A Month in Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria. 15th March 2016.

It’s quite a city, is Melbourne. It almost wasn’t allowed to exist and was in danger of being named Batmania, populated by Batmen and Batwomen. But it overcame these difficulties to become Australia’s largest city and home of the first federal government – for a while at least. These days it’s reckoned to be the world’s ‘most livable city’, although I’ve always been mystified as to how these things are decided, and by whom. So there it sits, down in Australia’s south east corner. No longer the biggest city, having been surpassed by its great rival Sydney, but seemingly the best. Sydney-siders may choose to disagree.
An overnight ferry journey from Tasmania delivered me safely to the port and I headed into the city in search of a place to stay. I found a MacDonalds. They don’t supply beds but do supply internet and sell breakfast . I’d arrived at the start of the Australian Grand Prix weekend and finding a bed would not be a racing certainty. Eventually I found a hostel in the suburb of Prahran, not far from the famous St Kilda beach. The price was low, the standard at rock bottom, easily the worst one I’ve stayed in. But the proverbial beggar can’t be a chooser so I gritted my teeth, cleared some rubbish off the floor and settled in. In contrast, the pub and restaurant which the hostel sits above looked really nice. Prahran itself is one of those urban areas which are near enough but far enough from a city centre to provide both a respectable shopping district and a lively evening scene. I discovered a great food market, housed in a late 19th C trading hall and filled with delicatessens and suppliers of fresh food. Transport links were good too, trains and trams into the city. So outside was definitely better than in.


The huge frontage of Flinders Street station.

Having had a busy time in Tassie I was now marking time to some extent. My son, Ross, was due to join me in a few days time so I wasn’t going to visit the tourist places until he arrived. But a few trips into the city centre for some research showed the trains to be handy and the city to be full of things to see and places to visit. Coming out of Flinders Street station, a dash across the busy junction got me to Federation Square where, like a signpost to all the delights of Melbourne, the visitor centre staff where ready to guide me to all the guides I needed. Weighed down with maps, leaflets and brochures, I felt ready for some planning.
Meanwhile I’d been in touch with a Melburnian named Doug, who I’d been introduced to by a mutual Facebook friend. He’d suggested a ride out somewhere and we settled on the Great Ocean Road, part of the tourist route which links Melbourne with Adelaide. Although I’d already ridden along it I had been in a bit of a hurry, on a showery day, so was happy to do it more justice.


Doug Mullet, my guide for the day.

We met at a motorway service area, to the west of the city, on the kind of day that makes you glad to be a biker. Clear, sunny and with a Mc breakfast to start the day off properly. Doug is a retired teacher, multi talented judging by the range of subjects he used to teach. From maths, through physics to drama. He’s now a man with ambitions. He plans to buy a camper van, put a bike on the back and travel Australia. A great combination I reckon. But he’s already been to many other countries, often enjoying long train journeys in the process, and he has cousins in London that he’s visited too. I knew I was going to have a good day out with a great companion. After all, he paid for breakfast!
The GOR winds its way along Victoria’s southern coast and is renowned for its wonderful views, small bays, bends and traffic. Despite the 30o sunshine the road wasn’t too busy and we weren’t in any hurry anyway.
Our first stop was at the home of Rip Curl surfboards. It started out as a one man business back in the seventies, the brain child of a fanatical surfer who knew he could produce better than what was around. It’s now a huge international business, so it seems he was right. I was impressed by the whole set up and the range of boards and accessories available. It almost doesn’t need saying but surf boards and accessories is a huge industry in Australia and I suspect many of the popular brands started out this way. There were surfers at many of the places we stopped at,the onshore wind creating good conditions for them. I’ve never tried it myself. Old dogs and new tricks, etc, but it looks like it would probably be fun


This evocative display in the Ripcurl shop harked back to the founder’s early surfing days.

We stopped off at Split Point to admire the view and the lighthouse, then rode along to Lorne for a hot chocolate and to Apollo Bay for lunch. I had stayed there on my way across from Adelaide but all I saw that time was my hostel, the local shops and a day-long steady downpour. It looked so much nicer in the sunshine and it was easy to understand why the tourist coaches stopped to disgorge their camera toting, sun shaded hoards. We had stopped for lunch – Doug’s treat once more. I could get used to this.
The last time I rode the GOR I’d wanted to visit the Otway Fly, a tree top walk up in the forest above the bay. I didn’t get there because of time and weather. Doug suggested we go there after lunch so I was happy to agree. I’ve been to a similar place before and I enjoyed this one too. The ‘big beast’ among these trees is the Mountain Ash, which can grow up to 100 metres tall. The walkway is about 30-40 metres up so we could see plenty of bird life and get a different view of the forest floor. The ride up there and back was good fun too.
Throughout the day Doug and I chatted about bikes, riding gear, travelling, future plans and so on. A great day out and one of the highlights of my stay in Melbourne. Thanks Doug. I had a great day out with a true gentleman.


The Great Ocean Road has plenty of natural beauty to admire.

Odd things happen sometimes, which you can look back on and wonder about your luck, both bad and good. My riding boots needed repairing and I’d found a place just north of the CBD which specialised in motorcycle boots. One Saturday I caught the tram into the city, a tram which would have taken me right there. Except it was the Grand Prix weekend and road closures necessitated a change. Initially taking the tram which went in the wrong direction didn’t help either. Mistake quickly realised, I changed back and made it there in the end. But …. I hadn’t thought to check opening hours and they had shut by the time I arrived, forty minutes too late. Bad luck? Would I have been on time if the transport had been normal and I’d managed it better? Who knows, but as it was I had to wander round the city carrying the boots in a bag and being careful to remember to pick them up again every time I put them down. Close followers of this blog will know I’m very good at leaving bags behind and the inevitable happened. I got on the train back to the hostel and as soon as it pulled away I realised I’d left the boots on the bench where I’d been sitting. I got off at the next station, immediately got onto a train going back which, because it went round in a loop, stopped at the same platform from which I’d left and there, still on the bench, were my boots. A quick check of the signboard told me the train that had brought me back to the city would now take me out to Prahran again so I promptly got back on, feeling both foolish and very lucky. I think I’d just completed a railway version of a walk through a hall of mirrors. A casual observer would have been at a loss to understand what had been going on. I wouldn’t have blamed them.


Melbourne’s older suburbs are full of neat little houses with individual styling.

Eventually it was time to leave Prahran, with no regrets at moving away from that dump of a hostel. The new one was just on the edge of the CBD, opposite the museum, and was in a different class. Ross’s flight had been delayed by technical faults so I had a couple of days to kill.
The mainstay of Melbourne’s excellent transport system is the trams. They’ve rattled around the city since the early 20th C and are free to ride within the city centre. The easiest way to pay is with a Myki card, which can be loaded with money as necessary. It’s a common enough system worldwide. The hostel loaned me one for Ross so I was able to meet him in the city centre on the morning of his arrival and get him back to the hostel without any fuss. He was, of course, very tired but after a few hours sleep we went out for a walk down to the visitor centre in Federation Square for some ideas.


One of Melbourne’s older trams outside one of the older buildings. Both beloved of tourists.

Next morning a change came over Ross. He suffers from an under active thyroid gland and this sometimes brings on anxiety. And that’s what happened to him. Whether it was jet lag, being so far away from home, worries about forthcoming exams at university or a combination of everything, he felt too unwell to do anything. And that’s how it remained for three days until eventually he went home early. A deep disappointment for both of us. I’d really been looking forward to spending time with him and he’d been looking forward to a nice holiday. But there’s no way round these things sometimes and it was simply not to be. Such a shame.
So, alone once more, I carried on being a tourist. I had bought tickets for an Aussie Rules football game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Easter Saturday. The MCG is a must see place for sports fans so I was pleased to have obtained them, especially as I wanted to see an AFL game. Ross and I had watched one on TV on Thursday, with a copy of the rules in front of us, in the hope we’d be able to understand what was happening on the pitch.


Looking across to the Sports and Entertainment Precinct from the top of the Eureka Tower (named in honour of the Eureka Rebellion.). The MCG is the arena on the left, Rod Laver Arena on the right..

The first MCG was built in 1853 to house Melbourne Cricket Club and was the venue for the first Australia/England test match. The current stadium was built in time to host the 1956 Olympic Games but has been refurbished since. It sits among several other stadia, including the Rod Laver tennis arena. In summer it is the home to cricket, in winter to AFL. It seats 100,000 people and has seating and catering facilities which make them a pleasure to use. There are big screens in the corners, very necessary in such a big stadium.
The Australian Football League developed in the 1890s and is centred mostly in the south east. Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney all have several teams, with a couple way over towards Perth and also up around Brisbane too. A total of eighteen, in just one league.


A very famous Aussie sportsman welcomes you to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The game is played on an oval pitch, with an oval ball. The pitch can be up to 185 metres long and 155 metres wide. That’s a huge area. Players can run with the ball, but must bounce it every 15 metres, ‘handball’ it or kick it. ‘Handballing’ involves hitting it to another player by punting it with the fist. It isn’t thrown like a rugby ball. The key skill is in catching. If a player catches a ball that has travelled more than 50 metres he gets a free kick. This is clearly a huge advantage if he is within range of the goal. There are four goalposts at each end and kicking the ball cleanly between the centre two earns six points. Getting the ball between either of the outer two posts, or between the centre two with any part of the body other than the foot, earns one point. An own goal will also give the other team one point and is sometimes used as a defensive tactic. It is very high scoring and fast paced, which demands constant substitution of players throughout the game. Each team can have over eighty. With coaches being allowed on the pitch at any time and a total of eleven officials, it is a very strange game indeed! The full laws and rules can be seen here: http://www.aflrules.com.au/afl-game-rules/


The huge pitch, just before the game started. Sadly, not such a huge crowd.

I enjoyed the spectacle very much and was rooting for the local team, Melbourne, who were playing the GWS Giants, from Sydney. The final result was unusually close at 82-80. My biggest disappointment was that the stadium was only about 20% full. It seems that Melbourne aren’t very good so don’t have a big following, and GWS are a long way from home so didn’t bring many fans. Unlike the TV game on Thursday, also at the MCG, there wasn’t much of an atmosphere so I didn’t get the MCG experience I’d heard so much about. Such is life.


The guys in pink are the coaches who are allowed on the pitch during the game, but can’t go too close to where the ball is.


One of the umpires (in yellow) ‘bounces off’ to start play.

Fortunately museums are pretty constant and are invariably popular, as witnessed by the amount of holidaying kids and parents at Melbourne Museum, just across the road from my hostel, in Carlton Park. Because I could prove I was over sixty, entry was free. It was well worth it too. They have some fabulous galleries and in the one about Melbourne I learned all about Batman.
Attempts had been made from the early1800s to settle the shores of Port Phillip Bay but none succeeded until settlers from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) began investigating the mainland in the 1830s. A certain John Batman claims to have ‘bought’ around 600,000 acres from the local Aboriginals, paying them in clothes and trinkets and promising an annual rental. This deal was never recognised by the authorities in Sydney. Apart from anything else Aborigines are custodians of land, not owners, so the concept of ‘selling’ just didn’t exist for them. But Batman went ahead and started a new settlement, calling it Batmania. Other settlers arrived and although denied permission to do so by the Governor in Sydney, a new, convict free town was begun. Eventually the authorities gave in to reality and sent a magistrate, a surveyor and other officials to formalise the settlement, changing the name to Melbourne, after the then British Prime Minister. The surveyor created a street plan, aligned with the Yarra River, which is now the CBD. He designated the main streets, at 99 feet wide, and the minor streets in between them to be 33 feet wide. That’s how things still are today. The colony grew off the back of successful agriculture on the fertile lands around it. Despite being part of New South Wales, the city kept itself separate from Sydney by creating its own police force, land registry etc. Eventually in 1851, after much agitation by the populace, the new state of Victoria was recognised with Melbourne as the capital.


Ecstatic headline when Victoria was founded.

Gold had been found around Sydney about that time and the authorities in Melbourne offered rewards to anyone finding commercial amounts of it in Victoria. It turned out that the hills around the state were covered in it and the Victorian goldrush was soon in full swing. Melbourne emptied out as people headed to the goldfields but promptly filled back up again as ships from around the world brought thousands of hopefuls, looking to get rich. Many did. The city most definitely did and so began the forty year boom during which most of the city’s fine buildings were erected. This included the hall used for the 1880 international exhibition, which became the home of the Federal Parliament until it moved to Canberra in 1927. ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ had been created and was thriving. More info here:
Back in the museum, I found the Mind and Body section, which, like a biology lesson on steroids, had plenty of graphic diagrams and models explaining all the bodily functions. All the kids seemed to love it. I was very pleased by the gallery on evolution too, which gave equal credit to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin for their evolutionary theories. Wallace was poor and funded his research on evolution by collecting and selling animal specimens, found on his travels. He sent his work to Darwin to seek his opinion, which made Darwin realise he needed to get his finger out when it came to publishing his own. Darwin was happy to give credit to Wallace for the work he had done, which was along the same lines as his. But Wallace would never have got his work published, he just didn’t have the contacts or clout that the rich Darwin did. So well done Melbourne Museum for giving him recognition.

Alfred and Charles. Similar theories and mutual respect.

One morning I went across to the State Library, the meeting point for a walking tour of Melbourne CBD. It was one of those where you pay the guide at the end of the tour, based on how good you thought it was. And it was a very interesting three hours. He showed us various great buildings, as well as some sparky graffiti; some of the fine shopping arcades; plenty of historical stories about the city. In the first five years of gold production around twenty million ounces of gold was mined. That’s simply incredible. He told us the story of the 888 campaign, a stone masons’ strike of the late 19th C. They wanted to be able to work for only eight hours per day and have eight hours rest and eight hours play. It was difficult but they won in the end and there’s a monument to them up in the city. I’m sure there’s no irony intended but it’s right next to the old gaol, where the bush ranger Ned Kelly was hanged.


Monument to the stone masons’ strike., leading to decent working conditions.

So now it’s time for a little story to gladden your hearts. When I started my secondary education my English teacher was a very nice, adventurous and forward looking teacher named Bernard Newsome. He and his wife came to England from Melbourne and he gained his teaching certificate there. His first job was at Crown Woods School and he taught me and my twin brother for three years, until he left. He was one of those teachers that you remember well for reasons that you can’t necessarily remember. They just leave such a positive impression on you. Roll the years forward to 2005 and Bernard, now retired after a very successful career as a senior lecturer at Melbourne university, is visiting England with his wife Mary. An acquaintance happened to know my father so he obtained contact details and rang him up. He gave Bernard my brother’s details and now they’re back in touch. When my brother knew I was going to be in Melbourne he passed me Bernard’s contact details. Now we’re back in touch. So it was to Bernard and Mary’s house in Toorak, Melbourne, that I headed when I left my hostel. And fifty years since we last met, I was welcomed into their home like a long lost son.


Bernard and Mary.

I’d be a liar if I said he hadn’t changed. Of course he has. He’s in his eighties now and suffers from heart problems, but the essential Bernard I remember. The humour, the insight and the quiet gift of knowledge is still there and I had a fabulous fortnight with them. We were delighted with each other’s company and I felt the warmth exuded by both of them. Their house has an annexe, where the youngest of their three children, Polly, lives. She’s a very sparky character and joined us on a couple of trips out, as well as taking me on a little tour of Melbourne.

I took time to do a few small jobs on the bike, including replacing the very bald rear tyre, and also sorted out some admin problems surrounding my carnet de passage. That’s a whole saga in itself. I finally collected my repaired boots from the cobbler and got them home safely without losing them. Not even once.

Plenty of grip now.

Mary is an artist and we visited a couple of galleries which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. In the Yarra River is the small Herring Island, man made from river dredging. Formerly used as a scout camp, it’s accessible only by boat, a small, motorised punt in this case. We timed it well as the service was about to close down for the winter. There are sculptures dotted around the island but the main attraction is a small gallery which happened to be showing a collection of small pictures. Called the A4 exhibition, all of them were on A4 size material and I think it made them very effective. I got chatting to the ‘duty artist’, Carin, who had four of her paintings on display. She normally paints landscapes in watercolour but said she thoroughly enjoyed working on a smaller scale and decided to produce four very delightful pictures of insects – a subject whose scale suited the size restriction. There were many other good works there too. A delightful little place. Back on the ‘mainland’ coffee and bread pudding – covered in syrup – was too tempting to turn down.

Lileth Ladybird and Basil Bee. Two of Carin’s delightful pictures.

Next day we went to a gallery of a completely different style. Built by rich art lovers and displaying most of their collection, it’s called the Tarrawarra Museum of Art. It’s a marvellous building, well worthy of the tax saving Bernard suggested it made for them. The exhibition was all about landscapes and this was reinforced by the design of the building. The rectangular openings in the surrounding wall effectively make the view over the lake, willow tree lake and distant escarpment part of the exhibition. Inside I gladly took lessons from Bernard and Mary on various aspects of the paintings, keen to extend my own knowledge of what makes a good one. We’d already discussed still life, something which, up to now, I simply hadn’t understood. Teachers never stop teaching thankfully, but by the time we got to the pub for an extremely nice lunch, I think I’d earned it.


I rather liked this landscape.

Polly and I took a tram into the city one morning so she could show me some of the places she likes. First call was to the National Gallery of Victoria. I got a taster of what’s in the galleries and what to look at when I came back for a longer visit. Same thing applied to the State Library, a building whose design and function matches that of the British Library in many ways. Melbourne has some grand old shopping arcades, some of them from Victorian times. Banks Arcade is one such, with a vaulted roof and skylights, small specialist shops and statues of Gog and Magog, those two representatives of the wars that will accompany the end of days – allegedly. I imagine they were put up to reflect what happens when the Boxing Day sales begin.


Gog and Magog, either side of a very nice clock.

We enjoyed a Japanese lunch then looked at some street art and a couple of the city’s old buildings. The former Post Office has a typically municipal look to it and has a great interior. It’s now an H&M store. Better than this was the Melbourne City Baths, built in 1904 to meet the needs of the growing population and to replace an earlier version. It’s a fine old building, in a very typical Edwardian style,, still with the original pool, balcony and changing rooms. One area has been converted into a gym, aimed at personal training rather than personal cleaning, and a squash court; but essentially the building retains its original function. Up on the balcony is a nice display of photos and cuttings telling its story, which reflects the ups and downs typical of such public facilities. Similar places were common in most British cities too. I wonder how many are left?
Polly has travelled a fair bit. New Zealand and Laos, but in particular she spent time in East Berlin, just after the wall came down. Exciting times for that city. I was happy to tell her it’s calmed down a bit now.


Polly, alongside one of the more puzzling exhibits from the Tarrwarra museum.

I decided to take a ride out to Ballarat, one of Victoria’s big gold rush mining towns and, coincidentally, also where Bernard attended boarding school. He was a first class cricketer, rower and Aussie Rules football player for his school and almost went to university off the back of that. Fortunately an English degree was more attractive to him. As if that claim to fame isn’t enough, it’s also regarded as the cradle of Australian democracy thanks to a minor revolution involving miners.
A chilly 120kms ride north west of the city found me at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s main tourist attraction. I thought the entry fee rather steep but to be fair to them there is plenty to see and do inside the gold mining town they’ve created. The buildings are reconstructions based on those from the 1850s and are laid out in streets. There are plays, demonstrations and – my favourite – plenty of steam. Visitors can also go down old mine shafts.

Reconstructed streets and modern children in a period schoolroom. It seems they used to write in trays of sand back then.

I avoided most of these things as I didn’t have too much time but got into the swing of things among the people wearing period costumes acting in various roles. The shops were open, as were houses and schools. The costumed guides were there to answer questions and to act out various scenarios throughout the day. There were loads of families around who seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely. Many of them took the opportunity to pan for gold – real gold which they were allowed to keep should they be lucky. I’m betting there wasn’t much there though.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the steam engines, which are the only source of power for the various craft demonstrations. A host of belts, pulleys and shafts moves the power around the site to various workshops, such as the wheelwright’s, where I watched how a wagon wheel is made. The great thing is that all old style artefacts are made and maintained by these steam powered workshops and the craftsmen inside them. The only concession to modernity are necessary things such as machine guards. The men wear authentic clothes and seem to have deliberately grown authentic beards too. While I was chatting to one of them I carefully examined his face, looking for the glue. But no, it was the real thing.

Steam provides the power that the wheelwright uses to make the wagon wheels.

Across the way was the Gold Museum, with detailed information about assay processes and other related displays, including equipment, clothing and stories of mining triumphs and failures. I decided in the end it was worth the money but if you ever go, allow a full day.
Not far away is the site of the Eureka Stockade and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). The story behind this place is as follows.
Miners were charged a licence fee for the right to dig. These fees were high and the miners had no say in what they were or how they were applied. Many of them had emigrated from England and Ireland and were veterans of the Chartist Movement, which sought fair representation for all men. The Chartist maxim was “That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.”  There was no representation for miners in the Victorian parliament and negotiations between their leaders and the politicians brought no result. New and more determined leaders mong the miners decided to launch a rebellion. A stockade was built to defend against the Colonial troops but a dawn battle, which lasted less than an hour, saw defeat for the miners and twenty seven dead people. The leaders were tried in Melbourne for treason but popular opinion was on their side and the jury’s verdict was Not Guilty.


The remains of the Southern Cross flag which flew over the Eureka Stockade.

A Royal Commission of Enquiry, which had been set up before the rebellion, recommended many improvements to the way the mines were licenced, pretty much meeting all the demands of the miners. In 1856 the law was changed to give voting rights to all white males. This was a significant change, one which didn’t happen in Britain until 1867.Sadly it also helped to embed sexism and racism into Australian official affairs as women and the thousands of Chinese miners were excluded.
I’ve only been able to give a very short version of the story here (Hurrah! I hear you shout) and lots more information is available here:
The museum traced this story, displayed the remains of the rebels’ Southern Cross flag and told other related stories from around the world on the democracy theme.


Workers at an Auckland meat processing works were stood down for wearing this innocuous T shirt and still await reinstatement. Even in a country as forward looking as New Zealand, injustices can still be found.

Various other venues around Melbourne helped me to learn the city’s story. The Old Treasury Building was one such. It was designed by JJ Clark, a Liverpudlian immigrant aged only nineteen, who was also responsible for the design of many other public buildings. Bursting at the seams with Melbourne history, the old vaults and offices are filled with displays about gold rush days, the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, early interactions with indigenous people and a large section about the post WW1 Soldier Scheme.I really liked the story of the Soldier Settlers. This scheme was designed to help returned WW1 troops. If they agreed to move into unoccupied areas within Victoria they were given land and loans to start farms. Although there were some successes, most of the men were too damaged, physically, mentally or both, to be able to cope with the situation. I mentioned before the Groupies Scheme in Western Australia. Similarly, all that these families had was some land and a loan. No clearance had taken place, no house had been built and it was just too much for most of them. They weren’t given enough land for a viable farm either. As in WA, the scheme was abandoned and a subsequent enquiry was very critical. But those that did make it work became the backbone of Victoria’s pastoral industry.


The Soldier Settlement Scheme. A worthy idea but badly organised.

The Immigration Museum was worth an hour or so’s visit, telling the story of immigration from Europe, especially post WW2, where Australia was a haven for the stateless and dispossessed. The federal government was keen to increase the population and as well as the war victims the era of the ‘Ten pound Pom’ was born. Many Britons left for Australia to seek a new life and were mostly successful. I’ve met many of their children since I’ve been here and they all seemed happy about their situation, including those that were born in Britain.
Melbourne has a very racially mixed population and many people are of Irish background. The potato famines of the mid-19th C drove huge numbers to leave home and gold fever infected Melbourne was a popular destination. So it was no surprise to find, when I visited the state library, a section devoted to the Easter Uprising of 1916. Depending on your viewpoint, this event was a glorious failure, but one that ultimately led to Irish independence, or it was a treasonable act of war against the British state. I’d guess that to the many descendants of those immigrants it was the former, especially as the majority of them would have been Catholic. At this time there was no conscription into the army and as the defeat at Gallipoli and the horrors of the Western Front worked their way into the Australian consciousness the people gradually turned against it. The government wanted to introduce it but were defeated in two referenda, in 1916 and 1917. One of the key influences on the first decision was the events in Dublin, which helped to turn Australia’s initial enthusiasm to ‘fight for the Empire’ into strong resistance in those areas which had a strong Irish voice. The information leaflet points out that at the time of the opening of the state library in 1856 nearly one third of Australia’s population was Irish born. So no surprise at seeing plenty of displays relating to James Joyce, WB Yeates and others.
Both the State Library and the National Gallery of Victoria have a wide range of artworks and artefacts. One of the NGV galleries over in Federation Square had a terrific and moving display of ‘angry art’ from indigenous sources, depicting the discrimination, sexual injustice and inequality their people suffered.

The tragedy of Aboriginal life and the hoped for, but unlikely, victory.

On a lighter note I enjoyed a walk around the Queen Victoria Market. This 1878 building houses a traditional working market, part wholesale and part public. It has various halls, each of which focuses on meat, dairy, fruit and veg etc., along with areas aimed at souvenir hunters and other tourists. Every Wednesday it holds a Summer Night Market where the halls are full of artisan food stalls, global food stalls and several entertainment stages. Judging by how busy it was when I went there Melburnians seem to enjoy trying different foods and ‘music while you eat’.
Melbourne had a second treat for me with regard to old friends from the past. Dave Gall used to live in Charlton, SE London, with his wife Marti. He used to join us for football games at The Valley, and in the Rose of Denmark, our pre-game watering hole. Dave is a Melburnian and soon after his son was born they returned to Australia. I had his email address so was able to arrange a reunion with them. You all understand the delights of catching up on news, comings and goings, and gossip. We had a great day. Getting to know their kids (a daughter as well now), enjoying lunch and dinner, and generally reviving an old friendship. Marti still teaches maths and Dave has given up the corporate world to become a teaching assistant at a special needs school. They both seemed very happy. Therefore I was too.


Dave, Marti, Bethany and Josh.

In among all this visiting I was busy on the phone trying to sort out my carnet de passage, my bike’s ‘passport’. They expire after one year although I’d been able to extend mine while in New Zealand. But now I had a new one and needed to get the old one ‘signed off’ and the new one started. A ride out to the customs office at Melbourne airport had been a failure. It seemed I needed to get a form filled out by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA). This made sense really because when I thought back I remembered that the Japanese Automobile Federation had to validate my carnet before Japanese customs would stamp it; the New Zealand AA had been involved in extending my carnet too. In the end it was all straight forward. It just took some emails and phone calls to a very helpful woman at the AAA. Once I had the form I contacted customs again and they said it would be OK for me to complete the paperwork when I got to Sydney. That was a real relief. I find it difficult to shake off that feeling of naughty boy type nervousness when I’m dealing with these officials. It’s not that I’m trying to fool them or anything, it’s very much that if things go wrong then my life suddenly becomes very difficult. I still couldn’t quite relax until everything had been finalised in Sydney, but things now looked all set for the right result. Phew!

Carlos filmed me and Doris.

Think back, if you can, to last July and my little escapade up on Cape York, when I went for a swim and nearly didn’t come back. The BBC got wind of it and contacted me to appear on a programme called Close Calls on Camera. It focuses on the role of the emergency services in rescuing poor fools like me. So one Sunday morning a cameraman arrived at Bernard’s house to interview me. Carlos unloaded all his gear, set it up in the living room and we simply chatted for well over an hour. He gave me some tips on how to answer his questions, the main one being that I needed to include his question in my answer as his voice would not be heard. We did some shots of me making tea, sitting in the garden drinking it, and then some sequences of me riding up and down the road on Doris. It was good fun and I think it will be broadcast towards the end of June. My fifteen minutes of fame will happen soon.
Eventually the time came for me to leave Bernard, Mary and Melbourne. I took them and Polly out to one of their favourite restaurants and had an absolutely perfectly cooked kangaroo steak. The red wine wasn’t bad either. I had been with them for over two weeks and it was a magical time. I was cosseted, fed, shown around and generally treated like the prodigal son. I was a more than willing swimmer in the natural teaching pool of Mary and Bernard, learning much about art, Aussie Rules football and story telling. It was a truly delightful interlude. Will I ever see them again? I can only hope so.

And finally, some of the terrific artwork I saw in Melbourne.


There’s Something About an Island. Part 2

Melbourne, Victoria. 3rd March 2016.


‘Spiriting’ tourists across the Bass Strait to Tassie.

Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania was slow work. Despite being there early, I queued up for ages. The staff were checking everyone for fresh fruit and vegetables. Tassie has real concerns about the spread of fruit fly and similar problems so I dutifully declared my lunchtime fruit. I could either throw it away or subject myself to a quarantine check on the other side. No contest, I kept the fruit. Oddly, they didn’t seem too fussed about my spare fuel can, something the info sheet suggested wasn’t allowed on board. Once on the car deck the crew strapped all the bikes down and I went up to the lounge. I found a table by the window with a very handy mains socket next to it and I settled in for the ten hour crossing.
I mentioned at the end of my last post I’d booked the ferry at short notice. All well and good for getting to Tassie, but what about getting back? I try to avoid deadlines while I’m on the road but I needed to be in Melbourne by the evening of the 20th March. You can imagine my annoyance when the website showed the next bookable ferry to be on the evening of the 21st! No good to me. I rang them up instead and was pleased to find they could get me on the evening sailing on the 14th, although the price left me gasping a bit. That gave me ten days for exploring the island and I figured it would be long enough.
A smooth crossing over the 200+ kilometres of Bass Strait saw me in Devonport by 6pm. Unloaded, passed through quarantine and out onto the main road across the north of Tasmania. I’d been unable to find a hostel in the port but had managed to locate one in the small town of Penguin, about 40kms away. It won’t surprise you to know that the town is named after the bird but it disappointed me when I discovered they no longer nest along the beach there, so no chance of seeing them.


A very large concrete penguin celebrates the town’s centenary.

At the time of the first a penal settlement Tasmania was called Van Diemen’s Land. It had been named by Dutch navigator and explorer Abel Tasman after his sponsor at the Dutch East Indies Company (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_East_India_Company). It had once been connected to the rest of Australia by a land bridge, enabling Aboriginals to find their way there. Over the millenia evolution had led to the development of some unique animals, as well as to some differences between the human populations of the island and the mainland. Tasmanian Devils and Tasmanian Tigers were two of the unique animals. Sadly both the population of tigers and humans were hunted to extinction by settlers. When transportation was finally stopped by Britain the people of Van Diemens Land wanted to remove the stain, as they saw it, of being a penal colony so they changed the name to Tasmania. Then came separation from New South Wales and statehood. Agriculture, sheep, timber, gold and tin mining had made the colony wealthy so more settlers soon came. It remains prosperous still. While on the ferry I attended a very amusing and informative talk given by one of the national park rangers, where our appetites where whetted for seeing the wildlife.


Tasmania. Lots of green, lots of mountains.

The west side of the island is mostly unoccupied, once the north coast is left behind. There are few roads and only small settlements, and most of the area is a series of huge national parks. In fact, forty percent of the island is protected in some way. There is some mining in the north west area and some larger towns lie on, or close to, the coast about halfway down the west side. Most habitable areas are in the south and east, including Hobart, the capital. As Australian states go, Tasmania is tiny. Its nearest neighbour is Victoria which is the smallest of the mainland states. Even so, it is over three times the size of Tassie, which compares to Ireland in size.
I made plans to explore along the north coast and into the hills of the hinterland, before heading south and west to Strahan. Hobart after that, then up the east coast and back towards the ferry port.
Meanwhile, another biker arrived at the hostel. Ryan is English, twenty years old and had flown out to visit his uncle in Fremantle. He bought a Honda Deauville and has ridden much the same route as me, across the Nullarbor and through Adelaide. He’s a very articulate and mature guy who used to own a motorcycle shop, along with his two brothers. We hit it off and decided to ride together for the next few days, at least as far as Strahan.


Ryan and Deauville

It made a nice change to have a riding companion. Yes, you can talk to other hostel dwellers about how good your day was, but they don’t really ‘get’ what the riding is all about. I feel that explaining it to another traveller is like trying to tell a drummer what playing a flute is like. Same tune, very different instrument.
We took a ride westward, along the coast to Winyard, where we found our way up to the lighthouse on Table Cape. I’ve visited several lighthouses now, so this one was a bit ‘ho-hum’, but Ryan enjoyed the tour very much. I was surprised to learn that automation came to this one in 1920, when acetylene replaced kerosene. Others I’d visited had been converted to automated electric lighting at a much later date.It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm, so we had a great view out over the sea and surrounding land. This part of Tasmania is renowned for its fruit, vegetables and flowers – especially tulips. The soil is volcanic, and the rich brown colour has the look of fertility about it.

The Nut

The Nut and Stanley.

Further along the coast we came to the town of Stanley, out on a spit of land and nestling under a geological oddity called The Nut. Almost circular, one hundred and fifty metres high, it has sides steep enough to warrant a chairlift up to the top. We didn’t go up there but the views must be stunning as it overlooks both the Bass Strait and inland. Instead, we rode around it and found a picture postcard little café on the waterside. Painted a bright red and yellow, a boat in the same colours was moored next to it, offering seal watching trips. We stuck with a nice coffee and had a chat with three who were out to enjoy a sunny ride. As often happens, the Union Flag on my British number plate started off the conversation about my route there. Fortunately I never tire of talking about it!

Stanly cafe

Pretty little cafe at Stanley.

The next part of our plan was to head up into the hills just inland, towards Leven Canyon. The map depicted the roads with wiggly lines. Bikers home in on those like bees to apple blossom, seeking the honey of the bends. We’d decided on a circular route through the hills, with a stop to look at Preston Falls on the way. Was the riding good? You betcha! We had fun, with good surfaces and challenging curves. I got us slightly lost, but we found the falls and stopped for a look. Nothing worthy of mention really, it hadn’t rained much lately. As we were walking back up to the car park we heard a bike go past. By the time we got there the rider had turned round and come back. He introduced himself as Brian and was riding a BMW K1200RS, looking surprising small for such a big bike. He asked us where we were going and when we said back to Penguin, he offered to lead us there through the back roads, reckoning he could show us some routes we wouldn’t otherwise find. So, a local rider, on a sporty bike offers to show us where its at. Would you refuse? We didn’t either and had even more fun getting back than we’d had getting there. Challenging sometimes, but enormous, honeyed fun. The roads were great but the countryside through which they passed was special too. It put me in mind of the Bavarian hills I’d ridden through at the beginning of my journey. Steep slopes, deep valleys and very tall pine trees. We knew there would be more of this to come. Tasmania was shaping up to be pretty special.


Brian and his very handy K1200RS.

Ryan and I had studied the map, taken note of advice from Brian and worked out a route down to Strahan which we hoped would give us even more bendy thrills. We weren’t disappointed. Three hundred kilometres of twisty fun. Even the main road was good. At one point we stopped to investigate Hester Gorge and in the car park got chatting to some other riders. One of them, Richard, was riding a Velocette Venom Clubman, a very nice looking example, which he’d owned since 1969 and had rebuilt over the years. It took me straight back to my teenage years, when I’d owned a Velocette too. One of the others had a Can-Am Spyder, two wheels at the front and one at the back. I’d seen plenty of these around Australia and NZ and I asked him how it handled on the twisty roads. “It sticks like glue and goes like stink” he said. Helped, no doubt by the torquey 1,000cc V-Twin engine.
We carried on and turned onto a narrower road which looped around past a couple of hydro-electric plants as it climbed through the Meredith Ranges, up to a chilly seven hundred metres. And it was here that we discovered that Tasmanian road engineers obviously all ride bikes. The surface was billiard table smooth and every bend had a perfect radius. No nasty surprises half way round. We just had to lean in at the start, set up the right speed, and maintain a constant level of pressure on the bars and tension on the throttle. Our engines, our tyres and our hearts all sang in unison as we flew through one bend after another. Up until that point I had thought of Raquel Welch or Marylin Monroe as being curvy perfection. Not any more!

We managed to stay on the back road twisties all the way down to Strahan, where we booked into the YHA hostel for a couple of nights. The speciality of the town is the boat trips which go out around Macquarie Harbour and up the Gordon River. We couldn’t get onto those running the next day so we booked for the day after. That gave us a day to kill around the town so after a relaxing morning we took a walk out along the sea front and through a local rain forested park to see a waterfall. Some much needed exercise for me and more time to chat bikes, touring and life in general, with Ryan.
There are two companies which run Gordon River tours. Both of them offer differently priced seats, according to position on the boat; both provide refreshments and lunch. We chose World Heritage Cruises, who allow you to wander anywhere on the decks of the boat, which the other company doesn’t. I’m all for egalitarianism, especially when it means better access to good photographic viewpoints. On a six hour trip like this, there was plenty to look at.


Old Velocettes shouldn’t be in museums. They should be touring round the countryside, like Richard does with his.

Ryan and I were seated at a table with two friendly couples, both touring around the island. The skipper kept up a running commentary as we headed down the harbour towards Hells Gate, where the quiet waters of the sheltered bay meet the often fierce seas of the Southern Ocean. On this day all was calm, although it was easy to see where one ended and the other began. It looks very odd to see waves seemingly breaking over nothing at all. There is a breakwater and a submerged sandbar which, literally, stem the tides so the sea doesn’t get much chance to batter the land within the harbour. It was a calm day but even so, the boat took on a new life once we’d gone through the 120 metre wide channel. I imagine that faced with a southerly gale any skipper would be wishing they’d stayed at home watching Home and Away. Yes, it could easily be that bad.


Looking inland through Hell’s Gate. It’s very strange how calm the water is inside.

Around the mouth of the channel are small, rocky outcrops with marker lights on them, and one with a lighthouse, the white walls very pretty in the sunlight.
Back inside the harbour we went to look at a fish farm. Luckily it was feeding time, otherwise there wouldn’t have been much to see. As it was we could see the circular nets, with some platforms inside. Feed is delivered by hose. Like some kind of demented gardener, a guy on a boat was spraying the area inside the nets with a mixture of water and feed. This operation takes place four times a day, making for some fat, fast growing, trout and salmon.


Feeding time at the fish farm.

The main place of interest was Sarah Island, a former penal settlement, which had a reputation as being the worst possible prison to be sent to. It operated from 1822-34, pre-dating Port Arthur, and for much of that time was a place of brutality and terror. Re-offending convicts, both men and women, were sent there, and suffered under a commander who delighted in delivering the harshest of punishments. Severe floggings and hard labour in chains, with minimal rations, were common. The stated objective of the regime was to deter other prisoners in the colonies from misbehaving by making Sarah Island’s reputation so bad that none would want to be sent there. It’s no surprise that when the commander got into difficulties in a boat in the harbour, none of the watching prisoners bothered to go and help him. He drowned.


The remains of the slipway at the boat building yard.

The main occupation was felling and hauling Huon Pine, a timber much sought after for ship building. Because of the difficulty of transporting the pine away from the island they started building their own boats and ships and eventually this became another key activity. In 1825 a commander arrived who was more interested in finding prisoners to work in the ship yard and a couple of years later a master shipbuilder was posted there. Many high quality vessels were constructed. Prisoners were treated and fed well and could learn a trade. During this period both punishments and escape attempts fell to almost nothing. When the settlement finally closed in 1834 the last ship to be built was due to be sailed to the new settlement at Port Arthur. It never made it. The convicts had other ideas and The Frederick became ‘the ship that never was’, now the name of a play. Ten convict shipwrights stole it and sailed to South America. They made it to Chile, although some were later recaptured and returned for trial. In earlier times many convicts tried to escape and there’s a story about Alexander Pierce, who escaped with seven others into the bush. He survived, the others didn’t. They became his source of food. Nice!

How the colony developed.

How the colony developed.


The value of learning a trade.

The value of learning a trade.

The story of Sarah Island is a fascinating one and it’s been described as ‘a place of degradation, depravity and woe’. This is part of the truth but not all of it, as the tour was able to reveal. The guide was excellent – informative and amusing. Very well worth the time spent and nicely gory too.
After the very excellent buffet lunch we travelled inland for a while, up the Gordon River. We landed by a nature trail, which took us along boardwalks to where we could see the area’s oldest Huon pine. Australia’s native trees are usually very impressive but this one was lying down, and has been for the last twenty years. It seems it still counts as a tree rather than deadwood because the roots are still in the ground and there is growth on the trunk. I felt somewhat cheated, as if I’d been offered a chocolate bar and given a toffee.


Six hundred and fifty year old Huon pine. Somebody had to count all those rings!

Back on the boat we enjoyed a video all about the men who spent their time felling these trees. A tough life, with many months away from family, but big rewards for the sought after timber. All Huon pines are protected now and the only available wood is from recycling. The boat landed us next to one of the old sawmills, which still produces Huon pine products. There was a demonstration of sawing and plenty of wooden trinkets on sale. It had been a great day out, well worth the time and money.


Trimming a Huon pine log down to size, ready to be made into tourist tat.

Ryan had decided to head back north. He wanted to explore those marvellous roads a bit more. I had a deadline so I needed to move on, with Tassie’s capital city, Hobart, next on my list. I was sorry to leave Ryan behind, I’d very much enjoyed his company.
A wet start but dry by lunchtime. I met a couple of bikers at my lunchtime café, so had a nice chat while I warmed up. The drying road and warm sun then gave me a decent run into the city, where I’d booked a hostel in the CBD. But before I got there I diverted to a place called MONA – Museum of Old and New Art. It is as unlike a traditional art gallery as anything you could imagine. Think Frank Zappa rather than Barry Manilow. It is Australia’s largest private gallery and probably its most controversial too. Owner David Walsh described it as ‘a subversive adult Disneyland’ when he opened it five years ago. It’s reckoned to have had the same beneficial effect on Hobart that the Guggenheim did on Bilbao, shining a bright light on the city and its surrounds and encouraging more tourists. Other city businesses have invested accordingly and reaped the benefit.


Somebody’s take on the Porche feeling.

In my opinion art, at least some of it, should be about poking the establishment in the eye with a sharp stick. Have you ever heard of Gilbert and George? Two artists from Britain who have been doing just that since the late 1960s. Their art almost always includes themselves and, from what I saw at MONA, seems to delight in undermining the kind of attitudes displayed by the right wing press. Racism, xenophobia, religion, inequality of all kinds. They’ve worked from their studio in East London for most of their time together and are a gay couple. One of their quotes about their work is: “Our art is capable of bringing out the bigot inside the liberal, and the liberal inside the bigot.”
The photos show some of their work and I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.


There’s a variety of other work there too. Some of it edgy, some just plain weird. One display was a wall full of plaster casts of female genitalia. Very strange, not especially erotic and the main question in my mind was ‘how was it done?’ Gallery information can be found here: http://www.mona.net.au/ There’s a good newspaper piece about it here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-13/mona-got-hobart-humming/7081376
My hostel was on the edge of the CBD, convenient for walking to the various places of interest. Hobart is clearly on the up, with a new shopping mall and plenty of places to eat and drink. But it still seems to have some edgier places out on the, erm, edges. On Saturday I went to the famous street market, down at Salamanca Square, near the waterfront. It was certainly busy, with plenty of stalls selling clothing, trinkets, food and drink, all spread along one side of the square. There was a cruise ship in the harbour so the ‘bees’ where buzzing around the ‘honeypot’. It was a nice, sunny day, so who could blame them? I’m sure the stallholders where content. The square has been nicely restored, with cafés and street sculpture.


Street sculpture with an Aussie flavour.

In the harbour a number of nicely restored boats were on display, as well as a couple of sailing ships used for training courses for youngsters. Straight away they put me in mind of Maria, the Danish woman I met on the ferry between Russia to Japan. She’d been on one such voyage as a teenager and is now a master mariner. These trips are great for building confidence and teamwork skills, although I don’t suppose very many participants go on the become Captains. The harbour area generally is very visitor friendly too.


Nicely restored boats.

Nearby is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a marvellous place in which to while away an afternoon. The complex includes some of the island’s oldest buildings, from the time when the port’s main function was to provision the prison and settlers. There is a smorgasbord of displays: the history of settlement; indigenous culture; natural sciences; art from colonial times to modern day. Three displays grabbed my attention. The geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean; all about how the polar currents work and recent discoveries about undersea mountains in the region. In the wildlife gallery was the sad tale of the Tasmanian Tiger, hunted to extinction by pastoralists, who were paid a bounty by the government. The last one was killed in the 1930s, before naturalists were able to do anything to save them. The even sadder story of the indigenous people, who were displaced, tricked and also hunted almost to extinction. They fought hard to protect their land, especially after settlers began to fence it. In the end the only remaining Tasmanian Aboriginals were those living on some of the Bass Strait islands, until they were also forcibly removed because settlers wanted the land. Some survived and recently they were given back these islands, so their numbers are growing now. Read more here: http://www.tas-aboriginal-elders.org.au/history


Tasmanian Tiger.


An Aboriginal point of view about Australia Day.

I took a ride out to Bruny Island, lying just off the coast, south of Hobart. Accessible only by ferry, it’s a place of natural beauty and is really two islands connected by a very narrow neck of land. As I rode along it I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before global warming caused the sea to wash away the road, like an incoming tide eating away at a sandcastle. But for now it provides a place where visitors can climb a steep path to a 360 degree lookout point, or stay close to the beach to watch penguins coming home at dusk. I rode around both islands, mostly on gravel trails, and enjoyed the scenery. It’s easy to see why tourists like the islands. There’s some lovely bays, good fishing and plenty of trails for keen walkers and cyclists.


The connecting road between north and south islands. How long before swimming will be necessary?

My last day out before leaving Hobart was to the former penal settlement at Port Arthur. First opened in 1830, it was built to replace the one at Sarah Island. It closed in 1877, by which time most of the prisoners were too old to work. During its busiest period there were around 1200 prisoners, male, female and children. The settlement was expected to be self sufficient, earning its keep from timber felling, boat building, brick making and coal mining. It was a place for dealing with secondary offenders, as Sarah Island had been, and was another place of cruel punishments. An English prison reformer, Jeremy Bentham, had studied new prisons in Pennsylvania, USA, and brought these ideas back to England. London saw the building of Pentonville prison, based on these ideas. His thinking was to replace physical punishment with a regime of psychological control, a system designed to be a ‘machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. The system was adopted at Port Arthur and led to the construction of the Separate Prison, where those not responding to a diet of moral and religious instruction were kept in separate cells and not allowed to communicate with anyone. Even the pews in the church had single seats, closed off from those next to them. In some cases it worked, but in many others it simply drove people mad.


18th century view of the prison system. It was adopted with enthusiasm.

Once the settlement closed, the buildings and land were sold off but it wasn’t long before tourists started to visit so some of them were retained and refurbished, to be used as museums and hotels. Today there is a huge complex of old buildings, some in ruins but many still intact. It covers the area of a small town and the scale of it was the most surprising thing to me. Another surprise was the ability to wander round the site, in and out of the buildings, with almost no supervision and right up until dusk. It’s a big site and you can get a lift in electric carts around it. I was amused to discover that all the staff are constantly on the lookout for people who fly drones over the site, trying to take unofficial photographs. I wondered if they shot them down but it seems not.
Talking of shooting. Does the evil of a place remain in the walls or maybe the ground? I ask because in 1996 a Port Arthur man named Martin Bryant killed thirty five people and injured many others, in and around the town. It began with the killing of some local people he had a grudge against but soon changed into random shootings. More details here, if you want to read them:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_(Australia As a result the federal government, with the support of state governments, introduced nationwide controls on access to weapons. There have been no similar shootings since. USA take note!


Separated pews in the church. Prisoners weren’t allowed to talk to each other but they used to sing instead.


Some of the old Port Arthur buildings.

With a ferry to be caught soon, albeit at the other end of the island, Hobart had to be left behind. Tasmania isn’t very big, as I’ve already said. From Arthur Port to ferry port is less than three hundred kilometres, although my planned ride up the east coast would add some extra. But I didn’t intend to do it in one day, even though could. I’d studied the tourist guide and had marked a couple of places to visit. I’d even found a hostel in which to stay, en route. Talking of hostels, I was pleased to be leaving this one. It was a bit run down and trying to get a good night’s sleep had been closer to living under a motorway bridge than I would have liked. The traffic was constant.
There is a very long bridge that crosses the Derwent River, on the way out of Hobart. Last time I rode it the sun was shining on the hills in the distance. This time all I could see ahead was cloud. I zipped up my jacket and settled in for a wet ride. And I wasn’t disappointed, if you see what I mean. Despite being very damp, it wasn’t cold and the roads were good. Soon enough I arrived at the small town of Bicheno, and stopped at a motorcycle museum, as mentioned in the tourist brochure. It was small and displayed a variety of 1950s, 60s and 70s bikes, collected together by the enthusiastic owner. There were even some for sale, had I been tempted. All of them were from my youth even if many of them, like the Benelli Six, had been way out of my price range. When I was young my budget sometimes stretched to a number with one zero on the end, definitely not three!

Afterwards I was glad to find a café and bakery, as are often present in Aussie high streets. These small places usually have speciality products and I happily discovered the delicious delights of a lamb and rosemary pie. With the hot coffee, I was now nicely warmed up and the rain had stopped too.
Moving on up the twisty road I came to the Natural World Sanctuary. Imagine for a moment that you’re walking through the Tassie bush and you hear the crunching of bones being eaten. You sneak a bit closer and you see a small, dark haired mammal eating a dead animal for its dinner. It looks up, sees you and suddenly you’re faced with a mouth full of large, sharp teeth and a pair of ears glowing bright red, like a bulb behind a hairy lampshade. You’ve just met a Tasmanian Devil, one of Tassie’s indigenous marsupials.


Tassie Devil. The white markings help disguise them at night.

The sanctuary had lots of them. It was big and was full of pretty much all the mammals and birds Southern Australia and Tasmania has to offer. With the sun now shining, I enjoyed a couple of hours looking around. I was able to watch the Devils being fed and also learn all about their habits from the guide. Here’s a brief overview of what they’re about.
Firstly, they are Marsupial Mammals, nothing unusual for Australia. They live about five or six years and weigh around 6-8kg. Their name comes from their appearance. Their ears contain many blood vessels and when necessary they will suffuse with blood. Even just with the light behind them they look bright red. They have the strongest jaws of any mammal, relative to their size. Strong enough to bite through a human femur. They will eat mostly carrion and any live animals they can find. At breeding time, the female is kidnapped by the strongest male in the area, is taken to his den and is held captive there for a week or so, in a near comatose state. He spends that time impregnating her, to use the politest phrase I can think of. If this were humans behaving like that the tabloids would be having a field day! However, at the end of that period the tables are turned and she kicks him out of the den while she is gestating. After twenty one days she gives birth to around 25-30 young, 60% of whom will not survive. She only has four teats and competition is fierce. Devils eat small animals and carrion so the dead young help feed the mother.

Unfortunately they have one weakness. They are susceptible to catching a contagious form of cancer. The result is very nasty mouth tumours, which continue to grow until they can no longer eat. This sanctuary has a breeding programme, based around cancer free animals, which are kept out on an island. They attempt to spread the gene pool as widely as possible, especially as some schools of thought believe a narrow gene pool assists the spread of the cancer. They are also experimenting with a vaccine. Why go to all this trouble? The Devil is a vitally important animal to the ecosystem of Tasmania. They help keep down populations of feral cats and dogs by denying them carrion to eat. More importantly, they keep down the population of foxes, who are a real threat to native species. Other breeding programmes help support wallaby populations too. I don’t like zoos much but sanctuaries like these are valuable and aid the survival of threatened species. I thought it was great.
The day’s ride ended in St Helens, a small town near the coast. I’d put the hostel address in the GPS but when I got to the location, no sign of it. After I’d scouted around a bit I went into the reception of a motel, where a nice woman told me it had closed down. “But I’ve got vacancies” she said, “normally $80 for a double room but I’ll do you one for $70.” That was still more than twice what I would have paid in a hostel but the alternative was to camp. “I can’t really afford that, how about $50?” I said, with an expectant smile. She said she couldn’t go that low so we settled on $60. I was happy enough with that as I was still a bit damp and the tent didn’t appeal very much. “The only problem with a motel room,” I said to her, “is that I can’t cook for myself.” “Not to worry” She said, “how about if I put you in a family room, for the same price. There’ll be a microwave and a kettle in there.” That was good enough for me. So I ended up in a five bedded, two room unit for only $60. End of season days have their advantages. I was almost tempted to hang a sign on the door to see if there were any takers for the spare beds.


Lichen covered rocks, looking quite fiery.

My last day in Tasmania was sunnier and warmer so my ride out to look at the Bay of Fires was more enjoyable. Bay of Fires? A strange name and one which a tourist brochure suggested was earned by the red lichen covering many of the rocks. But when I rode out to Binalong Bay, at the southern end of the 40km long main bay, I read an info board which said it had been so named by Captain Furneaux when he saw hundreds of fires strung along the shoreline as he sailed past. They led him to believe the country was densely populated. But even so, the red lichen is very striking. A bit further up the coast I rode out to an area called The Gardens, which gave a view of most of the bay. Red rocks were everywhere.


Tin Dragon on the hillside on the road into Derby.

Retracing my wheel tracks, back to the main road, I continued my journey north and west, on a direct route to Devonport, via Launceston. At the small town of Derby I called in at the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre. I’d seen the figure of a dragon formed by, and painted onto, some rocks on the side of the hill as I rode into the town. But I guessed the centre was more than just the story of some rock painting and I was right. It was all about the mining activity which centred on the town and the ‘Tin Rush’ which led to it. It was the Chinese that first found tin in the area, while looking for gold. They built a 48km water race to get the essential liquid across to their mines. Eventually the town decided to build a dam across the local Cascade River to guarantee a year round supply to Derby Mine, the biggest in the area. High pressure water was needed to separate the tin from the overlying rock. It’s easy to see the effects of this, where hillsides have been removed and great heaps of spoil left behind. But in 1929 nature took her revenge. Five days of solid rain in the surrounding hills, culminating with a fall of five inches in two hours, put enormous pressure on the dam. Although it had been declared ‘fit for purpose’ by inspectors, it eventually gave way under the pressure of water. The force of it rushing through the narrow valley was so great that the river reversed its flow for five miles upstream. Everything in the valley was swept away, including many houses and other buildings, and fourteen people were killed. The dam was rebuilt in the 1930’s and the mine reopened in 1937. The tin it produced was vital to the war effort.


Hillside removed, all for the tin within.

The interpretation centre did an excellent job of telling the local story as well as describing the history of tin use and mining world wide. The advances in metal technology were very significant in historical terms, even to the extent of affecting the outcome of battles when one side had better weapons because of it. The Romans probably invaded Britain partly to get hold of the tin we produced. I love history so learning new things at this place was a delight to me.
Apart from stopping at a car park for a toilet break, the rest of the journey to Devonport was uneventful. Now I wouldn’t normally write about a loo break, but the local State Emergency Service (SES) had set up a ‘revive and survive’ centre there. While travelling the roads of Australia I would often see signs with this slogan on, to encourage drivers to stop for a rest. Roadhouses and cafés will offer free coffee to drivers too. Here they were offering free tea or coffee so I was more than happy to indulge. For a small donation I could get a packet of biscuits too. Having had personal experience of the value of these organisations I happily donated.

revive and survive 2

“Have a cup tea mate.” “Thanks, don’t mind if I do.”

Devonport, despite it being Monday, was deserted. It was Labour Day bank holiday and everything in the CBD was shut. It seems all Aussies get the day off, even most waiting staff and cooks. So it was fish in a bun at MacDonald’s before heading round to board the ferry. When I got there I was amazed to see dozens of old Harleys and Indians queuing up – and I mean really old. There had been some kind of competitive event between the two marques on Tasmania, which Harley had won, “for a change,” someone told me. I discovered later that the ‘Great Race’ is held somewhere in Australia every year, the aim being to continue the early 20th C rivalry between the two marques by means of a navigation and reliability challenge. Pre-1958 bikes only, so none of those stupid looking, over the top behemoths that are sold these days. More details here: http://www.great-race.com.au/
There were hundreds of bikes waiting to board but I took advantage of some lethargy among the queuers to get on quickly. I located the cabin my berth was in then found somewhere to sit in the lounge and settled in for the evening. Time to reflect on the previous ten days.


Really old Harley, which means it’s a nice one.

Tasania is a terrific place to visit, especially on a bike. Friendly people, great roads, beautiful scenery, which is reminiscent of high Alpine passes in some places, Wales or the Lake District in others. There’s plenty to see and do and ten days wasn’t really long enough.There were loads of other bikes around because the Ulysses club were holding their annual rally on the island. (http://www.ulyssesclub.org/ ) But my disorganised ferry bookings meant that was all the time I had. Such a shame.