that multiplied by 68 equals the height of Everest. Catherine had done this 3 years running but decided to double the 68 times then treble it, often walking up it twice or three times a day. She said it became an obsession.
So I walked up it (just once) and took my time. It overlooks the town with its river, harbour and beach:
Near the summit was a Pohutakawa Tree (known as NZ Christmas tree as it blooms before Christmas) which had been planted by Princess Diana in 1983:
I walked back down and followed the Heritage Walk, all to do with the Maoris who first lived in the area and the landing of James Cook, who named the area Poverty Bay as he couldn’t get the supplies he required here. It was another very hot day today so I stopped off for a drink by the harbour and wrote a few Christmas cards. Then crossed the river to walk along the side of the town beach, then to a few Opp shops before they closed.
On the way back I stopped to chat to a man who’d blown up various inflatable Christmas figures in his garden (that yesterday were lying on the ground) and was busily putting up lights. I asked if I could take a picture as it seemed so strange to me having Christmas in the summer and asked when he’d switch the lights on. He said there would be a practice run tonight.
Back at the house I sat outside with Catherine eating a nice salad dinner she’d prepared and strawberries with yoghurt chatting about so many things then, when it got dark, I suggested we walk to check out the Christmas lights at the man’s house. He had a few on but he’d deflated all the figures so not worth a photo. Catherine knew of another house that usually had lights up so we walked there and it was very impressive. Back to the house where we chatted until 11pm. I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking with Catherine, a lovely lady, and hope that we will meet up again either in NZ or should she pay a visit to England.
The next day, Friday 29th, after a leisurely breakfast I left Catherine’s at 10am for the drive to Napier. I had it in my mind that it was just along the coast but it was a 3 hour drive and 214km. I didn’t see the sea at all until arriving just before Gisborne as state highway 2 goes inland. It was another hot day. About halfway I stopped at Wairoa, a town on the Wairoa river, because it looked nice but it really wasn’t. Had a quick bite and continued on to Napier to Peter and Beth’s, the Airbnb where I’d stayed for 5 nights back in August. I’d arranged with Peter, when I met him in Whitianga, to pay him in cash rather than go via the website and he told me he’d blocked out 29th for me. On arrival, Beth seemed surprised to see me (she’d forgotten my name as had probably had 60 or so other guests since me) and Peter was asleep on the sofa. He’d forgotten I was coming and they were embarrassed as hadn’t made the bed from the previous guest.
I took a walk into town along the Esplanade and via the supermarket for some supplies. Back at the house, their son Tim (who I’d briefly met before) and his wife Ellie were there and I was invited to join them all. Ellie is an Israeli who met Tim via a Christian dating website. After emailing for a while Tim travelled to Israel to meet her, they got on well and married a few months later both coming to Napier to live where they’ve recently bought a house. They had also flown to NZ, and had in quarantine, a Labrador/Retriever called Dooby that Ellie had rescued and this cost them a total of $8000! Lucky dog!
We had some wine, they got a takeaway while I had some leftovers from yesterday’s salad meal, and I enjoyed the conversation. There was another Airbnb guest, an Argentinian girl called Lucia, a Nutritionist, who’d come to Napier for a day’s conference. We hardly saw her and she left early the next morning.
Another leisurely breakfast chatting mainly to Peter and I left at 1030am stopping off first at the Salvation Army Opp shop where I picked up some white cut offs (I’d given the other two pairs of cut offs, which were a bit tight, to Catherine in exchange for some nice shorts she gave me) and two nice tops then got on my way to the Park Hotel in Ruapeho. This was a lovely drive, circuitous as usual, and I really enjoyed looking at the scenery driving at 80kmph and not the 100kmph limit which meant having to pull in to let other cars go past.
The route was via Lake Taupo, travelling a long way round it. For at least 30km around the lake there were hundreds of cyclists, fortunately on the other side of the road, but as the roads are mainly single lanes it meant traffic on the other side encroached on my side as they overtook the cyclists. I guess closing off the route for the event would have caused too much of a problem as there aren’t many other roads to divert onto. A google search revealed that it was the annual Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, one of NZ’s biggest annual sport participation events. It started in 1977 and had just 26 participants but has grown to around 7000 riders from all over NZ and 20 countries. There was a variety of riders, some wearing their club colours, the occasional child and some who clearly hadn’t done much training. They raise thousands of dollars for local charities and have 14 different event categories, one being the 160km ‘Round the Lake’ – one lap circumnavigation of Lake Taupo – which no doubt attracts the elite riders.
So that was interesting but I really think, for the safety of the riders, they could have closed the road for that one day. I might even email them to say how concerned I was, not just for the cyclists but also for the vehicles dodging each other as well. Soon after there was a lookout opportunity and chance for a quick picnic lunch. Lovely views:
I was looking forward to the next 3 nights in the Park Hotel, Ruapeho, located in Tongariro National Park, used in the winter by skiers and mainly in the summer by people walking the Tongariro Crossing, my reason for coming. I wasn’t disappointed with the hotel and had a carb loading of pasta in the restaurant for dinner in anticipation of burning it all off the next day. A large group of Spanish speaking people arrived. In the dining room was a mix of people about to do the walk and others who’d just done it. It had started raining as I approached the area and continued on and off in the late afternoon/evening. Rain was forecast for the next day but not until the afternoon. Advice is to be prepared for all weathers as it’s alpine conditions. Mount Ruapeho still has snow on the top.
I didn’t sleep at all, no idea why, but got up at 6am as had booked the first shuttle bus at 7am to the start of the walk which is NZ’s best one day hike and is 19.4km long. I was feeling excited and positive about the walk. It starts at 1120m, climbing the Mangatepopo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through South Crater before climbing again to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1886m. Tongariro National Park is the home of Mordor from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ film and Mount Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom.
The first climb was mainly up steps, with some short flat sections in between. I’d been dreading the ‘Devil’s Stairway’ but it really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The second section before the summit was mainly over rocks and stones. I had my walking poles which made these sections so much easier but there were lots of younger people who were finding it hard work without. Over the top there was a lot of sliding down scree rewarded with views of the Emerald Lakes and then one large lake called Blue Lake. These are considered sacred to the Maori people and the water is not to be touched nor stones thrown into it. The final descent seemed to go on for ever down steps and along board walks, winding round and down (a bit monotonous really but I still enjoyed it) until it ended up in forest and eventually led to the car park at Ketetahi Road. I’d jogged and walked fast through the forest section to try and make the 3pm shuttle bus (the next one being at 4.30pm) and just made it!
At a couple of points before the summit there were signs warning you that this was the point where things would get harder so you should turn back if you didn’t feel up to it. I noticed a few people did turn back although some had walked to the summit then retraced their steps.
During the walk I met a German woman who was travelling with her ex colleague as they’d both retired recently from teaching. Her colleague didn’t want to do the walk but had gone to visit a waterfall. It transpired that they’d been housesitting in Oz and NZ via Trusted Housesitters. I met another younger German woman called Beatie who was travelling for 6 months and had hired a car for 3 of those which she could sleep in. Also a nice Spanish couple (part of the group in my hotel) and had a brief conversation with them.
There were quite a few people doing the walk and I got the impression that should anyone have a problem someone would come to your aid, there seemed to be camaraderie as we were all there to achieve our goal of walking the walk!
The scenery was much better than I’d expected, in fact it was stunning with initially marshland, then volcanic matter, beautiful red coloured rock (the Red Crater) and the forest. Fantastic views for miles. The weather was pretty cold, in fact I wore 4 layers for most of the time, a hat and gloves. There was quite a wind blowing as well. I later learnt that Search and Rescue have the most call outs in NZ on this walk and specifically after the summit, presumably people being tired and missing their footing. The good thing was that the bus driver had our names for the initial pick up and if by the last bus anyone hadn’t returned by then a search would be initiated.
So many fabulous views on this walk:
There’s a great video about the walk on YouTube by NZ Mountain Safety Council ‘The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Alpine tramping (hiking) series/New Zealand which is worth a watch (problem is I don’t know how to embed the link here).
Monday morning I woke late, unusually, probably as a result of yesterday’s exertions. I did do some stretching exercises with an American woman on YouTube (Annie would be impressed) and that really helped my legs i.e. I could walk without difficulty. I faced about on my iPad and then took a drive out to Whakapapa village and to the ski area. You can ride a gondola to the top of Mt Ruapeho, which I’d been told was worth doing, however there was no one about and it clearly wasn’t going. The visibility was pretty poor so I presumed that was why. The ski village was certainly very different to the French/Swiss Alps but then it is a volcano. I stopped to take photos but had been rather spoilt for views yesterday. I marvelled at a man who was skateboarding down a section of the main road, not that there was much traffic but, even so, pretty extreme.
I paid a visit to the I-site centre to discover that the Tongariro Crossing Walk wasn’t recommended today owing to the weather and is cancelled tomorrow, so was glad I managed to do it yesterday but a shame for those who can’t. However, there will always be some idiots who’ll disregard the advice although they would need transport each end which could be difficult to arrange.
My second port of call was the Chateau Tongariro (hotel), also recommended, built in 1929. I had looked into having high tea there but the amount of food and price put me off so I settled for earl grey tea and a scone instead in the lounge by one of the picture windows. The Lonely Planet guide to NZ describes the hotel’s grandeur as an touch faded’ and I thought it was pretty ugly, not resembling a chateau in the slightest:
I enjoyed a gin and tonic in the bar back at the hotel before a fish and chip dinner.
I’d only briefly seen Deb, my Airbnb host in Prospect (a prosperous residential area in the north of Adelaide) when I arrived evening of Tuesday 25 February. I thought I had a private bathroom – but got that wrong – however my room was quite large with a huge comfy bed, TV, armchair and large desk. It’s never been a problem so far sharing a bathroom but is always a luxury to have an en suite.
The next morning (26th) I had a bit of a chat with Deb before she went to work. She works as a customer service assistant in the police station, taking the pressure off the police by answering the phone, reporting thefts and car accidents etc. She’d got back last night from work at 9.30pm and started again at 9.30am. At the moment there’s another Airbnb guest, Hasham, Indian, studying for a Masters in Construction at Adelaide University. He has a few cultural issues that don’t fit in here such as putting used toilet paper in a bin, showering for ever and soaking the floor mat and floor (which I usually end up wiping and hanging the mat out on the line) and spending ages in the toilet coughing up phlegm, which rather put me off my breakfast. But apart from those unpleasantries he’s a nice chap, respectful and intelligent. He must come from a wealthy family to be able to afford to study in Oz and pay the rent, which compared with Indian rents must be exorbitant.
I went off to the local supermarket and a good fruit and veg shop to get some supplies. Not all Airbnb hosts will allow use of their kitchen to cook, sometimes just the microwave, but Deb does, although I decided to keep things easy with salads and some ready made meals. As it was my first day in Adelaide I walked into the centre in order to orientate myself. It took about an hour and was quite pleasant as the temperature wasn’t as high as originally forecast. I picked up brochures for all the festivals (Arts Festival – that I was turned down for as a volunteer, Fringe Festival which had already started, Writers’ Week – all of the events being free and Womadelaide). I popped to the tourist information office and got a Metrocard for the transport system. Along Randle Mall I saw this charming statue, which belonged to a group of pigs, called ‘A Day Out’ completed in 1999 by the artist Marguerite Derricourt:
I checked out Elder Park, where Tim Minchin’s free concert is to be held on Saturday (in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Arts Festival) and the Pioneer Women’s Park opposite where all the Writers’ Week events are being held. I noticed, really for the first time on this trip, groups of Aboriginal people on the streets who shouted and each other and were the worse for wear as a result of the alcohol they were consuming. Sadly, alcoholism is a major problem for them. I popped into a pub on East Terrace for a ‘happy hour’ beer until 5pm when the parks opposite (renamed The Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony during the Fringe) opened their gates for Fringe events, which is where most of them take place. I had a quick look around them before getting a 235 bus back ‘home’.
I had a bit of a chat with Deb in the evening and she kindly gave me a glass of white wine. She’d unfortunately had a minor car accident when a girl driving the car behind her bumped into her when traffic braked suddenly. She didn’t seem overly bothered. She told me she’d been born in Birkenhead, England and brought by her parents to Australia when she was 6. She recently celebrated her 60th birthday and has two daughters. Not sure what’s happened to her husband and I have diplomatically not asked yet (I later found out he’d had an affair and she divorced him). She loves her job but told me that, should she have to give up her current job she’d like to train as a barista (not barrister) because she likes people and coffee. She’d done a lot of travelling and is planning her next trip to Europe to include England and Portugal. Her house is a lovely heritage house, quite large – one floor with four bedrooms (one hers with an en suite and the others all rented out via Airbnb). There’s a lot of interesting art.
On Thursday 27th I decided to stay ‘at home’ writing and padding out my blog mainly and checking the festival programmes in order to book a few tickets. I doubt I’ll go to anything much at the Arts Festival as most events are horrendously expensive apart from a couple of things. The fringe events are much more accessible price-wise. I just went out for an hour’s walk for a break, checked out the local library and bought a bottle of wine for tomorrow night. Deb went out with friends to a fringe event.
Friday 28th I decided to go to the Art Gallery. As I walked along Rundle Street (one of the main central shopping streets) I noticed that a large ‘Dolls’ House’ that was being constructed on Wednesday and part of the Arts Festival was now open and there was a small queue. I went in but wasn’t overly impressed, but guess it’s different and might appeal more to children:
This was specially commissioned for the festival. It was designed by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi who has been ‘transforming public spaces in jaw-dropping ways across the world since 2000’. Apparently this dolls house has been created once before outside the Palau’s de Tokyo art museum in Paris.
Then I had a meander around the war memorials en route to the Art Gallery:
I was rather impressed by a University building, the Mitchell building, opened in 1881 designed by William McMinn. The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874 and operated out of rented premises until this building was completed. It’s built in the Gothic style and has a grand staircase and mezzanine landing, stained glass windows, arches and a hammer beam roof (although I couldn’t go inside to see for myself as this was what I read outside!). The stone used is quite common around Adelaide:
I had an extremely enjoyable few hours in the art gallery: the Art Gallery of South Australia to give it its correct title. Each room was themed which incorporated a mix of old and new art, indigenous, Australian and European. There were a few Rodin sculptures and a Barbara Hepworth. I was surprised to see a man reading aloud in one room and it turned out he was Mike Parr, a leading artist whose work includes performance, drawings, print, sculpture and photographs. On this occasion he was on the first day of a six-day duration reading, testing the limits of his voice, stamina and body. He was reading the same page over and over. I had to ask myself, why?! and it got very tedious, I could almost recite it myself:
Some artwork that drew my attention:
I’d been invited to dinner by Chris, my good friend Helen’s sister, who lives in Adelaide and at 6pm her husband, Alan, picked me up as it was a fair distance to their home and complicated by bus – several buses in fact. Chris looked just like an older version of Helen (11 years older) and we got on immediately as Helen said we would. It was lovely having ‘real food’ – salmon, roasted vegetables and salsa followed by a nice fruit pudding washed down with some decent red wine. We had a nice chat and I used Uber for the very first time to go back ‘home’.
Saturday 29th was the first day of six of Adelaide Writers’ Week: the literary part of the Adelaide Festival with all events free and in the evening there was a free concert by Tim Minchin to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival.
The events were held in Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, handily opposite Elder Park where the Tim Minchin concert was to be so I figured I could keep an eye on how the queue was going and join it early. There were two main stages for the literary events, west and east, in the open air under trees with some blue triangular canvas pieces strung across to give some shade. It was no problem getting a seat although I’d expected it would be given that it was all free but there’s so much going on (this, the fringe, the arts festival and next weekend Womadelaide) that I expect people have lots of choices. The locals call this period in Adelaide ‘Mad March’.
I tried to pick events mainly on Australian authors or issues. I decided to take notes for future reference which I’m including here which could be dull for some readers! Australia is now paying its respects and homage to the indigenous people, recognising how poorly they’ve been treated, and before every single event the interviewer would read out something like the following: “We acknowledge the Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains, the Traditional Owners of the lands upon which the Festival takes place, and we pay our respects to Elders past and present”. This at times seemed like tokenism, some chairs clearly hadn’t rehearsed it but others put it across in their own words as if they meant it. I couldn’t help but think that it could just have been said once a day and/or a notice displayed prominently with the words. It was also acknowledged that writers’ week was taking place in the Pioneer Women’s Garden – a tribute to the pioneer women of South Australia.
The first event I attended was on a book called ‘The Yield’ by an Australian author: Tara June Winch, described in the programme: ‘As Albert Gondiwindi’s (known as Poppy) family gathers to mourn his death, his returning granddaughter August is forced to confront past trauma, both personal and colonial. But she also discovers Poppy’s last big project, the chronicling of his life through the language of his people, the Wiradjuri. Tara June Winch burst on the literary scene with her dazzling debut ‘Swallow the Air’. Her stunning new novel, ‘The Yield’ – sad and angry, wise and uplifting – documents both the power of indigenous language and, uniquely, the language itself’
This event was chaired by Angela Savage and I found it fascinating. Tara had a white mother and Aboriginal father. Her father was taken from his family when he was 3 (part of the ‘Stolen Generations’), and she wrote this book as a gift to him using his native language (although I thought to myself that he probably wouldn’t have remembered that language). She worked with a linguist and was mentored by a Nigerian Nobel laureate (didn’t catch his name and there have been several). Poppy, in the book, is one of the narrative voices who is a mix of her father and grandfather. She uses the dictionary as a vehicle for telling Poppy’s story and read a passage out which I thought was very clever.
The next I went to was ‘A ladder to the sky’ by John Boyne, an Irish author, who wrote ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. Chaired by Nicole Abadee who was very good. I’d heard the author speak before and had enjoyed him. This novel is about a young man called Maurice who wants to be a writer. He’s a charming sociopath who meets an older writer called Erich who is captivated by him and pays for him to accompany him on his travels first class. Maurice is using him. He gets to have dinner with Gore Vidal who sees through him. The book is “a savagely comic exploration of art and morality that asks “To whom does a story belong?” His book ‘The hearts of visible furies’ is the one most people tell him they enjoyed. He told us he saw a section in a bookshop in Sydney called ‘Plotless Novels’ – currently a trendy genre! Authors he likes are Ann Tyler, Sarah Waters, Rose Tremain, John Irving – all good storytellers and ones I like too.
The third event I attended was ‘Addressing modern slavery’ a book written jointly by Martin Boersma and Justine Nolan. Chair: Rick Sartre. Modern slavery includes control, forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage. There are now around 40 million people enslaved, 16 million of whom are working in the global economy. An Australian businessman, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest called on the Federal government of Australia to survey the extent of modern slavery in Oz. He founded the ‘Walk Free’ initiative in 2010 to work towards ending modern slavery in all its forms. There’s a ‘Good on you’ app in Oz that gives ethical brand ratings.
My final event was ‘An Orchestra of minorities’ by Chigozie Obiama described in the programme: “After being shortlisted for the Booker with his debut novel, ‘The Fishermen’ Chigozie Obiama impressively did the same with his next, ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’. In this tragicomic recasting of ‘The Odyssey’, humble chicken farmer Chinoso risks all for love, suffering vast and vicious indignities in his quest to win approval from his fiancé’s horrified family. Narrated by Chinoso’s ‘chi’, or guardian spirit, ‘An Orchestra….’ audaciously weaves ancestral knowledge through this epic contemporary tale of the turmoil of the downtrodden”.
This was chaired very well by Linda Jalvin. Chigozie is Asst Professor of Literature at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He always said he’d write a cosmological novel for Africa – inspired by having read ‘Paradise Lost’ and Dante’s ‘Inferno’. In Nigeria it’s believed that people have a chi, or guardian spirit, before they’re born and at the end of their lives. He said that so many things were destroyed in the psyche of the African when the West colonised – such as religion and beliefs. It was believed that a person who disagrees with their guardian spirit went insane. The novel is inspired by a true story.
All these events had been really interesting but after the last one I popped over the road to see if a queue had started forming for the Tim Minchin concert. It had, but there were only 3 people in it so I decided to join them and sat in the shade with a young woman called Megan Doherty. It was only about 2.30pm and the concert was due to start at 8pm with gates opening 4 or 5pm. I got talking to Megan who was a musical theatre actress so we discussed the shows she’d been in and I told her some of the shows the Cotswold Savoyards had done. It turned out she loved Gilbert and Sullivan and was very familiar with Sondheim and many other shows the Savs’ had staged. She did her degree at Ballarat, apparently a good place for theatre and the arts and somewhere I’ve been recommended to visit before.
Once the gates opened we got a place on the grass not too far from the stage. Her father Paul and friend (clearly in musical theatre too) Brenton joined us. It seemed forever before the concert started which began with an Aboriginal ceremony with the two directors of the Festival and some dancing before Tim appeared. He’s been touring with his amazing band (guitarist, percussionist, drummer, Bass saxophonist, trumpeter and trombonist) in ‘Upright’. I was, as always, astounded by his piano playing. He sang a few songs, including ‘Ginger’ and at one point forgot the words to one song, which didn’t surprise me as they are all so wordy, but we didn’t care and he made fun of it. His encore was ‘When I grow up’ from his musical ‘Matilda’ accompanied by fireworks, which made a nice change from the 1812 overture! I walked back ‘home’ having had a fabulous evening.
On Sunday 1st March I attended 7 events, the maximum! The first was ‘A woman like her: the short life of Qandeel Baloch’ by Sanam Maher and chaired, not very well, by Deb Whitmont who basically read from her notes. “Qandeel Baloch grew up in rural Pakistan in a conservative Muslim family, making her an unlikely social media star – her country’s first. In July 2016 the woman dubbed the Pakistani Kim Kardashian was murdered by her brother, another victim of a misnamed “Honour Killing”. Sanam Maher’s account of Qandeel’s short life transcends her tragic death to become an illuminating and important investigation into Pakistan’s class, gender and sexual mores, and the impact of social media on a country struggling with its contemporary identity”.
Sanam said that Pakistani people had never seen women behaving as Qandeel did, who posted that she had crushes on people. They had never seen a Pakistani woman seeking attention in this way before. There was a lot of outrage and hateful comments on social media. Her brother murdered her as said she had brought shame on the family. It was horrifying to see the reactions to her murder – people were saying they were glad they didn’t have to see her any more and that she got what she deserved. These reactions made the author question how they had got to that point and was looking into the questions: “what does it mean to be famous?” and “what does it mean to go viral?”. Before she was murdered Qandeel got rape threats and death threats but didn’t back down. She saw social media fame as allowing her to get opportunities as she wanted to be an actress and singer. She got invited onto TV shows and became political.
She posted a ‘Valentine’s day’ video and the President said it wasn’t what a Muslim should do. She challenged this, saying she could do it if she wanted and that politicians were corrupt. The reactions she got made her question her followers who had double standards. They were watching her videos, then posting hateful comments so why were they watching them? She was constantly upping the ante after the Valentine’s video. She did become an actress.
Qandeel came from a very poor background: she was one of 13 children. She said the internet was a place of equality. She was invited as a guest onto a talk show, another guest being a well known cleric who was often on TV. They hit it off on the show and she met up later with him in his hotel room in Karachi. She posted on Twitter that he’d behaved inappropriately with her and there was a photo of him appearing dishevelled. She got a lot of support, people saying the clergy were hypocrites and the cleric became a national joke. This also opened her up to outrage from people who supported the cleric. A picture of her passport photo was posted which had a different name from the name she’d been using. Details given were that she had been married off when she was 16, had an abusive marriage, had a child who she left with her husband. People then started passing judgement on her family, asking if her brothers found it shameful as they accepted her money but should do something about it. She had a lot of support from young people. Her brother was imprisoned for life for her murder.
Legislation changed after Qandeel’s murder. Previously the family of the victim could forgive the perpetrator and that would be that. Now they can only save the perpetrator from the death penalty. After her death a TV series was made of Qandeel’s life but was not very accurate. Not a book I will be buying or reading.
The next event was not as listed but was ‘Diving into glass’ by Caro Llewelyn, and very interesting. Caro read from the beginning of the book which talked about how she’d always run but one day was running in Central Park, didn’t feel quite right and discovered she’d wet herself. She eventually got diagnosed with MS. The book is a memoir, mostly about her father who was struck down with polio aged 20 when he was in the Navy. He went on to lead an extraordinary life and was very positive despite being 95% paralysed. Instead of thinking “Why me?” he thought “Why not me?”and thought it would be an interesting life from then on, He was one of the last cases of polio before a vaccine came into use. He never pitied himself. He had 2 marriages and 4 children. Caro’s mum was his nurse when he was in hospital for a year. Her parents opened a store which was a mixed business of a library, book exchange and dry cleaning. People started telling him that they had a room to rent so they set up and ran a very successful letting agency. They opened Llewelyn Galleries and another. He went on to work for the government.
Originally the art gallery was run from their home so people could come to them. It worked very well so they built a purpose built gallery in the back yard which became the most successful gallery in South Australia. Caro felt she should lead an adventurous life like her father had and now she has MS is trying not to be limited by her circumstances. She became a mother aged 24 with a man 15 years her senior. The relationship only lasted a year. Her son, Jack, is now 31. Caro’s dad used to read to her all the time. Her mum became a poet and took her to the Adelaide Festival. Caro worked at Random House, became artistic director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival and worked with Salman Rushdie for 4 years in New York on the Penn Festival – mainly focussing on books in translation. She saw on a card “Leap and the net will appear” – a mantra she uses. Caro was diagnosed with MS in 2009, 3 years after moving to New York. She’d been under a lot of stress with her job. This book certainly sounds like a worthwhile read, but won’t be at the top of the pile and, to be honest, I’ll probably never get to it.
The third event was quite an eye opener: ‘The way through the woods: mushrooming and mourning’ by Long Litt Woon, and Tory Shepherd was a good chair. “When Long Litt Woon’s husband of 32 years died suddenly at work at age 54 the world, as she knew it, ended. Stupefied by shock and grief, she first sought solace in familiar realms of healing like yoga and meditation but found it unexpectedly in mushrooming. ‘The way through the woods’ is a unique, informative, surprisingly funny and deeply affecting memoir of finding hope after despair. “I went into the forest and came out of my grief” Woon says”
Woon is an anthropologist living in Norway. One year after her husband died she enrolled on a ‘mushrooming for beginners’ course while she was still in a dark place. She describes the euphoria she felt on finding her first edible mushroom and had thought that feeling of happiness had gone. Trumarello is her favourite mushroom, which is expensive to buy so thrilling to find it in the wild.
Mushroomers have secret places where they’ve found mushrooms which they rarely disclose to others so she was excited when an elderly man showed her his secret porcini spot. The mushrooms weren’t big enough to pick so he put leaves and twigs over them to conceal them for later. When he returned to check on them there was a dead man lying on top. He did the decent thing and called the police!
There is a subculture in Mushrooms. What’s toxic in Norway may not be elsewhere. You can take an exam in Norway to become a certified mushroom expert which Long did and this was very important in her grieving process, it gave her a sense of direction. She found the society was not happy about magic mushrooms and they were never spoken about. However, she met a man who grew them and would give them to interested people. After her book was published she tried a small one and saw geometric patterns but got bored. She had an incredible feeling of someone loving her unconditionally. She didn’t try them again though. Micophobes: people who hate mushrooms, micomaniacs: people who love mushrooms. She would sometimes leave the forest with no mushrooms but still feel happy. There are 400 types of mushrooms in Central Park alone. Her mushroom society arranges trips to go elsewhere to search for mushrooms. The biggest mushroom is Humungous Funghus which is the size of several football fields! Mushrooms are very resilient and can grow in the desert.
Fourth event ‘Improvement’ by Joan Silber, an American novelist. Probably not a book I’ll read so I’m not writing about it and I left before the end.
Fifth event was ‘The Uluru Statement: where the bloody hell are we?’ With Megan Davis and Thomas Mayor chaired by Clare Wright, Professor of history at Latrobe University, Melbourne. “In May 2017, the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ was released, a roadmap for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution that was the result of an unprecedented process of consultation by the Referendum Council, an organisation set up with bipartisan support. Despite hostility from the Federal Government, the Uluru Statement continues to garner strong support from Australians from all walks of life. Megan Davis and Thomas Mayor were integral to its development: they explain the process and the vital need for a Voice, Treaty and Truth”.
Megan Davis: Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional lawyer, University of New South Wales. Thomas Mayor, from the Torres Straits, now living in Darwin, spent 18 months travelling around all indigenous communities to promote the Statement. The Statement includes a painting, done after the conference, including the signatures of all participants at the conference. It’s an 18 page document including Australian history going way back before colonisation and is a very important constitutional document. Professor Davis read out the Statement at the Conference and everyone was in tears – tears of joy and hope. It was a profound moment. The Statement calls for a Voice, Treaty and Truth. Want it to be a constitutional norm that the State should consult the indigenous people before making laws about them. All chances of hope are being crushed by the politicians. They’ve got to rely on the Australian people, not the politicians to bring about the change. There was a 1967 Referendum……The Uluru Statement has been handled appallingly since which is why a ‘People’s Movement’ was started. Scott Morrison made a ‘Closing the Gap’ speech 2 weeks ago.
How can Australians help? By writing to politicians, setting up local groups – supporters of the Statement, social media. Look at website: ulurustatement.org which includes a reading list. Apparently the government is about to spend $50 million on another Captain Cook statue, there are already 110!
Next event was ‘Yellow Notebook: diaries vol 1, 1978-87’ by Helen Garner and chaired well by Annabelle Crabb. Again, this is probably not something I’ll read but Helen Garner is a well known, and seemingly well loved, Australian author.
She spoke about her novel ‘This house of grief’. She’s interested in the things that other people do. She read an article in the paper about a man driving his car with his 3 children into a dam, then getting out and hitching a lift home. She wondered what sort of person would do that and went to the trial to look at him and followed the trial. The book is about that. Her book ‘The First Stone’ got her into hot water as many people were enraged by it.
My final event today was ‘You will be safe here’ by Damian Barr, a Scottish author (from Glasgow). This was chaired by Sharon Davis. Described in the programme: “ ‘You will be safe here’ a promise twice made and twice broken in this harrowing, powerful debut novel from acclaimed author Damian Barr. Sarah is interned with her son in one of the world’s first concentration camps. A contemptuous stepfather dispatches young Wilhem to a brutal training camp to learn “to become a man”. Moving deftly between the Boer War and contemporary South Africa, ‘You will be safe here’ illuminates hidden cruelties – past and present – to explore the heartbreaking legacy of trauma’
As if I hadn’t been feeling guilty enough about what we British had done in NZ and Australia to the indigenous peoples I now learnt about atrocities committed by British soldiers during the Boer War. Damian Barr is a Journalist, writer, playwright. He got the idea about this book from a newspaper article about Raymond Boys, who reminded Damian of a boy who’d gone to his school from South Africa for a year and whom he’d had a crush on but then never heard from again. The article made him ask questions about South Africa and led him to the Boer War and to discover that history is repeating itself. Raymond had been sent to a military training camp but died. Apparently he had over 60 separate injuries on his body. Wilhem in the book is based on Raymond. The camps are still running and are for white boys who don’t fit into the Afrikaans idea of masculinity.
Damian wanted to understand why there were these camps and who ran them. It was believed the Boer War would be the end of white South Africa. The British enacted the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy which created a homeless nation of women and children ‘concentrated’ into camps (the first ‘concentration camps’ and where they got their name). There were white and black camps. People had to sign their allegiance to Queen Victoria and, if they did so would e.g. have all their property burnt but leaving them something such as a chimney so they could rebuild around it. If they didn’t sign everything would be burnt, their cattle killed and innards put in the well so the water was poisoned etc. Women and children in the camps had very small rations – equivalent of 18th of a can of condensed milk per child per week meaning they quickly died of starvation.
Damian came across Emily Hobhouse’s diaries in a museum in Bloemfontein. She heard about the camps and travelled from the UK to South Africa to see them for herself. She wrote down the accounts of the women and was much loved by South Africans. She wanted to understand the suffering of the people. Damian Barr spoke to Gillian Slovo who gave him the thumbs up for writing the book.
A book recommendation by him: ‘My traitor’s heart’ autobiography by Rian Malan, and a film recommendation: ‘Breaker Mordant’ an Australian folk hero.
Lots of Australians had fought in the Boer war and, during questions, a lady said that her father had fought in it (she didn’t look old enough) and had been told they were fighting for diamonds and for Queen and country. Damian was obviously keen to continue a conversation with the lady as he said the following day, at another event, that he’d gone for dinner with her that evening.
Monday 2nd March was another full day although I did struggle! The first was ‘Mining History’s Depths’ with Damian Barr (again) and Bart Van Es with chair, Anton Enus. “Damian Barr’s ‘You will be safe here’ is a heartbreaking novel that links two dark periods of South Africa’s history to examine trauma and its terrible echoes through time. Bart van Es delves deep into his family’s history to explore the Dutch response to Germany’s murderous Third Reich in his Costa award-winning ‘The Cut Out Girl’. Their meticulously researched, beautifully told stories tread lightly across sensitive truths, powerfully demonstrating history’s resonance across fiction and non-fiction’
I’d heard Bart van Es talk about this book before, at Hay or Cheltenham, but hadn’t realised initially. He’s Professor of English at Oxford. Damian hosts ‘The Literary Salon’ (check it out online). Van Es’s book about a young Jewish girl, Lean, hidden by his grandparents. When he saw a letter written by Lean’s mother asking them to take care of her he knew there was a story. Barr spoke about letters by women and children written during the Boer he’d seen at the Bloemfontein museum as transcribed by Hobhouse.
Van Es’s family had a row with Lean in the 1980s which is why he hadn’t met her. She was in his parents’ wedding photos. His mother had secretly kept in touch with her and gave Van Es her address. The book is called ‘Cut out girl’ as no one in the family wanted to talk to her. He met her and quickly felt a deep connection with her. She had an archive of letters. He visited all 9 houses where she had been hidden from the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands. She’s now 86 and travelled with him on a book tour. She doesn’t want to be defined by her past. She’s had a lot of counselling and visited Auchwitz and has come to terms with what happened.
Second event was very harrowing, emotional and eye opening: ‘First, they erased our name: a Rohingya speaks’ by Habiburahman, now living in Australia. Described in the programme: ‘ “This is my chance to speak for my people, who continue to suffer, but who are voiceless”. Rohingya Habiburahman was 3 yrs old when the Burmese Government declared his people were not part of the country’s “recognised races”. Overnight he became stateless in his own country and the Rohingya have suffered extreme and brutal persecution ever since. This book is an urgent, first-hand account of genocide in motion – the heartbreaking personal story behind a vicious campaign of oppression and humanitarian crisis”.
This was chaired by Alice Peng who told us half her family had been killed in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Habiburahman spoke passionately. He wrote the book while in detention in Darwin. He was born in 1979 in Myanmar. He fled first to neighbouring SE Asia in 2009 and to Oz by boat spending 18 months in detention centre in Darwin. He now lives in Melbourne.
The book starts when he’s 3. When he’s older he states “I’m 15 years old and I wonder if I’ll ever reach adulthood or be murdered” – a memorable line in the book. The Rohingya people had to get permission from various authorities to study, keep chickens, grow vegetables etc. His family home was seized when he was young and when 8, that home was taken to be knocked down and military toilets installed. Rohingya people have been driven in their thousands to Bangladesh since before the events in 2017 that made headline news. They were called by a name meaning ‘sub human’. About 90% of Rohingya people are illiterate because they haven’t been allowed to study.
Habiburahman spent 20 years in a Malaysian detention centre, in and out. He joined many protest groups and was told he’d be locked up for his activities so decided to get a boat to Oz. There was an International Court of Justice ruling in January 2020 – Myanmar opposing the ruling, also China…Australia still maintains ties with Myanmar. Gambia is supporting the Rohingya people. Aung San Suu Kyi denies there has been genocide and has been siding with the military. Habiburahman feels very strongly she should be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. He asks “If it’s not genocide, what is it?”. There are 15-17 other Muslim groups in Myanmar as well as Rohingya and he believes the military (who have been brainwashed just like the German people were) will start on them. He appealed to us very passionately to help his people and for Australia to place sanctions on Myanmar. Such a terrible story which appears to have dropped out of the news. I wonder what is happening? Habiburahman still has family in the camps in Bangladesh and sends money to them.
Next was ‘Disappearing Earth’ by Julia Phillips (American) chaired by Nicole Abadee. “Julia Phillips spent a year in Kamchatka – a former closed Soviet military zone and an isolated landscape utterly unfamiliar to most Western readers – and the stunning result is ‘Disappearing Earth’. Shortlisted for the National Book Award, this unique literary thriller opens with the abduction of two little white girls and examines how their disappearance echoes across the lives of a cast of complex women. It’s a gripping, fascinating book by a striking new talent”.
Julia had studied Russian at school and thought she could immerse herself in Kamchatka to learn the language better and decided to set her book there. It’s a difficult place to get to but is fascinating culturally and historically. This not only made me want to read the book but also look into Kamchatka as a possible place to visit!
Next up: ‘Women in War’ Zahra Hankir and Sophie McNeill with Deb Whitmont in the chair: “Sophie McNeill is one of Australia’s most celebrated journalists who has reported from frontlines in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. With pathos and power, her new book ‘We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know’ tells the human stories behind the battleground’s headlines. Lebanese-British journalist Zahra Hankir’s ‘Our Women on the Ground’ is a collection of writings from Arab women reporting on conflicts in their own homelands, an important anthology that provides a new, non-Western lens through which to view familiar wars”.
Zahra said that this was the book she wanted to read so wrote it. Sophie was inspired to become a journalist because of John Pilger reporting from East Timor. Look at websites for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.
‘A Carbon Free Future’ with Tim Flannery and Ross Garnaut, chaired by Tom Griffiths, got me nodding off. They are two of Australia’s leading Climate Change thinkers and were discussing how Australia could break out of its current policy mire. I didn’t know some of the references, not being Ozzie. There didn’t appear anything new about what they were saying. Basically we need to do something and now. Praised Europe for doing more.
Then an interesting event: ‘2020 MUD Literary Prize’: “Inaugurated by the passionate readers who comprise Adelaide’s MUD Literary Club – the only philanthropic organisation in the country exclusively supporting literature – the MUD Literary Prize has swiftly established an impressive pedigree. Founded to honour a debut novel of literary fiction, past winners are Sarah Schmidt (‘See What I Have Done’) and the author whose debut novel, ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ took the country by storm, Trent Dalton.”
The winner of the prize this year is Sienna Brown for ‘Master of my fate’ and she spoke to the chair, David Sly, who is on the panel of judges. They had 30 entries, shortlisted books included ‘The Artist’s Portrait’ by Julie Keys, ‘A Lifetime or Impossible Dreams’ by Tabatha Bird, ‘Fusion’ by Kate Richardson and a novel about Kangaroo Island.
Sienna Brown’s book unearths a little known history of Australia. There were Jamaican convicts in Oz. She discovered this as volunteers as a guide at Hyde Park Barracks (old prison) in Sydney, it was raining one day in August on her birthday when she was there. She decided to check who was there on her birthday all those years before and was surprised to discover a Jamaican called William Buchanan who was transported in 1836. As she traced his story it became larger than life.
She has him speak in Jamaican Patois but chose very specific words to give a flavour of the language which was verbal not written. She wanted to get a sense of the rhythm of the language without it being too overwhelming for the reader. William’s voice changes as he gets older. He cheated death many times and became a bush ranger.
My final event for today was ‘Reading, writing and reclamation’ with Bri Lee and Lucia Osborne-Crowley, chaired by Jo Case. “Bri Lee (‘Eggshell Skull’) and Lucia Osborne-Crowley (‘I choose Elena’) are two of Australia’s most interesting, intelligent young writers. Both have also experienced significant trauma as a result of sexual assault. They refused to let the assaults define them. Embracing literature and its capacity to heal, the crimes against them became their starting points for searching potent analyses of the failings of society and its systems, and personal, deeply affecting roadmaps to an empathetic and empowered future”
I listened to them for a while but left halfway through as decided I wouldn’t be buying nor reading their books. Both very articulate young women.
First event on Tuesday 3rd was ‘The Storm’ by Arif Anwar. “Burma 1942; India 1946; Bangladesh 1970; the US 2004. Countries trembling in troubled times. Inspired by the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 that killed 500,000 people overnight, Bangladeshi author Arif Anwar’s sweeping novel threads together five lives across time and place, highlighting the tumult of Partition, the violent birth of Bangladesh and the divisions of contemporary America. ‘The Storm’ is Arif’s rich evocation of the history of his country through the personal tales of love and sacrifice of his memorable cast of characters”.
He was interviewed by Steven Gale who I’ve seen many times at Cheltenham Lit Fest and is a good interviewer. Arif was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh and now lives in Toronto. He has worked for UNICEF and is now teaching creative writing. The novel is intricately plotted which makes it a very satisfying read. It opens with the storm/cyclone – very important in the novel. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Bhola Cyclone, the greatest natural disaster possibly in human history. He wanted the Cyclone to be remembered by the Bangladeshi people and the world.
The book is divided into 3 parts: Gathering – introduction to the characters, Eye- a place of calmness, Surging – when all the threads of the book come together. After the cyclone, West Pakistan’s ambivalence towards the disaster made people think they didn’t have a good relationship. There followed a brutal 9 month Liberation War with help from India, and East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh is only 1 metre above sea level and has 700 rivers from the Himalayas, mineral rich soil making it fertile for agriculture. There is frequent flooding. The character, Sharia, is partly based on the author. The author wants to get people intrigued enough in the history so that they read more about it. The author was influenced by the big novels of James Clavell. He is trying to get to the core of what makes us human – basic desires of love and a need to belong.
Next event: “From fact to fiction” Anna Goldsworthy and Anna Krien, chaired by Tali Lavi. “Anna Krien is best known for her award-winning explorations of subjects including power and abuse in AFL (‘Night Games’). Anna Goldsworthy’s memoirs are characterised by warmth, wit, insight and honesty (‘Piano Lessons’ and ‘Welcome to your new life’). Both have just published their first works of fiction. The Annas discuss their transition from fact to fiction, the different Australias they evoke so effectively in their novels. ‘Act of Grace’ (Krien) and ‘Melting Moments’ (Goldsworthy), and the characters – both damaged and loving – that inhabit them.
’Melting Moments’- a series of moments over 7 decades which lets the reader fill in the gaps. Inspired by various anecdotes Goldsworthy was told by her grandmother. After her grandfather died her grandmother had a man friend – a radiant romance, they would go dancing and it became the kernel for this book. He moved into the retirement village with her for the last 8 years of her life.
In Krien’s book ‘Act of Grace’ there are 3 relationships: Tooey and his son, an Iraqi Pianist, and old Bert (of stolen generations) who has dementia and his daughter.
These and their non fiction books sounded interesting. Not only is Anna Goldsworthy a successful writer but also a concert pianist (her memoir ‘Piano Lessons’ is about her journey to becoming a concert pianist). Her father is also a successful writer. (I later picked up ‘Piano Lessons’ in an Oxfam bookshop and enjoyed it).
I met Chris (Helen’s sister) at 1200 for lunch at Jamie Oliver’s (one of the few still open) and her friend Jennie who has a birthday on Thursday. They met when they were living and working in Alice Springs as midwives many years ago. It was a pleasant lunch (I had a large plate of gnocchi), then we all went to ‘Reflections on writing’ with John Birmingham and John Boyne and Charlotte Wood in the chair (herself the author of several books and a future event I attended). “John Boyne and John Birmingham’s prolific writings traverse styles and genres. Best known for his bestselling ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, John Boyne has written 16 novels, short stories and his reviews appear in ‘The Irish Times’ and ‘The Guardian’. Cult classic ‘He died with a falafel in his hand’ was John Birmingham’s first published book. He has gone on to write award-winning history, science fiction, reportage and regular newspaper columns. They reflect on the challenges, joys and business of being a writer”.
They were both attracted to writing from having been taken to the library at an early age. Reading and writing are connected. Boyne has a stationery fetish – always buying nice notebooks. Birmingham was a voracious reader. When he’d read all the books in the library he went on to read the Junior Encyclopaedias from cover to cover. He copied out John O’Grady’s books to see how he’d written (apparently quite a few writers have copied other writers’ books in this way).
Boyne had the idea for ‘Boy…..’ on a Tuesday and wrote all through Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday lunch he’d written 50,000 words. It took him over and he had to go with it. Boyne does 8-10 drafts of his books, the second is his favourite and takes the longest, the story taking shape.
Both entertaining men.
Jennie and Chris left and I went to ‘See What you made me do’ by Jess Hill chaired by Victoria Purman. The book “sheds light on the social and psychological causes of domestic abuse, it’s horrifying consequences and the failure of our legal and social institutions to adequately respond. Exhaustively researched, this important and courageous book has helped reframe the national conversation about domestic abuse – who abuses, who they abuse and why – making a compelling argument that change is not only necessary but possible”.
A very good interviewer and articulate author who was clearly passionate about the subject. She said that domestic abuse came to Oz with colonisation, as in the UK at that time lots of women were abused by their husbands, there was a lot of child abuse and child prostitution. The indigenous people didn’t have doors and if there was abuse others would witness it and punish the perpetrator or exile him/her. Westerners are behind doors which is part of the problem as abuse is hidden.
Final event was ‘Guest House for Young widows’ by Azadeh Moaveni and chaired by Sophie McNeill (frontline reporter and appearing at an event about her own book). “Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, Azadeh Moaveni’s ‘Guest House…..’ is a gripping account of 13 young women who were variously recruited, inspired or compelled to leave their lives and, in some cases, countries, to join ISIS. Azadeh offers a nuanced and meticulously researched explanation of the global appeal of violent jihadism and visceral descriptions of the brutality that awaited these young women seeking community and empowerment. With some still stranded by the Caliphate’s fall, this is an urgent important book”.
This is her third book. The spark for the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. Women were a vibrant force demanding freedom, equality and inclusion. This force of women was noticed by ISIS. Women weren’t getting noticed otherwise so why not join ISIS who did notice them? The author was drawn to researching into this by following the story of the 3 Bethnal Green girls who left London aged 15 and were seen at the airport, film of them at the airport leaving shown all over the world. All from immigrant families, vulnerable girls from broken households. They felt they didn’t fit in locally, ISIS picked up on this and plied them with messages. Rebellion on the girls’ part too. 13,000 women and children and some men who were associated with ISIS are stuck in detention camps in NE Syria. No country wants them, they are the “detritus of war”.
I got up slightly later than usual on 4th March, feeling quite tired so missed the first event at 9.30am. The next event I’d picked was Jung Chang who was to discuss her latest book ‘Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister’ but she was apparently ill. Lots of people were disappointed but I’d had the privilege of hearing her speak in the past at Hay about her previous book. So I decided to go to the alternative event ‘On Grief’ with John Birmingham (who I’d heard talk yesterday with John Boyne) who has a lovely voice and Long Litt Woon, who I’d heard talk about her mourning and mushrooming book. This was chaired nicely by Natasha Cica.
The event was described in the programme: ‘Patti Smith said that it is “part of the privilege of being human that we all have the moment when we have to say goodbye”. Loss and grief come to us all, an experience both unique and universal. Long Litt Woon’s husband died suddenly, her life transformed in an instant. John Birmingham’s father was long ill, and went gently into the good night. In Woon’s ‘The way through the woods’ and John’s ‘On Father’, they reflect on the deeply personal, profoundly human experience of grief’.
Woon said her lodestar (I didn’t know this word so looked it up = a person or thing that serves as an inspiration or guide) had gone when her husband died suddenly age 54, 10 years previously. John’s father died age 78 of a very rare cancer. He mentioned the book ‘The year of magical thinking’ by Joan Didion – an account of the year following the death of the author’s husband, John Gregory Dunne. Published in 2005 it was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning.
I then attended ‘Looming Large: Technology’s Takeover’ with Robert Elliott Smith and Jamie Susskind, chaired by George Megalogenis (what a great name!) described thus: ‘Technology companies are blamed for undermining our democracies, obliterating our privacy and undercutting our industrial systems. Have they? And if so, what are we doing about it? Robert Elliott Smith (‘Rage Inside the Machine’) and Jamie Susskind (‘Future Politics’) look at the impact of digital technologies on our lives and societies, and the algorithms that invisibly drive them. They examine the case for and against these transformational tools, and the powerful companies that create them’.
Apparently the way we get news is mediated by AI – sophisticated computer programmes. Susskind said 3 big technological changes are happening at once now: 1. We’re surrounded by increasingly capable systems 2. Technology is becoming more ubiquitous/pervasive e.g. in the home, cities 3. We have an increasingly quantified society: generate more data now that is stored. It gives a window into our lives, knows where we go, what we do/buy etc.
Then I attended ‘The Challenge of Change: Women’s lives in the middle east’ chaired, very badly, by Shakira Hussein. Described: ‘A distinguished panel explores the extent of change in the lives of women in the Middle East over the last decade. Lebanese-British journalist Zahra Hankir (‘Our Women in the Ground: Essays from Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World’), Iranian-American journalist and author Azadeh Moaveni (‘Lipstick Jihad’ and ‘Guest House for Young Widows’) and Omani novelist and academic Jokha Alharthi (‘Celestial Bodies’) examine the diversity of women’s experiences across the Middle East and the challenges they face in campaigning for equality’.
The next session was one of the best I’d seen so far: ‘Tell Me Why’ by Archie Roach ‘In this deeply moving memoir, Australian musical legend Archie Roach tells his story for the first time. Best known for his anthem for the Stolen Generations, ‘Took the Children Away’, ‘Tell Me Why’ recounts the impact on his own life of being taken away, separated from family and country. He details his struggle with mental health, attempts to reconnect with his people and his triumphant redemption through music and love’ chaired by David Sly.
Archie writes autobiographical songs with very poignant lyrics. He was asked why write a book as opposed to songs now? He said things happened in 2010. Firstly his partner, Ruby Hunter, died in the February and he had a stroke soon after. Then he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His manager thought it was time he wrote a book about his life. Music has been a way for him to express himself in a very positive way. The book is about family, finding family.
He was taken away from his family aged 2 and placed with foster parents, the Cox family, who he said were wonderful. They had been told by the authorities that all Archie’s family had died in a fire but he had survived. They were lied to. He got a letter from one of his sisters – he was at school, where he was known as Archie Cox, aged ? when someone came in to request that Archibald William Roach should go to the office. Something resonated with him and he knew that it was him. He went to the office and was given a letter addressed to him starting ‘Dear brother’ and informing him that his mother had died a week before. He knew he had to find his sister and went to the address on the letter in Sydney, but no one knew where she was. He initially stayed with a man who turned out to be “a dirty old man” and then lodged at the ‘People’s Palace’ in Pyrie Street run by the Salvation Army. He started drinking and met Ruby who took him to a club. He sang a couple of songs and his career started from there.
His song ‘Took the children away’ was the first song that got Australians to notice him. His first album spoke to indigenous Australians for the first time but also to white Australians. He was probably the first person to bridge the two cultures. He didn’t realise the effect it would have, just telling stories through song. He set up the Archie Roach Foundation in 2014 for young indigenous artists. He helped Jessie Lloyd get her ‘Mission Songs Project’ off the ground. She collected old songs from the missions. There was a standing ovation for Archie at the end, not surprisingly, and I felt it had been a real privilege to hear him speak. Such a very wise and forgiving man.
Next up was ‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood who I’d been impressed with when she chaired the interview with John Boyne and John Birmingham yesterday. In the programme it stated: ‘The Natural Way of Things’ was a literary sensation and garnered its author accolades and awards. Charlotte Wood’s new novel ‘The Weekend’ is equally impressive. A study in female friendship, loss and the challenges of ageing, the story unfolds over a Christmas weekend as three old friends meet to sort through the house of the recently deceased fourth in their quartet. Full of sharp characterisations, keen observations and dry, sly humour, ‘The Weekend’ is an absorbing, satisfying exploration of growing up and growing old’. Chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy.
Charlotte has a podcast talking to writers. The Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney has a centre researching cardiovascular disease and obesity. It is run by Steve Simpson who had the idea of having a creative writer there – the Judy Harris Fellowship: $100,000 for a writer to be there and write a book, just has to be there, has access to any other research centres, talk to people and see what happens. Charlotte had thought about writing a book on ageing and there was a centre for that there too.
She gave 5 reasons why she writes: 1. To make something beautiful 2. To be truthful 3. You have to make the most of the talent you have 4. To make is to add to the world not to subtract from it 5. Because, as Iris Murdoch said “paying attention is a moral act”. She has written several books and will definitely be worth a try.
I had been sitting next to a very interesting lady called Liz for these last two events and we got chatting in between them. She told me she used to work organising curriculums for the equivalent of City & Guilds for all sorts of trades and had really enjoyed it. She and her husband loved travelling and had travelled to the US for several months to see for themselves the Trump administration and meet and talk to people for and against him without judgement. From April they were travelling to the UK for 7 months but with Brexit as their main purpose, the aim to meet as many Brexiters and Remainers as possible. I thought this was a great idea and was only sorry I couldn’t welcome them into my home.
Finally I just sat in for a while on ‘Poetic Justice’ by Joy Harjo with Claire Nichols chairing. “Musician, author and poet Joy Harjo was appointed US Poet Laureate in June 2019, the first Native American to hold the position. Her journey to this literary pinnacle has not been easy – she recounts the trauma of her early life in her illuminating memoir ‘Crazy Brave’. She found redemption in the spirit of poetry. Full of wisdom and beauty, Joy’s poetry is steeped in spirituality and the great myths of her people and is a profound and poignant exploration of the universe and our place within it”.
Chaired by Claire Nichols this was being recorded for ‘The Book Show’ to be aired on Monday on Radio National, which has podcasts. Joy came to poetry through her mother’s songwriting starting aged 23. She first picked up a saxophone aged 40. She was an interesting woman and read two of her poems while I was there, one rather emotional about washing her mother just after she’d died. She didn’t do that but wanted to, and felt it strange when a stranger in a dark suit came to take her mother’s body away. I’m sure that must have touched a lot of people in the audience.
Thursday 5th March and the last day of the Writers’ Week, what a shame. I had meant to get to the first event of interest ‘The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Pell’ but was late waking (nothing to do with my being on the iPad from 4-5am of course!) so only got there towards the end. George Pell was Australia’s most powerful Catholic – a friend to Prime Ministers and the Pope’s right-hand man. Then it all came crashing down. Louise Milligan was the only journalist to tell the stories of Pell’s accusers. When Pell was charged and later convicted of sex crimes against children, Louise’s reporting on the allegations in her book ‘Cardinal’ led to her being a witness in the case. Her work won her two Quill awards and Walkley Book of the Year. She was joined in the discussion by long-time Pell observer and author of ‘The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell’, David Marr. So quite disappointing to miss that but will likely read the book when it gets into paperback. There is apparently more to come on Pell but this couldn’t be disclosed.
The next event was ‘Intimate Accounts’ chaired by Charlotte Wood: ‘Two collections of profound and deeply personal meditations on what it is to be human in today’s world. In ‘She I dare not name’, Donna Ward reflects with wry humour, fierce intelligence and unflinching honesty on a life lived in unexpected solitude. Vicki Hastrich’s ‘Night Fishing’ explores the pleasures of fishing, writing and thinking in a captivating series of observational essays on life, philosophy and the natural world. These two remarkable books lead us on a journey through the ordinary, elegantly illuminating the extraordinary in the every day’.
Vicki Hastrich worked in TV as a camerawoman amongst other things and Donna Ward founded ‘Indigo’, has been a Psychotherapist and Social Worker. Place is central to both their books. Donna has lived on her own all her life and her house became her companion. Vicki holidayed in Woy Woy, New South Wales, as a child and it felt more real to her than her suburban home. Has a holiday home there and returns regularly. Vicki had been writing her novel for 4 years and couldn’t get it to work so decided to stop completely. She went around galleries looking at artworks and then reading what the artists said about their works. She has reframed her writing as a life of enquiry instead.
Donna was asked what was the difference between solitude and loneliness. She answered that solitude is more wholesome, a sense of contentment in life and loneliness is a sense of being alone but not in a positive way, can involve depression and a sense of alienation. She’s solitary and enjoys it but wouldn’t have felt like this if she hadn’t gone through a depressive stage, loneliness and despair. She hadn’t expected to be on her own. She said she thinks you have to go through depression and loneliness to reach solitude but it took her a long time to be happy with her marital status and happy being a spinster. I could completely understand what she was saying as didn’t expect to live my life alone, have gone through the stages she mentioned but now feel pretty content (most of the time) with a solitary life. Donna describes herself as a ‘spinster’ not ‘single’ as ‘single’ people may have been divorced, widowed, single mothers etc which she hasn’t been. I hate, and always have, the word ‘spinster’ – ever since I overheard a neighbour in my first flat describe me as a ‘spinster’ – it’s such an ugly word. Maybe ‘bachelorette’ – or am I too old for that?
Donna was influenced by ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ (the second time this book has been mentioned so must be worth a read) and the complete poetry of T.S.Elliott – ‘Journey of the Magi’ a particular favourite that she reads most days. Vicki mentioned ‘41 false starts’ by Janet Malcolm as being important to her. Edna O’Brien said “a person becomes a writer because they have an intensity of feeling that normal life can’t accommodate”.
Next: ‘The Inscrutable Senator Wong’ (I had marked to go to ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi but had heard her talk about it before, either at Hay or Cheltenham) and well chaired by Tory Shepherd. Margaret Simons, Australian journalist, was presenting her biography on Penny Wong, a Labour politician. I hadn’t heard of her and, as I’m supposed to be immersing myself in Australian culture as much as possible thought I should attend. Described in the programme: ‘Gay, Malaysian-born, female – Penny Wong is an unlikely hero of the Australian Labour Party. But her sharp mind, fierce integrity and political acumen has seen the Senator from South Australia rise through Labour ranks and achieve a national popularity that transcends partisan loyalty. For this first major biography Margaret Simons spoke to Penny’s inner circles – and scored interviews with the elusive politician herself – to deliver a fascinating and comprehensive account of the life and times of the enigmatic Senator Wong’.
Margaret Simons said she asked Penny Wong three times if she could write her biography and was told no. However, in the end she did and Penny didn’t stop her, didn’t prevent her talking to the people that know and work with her and in the end gave her 6 interviews herself. She is formidable and can be extremely cutting and makes enemies internally. She is also very shy and introvert, finds campaigning a real toll and hates going to parties. She is head and shoulders above everyone else in Parliament intellectually.
Penny was devastated at the result of the 2019 election and seriously thought about giving up. She’d like to be Minister for Foreign Affairs if Labour wins the next election and had prepared herself for that role in the 2019 election, assuming Labour were going to win it. People think she would be the best ever in that role. She’s never wanted to be PM despite the fact people have told her to run for it. Apparently she has ‘eyebrow moments’ – raising an eyebrow at certain times and her eyebrows used to have a Twitter account!
Next was ‘Stolen Lives’ with Antonio Buti and Jennifer Caruso with not the best chair, Paul Daley. ‘A sick baby is taken to hospital by his concerned father. Once he’s recovered, baby Bruce is fostered out to another family without the consent or knowledge of his parents. Antonio Buti’s ‘A Stolen Life’ tells the story of Bruce Trevorrow, the only member of the Stolen Generations to successfully sue an Australian Government for compensation. Dr Jennifer Caruso, herself a member of the Stolen Generations, is a leading researcher on the traumatic legacy of Australia’s ‘Child Removal’ policies’.
Stolen Generations from turn of 20th century to the 1970s and it’s alleged children are still being taken now. No definitive number of how many children were removed but there are approximately 17,000 people who were removed alive today so obviously there were far more. The children were lined up, darker ones went to Catholic missions and the lighter ones to Methodist missions. Sometimes children were split up from their siblings.
Bruce was taken by foster parents on Christmas Day in 1957 when he was 13 months old. His British foster parents thought he was a baby girl until they removed his nappy. He stayed with them for 10 years but it had been difficult, and then went to live with his mother, he was in and out of care, got involved with petty crime and drank heavily. He had 3 siblings who hadn’t been removed who went on to have good lives.
Antonio said there were 5 reasons why Bruce’s case succeeded, two of them being that there was a great Judge presiding who wrote a beautiful judgement and Bruce had good lawyers. There was also written evidence that he had been removed without his parents’ knowledge or consent. There is a ‘Bringing Them Home’ report.
A lot of facts were missing for me (probably have to read the book). During question time, Antonio became very uncomfortable when asked if Bruce had received the money as he had died, aged 54, about a year after winning the case. Antonio didn’t appear to have much knowledge as to what had happened to him or if he had got the money, which seemed strange to have just ignored him after writing the book. A man in the audience mentioned that Bruce wasn’t the only person to have successfully sued for compensation as there had been at least 10 others. Another lady said she was surprised there was no mention in his book of a group of people who had worked tirelessly on Bruce’s behalf. Antonio went red in the face, squirmed in his chair, stuttered and was extremely uncomfortable which I found fascinating to experience as had never witnessed this in all the literary festivals I’d attended. I had a bit of a discussion about that with the ladies on either side of me who were equally baffled by his defensive answers and body language.
’The Palace of Angels’ by Mohammed Massoud Morsi ‘MMM is an Egyptian-Danish-Australian photographer, journalist and writer. His latest book comprises three intimate stories of great poetic power set amongst the violence and division of the Palestinian/Israeli border. In ‘The Palace of Angels’ Morsi doesn’t shy away from the shocking brutality of his characters’ world but his beautifully written stories are full of poignancy and hope and, with subtlety and grace, lead his readers to a greater understanding of not only this volatile, contested place but also about who we are and who we imagine ourselves to be’.
This was chaired by Antony Loewenstein. My initial reaction when I saw Morsi was, what an extremely attractive man! He was dark with blue eyes and smiley. Morsi was born in Copenhagen to Egyptian parents and has lived in Perth, Australia since 2011 with his son. The book is a trilogy of novels about what you don’t hear in the news: the human side. A search for identity and they’re all based on true stories. He said Gaza is like an open air prison, the people are denied fresh water. He has visited many times and it’s quite complicated to enter with a 1km enclosed walkway. The people in Gaza feel like the world has left them behind, they feel abandoned and that their lives aren’t worth anything. This is not a political book but does include some exact tweets that Netanyahu tweeted. The author promised the people he met in Gaza who shared their stories that he would write this book.
Quote from author: “when we stereotype people it’s usually because we want to discharge something for who we are”. He is mentoring some young writers from Gaza. He works with an organisation called ‘We are not numbers’.
A lady and her husband who I got talking to after this event recommended another book called ‘I shall not hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity’ by Izzeldin Abuelaish which she said was fantastic. Apparently he’d lost a lot of his family while working in Gaza as a Doctor. So many books to read and not enough lives!
The lady, who told me she was Joanna, said goodbye to her husband (a retired dentist) and sat next to me for the next two events. She told me she was a retired piano teacher and had lived with her husband in Chelsea, London for several years. She was delightful, went dancing and they’d walked the Coast to Coast path in England 3 years before which I thought was amazing mainly because one of the days is 25 miles long. I didn’t ask her age but I’d guess late 60s/early 70s and she hardly had any grey hair. She wore a royal blue beret, jeans and a hand knitted cardigan in various shades of blue.
‘Storming the World’ was my next event choice chaired well by David Sly (who knew Rowbotham) with two Australian crime writers:’Michael Rowbotham and Felicity McLean both began their writing careers as journalists before moving into the dark art of ghostwriting. In 2002, Michael’s first novel became the subject of an international bidding war and he is now one of the world’s most successful crime writers. His latest book is ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’. Felicity looks set to follow in Michael’s footsteps after her first novel, ‘The Van Appel Girls are Gone’, became an international sensation. They discuss their books and astonishing career trajectories’. Chaired by David Sly.
This was a very entertaining event, Rowbotham has a great sense of humour and I really must read both these books. Felicity said that her book is really about an ordinary Australian childhood and she is baffled as to why it’s successful internationally as such books by Australian authors haven’t been. She thought there’s something universal about small close-knit communities. Michael Rowbotham had lived in the UK for 12 years but hasn’t set any of his books in Australia yet. Felicity had to translate Australian vernacular for publication in the US into words the Americans would know as were told American authors were the least intelligent! Words such as ‘Arvo’ changed to ‘afternoon’ and explain what a ‘dunny’ was. This seemed bizarre to me as I should think it would lose quite a lot of the feeling of place. Michael said he’d had to change a football team he’d named in one of his books to Manchester United for the American audience as they’d have heard of that team but not the original he’d used. Also had to change the title of one book for US audience which later caused confusion for people in other countries who ordered it thinking it was a new book to discover they’d read it before.
Books mentioned by them: ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper (Joanna whispered to me that it’s a very good read) and ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent.
Evie Cormack is a new character introduced in ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’ by Rowbotham. She has the ability to detect lies. Something happened to her as a child, which we don’t find out in this book. He said he doesn’t know what the end of his book will be when he starts writing. (I’ve heard authors say this before and I find it quite incredible).
In Felicity’s book the children aren’t found. She mentioned the well known disappearance of Beaumont children in Australia who were never found. ‘Sisters in crime’ organisation mentioned.
Finally the last event (other than Twilight Talk at 7pm) was ‘The Erratics’ by Vicki Laveau-Harvie and chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy. ‘VLH became a debut author in her mid-seventies with her extraordinary memoir, ‘The Erratics’. Returning to wintry Alberta after 18 years to tend to their infirm ageing parents. Vicki and her sister navigate the wilful cruelty of their harsh, mad mother and excavate the past and the psychological damage she unleashed on their family. “Be glad if you forget” she writes. A book of unsettling honesty, tar-black humour and welcome warmth, ‘The Erratics’ was the first memoir to win the Stella Prize’.
Chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy. And I thought I’d had a bad mother until I heard about Vicki’s! Her mother had been very beautiful, like Ava Gardner, in her youth. She had ‘malignant personality disorder’. Thought her girls were part of her and every achievement of theirs she took as her own. Vicki and her sister got away from home and were basically disowned. They were contacted to be told that their mother (then 90) had fallen and broken her hip and was hospitalised so their father needed help. When they got there they were shocked to find he was malnourished as had been starved by their mother. They fed him and he improved. They had to have their mother placed in a home. Their father had taken the side of their mother because he loved her. The author came across as a lovely person who had a good sense of humour but probably not a book at the top of the pile for me.
After this Joanna and I had a chat as I told her how I’d played the piano for years but had hardly touched it for the past 40. She said she had to get home to practice (she practises 2 hours per day) as had a fundraising recital in her home the next day. She then invited me to it, said it would be mainly Beethoven as it’s a big year (Beethoven was born 250 years ago and I know a lot is going on in Germany as a result). She said she’d be raising money for Kangaroo Island bush relief fund which had been badly destroyed in the recent bush fires (they’re crying out for tourists at the moment – I went there on my second visit to Australia). She said she’d be making a cake and serve tea afterwards. I accepted instantly and felt honoured to have been asked. She settled on a 4pm start, then bumped into two other people she knew, introduced me to them and invited them also. I’d gathered she knew a fair number of well known ‘artists’ (musicians I think mainly) although wasn’t showing off about this. Such an interesting woman and no doubt her husband is also (they’ve been married for 43 years, she told me) although I’d only briefly met him.
I left her chatting to the other friends and went to get a glass of wine and quiche before the ‘Twilight Talk’ from 7pm. There had been twilight talks since Monday but I’d decided not to go to them as it would have meant a late dinner plus 7 events on most days was quite enough. However, being the last day of Writers’ Week I thought I’d ‘linger in the gardens’ for their ‘last Hurrah’ for 2020 as some of their ‘funny, fierce and fearless authors offer their final reflections for the week. Addressing the Festival theme of ‘Being Human’ the delightful, distinguished line-up has 10 minutes each to ponder contemporary life and humanity in all its messy glory’. They basically stuck to the subject they’d been presenting and some of them went on a bit, particularly a woman talking about her son’s drug addiction and how he’d got through it then invited the whole family on the stage. I left before the end.
I was quite sad that it was all over and probably could have gone on and on. I felt I’d learned a lot and certainly added more books to my ever increasing list of books to read. I’d had lots of nice conversations with lovely, interesting women because, as usual, the women outnumbered the men and most of the men there were older and with wives. There were hardly any young people there because they will have been at work. At least Cheltenham and Hay Festivals are on during half term so younger people are able to attend.
The people attending seemed, to me, like a mix of the Cheltenham and Hay festival goers combined. There were a fair few smartly dressed people (like Cheltenham in the main) and bohemian-looking people (reminding me of Hay people). There were lots of hat wearers and some very bright colours dotted amongst the audiences. I’d been told that Adelaide people were quite posh.
Some of the events had ‘Auslan’ interpreters (signing for the deaf). People had to book for this in advance and not all events could be signed. I was fascinated to watch the signing done by women, two per event, who did 15-20 minutes each before handing over as, undoubtedly, it would be very tiring. At times I was distracted from the talk by watching their signing and the faces they pulled in addition to using their hands. I’d often wondered about the face pulling and asked two of them about it just before an event. I was told it was all part of the signing and that if I wanted to find out to sign up to a beginners’ Auslan course. I told them I couldn’t as was travelling (not something I’d so anyway). As I thought, they both had someone in their family who was profoundly deaf. I had noticed that there were a lot of people, not using the signers, in the audiences who were wearing hearing aids – the discreet ones.
I was impressed that every event, without question, started dead on time – something that rarely happens at the Cheltenham Lit Fest. Before questions from the audience the chair would remind people that they must stick to questions and not make statements. Unlike at Hay or Cheltenham which have a roving microphone for questions, here there was a microphone on a stand in the centre aisle where you had to line up to ask a question, I braved this on a few occasions!
Having had such brilliant experiences at the Oz Open and now this free Writers’ Week I’d ‘never say never’ now to returning to Australia for both events. Who knows?
On Friday 6th March I had nothing planned in the morning so just scratched about the house writing up this blog mainly. I left at 3pm for the bus journey (two buses) to Joanna and her husband Damian’s house in Malvern, a nice part of Adelaide. On arrival Joanna was outside in the front garden dressed very smartly in a red dress and blazer (she looked completely different to yesterday) talking to a lady called Doris whose husband, Cecil, was sitting nearby and showed signs of dementia. Doris was very attentive to him and he was very sweet, standing up to be introduced to me. Then another lady, Janice, arrived who used to sing in the same choir as Joanna, and a couple from Sydney (who Joanna had met, like me, at an event at Writers’ Week) Linda and Alex who arrived on bicycles which they’d rented for $25 per day. They were going from Joanna’s to Womadelaide.
The house was huge and very lived in – lived in for over 40 years and six children, all of whom appeared to be very talented. Joanna was not only a musician but also a very talented artist with a lot of her art adorning the walls. There was also a large and very colourful painting which I liked (of a tiger in the jungle) by her son Micheal, leaning against one of the walls and another in the kitchen, which I didn’t like so much, of a spaceman.
We were invited into a small room mainly taken up by a Yamaha Grand Piano. Joanna told us she was mainly playing Beethoven but might throw in some Chopin for Linda, whose father used to like playing Chopin and who I assumed had died. There were a couple of sofas and easy chairs which we sat in. Joanna started off by playing an old song and singing, but she sang so quietly I couldn’t understand the words at all. Nevertheless we applauded her graciously. Then she played ‘Fur Elise’ which of course everyone knew and Linda’s dad had also enjoyed playing. Joanna then introduced Beethoven’s ‘The Tempest’ piano sonata and was just about to start playing, with hands poised above the keys, when she bounced up to say something else which made me laugh. It wasn’t a sonata I knew nor particularly liked but Joanna played it very proficiently.
Cecil had a little snooze throughout with Doris looking from him to Joanna, Linda shut her eyes but had a smile on her face, I’m not so sure that Alex was enjoying it (something told me that Womad was more his thing than classical music) and Janice, a friend of Joanna and Damien for 20 years was politely listening. I couldn’t help but think what a bizarre situation I’d found myself in having only just met Joanna and Damien yesterday. Joanna then played a short and lovely piece, ‘Adieu to the piano’ attributed to Beethoven which was followed by two well known pieces by Chopin, the second being ‘The Minute Waltz’ which took Joanna a bit longer than a minute, not surprisingly.
I haven’t said how much Joanna talks, so much so that she distracts herself from what she’s meant to be doing, however it’s interesting chat. After the performance, Doris and Cecil left and the rest of us were invited for afternoon tea, although by this time it was 6pm. We admired Joanna’s and one of her son’s artwork along the hall into the large kitchen and sun lounge and chatted. Joanna put the kettle on but got distracted talking about various subjects for at least 45 minutes before making the tea. Meanwhile, Alex was getting a bit fed up as he mentioned to me he was missing a singer he particularly wanted to hear at Womadelaide (Kate Miller Heidke) who was only doing that one performance but Linda didn’t seem too bothered.
Joanna had made a lovely plum sponge cake and other sweet things and we drank our tea out of trendy mismatched cups and saucers. Alex was getting increasingly frustrated as time went on, Linda completely at ease which no doubt annoyed him even more. It was a lovely afternoon with Damian joining us for the tea part. Damian and Joanna are a very charming and interesting couple who I could quite easily become friends with if I were living in Adelaide. Alex and Linda eventually got up to leave, Joanna invited Janice and I to dinner which was very kind but we both politely declined. After saying our goodbyes, Alex and Linda cycled off to what was left of Womadelaide that day and Janice kindly drove me home.
I spent most of Saturday reading and writing then walked 90 minutes, purely for the exercise as it wasn’t a particularly attractive route, to the Ridley Centre which is part of the Adelaide Showground complex. In September they have the Royal Adelaide Show there which is apparently huge. I’d booked to see ‘Cold Blood’ starting at 6.45pm, an Arts Festival event, as it sounded intriguing and so it turned out to be. It was a theatrical piece by a group from Belgium and is really difficult to explain, but they used their fingers and small models of cities, a theatre, outdoor cinema etc which were filmed and magnified onto a screen. One particularly amazing piece was a tap dance with four fingers wearing thimbles. The people whose fingers they were must themselves have been tapdancers as they were so very well synchronised. Every now and then there was a male narrator, who had a wonderful voice, and beautiful music throughout. The narrator began the event as follows: “It’s dark. Your eyes are open, but you see nothing. You’ve switched off your phone because you’ve been asked to. You think you’re at the theatre and yet you’re already elsewhere. You will live seven deaths. Without worry, without fear. Each death is a surprise. Each death is the first. Deaths are like lives. No two are alike”. It sounds morbid but it was actually quite funny.
‘Cold Blood’ was created by a Belgian couple, Michele Anne de Mey (a dancer and choreographer) and Jaco Van Dormeal (an acclaimed director and screenwriter best known for the multi award winning feature films, ‘Mr Nobody’ and ‘Toto le heros’. In 2012 they formed ‘Kiss and Cry Collective’ with a group of other talented creatives working in the fields of writing, cinematography, design and lighting and built something entirely new and unique. Casting two human hands in the starring roles, they produced a show where a love affair, with all its associated emotions, is danced purely with digits. A tiny set for the hands/characters to live in was designed and cameras caught and projected the action onto a big screen. The text for the show was written by Thomas Gunzig, one of the most awarded Belgian writers of his generation, a star in Belgium with books translated worldwide.
So that had been an excellent choice, and the first of only two events I’d selected from the Arts Festival, because most of them were quite expensive.
On Sunday I walked into the centre to go to the ‘Dogs: a story of our best friend’ exhibition at the South Australian Museum located next to the Art Gallery, which I thought would be more interesting than it turned out to be and, had I known, wouldn’t have spent $15 on! The most interesting part for me was at the beginning with screenshots of quotes about dogs:
Then I had a look at the Aboriginal and Pacific Islands exhibits, interested to see the New Caledonia and Vanuatu sections as I’m travelling there soon. I sat outside and read my book for a while before a short woman (about my age) arrived with a backpack looking at a map. She asked me where the river was as had been directed to walk along the river to a campsite. I got talking to her and she said her name was Dee and had just arrived from Scotland. She said she had travelled a lot and always camped. I had a real laugh with her because I was amazed what she had in her backpack – rivalling Mary Poppins! There was a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, small stove, saucepan and cutlery. Then out came her laptop and kindle. I thought she was an amazing woman, far more adventurous than I’ve ever been or will ever be, and she had the biggest smile on her face. She told me she’d done lots of different jobs in her life, including living in Los Angeles working for a film director, but she didn’t like the film industry. She eventually went off in search of the campsite and I was sorry to see her go.
After that fascinating meeting I went off to the first of the fringe events I’d booked held upstairs in ‘Oostende’, a Belgian Beer Cafe. The event was ‘Ashes: A Comedy Showdown’ with ‘Australia’s top comedians taking on England’s best to claim the Comedy Ashes’. There were 3 on each side and ‘England’s’ were a Scotsman, Irishman and Englishman! It was a fun 90 minutes, some of the Ozzie references going over my head as expected but the British side won (scored by the amount of applause they each got and whether they managed to keep within the 6 minute time allocation). From there it was a quick walk to another comedy show ‘Best of the Edinburgh Festival’ over at ‘The Garden of Unearthly Delights’, a name given during the Fringe to one side of the park in East Terrace where lots of the events take place, the other side of the park is called ‘Gluttony’! The comedians (two men, one woman) were all English and it was a funny hour of comedy.
Monday was my first experience of WOMAD (here they call theirs WOMADelaide) and the last day of four days held in the Botanic Gardens. I got there just after the gates opened at 11am and was given a wristband as proof I’d paid. There weren’t that many people at that stage so I had a look around some craft stalls (buying some lovely illustrated animal cards) and had a tea and Danish pastry. I walked round the site (a lovely venue I thought) to orientate myself and check out the various stages. People were putting small pop-up tents up under trees and laying rugs and blankets down as places to go in between their music fixes, and welcome shade, although they would have to have removed them every evening as overnight camping wasn’t allowed, and there were lampshades hanging up in some trees which were particularly lovely later in the evening:
There were large yoga classes at midday, which I had planned to go to but was wearing jeans so not really appropriate for downward dogging!
Just about on the hour, every hour, from 1pm until after 10.30pm there were different bands performing. I’d done my homework in advance, not having heard any of the bands before, by listening to their music on Youtube and marking those I thought I’d particularly enjoy. The first I was really excited about seeing started at 1pm on the Foundation stage – the biggest stage – coming from Malaysia called ‘Orang Orang Drum Theatre’ described in the programme: ‘Transforming a traditional art form into something new, vibrant and colourful, Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s eleven performers use precision percussion, theatre and dance to share the rich folklore of Chinese Malaysian society. ‘The Memories’ explores the idea of collective memory and the concept of ‘home’ as a migrant. ‘LanguKu’ reveals the hidden power of the drum through a myriad of diverse, percussive instruments from different cultures combined with vocals and highly physical choreography’. It turned out to be an excellent choice as I love drumming but, it was so much more than that.
Then I went off to stage 2 (located behind the Foundation stage) to sample ‘Liniker e os Caramelows’ hailing from Brazil: ‘The sounds of black soul and samba run through Liniker’s blood. Casting a musical spell on you they shake things up to high-gear, Brazilian funk moving from lush ballads to a reggae bridge eventually exploding into a majestic African-based Candomble rhythmic finish. Formed in 2015 and led by charismatic transgender Liniker Barros, the band’s latest album ‘Goela Baixo’ has been nominated for a Latin Grammy’. Well, they were brilliant fun but I’d also marked Deline Briscoe as worth seeing (one of Australia’s finest indigenous singers) and went to check her out. She was fine but singing slow ballads so I returned to the more upbeat Brazilian band.
The 3pm slot was ‘Ezra Collective’ from the UK: ‘With their incredible musicianship and spirited approach to music, drawing on Afrobeat, Latin, hip-hop, grime and more, Ezra Collective has broken out beyond the thriving UK jazz scene. The five-piece are a tour-de-force whose thrilling and unmistakably London sound has already seen them conquer moshpit-filled tours of the UK and USA, perform at Glastonbury and at Quincy Jones’ 85th birthday party’. It was great to hear that they’d met at a youth club and taken things from there. They certainly were excellent musicians (if a little loud and too jazzy for my liking at times) and popular with the crowd.
At 4pm I enjoyed another great, and different, band called ‘Minho Crusaders’ from Japan. ‘An astonishing take on Japanese folk (min’yo) channelled through Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. Minyo Crusaders’ historical tales of the working class sung in the traditional way but with a 10-piece orchestra playing reggae, cumbia and Afrobeat, catch you off-guard in the most delightful way. The band is transforming what’s considered to be ‘highbrow’ art into a catchy, danceable art form’.
On the Foundation stage at 5pm was a very raunchy Mavis Staples: ‘Civil rights icon, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Award-winder Mavis Staples has been a beacon of hope for generations. Hailed as “one of America’s defining voices of freedom and peace”, Staples is the kind of once-in-a-generation artist whose impact on music and culture would be difficult to overstate. Her stunning 2019 album ‘We Get By’, written and produced by Ben Harper, seeks to empower and evoke change in dark times’. Well, she was absolutely superb, quite clearly very happy to be at WOMADelaide and promising to return. I looked her up and was surprised to see she’ll be 81 in July! What a remarkable woman.
I’d marked 3 performances of interest at 6.15pm on various stages but just checked out 2 of them: Laura Marling from the UK and KermesZ a l’Est from Belgium. I checked out the latter first and their music was right up my street, quite brilliant: ‘The musicians of KermesZ a l’Est hammer out an original fusion of Balkan melodies, metal, math rock, electric and free jazz. Looking like metal heads (sans guitars), intellectual punks and hairy anarchists rolled into one, they also wield a typically Belgian sense of humour, capable of ruffling the hair of even the slickest of rockers. Their unique repertoire is enhanced by hilarious stage antics, resulting in a sweaty and supercharged show fizzing with energy’.
I probably should have stayed watching them but went instead to hear Laura Marling: ‘Over the course of 6 superb albums, each building on but never repeating what came before it, Laura Marling has become a darling of earthy, modern folk. Her songs, often pondering loss, identity and self-reflection, immediately draw you in, and her gorgeous voice and delicate guitar work never fail to captivate. For her WOMADelaide debut Marling plays a solo, stripped back set’. She certainly has a beautiful voice but the kind of music that would be better listened to late at night at home with a glass of wine, I thought.
Finally, from 7.15pm I gave ‘Los Amigos Invisibles’ from Venezuela a listen for a while: ‘Back in Australia after a decade to spread ‘la gozadera’ (good time) with their acid jazz, cheeky disco-funk and Latin grooves, ‘Los Amigos Invisibles’ are celebrated for their explosive live shows. Discovered by David Byrne and subsequently released on his label, the Caracas outfit has been sharing its irresistible party music since 1991, conquering more than 60 countries along the way’. They were very discoey, perhaps a little dated, but Australians seem to love disco music, something that I rather like about them is that they enjoy all the old disco numbers. After 20 minutes or so of them I went to hear Catrin Finch, a Welsh harpist I’d heard play at the Hay Festival before, teamed up here with Seckou Keita from Senegal: ‘After a serendipitous meeting in 2012 a sublime musical collaboration was born. Classical harpist Finch and griot kora master Keita have since built a formidable reputation for their innovative and mesmerising performances. Drawing deeply on their diverse traditions, Mandinka rhythms mix and interweave seamlessly with Welsh traditional tunes’.
I had planned to stay to the bitter end, the last bands performing from 9.30pm, but decided that this last music had been so beautiful and relaxing that to go from that to loud music would have spoilt its effect.
During some performances, and certainly during Mavis Staples’ performance because she was quite mesmerised by them, was a troupe called ‘Company Archibald Caramantan’ from France, a Street theatre company ‘dedicated to itinerant, dreamlike performances where they invite audiences to interact with their delightful four-metre high articulated puppets. Le Caramantran is a collective of carnival artists – stilt walkers, musicians, comedians, puppeteers, constructors and sculptors – moved by the desire to surprise and unearth the poetry in everyday life’. I loved them:
Unfortunately my photos at WOMADelaide were taken on my phone so not as good as they would have been with my proper camera, which I hadn’t taken as cameras with detachable lenses weren’t allowed in. However, I saw that quite a few people had managed to sneak them in with bigger lenses than mine, so was a bit miffed. Although there was the opportunity of doing the whole shebang of 4 days at WOMADelaide I think for me that would have been too much and was very happy with my one day experience.
Chris had invited me to join her and Jenny for coffee on Tuesday 10th (they regularly meet up on a Tuesday) and she picked me up as the cafe they’d selected was a bit out of the way. Afterwards I took a tram, for the first time here, with Jenny to the city centre, walked along the river and read my book for a while. I then checked out the Botanical Gardens, next to where WOMADelaide had been held, and had a lager during ‘happy hour’ outside a bar, chatting to a couple at my table.
I then went to see ‘Velvet Rewired’ at 6.30pm, a fringe event in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent in Gluttony – Rymill Park. This was a ‘disco-fuelled cabaret spectacular’ with Marcia Hines (singer) and a cast of 10, including acrobats, aerialists, glitz, glamour and circus skills. They were all very talented and the audience loved them but I would have enjoyed it far more if I’d been part of a group, perhaps with the squash girls. A woman sitting behind me was squarking and laughing loudly at everything and everyone, which was just a bit irritating.
On Wednesday I had my second arts festival event booked and walked into town for it. Beforehand I took a look at the Migration Museum, and read a few interesting stories of Brits who had come to Adelaide as children with their parents in the 50s and 60s. I then got bombarded by a group of schoolchildren with their teachers so left. The venue for my event was a lecture theatre in the Institute Building, part of the State Library, called ‘Eight’ a short interactive virtual reality experience which wasn’t recommended for people who suffer from severe claustrophobia, seizures, epilepsy or extreme vertigo. A heavy headset and speakers were placed on my head and ears and I was told to raise both arms if I wanted to leave before the end and someone would take me out. Well, I nearly opted out at the very beginning when a woman in about her 60s appeared and glared at me in a a most disarming way. Instructions were given to follow the woman and not to let her out of sight. She soon changed into a younger woman and finally a child who invited me to sit in a tent with her. Throughout there was beautiful singing, sung by Australian trained opera singer Kate Miller-Heidke for whom it was conceived. At times I was surrounded by natural wilderness, a forested mountainside and the fall cosmos. It was devised by Michel van der Aa, from the Netherlands, who is a composer and equally gifted video artist and has successfully integrated multi-media into his work for two decades and sees technology as “a new colour, a new possibility”. His genre-defying pieces ‘One, Up Close’ and ‘Blank Out’ can be experienced online but ‘Eight’ has to be experienced live. I love virtual reality and I loved this.
I went into the State Library where there was an exhibition about the Australian Smith brothers who won the England to Australia Air Race of 1919 – Captain Ross and Lieutenant Keith Smith. With their mechanics, Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, they were the first Australian airmen to fly from England to Australia, achieved in 28 days in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber. The exhibition followed the lives of the Smith family from their early days at Motorola Station in the far north of South Australia to service in World War One and the public response to the tragic death of Sir Ross in an air crash in 1922. Afterwards I took a peek in the the chamber of the Mortlock Wing where I was surprised to see people working as it was pretty dark and gloomy in there. This is considered without equal as a mid Victorian public library interior in Australia. There are two galleries, the balconies featuring wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold and a glass-domed lantern roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light (not that well lit!). The Mortlock Wing is regularly included on lists of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
I’d booked a free fringe event at the Tandanya Aboriginal Centre for 3pm but got there earlier and was able to go in straight away. It was ‘Yabarra – Dreaming in Light’, a world premiere.
After a tea and Madeleine in a ‘French’ cafe, the owner greeting me with a ‘bonjour’ but clearly not French, I walked to the railway station to catch a 4.27pm train (my first train in Adelaide) to Grange, the end of that line, where Chris was picking me up. She, her husband Alan and I walked from their house to nearby Henley Beach for a pre dinner drink and a meal at a Greek restaurant they hadn’t tried before. Alan insisted on paying for my meal, half of which I took away in a container for another evening. We had a lovely chat and walked back to their house. Alan went off to bed while Chris and I drank a glass of wine and continued our conversation. Then I got an Uber home, having had my last meeting with Chris and Alan although I know we’ll meet up again some time, whether in England when they visit Helen and Richard of should I return to Adelaide, which could very well be on the cards.
Thursday 12th I decided to spend at ‘home’ as was way behind with writing up this blog. I chatted a bit to Sun (not her real name but she has a long and difficult name to pronounce which actually means ‘Diamond’) a 30 year old young woman from Laos who arrived on Tuesday afternoon and had won a scholarship to do a Masters at Adelaide University in plants (making new plants). I had never met someone from Laos outside of Laos. She’s staying at Deb’s until the end of the year and I think has really fallen on her feet with this accommodation. A very nice, respectful, quietly spoken person who speaks excellent English and appears to have instantly got to know her way around the neighbourhood and the house.
On Friday 13th I thought maybe I shouldn’t go out either, although I’m not superstitious and had my final two fringe events to attend…..
First: ‘Don’t Knock Your Granny’ presented by the Feisty Women of Oz at the Bakehouse Theatre which was a sellout at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Described as: ‘a political/satirical take on elder abuse. Ten feisty women shine light in dark corners that’ll make you laugh and cry. Hear skits, songs and true stories of women’s lives. Puppets, Reg and Regina, will speak up too’. The Bakehouse Theatre is a small community theatre, smaller than the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham. Apparently back in 1988 a group of feisty older women were fed up with being ignored in government policy so pitched a tent in front of Parliament House, Canberra and, with songs and skits told the MPs what it felt like to be invisible. Obviously, this group I saw wouldn’t have been the same women but they’ve performed for the Governor General and appeared on TV. Based in Sydney this group is part of the Older Women’s Network (OWN) NSW and it’s National body OWN Australia. As well as managing 18 wellness groups across NSW, OWN undertakes research and advocates on issues that impact older women, including elder abuse and the growing issue of homelessness.
The group of women were aged from 62 (younger than me!) to 90. Some of them had good voices and one woman in particular, Asian, had probably been on the stage before as she had a real presence. She also seemed to have the loudest voice which I can imagine may have got up some of their noses! They alternated sketches with songs, putting their own words to well known songs. They clearly enjoyed themselves and it was wonderful to see the camaraderie and sheer joy. A tear came to my eye on several occasions. They were highlighting how elder abuse is the perfect crime as victims rarely complain and, if they do their complaints are scarcely heard. If anyone listens, action is unusual…and then they die.
My final event of all the festivals in Adelaide was ‘Espana el Vito The Spirit of Spain and Tango – a piano and guitar concert in Scots Church. ‘Internationally acclaimed, award-winning concert pianist Nicholas Young joins renowned 10 string guitarist Matthew Fagan, combining musical passion and virtuosity, performing Spanish classical to Flamenco, Tango and modern jazz, infusing flamenco guitar with classical, virtuoso pianism, of masterpieces by Albania, Rodrigo, Piazzolla, Correa and more’. It started at 7pm and I enjoyed it very much but decided not to stay until the end as I wasn’t feeling 100% and was flying off to Brisbane the next day.
On arriving back at the house Deb had a friend with her and also Mary, an Irish Airbnb guest who’d arrived a few days before (and could talk for Ireland!) and we sat drinking wine and chatting. It was a nice evening. Mary was looking forward to celebrating St Patrick’s Day somewhere in Adelaide. I have to say I’d really enjoyed my stay at Deb’s and getting to know her. Always a busy lady, she was hardly in and when she was always had a bottle of wine on the go. It had been good chatting to her.
I had my first Australian housesit booked in Brisbane starting the next day (Saturday 14th March) for two weeks but on Wednesday 11th received a text from Caroline (the houseowner) that they were cancelling the trip, owing to Coronavirus, but that I’d still be welcome to stay with them for the two weeks. I was a bit upset by this but could understand as Coronavirus (which began in China in December) was spreading across the world and things seemed to be moving pretty quickly. They had been planning to go to Thailand and Myanmar. Then on the Thursday Caroline texted to say they’d decided they would go after all, she confessed that they hadn’t actually cancelled the trip. By that stage I thought they were making a mistake, but selfishly didn’t tell her that, being quite pleased that I’d get to do the housesit and have a dog for company again after quite a break. Then on the Friday another message from Caroline to say they had cancelled the trip. I decided to call her via WhatsApp to discover she had had some virus for a couple of weeks and her company had also said she couldn’t travel. She did however say I could still stay with them and that she’d pick me up from the airport. I decided that given the fact she was ill, I didn’t know her and she had three children it might be quite difficult to stay with them so, after some consideration, declined her generous offer.
I had been suffering from a sore throat since Wednesday and wondered if maybe I had the virus but a call to Chris early on Saturday morning (retired midwife and the mother of a GP who was well versed in the Coronavirus symptoms) convinced me I just had cold symptoms so could safely travel to Brisbane. Chris had said that, if she was me, she’d be looking at going home. Until she said this it hadn’t occurred to me that I should but, indeed, Coronavirus was moving pretty swiftly.
At Adelaide airport I booked a central hotel in Brisbane for the first two nights thinking that I’d then book an Airbnb somewhere. I was due to leave Australia, visa-wise, on 31st March when I had a flight booked to New Caledonia. When I got to the hotel I just spent the afternoon and evening going online reading about Coronavirus, checking out what the Foreign Office advice was for travellers abroad (basically to follow the advice of the country you were in – Australia advising their people not to travel) and trying to find out what might happen if I ended up in Australia beyond 31st March. I also checked out flights. I decided to sleep on it but first thing on Sunday morning, having seen the writing on the wall, decided that indeed my only option was to fly back to the UK and booked a flight with Royal Brunei departing Monday 16th with just a short stop at Brunei and arriving Heathrow 7am on Tuesday 17th March.
On the second leg of the journey (from Brunei) I was seated in an aisle seat with one seat free between me and a Swiss man in the window seat. Despite the flight being 14 hours long (during which I watched 3 films – I can’t sleep on planes) he didn’t go to the toilet once! No idea how he managed that. He wasn’t particularly chatty and slept virtually the whole 14 hours too. He did tell me that he had a house in the country where he would join his wife and son to be safer from Coronavirus as was very worried about the situation in Switzerland. He didn’t seem to be concerned about anyone else’s situation so I didn’t bother conversing with him further.
I booked a National Express bus from Heathrow at 11am to Cirencester. While waiting for the bus I bought a paper to read up on the situation. It felt very strange and, in addition to being tired from the trip, I felt disappointed to be back in England as hadn’t wanted to return, having another year planned in Oz, Pacific islands and South Island of NZ. However, I also felt lucky that I’d managed to have nearly 9 months of travel when now it was looking like people weren’t going to be able to get away. Richard (Helen’s husband) was waiting for me at Cirencester as they’d kindly suggested I stay with them. I was very grateful as couldn’t immediately get back into my house as officially my tenant had until 17 July there, although when he knew I was returning agreed to look elsewhere.
I spent a very pleasant week with Helen and Richard, towards the end being joined by their younger daughter Harriet whose course at Prue Leith’s Cookery School had finished for the term. I left them on 24th March (the first day of Lockdown) to stay for a month in a studio apartment in Leckhampton booked via Airbnb (driven there by Richard, stopping en route to pick up groceries) and then a nice 2 bed house booked through my letting agent for the next month. My tenant found another place to rent and moves out 21st May.
I could fill in the gaps with what I did, and am doing, during Lockdown but decided to post on Facebook until travels/housesitting can resume, who knows when at this point? It will be my intention initially to stick to the UK and maybe Europe.
The ferry arrived into Melbourne on Saturday 22nd at 8am and I got a tram to near my hotel. I’d booked the Ibis Styles Hotel in King Street as it wasn’t far from the meeting place for tomorrow’s ‘Great Ocean Road’ 3 day tour I’d booked back in October. I knew I couldn’t get into my room until 1pm so was expecting to drop my luggage off and go for a wander until check-in time however, I was pleasantly surprised to be told the room was ready. Breakfast was included but, as I had to leave before breakfast the next day asked if I could have it that day instead and it was agreed. Great customer service and the kind of service that will entice guests to return.
Despite not having had a proper sleep on the ferry I didn’t feel too bad so, after a shower and breakfast I went to the Melbourne Museum. This was my first visit and I spent all my time in one exhibition: ‘First Peoples’ which was brilliantly executed. As per the title it’s all about the indigenous people of Victoria from creation to present day, their languages, culture, objects, experiences using videos, touch screens, sounds etc. It was a fascinating insight, educational, thought provoking and sad. I listened to two people’s experiences of being taken from their families as children – members of the ‘Stolen Generation’ and the long apology by then Prime Minister Rudd to the Aboriginal people for what happened to them. It was extremely moving although, sadly, things haven’t changed a whole lot for them since and they’re still fighting for land that was taken from their ancestors. A horrific figure was given of 80% of Aboriginal people killed by the first Europeans and dying of diseases brought by them. They were classed as ‘savages’ and to be got rid of. I appreciate that those were different times but it’s still shocking that our predecessors were responsible for that ethnic cleansing. I felt quite drained and sad after it all so just had a quick walk around the rest of the museum, deciding to return another time.
Information about the ‘First People’s’ exhibition:
On Sunday 23rd I was to meet my tour bus at 7.10am near the Immigration Museum, a short walk from the hotel. There were a few others waiting already and eventually a bus came along with trailer attached for our luggage. We picked up a few more until there were 22 of us plus our driver/guide Gareth and his ‘assistant’ Pete, who didn’t do a great deal of assisting. Pete told me later that he was head of operations. I’d booked my tour through ‘Wildlife Tours’ but the company on the van was Autopia Tours which seemed to be a conglomeration of other tour companies including Intrepid, whose tours I used to sell when working for the Adventure Company, which is no longer and bought out by Intrepid Travel.
I got chatting to a woman called Wendy, aged 59, originally from Hull but living in Hitchen, Hertfordshire. She had flown to Sydney with her husband then to Melbourne. Her husband, Mike, is a microbiologist who is working on malaria and had come to Australia to give a lecture and work in a lab in Lorne for a few days, a small town we were to drive through later. They have 3 sons and Wendy told me all about them – Daniel, Tom and Luke. Daniel and Tom are musicians and Luke is a software engineer. I got on very well with Wendy and we chatted a lot about books and authors we enjoyed. She’d done a fare amount of travelling including hitchhiking across Africa with a male friend when in her 20s, which is something I would never have been brave enough to do. She told me she hand weaves on a loom.
Other people on the bus included 5 couples and several single young backpackers. Countries they were from included Slovenia, US, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Southern Ireland,Scotland and England and I tried to chat to as many as possible.
One young man, aged 20, who I was particularly struck by was Thomas. He seemed quite reserved and no one appeared to talk to him, possibly because they thought he couldn’t understand English. He was Asian in appearance and I thought Japanese as he had a little wispy beard and moustache, as some Japanese men do. So when I asked if he was Japanese he told me he was French but that his origins were Thai. He then told me he had been abandoned by his Thai mother on the steps of an orphanage when he was a baby and was adopted by a French couple. I thought he’d been adopted by them when he was a baby but later discovered he was 3, so not sure what happened in the meantime. I told him I’d been adopted too which instantly gave us a connection although I obviously hadn’t had the sad start he’d had in life. He told me he had met his mother and some of the extended family but they couldn’t easily communicate and, of course, his parents will always be his adoptive parents. He said he’d had a very happy childhood with them and they’d adopted another boy. Thomas was extremely bright and had done a lot of travelling. I really enjoyed talking to him and he seemed to enjoy my company too. There were two other young male backpackers, one from the Netherlands who was only 17, and the other from Denmark and Thomas soon got chatting to others in the group, although appeared to me happy wandering off on his own.
Another person who struck me was Hannah, a 19 year old German girl who had the most amazing smile all the time. I felt quite maternal towards her – maybe even grand maternal, and told her so, which made her chuckle. An American couple in their 60s were Fanny (which was actually her middle name, first name Nancy which might have been better!) and Michael. They amused me as they were constantly bickering, but not in an unpleasant way. Fanny seemed to worry a lot, particularly when there was walking involved as she thought she’d hold people up. I discovered she’d written a book on Patagonia (which has taken her 35 years but is not yet published) which I showed interest in as it’s a place I want to go to soon. Michael told me it’s very good. I asked if I could read the first chapter and she told me she’d send it all to me. Michael was a retired lecturer in, I think, civil engineering, and played guitar in a band called ‘Wilde Irish Women’ (Wilde after Oscar Wilde and can be found on YouTube) with a lady harpist and cellist – quite an unusual combo I thought. He said he had some important gigs coming up. They live in Amhurst, Massachusetts and I should very much like to see them again as I really liked them. I’m really enjoying meeting so many interesting people on my travels, none of whom I’d ever have got to know if I’d stayed in my rut at home. Long may this continue!
So, back to the tour: On leaving Melbourne we went across the West Gate Bridge which is 2.5km long and crosses the Yarra River. On 15th October 1970 the bridge collapsed killing 35 workers and remains Australia’s worst industrial disaster to date. We saw the Flinders range of mountains in the distance and passed a cement works silo in Geelong (where I’ve got a housesit in June) which had black and white murals of three unsung heroes: Corina Eccles (a direct descendant of the Queen of the Wadawurrung people; Cor Horsten, who worked at the cement works for more than 35 years and Kelly Cartwright, who represented Oz at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and won two medals at the London Games in 2012) by artist Tyrone ‘Rone’ Wright. I loved it but was unable to get a photo of it as it was so far in the distance but found one online:
Gareth stopped briefly to show us a house on a pole, called the Pole House, which was the only house to survive a bushfire in 1983 in Fairhaven, quite an expensive area. It’s known as the most photographed house along the GOR and can be rented as a holiday home and apparently sways in strong winds:
The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243km (151 miles) stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and west to Allansford. Our first stop was at the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch which commemorates the building of the road as a memorial to people of Victoria who served and died in the First World War. In 1917 the Great Ocean Road Trust was established by a prominent businessman from Geelong, Howard Hitchcock, to build the road and provide employment for returned servicemen. 3000 ex-servicemen worked with pick and shovel constructing the road from 1919 and it was completed in 1932. The road is the world’s largest war memorial and an important tourist attraction in the region, one that’s been on my list for many years so I was excited to be doing this trip. The current arch is the third:
Unfortunately Hancock died 3 months before the Road opened. Apparently the first car to drive along the GOR was Hancock’s with his hat on the front seat, followed by his wife in the second car. Originally the road was one lane meaning people could only drive in one direction, say on Tuesdays and back the other way on Wednesdays etc until the road was widened to as it is today, one lane in each direction.
We started on the GOR from Anglesea, named after its Welsh equivalent, 5km from the start at Torquay. The road hugs much of the coastline known as the ‘Surf Coast’ between Torquay and Cape Otway with the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean visible. Gareth stopped the van for us to take photos of the coast but it really wasn’t the best place and I couldn’t understand why he’d chosen that spot as we passed lots of better places. There were certainly a lot of people about.
We went through a town called Lorne, where Wendy pointed out the building where her husband Mike was working (but we didn’t stop) where the rich and famous go. There’s a festival over new year, it hosts a marathon which is very hilly and a bike race. There’s also a Pier to Pub race which is the largest Open Water swimming race in the world. The swim is a 1.2km course starting at Lorne Pier and finishing on the foreshore in front of the Lorne Surf Lifesaving Clubhouse. It attracts a lot of people but has been capped at 4000.
We stopped at Great Otway National Park for a short walk on a boardwalk through an ancient rainforest and part of an Aboriginal cultural landscape. The Otway black snail, a species of carnivorous air-breathing land snail, is only found here.
There is a Great Ocean Walk, a walk of more than 100km over 8 days (I should have done that!) which goes through the park to the Twelve Apostles rock formations (to come!).
We had lunch, which was provided for us, at Apollo Bay a coastal town. It hosts the annual Apollo Bay Music Festival and the Great Ocean Sports Festival. In 1936 a submarine telegraph and telephone cable from Apollo Bay to Stanley provided the first telephone connection to Tasmania from the mainland. The Apollo Bay Telegraph station closed in 1963 and is now a museum.
The portion of the GOR named the ‘Shipwreck Coast’ stretches from Cape Otway to Port Fairy, a distance of about 130km. Explorer, Matthew Flinders said of this section “I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline”. There have been about 638 known shipwrecks along Victoria’s coast although only about 240 have been found. On reading about this later I discovered that ‘The Historic Shipwreck Trail’ (which begins at Port Fairy and commemorates over 50 shipwrecks) shows some of the sites where gales, human error and, in some cases, foul play caused the ships to be wrecked.
We stopped at ‘The Twelve Apostles’, a collection of limestone stacks (the limestone having been formed by shells and other sea life that settled into layers in an ancient seabed) off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. There were never 12 stacks but 8, of which 7 remain as one collapsed in July 2005. They were formed by erosion when the harsh weather conditions from the Southern Ocean gradually eroded the soft limestone to form caves in the cliffs which then become arches that eventually collapse leaving rock stacks up to 50m high. Due to wave action eroding the cliffs, existing headlands are expected to become new limestone stacks in the future. The stacks were originally known as the Pinnacles then early explorers in the 19th century called them ‘Sow and piglets’, the ‘sow’ being Muttonbird Island, and the rest the piglets. They were later renamed, it’s thought in the 1920s, ‘The Twelve Apostles’ despite there only ever having been 8.
Next stop was Loch Ard Gorge. The story is that on 1 March 1878 the clipper, Loch Ard (named from Loch Ard, a Loch lying to the west of Aberfoyle and east of Loch Lomond, mewing ‘high lake’ in Scottish Gaelic) left Gravesend, England for Melbourne under the command of Captain George Gibb with 37 crew, 17 passengers and a mixed cargo weighing 2275 tons. On 31 May the passengers and crew held a party to celebrate the end of the voyage and they were to disembark the next day. Unfortunately a thick fog obscured the horizon and the clipper smashed into Muttonbird Island and sank within 10 or 15 minutes. A member of the crew, Tom Pearce, managed to survive and saved the only other person, an Irish girl called Eva Carmichael. They came ashore at what is now known as ‘Loch Ard Gorge’ taking shelter in a cave on the beach until they were rescued. Everyone else on the ship died. Tom proposed to Eva but she declined later marrying someone else when she returned home. Tom became a Captain. Some of the relics of the wreck are displayed at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum in Warrnambool.
Next was London Bridge (or Arch) formed by a gradual process of erosion which was originally a twin span bridge but collapsed in the 1990s:
At each of these locations there were lots of other tourists and, at times, we had to jostle for space to take pictures.
Our last stop was the Bay of Martyrs, so called, according to local oral history which suggests that Europeans killed a large group of Aboriginal men by driving them off the cliffs nearby. The women and children were allegedly killed in a nearby swamp.
Most of us then went to have dinner in a Thai restaurant in Warrnambool, where everyone except me and a couple, Vera and Neil, was staying in a hostel. I’d upgraded to my own cabin for the night which had two bedrooms. At the restaurant I was sitting opposite an English girl called Heather who’s been living and working in Melbourne for over a year. I asked her what she was doing and thought she said “Barrister” which impressed me, but she clarified that she was a “Barista” which impressed me even more! It gave us a laugh.
I got picked up with Vera and Neil at 6.45am by Gareth who to us back to the hostel to have breakfast there with the others. Some had slept ok some hadn’t, Wendy later telling me that she felt quite tense at first in her bunk and worried that she might snore. I chatted to Vera who was Czech and had a mix of that accent and a Scottish accent as she was married to Neil who was Scottish. They lived in Perth and Vera was a nurse specialising in cardio thoracic conditions.
Then we were off at 7.30am to our first stop at Tower Hill, inside an extinct volcano, within which a series of small cones had been formed surrounded by a crater lake. The Hill was painted by the artist Eugene Von Guerard in 1855 who was the foremost landscape artist in the colonies at the time. More than 300,000 native trees have been planted over the past two generations creating an environment capable of sustaining native animals such as koalas, emus, kangaroos, magpie geese, echidnas, possums and water birds. We went on a short walk called ‘The Lava Tongue’ walk spotting a couple of koala bears in gum trees. There were also some little birds that kept dipping in and out of a water trough. I was rather struck by one which had a flash of red on its face and in its tail:
Then we went to the Grampians National Park, which is Heritage listed for its animal and plant life. It’s home to the largest number of significant and ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings and shelters in southern Australia although we didn’t see any. We stopped at the Brambuk (meaning white cockatoo, the red roof of which was shaped like a cockatoo although I couldn’t see it) cultural centre which brought to life the history of the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung and Aboriginal communities of south-western Victoria. which piled on more vicarious guilt on behalf of the first European settlers for the way they treated the Aboriginal people. It was here I discovered that 80% of the indigenous people were either massacred or died as a result of disease brought by the first settlers. While most people know the mountain range as the Grampians, Aboriginal people have always known it as Gariwerd (pronounced Gary word, which is a special place to them as is central to the dreaming.
From there we went to the little town of Halls Gap where some of us had a nice lunch in a cafe:
In the Grampians National Park are trails that lead to waterfalls, one of which is MacKenzie Falls. We had a walk down nearly 300 steps to the bottom of the falls, which was quite popular. It was extremely hot by this time and I got back up the steps sweating profusely, along with everyone else. I then took a flattish path to have a view from the lookout over to the top of the falls.
There had been a bush fire there in 2006 and all that was left of the cafe was its chimney:
Everyone got back on the bus sweating. We then went to a car park and a short walk to the Balconies for amazing views of the Victoria Valley and surrounding ranges. Then Reed’s Lookout, by the car park, for some stunning views over the entire Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range.
Our last stop was at the Baroka lookout where Slovenian, Thomas, jumped over the fencing and scared his wife Jasna (she introduced herself as Clarissa as an English name) by posing on a rock which he’d also done earlier and got told off for. She told me she owned a bookshop in Ljubljana and that Thomas is her nightmare:
Then after a brief stop at a supermarket to buy some drink, we went to the hostel where most people were staying and chatted while Pete cooked a meal of hamburgers and sausages accompanied by salads. Gareth took me, Vera and Thomas also Fanny and Michael (who’d decided to book an upgrade) to our motel, the Grampians Motel. I took some pictures of emus and kangaroos feeding in front of the motel:
It was another early start on Tuesday 27th with pick up by Gareth at 6.45am to have breakfast, as yesterday, at the hostel. Then it was off to Wonderland car park to do the Pinnacle walk which involved walking steeply up and over rocks (the Grampians’ version of the Grand Canyon) and some steps, through Silent Street for an hour and just over 2km distance. The rocks were fabulous, some appeared to be balanced quite precariously. The views on the way at at the top were well worth the effort and this was a real highlight for me. We were the only ones there but a few more people started arriving as we descended.
It was then time to say goodbye to some of the people on the tour who were being driving back to Melbourne, which included Fanny and Michael. So this was sad as, despite the short time together it felt like we’d been travelling longer as it often does on these type of tours with early starts and lots of stops. We had a group photo:
We then went to a little town called Horsham for lunch and found a nice cafe.
We stopped at an amazing lake called Loch Iel, meaning the Pink Lake, which was an incredible sight and very salty, the like of which I’d never seen before. Apparently the brightness of the hue varies according to the level of rainfall and the colour is the result of a pigment produced by the Salinibacter ruber bacteria. Salt has been harvested from the lake since the 1860s and now on average 20 tonnes a year.
We stopped briefly at a car park where there was paving delineating the border between the states of Victoria, which we were departing, and South Australia which we were entering established in 1836. In 1836 the land that is now called Victoria was part of the colony of New South Wales, the original Victorian border was drawn between the colonies of South Australia and New South Wales. Due to human error by numerous explorers and surveyors it took more than 75 years and a protracted legal dispute before the precise placement of the border was settled, resulting in the forfeiture of more than 1300 square kms of territory from South Australia to Victoria.
A little further on we stopped at a cafe for tea and cake in a place called Coonalpyn opposite which were more amazing murals on cement silos, South Australia’s first. The artist was Guido van Helten who painted 5 schoolchildren from Coonalpyn Primary School:
We crossed the Murray River and got to Adelaide just after 7pm. After the group had checked into the hostel, which was a lot nicer than the other two they’d stayed in, I went out with a few of them for a beer and pizza at a nearby pub which included Gareth and Pete. I was sorry to say goodbye, particularly to Wendy who I’d chatted to a lot, but also a little glad to get away from being herded about and not making my own decisions as to where to stop. I took a taxi to my Airbnb arriving just before 10pm and had a brief chat to Deb, my host, who quickly showed me around.
Looking back, I enjoyed the tour although it seemed as if we were hardly driving along the coast, probably because we were talking and because the road does go inland at times. It wasn’t quite what I expected but I enjoyed the variety of stops we made. It of course was rushed and it would be nice to take a lot longer, doing more walks and seeing more of the sights. Gareth, our driver, gave information over a microphone as he drove along but Wendy and I weren’t so sure it was all accurate, so I checked out a lot of facts afterwards to write here. He was a nice chap and it was evident he really enjoyed his job. I’m not sure I’d rush to do another short tour like that but it did additionally give me some more international contacts, which are always useful.
As I was getting ready to leave Lyn’s on Monday 10th February I asked if she would like a lift to Bruny Island (my next stop for 3 nights) to visit her friend Tony there but he’d told her he wouldn’t be there then as was staying with his daughter and Lyn and he had had a bit of a falling out although Lyn wasn’t exactly sure why. Apparently he suffers from depression. He had told me, when I met him on my first trip, to ask Lyn for his number when I was on the island but obviously this wasn’t possible. I suggested to Lyn that she might like to join me anyway and could maybe find accommodation. She wondered if she might be able to pitch her tent in my Airbnb hosts’ garden (they had a few acres) so we contacted them and they agreed, no problem, and would charge her $25 for the night. Lyn got ready quickly while I popped to the supermarket for supplies.
It was just a 40 minute drive from Hobart to Kettering where we got onto the 2pm ferry, which left 10 minutes early as it had filled up by then. It cost $32.50 return which I thought was reasonable considering it was a car ferry, the crossing taking about 20 minutes. From there it was about a 30km drive to my Airbnb (‘A taste of Bruny’) in Simpson’s Bay for which I’d paid $70 per night. I knew it wasn’t going to be that special a place but most of the rest of the available accommodation on the island was super expensive.
My room was very small, not much bigger than the bed, and was in a run down building next to the main house. The bathroom was pretty grim but the shower turned out to be fine and there was a washing machine and dryer. On the deck area was a barbecue, which I wouldn’t be using, a microwave, fridge and kettle. Our hosts were Mhrylyn aged 70 (originally from Bow, East London who emigrated to Oz when she was 18 with her parents and came from a long line of Romany gypsies with lots of other countries in her blood) and Willem, Dutch, who appeared to be several years younger than her. Mhrylyn was apparently a trained chef who had good reviews about her food offered me dinner for $25 and breakfast for $15. Having originally booked for breakfast and dinner every day I’d decided I’d just have one dinner on my first night. They had a large garden with lots of fruit trees and vegetables but the whole plot was pretty run down. There were lots of chickens of all ages but we were never offered an egg.
Lyn decided she’d put her tent up on the deck but in the end just slept in the open air on the deck. After a cuppa and dropping our things we went off to explore the local area on foot. Just opposite was an estuary and wetlands, which apparently attracts lots of birds although we didn’t see many there. We walked up the lane and there was a goat posing on a tree stump which I felt sorry for as it had no companion. There were only a few houses, one very nice house with an annexe and a very run down house with a couple of old bangers outside on the top of which a naked child of about 5 was standing one day but this day was running around the garden naked.
I’d arranged to have dinner with Willem and Mhrylyn tonight while Lyn had some food she’d brought. I had a nice conversation with them overlooking the estuary and wetlands but can’t say I was overly impressed with the 2 course meal we ate nor that it was worth $25. Mhrylyn has apparently lots of food allergies, and knew I was vegetarian, so dished up for me what she could eat I guess, which Willem also ate. So I had a thinly vegetable layered mush with grated cheese on top with two side salads made of lentils and various vegetables from their veggie garden. Dessert was a gluten free cake with a blob of cream and yoghurt, not as nice as the banana loaf that Lyn had rustled up and brought along with her. A very strange offering by a ‘trained chef’ and I was glad I’d cancelled the other meals.
The next morning Lyn wasn’t sure whether she should go home or stay a bit longer. There was a bus at the ferry landing in Kettering to Hobart but the last one was about 3.30pm. I suggested she stay and she contacted Mhrylyn who was happy for her to stay for just $10 per night. Lyn had been rudely awakened in the night by a possum trying to get into the rubbish bin that was on the deck, and woke me (not that I was sleeping that heavily) when she banged her hand on the decking to shoo it away.
Lyn had been to Bruny Island twice before with Tony and had asked him to take her to the lighthouse, but he’d refused saying it was too far. So I said we’d go as it was south of where we were. In one of the few towns on the island, Alonnah, en route we stopped at a shop where I was surprised that Lyn bought a hot ‘National Pie’ (beef) which she proceeded to eat, followed by an ice cream – and this was 9.45am! She also bought a cold ‘National Pie’ for later. The shop was run by two women who looked similar (they had peroxide blonde long hair) and when I asked if they were sisters I was told no, that they just went to the same hairdresser. I wasn’t sure if this was true or their joke, but we had a chuckle about it later.
Cape Bruny lighthouse had been taken over by someone who’d decided to charge for ‘tours’ which we resisted and just looked from the outside. There was supposed to be a short circular walk around the lighthouse and a much longer walk nearby, which I’d thought about doing, but the footpaths had unwelcome ‘no access’ signs, probably by the same person who’d bought the lighthouse. Governor George Arthur had ordered the construction of this lighthouse after several ships were wrecked at the entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel – a body of water located between Bruny Island and the south-east of the mainland of Tasmania. It was built by convicts and completed in 1838.
Most of the route to the lighthouse had been a fairly slow drive on an unsealed road, but it was pretty smooth. As we drove on Lyn spotted a sign outside a house with ‘Art Garden Open’ with a $10 entrance fee. I didn’t want to bother but she was really keen and offered to pay my entrance, which I accepted. It turned out to be worth while and we were greeted as we got out of the car by a very smiley woman who introduced herself as Grietje, and said she was Dutch although had been in Tasmania for some years. She told us her partner was Keith whose first wife’s parents had decided to grow trees on the large plot that they hoped would be there 100 years later. Ann, Keith’s first wife, had continued planting and Keith (who came from a long line of depressives) made items/sculptures from wire and wood etc and had found it very therapeutic. Grietje was artistic too (she’d met him through a dating website – not sure what happened to his first wife who was still alive and helping Grietje with a map of all the trees) and had a huge glass fronted studio in the grounds which she later showed us, with a lot of different areas for different projects. She said she had got inspiration from Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and photographer.
We wandered around the garden, having first drunk a cup of tea over a chat with Grietje and Keith, looking at the trees, three ponds and various art works. We sat and had our lunch, as had been suggested, before being shown Grietje’s studio. It was, as Paul would say, “a pleasant little interlude”. They were a lovely couple and were going to have an open day for a group on Friday.
We then went to Cloudy Bay, where Lyn had a dip in the very cold sea while I watched some surfers. I was impressed with one of the surfers who surfed in so far, then turned his board around and paddled out with an oar without falling off. I then went for a walk along the length of the beach which took 50 minutes, having left Lyn sitting waiting, at the end of which was a path to the headland but the path was swampy and looked as if it would be another hour each way. So I decided not to do that and walked back meeting Lyn who’d decided to walk along the beach. She told me she had rheumatoid arthritis and also issues with her hips, despite having had two new ones, which meant she couldn’t walk far however she seemed to manage well and felt quite pleased I think.
By the time we got back to the car it was nearly 6pm and there were some young people sitting out by their camper vans. It was a lovely evening and I rather envied them as it was the perfect spot and free camping. Nearby was a loo which had a one way window so you could see the beach while sitting on the loo but couldn’t be seen from outside!
We drove back and I suggested we check out the pub in Alonnah (Hotel Bruny) for dinner as Lyn had nothing to eat and didn’t want to share what I’d brought (salad!). So she had fish and chips, I had calamari and chips all washed down with some watered down ‘Bruny Cider’. The possum came back again that night and Lyn decided she’d try to take a photo of it.
On Wednesday I suggested we check out Adventure Bay Area, which had a few points of interests along the coast, and Bligh’s Museum. Adventure Bay was the first landing for ships to replenish supplies of fresh water after leaving the Cape of Good Hope. In 1793 Captain Furneaux anchored his ship ‘The Adventure’ after which the bay was named. Captain Cook visited the bay in his ships ‘Resolution’ and ‘Discovery’. In 1788 ‘The Bounty’, under Lieut. Bligh’s command, anchored there, Bligh planting Tasmania’s first apple trees.
We stopped at Coal Point, the site of the third attempt at coal mining in Oz from 1876 – about 1891. At its peak in 1884, 900 tons valued at £560 were shipped to Hobart. The coal seam can be seen in the cliffs.
We stopped at Two Tree Point, an area that had changed little since 1792, with the same two trees as depicted in a painting by Lieut George Tobin, Principal Artist with Bligh on ‘Providence’ in 1792:
There was a nice little cafe which we dropped into and then I paid a visit to Bligh’s Museum, Lyn didn’t want to pay the $3 entry fee having looked in from the outside. A man who lived next door appeared soon after we did to turn the light on and take my $3. The Museum was very small and seemed to be stuck in the 1950s with items crammed together under dusty glass cases. There was Bligh’s Journal, which the man assured me was original (I very much doubt) and told me there were original letters and some of Cook’s log which was original. Why would items of such value be stuck in a miserable little, quite insecure, museum like that and not lodged in national archives? So I doubted the man, although that was probably what he’d been told. Anyway, it was all such a jumble that I could hardly process anything so left being not much wiser than when I went in.
By the beach was an interesting sculpture of the world with a mother whale and baby by Matt Carney:
Mhrylyn had recommended the Cape Queen Elizabeth Walk, which was off the Neck (thin strip of land linking the North and South of Bruny Island so I drove there. The first 30 minutes was a walk from the car park passing lots of birds with yellow tails which we later discovered to be finches. I was hoping to see a forty spotted pardolote bird, Tasmanian, and some birdwatchers we passed said they had seen one in the area but we didn’t. At the end of the track you could either turn left and go up Mount Bluff, which I did, or turn right to the beach (only at low tide, which it was just) which Lyn did. It was a short uphill walk, then along the ridge and dropped down to the first of three bays. I met Lyn in the second and we enjoyed exploring and photographing the rocks in the area. Back to the car park after an enjoyable three hour walk, which Lyn hadn’t found troublesome.
We went back to the Airbnb and saw no sign of Mhrylyn or Willem and heard nothing of them either which surprised me as yesterday they’d come round to ask us what kind of a day we’d had. By the time we went to bed, Lyn by now quite used to sleeping on the deck, we still hadn’t heard them and I was convinced they’d either been murdered or had made a suicide pact! My imagination was running wild!
On Thursday 13th I awoke at 6.30am and decided I wanted to get away quickly to get an earlyish ferry as had a long journey ahead, also to get away from the fairly unpleasant surroundings as soon as possible. I wondered if we should check on Myrhlyn and Willem, just in case they had been murdered (!) but knew that they slept in until at least 9am (as they’d told me) and that, should they be lying in a pool of blood we’d have to call the police and would be there all day and I wouldn’t get to my next stop on time. In the car I then discussed with Lyn how the police might find me, given that I’d be the prime suspect as their last Airbnb guest!
Despite my wanting to get an early ferry I told Lyn I’d like to go to the northernmost point of the island (Dennis Point) and see where Tony, her friend, lived who said he lived very frugally on land he was buying. I knew he had a shipping container and a caravan on the island as his living quarters and a van that he drove around in and slept in when visiting Lyn and other friends on the mainland. En route I stopped along the Neck at Truganini Lookout where there were over 200 steps up to a lookout and a memorial to Truganini who was widely considered to be the last full blood Aboriginal. It was a good vantage point to see both sides of the Neck which couldn’t be done from the road:
So I drove us to the north, which was fairly desolate although there was one small town, and the road just continued in a sweep coming round to near Tony’s road – Power Road. Lyn wasn’t expecting him to be there, but his van was so as we approached his patch she called out his name. There was no answer (me thinking to myself he’d committed suicide as he was suffering from depression) but eventually we found him sitting in a dark corner of his living quarters/kitchen, which was a cut out container with extension, reading a book. Lyn later said he wasn’t that happy to see her. She told me he’d lied about where he was going to be as had said he’d be with his daughter.
We had a cup of tea with Tony, milk supplied by us as he had none and cake supplied by Lyn. I was impressed with the creativeness of his patch, with lots of recycling having gone on and all sorts of objects hanging and on display. His toilet was a Tardis!
We got the ferry back across to Kettering and, I must admit, I should have liked at least another night on the island to do some more of the walks but certainly not another night in that Airbnb! Lyn suggested I might like to drive back to Hobart via the Huon Valley and when I discovered it was twice the distance than the normal route I was a bit miffed given that I had nearly 300 km to drive from Hobart to Strahan, however I decided it was worth it as is said to be one of the best drives in Tasmania. We didn’t stop at all but went through a little town called Cygnet where Lyn told me she’d nearly bought a house but missed out and where every year there is a wonderful Jazz Festival.
I dropped Lyn back at her house and went in for a cup of tea and a quick bite then got on the road at 2pm. The journey to Strahan was fabulous and I have to say possibly the best drive I’ve ever done in my life. Once we left the suburbs of Hobart the route was through countryside and then winding round and round the mountains, with some very tight bends. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed towing a caravan around it, although I should hope they’re not allowed on it. On two occasions a group of bikers overtook me, crossing double white lines whilst approaching blind bends at high speeds which was somewhat unnerving. They must have stopped ahead of me as they all passed me again later. There were lots of signs for short walks to falls and a few lookout points but I hadn’t given myself enough time to take advantage of them. I particularly wanted to stop at a place called Derwent Bridge where there is a massive wooden sculpture called ‘The Wall’ but I noticed it was closed by the time I passed. I’d heard about it from the woman I briefly spoke to on the ferry.
Some views en route to Strahan:
I got to Big 4 Holiday Park in Strahan around 6.30pm where I had a cabin for 3 nights. There’s a stream running through the park (which was pretty crowded not just with people in cabins but campers and caravans) where I was told I might be lucky to see a platypus at dusk or dawn. Strahan is a small town and former port on the banks of Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania.
I’d booked a Gordon River Cruise for Friday 14th with World Heritage Cruises, the favourite one as it’s a local family owned one, having been run by the same family (the Grinings) for five generations. The Grinings were among the settlers of the fledgling port of Strahan and pioneered tourist cruises into the Gordon River in 1896. The cruise left at 9am and near me were two women travelling together, Lyn and Anne, who I chatted to and we sat together throughout. The Captain commented on and off. First point of interest was going through Hell’s Gates, the name of the mouth of Macquarie Harbour and so called by convicts going through this shallow and dangerously narrow passage from the wild southern ocean en route to Sarah Island (their hell on earth).
There were several lighthouses, one being the southernmost working lighthouse (middle picture):
We had a large school of dolphins travelling along with us for a while which was lovely:
We passed aquaculture pens (fish farm) of salmon and ocean trout where a man was watering an area with apparently pellets in the water canon for the fish so they were evenly distributed:
We had an hour on Sarah Island (the harshest convict settlement in Oz which became the largest shipbuilding yard in Oz) and could either do a guided tour or self guide by picking up a leaflet and walking round. I decided to do the latter as didn’t fancy walking round with so many people but later realised I’d made a mistake as the guides were bringing it all to life by talking about various characters who’d been on the island. It was named Sarah Island in 1815 by James Kelly after Sarah Birch, wife of the doctor Thomas Birch who financed his expedition (circumnavigating Tasmania from December 1815). Most of the buildings that had been there were just piles of rubble and I found it difficult to imagine how they would have been. What a shame it was all left to fall into ruin, but I doubt once convicts were no longer imprisoned there no-one could have imagined it might become a tourist attraction.
We had a very generous buffet lunch on the boat as we travelled slowly along the river which was as smooth as glass and reflected the sky and forest:
We had a stop in the ancient rainforest and the Captain pointed out the various trees including Huon Pine, Blackwood and Leatherwood.
Then a film was shown on the boat as we made our way back, with some elderly men relating about the times they’d worked in the forest for a month at a time cutting down the Huon Pine trees. Unfortunately I fell asleep during some of the film, probably due to the beer I’d drunk and lunch, but was told it dragged on rather.
The tour finished at 3pm when we disembarked at a Huon Pine saw mill. I arranged to meet up with Lyn and Anne to go to see a play: ‘The Ship That Never Was’ – physical theatre with audience participation and just two actors, a man and woman. Apparently it’s Australia’s longest running play telling the dramatic and hilarious true story about the last great escape from Sarah Island. ‘In January 1834 the last ship built at the convict settlement in Macquarie Harbour is about to sail for the new prison at Port Arthur, but 10 convict shipwrights have other ideas! So begins the story of an amazing escape and an extraordinary voyage’. It was funnyish but I felt it was rather childish and would have been better just geared for children. I walked back with Lyn and Anne, who were staying at the same place as me, and shared a bottle of wine (theirs) with them in my cabin with some cheese and biscuits chatting to them until 9pm. They’re off tomorrow to Bruny Island.
Quite an early rise on Saturday 15th. It had rained in the night so was a bit cool. I had to check in for my West Coast Wilderness Railway tour 30-45 minutes before its 8.30am departure from Strahan’s Regatta Point station to Queenstown and back, stopping along the way. It was to be a full day and I wondered if I might get bored spending so much time on a slow train and hoping there’d be some interesting people to sit with.
The railway was built in 1896 to transport ore from Queenstown’s mines to the port of Strahan, and the West Coast Wilderness Railway now carries visitors through Tasmania’s western wilderness in style aboard historic carriages pulled by meticulously restored steam engines. There were three carriages and mine was the middle one (Heritage carriage), the cheap seats, in between two Wildnerness carriages where passengers had a glass of sparkling wine on arrival and food throughout the journey, costing a lot more than I’d paid. I was seated opposite a retired Queensland couple, Brenda and Peter, who were travelling around Tasmania with their caravan and next to me a nice young woman called Katie, a midwife, who was with her parents and her mother’s cousin and husband. They were all very nice people. I also noticed a family who had been at last night’s play and it turned out they were 4 generations: great grandma aged 86 who had flown in from England and lives in Sevenoaks, Kent (small world), her daughter who had moved to Australia because her daughter had and her two young daughters, who were very well behaved throughout. I took a picture of them, unbeknownst to them clearly:
A chap called Jonny Palmer had got the last seat on the train in our carriage just before we were about to leave and I noticed he was English. He told me he lived in Halesowen (near Birmingham) and worked as a racing (motor) commentator and had been working in Oz (Bathurst in fact) and had combined it with a short a trip to Tasmania. Again, small world.
In our carriage was a lovely young man called Simon who gave a commentary on and off along the journey, on a microphone, his commentary going throughout the whole train. Simon reminded us throughout what a difficult job it must have been for the workers to cut their way through the rock and dense forest, sleeping in tents and no heating. Apparently they were paid 6 shillings per day out of which they had to pay for the cost of their tools, food and accommodation leaving very little else. The 35km railway went from 9 metres above sea level to its highest point of 250 metres following the King River for much of the way and the Queen River for a shorter distance. The men were learning as they went along how to construct bridges, some of which were sent in parts without instructions. Very much trial and error.
Our first stop was Lower Landing Station, on the edge of the King River, to stretch our legs, go to the loo and for the driver and mate to fill up the engine with water. The locomotive had been converted from running on coal to oil some years previously. We saw the remains of the old ‘Quarter Mile Bridge’ in the King River as we crossed:
The next stop was Dubbil Barril station – it’s not really known why it’s spelt like this. Here there was a short walking trail through the rainforest where there were Huon Pine trees and other native species.
Back on the train and we travelled up to 250m of elevation over 3.5 km, the steepest section of the track under the power of the Abt rack and pinion system (the only operating Abt rack and pinion system in the Southern Hemisphere and invented by Swiss engineer Dr Roman Abt) to reach the next stop of Rinadeena, meaning ‘Raindrops’.
There was a brief stop at Lynchford, where we didn’t get off the train, and Simon told us about Cornelius Lynch, an 1880s Explorer who had found a large nugget of gold which started the gold rush.
We arrived in Queenstown (originally called Queens Crossing) at 1230 and had until 2pm there. Included was a guided walking tour, one straight away and another at 1.15pm. I took the first with just 3 other people. We were walked around some of the town by a woman called Charlie who showed us some of the historic buildings such as the Paragon Theatre (now refurbished inside with comfy seats and old cinematography equipment on show), two old hotels and the post office. The town is bounded by two mountains, Mount Lyell and Mount Owen, which make it particularly picturesque. The mountains were formed from different minerals.
There were also some nice murals:
I had a quick lunch then back on the train which left at 2pm. We stopped at Lychford, this time getting off, where there were some lovely old photos of railway workers, annual picnics on the train and where some of the group had a go at panning for gold. When we stopped again at Lower Landing there was some honey tasting of the local Leatherwood Honey (which some people think tastes of old boots) and two other nicer honeys, then the chance to buy honey which I resisted (not difficult!).
We arrived back at Strahan just after 6pm and I can saw that I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
On Sunday 16th I checked out of my cabin just before 10am. I had been deliberating whether to retrace some of the route I’d driven to Strahan in order to visit ‘The Wall’ at Derwent Bridge and drive to Wilmot (next stop) from there but it would have added 150km to my journey and seemed ridiculous. If I’d got an early ferry from Brundy Island I would have had time on the way to Strahan. So, should I ever return to Tasmania that will be on the itinerary. ‘The Wall’ consists of carvings in 3 metre high wooden panels by the artist, Greg Duncan, and is his commemoration of those who helped shape the past and present of Tasmania’s central highlands. It’s 100 metres long and the carvings depict the indigenous people, then the pioneering timber harvesters, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers. There were two volumes about it on the Gordon River boat with pictures of all the carvings and it looked fabulous.
So, instead I took the shorter route which was also a pleasant drive, hardly any cars on the road which again was winding but, this time, long winding bends not the short sharp ones into Strahan. I stopped at Zeehan, once Tasmania’s third largest town and known as ‘Silver City’. There were some Art Deco buildings, but the place seemed pretty dead however there was the West Coast Heritage Centre, which looked interesting and was open, so I went in. I was served by a very interesting young man called Kieran and just had to take his picture:
It was a fascinating museum housed in what was originally the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy. There was a ‘world-class’ mineral collection and lots of social history. Upstairs was a huge pictorial exhibition with lots of mining pictures and various people associated with mining, pictures of ships that had been wrecked, stories of war veterans etc. Outside was a large conglomeration of old locomotives and a lot of rusty machinery associated with mining and engineering, a blacksmith’s workshop and an underground mine simulation which was great. There was a Freemasons’ hall and audio commentary explaining the history of the Freemasons and some of what goes on, and as I left a man was replenishing the leaflets and we had a chat. He was 75, although looked at least 10 years younger, and had come to Tasmania in 1970 aged 25 to work as an electrician. He nearly went back to the UK but decided not to. He’d grown up in Streatham (I told him I used to go ice skating there) and lived in Swindon. Small world again!
Then I popped into the old Police Station with attached magistrates court, also part of the museum, and into the lovely old Gaiety Theatre which had a display of costumes, exhibition of some of the pioneering women who’d lived in Zeehan and in the theatre itself old silent black and white movies on a loop, although there was no one watching at the time. The theatre was built in 1898 and was the venue for J.C. Williamson’s stage shows brought from Melbourne. I learnt that a world famous pianist, Eileen Joyce, had been born in Zeehan in 1908 but her family moved to Western Oz when she was 2 where she learnt to play the piano. She moved to England in 1930 and made her debut under Sir Henry Wood with the Philharmonic Orchestra in London and she toured the world from 1948-1962. She died in Surrey in 1991. So not really much of her life was spent in Zeehan but they’re claiming her anyway! Had I not needed to drive on I would have stayed longer.
I drove through Rosebery, which apparently has Australia’s steepest golf course and the Southern Hemisphere’s highest tree-covered mountain although I didn’t stop to check, and stopped by Lake Rosebery in Tullah for a quick bite.
My next stop was Cradle Mountain lookout, where I plan to walk tomorrow:
The Vale of Belvoir, in the foothills of Cradle Mountain as seen in the above pics, is an extensive natural grassland surrounded by old-growth rainforest. Much of these grasslands are rare and endangered providing habitat for threatened plant and animal species. It’s of World Heritage significance and is the only surviving grassy valley of its kind, unchanged since the Aboriginal wallaby hunters of south west Tasmania 18-20,000 years ago. The valley is widely recognised as one of the most important places for nature conservation in Oz.
I got to my Airbnb in Wilmot and met Pauline, one of the hosts. She’s very nice (has a heart of gold in fact) but talks incessantly which I found very wearing. She had a cousin, Colin, and his wife Alice staying in the room next to me. Pauline was originally from Northern Ireland, but was only there while a baby, and had met up with Colin over there last year for the first time in 40 years. As it turns out, Colin and Alice are Housesitters and are off to the UK later to housesit there. Pauline very kindly invited me to have dinner with them, and her husband Cameron (a baker who’d baked some lovely bread and fruit bread) and their 20 year old daughter Casey. They have two dogs, Taylor and Stella, who seem to nearly always be locked up in their room, and a lovely Ragdoll cat called Charlie who recently got bitten by a snake. Dinner was nice, although it was difficult to get a word in as Pauline monopolised the conversation. I went for a walk with Colin and Alice to a creek in the village where there were apparently platypus. By the time we got there it was almost dark so we couldn’t see them but could hear something. Some Kookaburras were laughing, well they sounded as if they were laughing.
I got up early on Monday 17th as it was a 35km drive to the turn off to Cradle Mountain National Park. I got to the visitor centre at about 8.30am and was shown a circular route to include the summit. I knew the summit would be hard as involved climbing up boulders and thought I’d get there to see what it was like before deciding whether to take up the challenge. There was a free shuttle bus to various stops. I’d been recommended to start walking from the Ronny Creek stop, and a few others got off there too, including a young married Ozzie couple, aged 27, called Reuben and Katie who asked if they could walk with me, which was kind especially as I’d been thinking on the bus how silly they were wearing shorts and looking down my nose at Reuben’s dreadlocks! It’s time I learnt not to judge people by appearances as they were lovely:
We walked initially along the Overland Track, which included a stop at Crater Lake. Then reached Marions Lookout before then going up to the start of the summit track which I decided I’d do. This was very hard and involved climbing up huge boulders, and rock climbing skills but this is just the sort of thing I enjoy, although knew it would be harder coming down. Anyone with the slightest fear of heights wouldn’t have been able to do this. Along the way I got chatting to a nice Ozzie woman, aged 52, called Marilyn who was with her 12 year old son, although I thought he was a girl as he had long hair. She told me she also had a 15 year old daughter and had home schooled them both. I’m pretty anti home schooling but kept that to myself and asked her about it. She told me she found out what their passions were and went with those. Her son, Iban, was diagnosed with Aspergers and generally doesn’t talk to anyone else except his mum. She told me she’d converted a Toyota Hiace van into a camper, which they were travelling in, and back in Oz (Noosa Hinterland, or something like that) she had converted a school bus which she and Iban lived in on land rented at $100 per week from a lovely lady:
I negotiated the summit for a while with Marilyn, her son, Reuben and Katie having gone ahead, until she decided she would go no further. I should probably have done the same but decided to go on which meant I didn’t see Marilyn again. She’d asked me to call Iban back and he obediently returned to find her. He was running down the boulders like a mountain goat as were a few others but most were taking it steadily.
I sat at the first summit eating part of my lunch but was bothered by flies, so went back down and was accompanied down by an English chap called Brendan, who’d lived and worked in Sydney for 12 years and was with a group of men friends doing the Cradle Mountain overland trek – 60km – which meant staying in huts for 4 or 5 nights. He was very kind as showed me the way down (and as anticipated it was far more difficult getting down than going up) then joined his friends. I twisted my ankle and thought I’d broken a big toe at one point when I slipped. I later discovered my ankle was very swollen and big toe sore. I hadn’t seen Reuben and Alice for ages, but it turned out they’d taken a long time getting up the second summit. I’d been told to then take the Face Track (as a different route back) and Reuben and Alice followed, but this turned out to be very hard and slowed me down. At one point we were hanging onto chains where the rocks were jagged and impossible to walk across otherwise. Eventually Katie went ahead and Reuben walked with me as we knew the last bus left Ronny Creek at 6pm. He was so kind and even offered to carry my backpack but that wasn’t the issue, I was just extremely tired and thirsty as ran out of water, which he had too as had given the rest of his water to Katie. He had some grapes which he shared with me which gave us some liquid. Without him I would have been very miserable, definitely a lot slower and would have missed the last bus.
The Face Track joined the track going around part of Dove Lake which was also difficult at the start but eventually led onto board walks, some more uphill (someone was having a sense of humour when they laid the track!) and then back to the car park where we just made the last bus, which I’m sure I’d have missed if it hadn’t been for Reuben. I was shattered! I was very grateful for the help I’d had today from everyone. In future I shall be much more circumspect about what I take on as I felt a burden to Reuben and Alice. There was a lot of camaraderie, which is generally the case on treks, so if things got difficult someone would be there to help out. I said goodbye to Reuben and Alice who had an hour’s drive to their campsite at Mole Creek.
When I got back to the Airbnb there was a very nice Finnish couple staying in the 2 bedroom cottage. I don’t recall ever having met Finns whilst travelling.
On Tuesday 18th I decided to have a gentle day after yesterday’s extreme activity. I planned to drive to a couple of towns that I’d heard were interesting. The first stop was Latrobe where I’d heard from Lyn & Anne, also Pauline, that there was an interesting shop that sold all sorts of gifts with some themed rooms. The drive there was lovely, through the countryside along the winding roads. Wilmot where I’m staying is known as ‘The Vale of Views’ and it certainly is with Cradle Mountain in the background.
The shop in Latrobe is called ‘Reliquaire’ and I was greeted by a woman offering me a taste of their homemade fudge and explaining the layout of the shop. It was interesting but reminded me in some ways of a shop I visit with Margaret sometimes but not as good as the latter includes antiques. The themed rooms were Alice in Wonderland, Space, a Medieaval room and Harry Potter.
I walked up and down the main street then drove to Sheffield because it’s known as ‘The town of murals’. En route to Sheffield I drove through Railton, ‘The town of topiary’, and was stopped in my tracks by the following two examples in particular:
In Sheffield there appeared to be a coachload of elderly people wandering round looking at the murals and a minibus of Chinese tourists doing the same. There was an area described as an outdoor exhibition of murals but, in my opinion, they weren’t great and too modern. Far more interesting to me were those on walls of buildings and shops, some of which highlighted the history of the town and others which matched what the shops were selling and had probably been there for some years:
There was also a bizarre shop called ‘Emporium’ that Colin and Alice had visited yesterday which sold all sorts of collectibles, all second hand, particularly books and records:
I was feeling pretty tired by 1pm so decided to drive back to Wilmot. I’d noticed interesting post boxes in the area and stopped to take photos of some of those that were most bizarre. Just like in NZ, post boxes in Tasmania tend to be at the end of the lanes. It seemed that the houseowners were trying to outdo each other in quirkiness:
After lunch I had a long afternoon nap and a lazy evening, chatting to Pauline for over dinner, managing to extricate myself after an hour!
It started raining in the night and was still raining heavily when I got up on Wednesday 19th. I wasn’t complaining because I’d been expecting a lot more rain in Tasmania but thus far had really only had rain once. Also thinking about people back in the UK currently suffering severe flooding after the recent storm Ciara followed immediately by storm Denis.
I had a chat with the Finnish couple who were leaving before me. They are in their 50s and she told me her name was Lena and has been a social worker for 25 years, now working in child protection. His name was something like Pekka, and he is a University lecturer in Civil Engineering. I wondered if all Finnish people were as friendly as them, they said yes but very shy. I didn’t quite get the name of the town they live in, somewhere beginning with ‘J’- could be Jyvaskyla.
After checking out and saying goodbye to Pauline and Cameron, who really are a very nice couple, I went on my way deciding to go a long way round to my next and last stop, Stanley, on the North west coast. The drive was interesting as kept taking me off on different roads, one in particular that made me smile was called ‘Nowhere Else Road’ and eventually I arrived at the Bass Highway not all that far from Wilmot (!) stopping at a place called Burnie to visit the Regional art Gallery and Museum that I’d picked up a leaflet about. I was rather disappointed with the art gallery as there were just two small exhibitions: ‘Forest Obscura’ bringing together 4 multi disciplinary artists each inspired by the theme of nature-human relationships and ‘Yet to live in a place without house sparrows’ (Fernando do Campo) which was rather lost on me! There were just two paintings on show from their permanent collection and an interesting exhibit made of leather by Garry Greenwood, so no idea where the rest were.
The museum nearby, in a separate building, was more interesting although quite small too. Their permanent collection was a replica of a street (Federation Street) in Burnie dating back to how it was in 1900. This was the brainchild of a man called Peter Grenville Mercer who had been an avid collector of objects since a young boy, many of which were exhibited in the ‘shops’ in the street. He had been inspired by the famous period streets of the York Castle Museum in England (which I’d never heard of) and so the Pioneer Village Museum opened in 1971 to become the first indoor historic village to be built in Oz, being rebranded in 2011 as the Burnie Regional Museum as it is now.
The nearby library had a lovely mural outside:
Not far from Stanley I stopped to take a picture of The Nut, which dominates the town:
I got to Stanley about 4.30pm and checked into my hotel, the Stanley Hotel, an historic building built in 1847. I noticed in reception they had copies of the book ‘The light between oceans’ for sale which I’d read and enjoyed and recently seen the film of it on Netflix. I asked why they were selling it and was told that the town had been used as the set for the town when filming in November 2014! The hotel was filmed also. In the street were some picture boards of the filming and I took photos to match the boards:
On Thursday I walked up the Nut, a very steep but fairly short track up to the top. For those not able, or too lazy, to walk there is a chair lift. The Nut is a 143 metre high volcanic plug (a volcanic object created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano) rising from Bass Strait, that towers above Stanley. At the top was a very nice 2km circuit with lookouts across the Bass Strait and inland:
Apparently Tasmanian Aboriginal people sheltered from the wind on the lee side of the Nut as traces of their presence can be seen in the middens they left behind: piles of shells from their seafood diet. In European times, ships were able to take shelter from the prevailing winds in the natural harbour formed by this great rock projecting into the sea, and was a major factor in the settlement of Stanley which sure is windy!
Back down and I walked around the town, noting a few more historic buildings, including Joe Lyons’ birthplace and childhood home (a former premier of Tasmania and Tasmania’s first Prime Minister of Australia from 1932-39 and one of the most popular) and ones that I liked the look of:
I walked to the cemetery that I’d seen from the Nut where there were a few pioneer settlers buried:
Then I popped into the little museum, much better than Bligh’s Museum but still a little bit jumbled up. St Paul’s Anglican Church was next door, painted the same colour:
I bought some lovely fish and chips – the fish was called Flathead and the chips probably the best I’ve ever had – and sneaked them into my room with a beer from the bar, hoping that the next occupants of the room wouldn’t get a whiff!
After checking out I drove about 2km to Highfield House which was built by convict labour for the Van Diemen’s Land Company in 1827 as its headquarters, becoming a virtual ‘Government House’. The Company was established in London in 1824 by a group of influential merchants, businessmen and politicians in the hope of making a fortune from fine merino wool as landowners in other parts of the Island were at the time. The company was hopeful of receiving a large fertile land grant but by the time their agents arrived only land in the far west was on offer and the company was granted 250,000 acres in the North West, which was less than perfect and proved to be unsuitable for sheep who succumbed to the extreme cold and rain so the wool enterprise failed. However, once the land had been cleared of its dense timber most of it proved suitable for agriculture and the company moved from wool to land sales.
The house was originally lived in by Edward Curr, his wife and their children (they had 15 but they didn’t all live there as some were in England at school). At 27 he was made Chief Agent for the company and Magistrate for the North West. He apparently controlled his convicts and indentured servants (there were up to 100 brought from England) with an iron hand authorising twice as much punishment as anyone else in the colony at the time.
The house is quite large and interesting to walk around with a lot of information boards and various sounds such as conversation over dinner in the dining room and a woman crying in the bedroom (Mrs Curr whose daughter Juliana died in an accident aged nearly 3).
Despite it being interesting it was awful to read what the employees of the company had done. Tasmanian Aboriginal people were living in the area at the time, and had been for many thousands of years, but most of them were massacred, moved away from the area and died of colonial diseases in order for the company to take over the land. Typical of what happened elsewhere in the country.
I drove on to Devonport, after stopping briefly for lunch, and went into the art gallery. There were 3 rooms, the first was a collection of art by women, none of which I was impressed by. In another room were photographs taken of a canning factory in 1958, a bit more interesting but the third room did hold my attention. The exhibition was entitled ‘Beyond Sight’ by Katrin Terton: ‘a multi-sensory exhibition in which visitors can explore the artworks through touch, sound, smell, sight and imagination’. I particularly liked ‘Driftsongs’ – 8 touchable sculptures made from driftwood, various natural materials and found objects’. When each was touched an evocative soundscape would be played, composed by sound artist Stephen Hamacek. Also ‘Wall of Whispers’ with 8 cocoon-like sculptures each with a tube through which soft recordings of people were emitted, mostly relating to the heart.
I then spent some time in the lovely library before driving to the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ to drop off the hire car there and check in for the 9.10pm sailing back to Melbourne. I’d booked a reclining seat, not a cabin. Although I didn’t expect to sleep I must have done, intermittently, as had some dreams. I was surprised that nobody snored!
So this has been a very pleasant trip and, given the opportunity, I’d definitely return to Tasmania. I enjoyed the west side much more than the east, although did like the islands. I’d say Tasmania in many ways resembles parts of New Zealand, very different from mainland Australia.
The Three Rs!
Roads: The roads in Tasmania have been very similar to those in New Zealand, even the main roads being mostly single carriageway. Other roads are good unsealed roads or not so good. The maximum speed limit is 110km per hour, a speed which the trucks seem to drive at when possible but somehow the driving doesn’t seem to be as mad here as in NZ.
Roadkill: I’ve seen a lot, mostly wallabies and possums. My first experience of this was driving from Liffey Falls to Launceston when there were dead animals every 50 metres or so to the left and right. There are notices urging drivers to go slowly, particularly from dusk to dawn. Fortunately I haven’t killed an animal but had to stop for a wallaby which just looked at me and was in no hurry to get off the road, so no wonder.
Roadworks: A bit of a bugbear as they seem to be all over the place, sometimes leaving the ‘roadworks ahead’ signs after they’ve long gone. However, there’s rarely traffic lights to sto