Home to the Tasmanian Devil
By Miriam Chacko
UNTIL NOW, I have always lived close to the sea, whether in a coastal state or island state. All the same, islands are my preferred holiday destination. Knowing me well, my husband squeezed in a trip to Tasmania in our grand plan to explore Australia.
Approximately 250 km off the south coast of the State of Victoria lies the island of Tasmania. A drop in the Pacific Ocean, Tasmania is separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait.
The wind was fierce upon entering Tasmanian skies. The plane circled till it found a way to cut through to land. In the time we spent circling, we got a great aerial view of the island. Below me were vast expanses of faded green, intersected by the darker green steep hills of the Meehan range. A river ran parallel to the Meehan and cut through Hobart which I later came to discover was the Derwent River.
Except for the city, the landscape seemed free from partitions and borders. The city however was not. General Lachlan Macquarie, otherwise known as the Father of Australia drew a grid plan for Hobart in 1811, ignoring the topography of the area. So some of the roads even now are too steep for a horse and some run straight onto the cliff-face above the beach.
Hobart, the capital of Tasmania is a quaint English fishing village turned town turned city. Other than the heritage buildings set in the center and a few wind turbines atop buildings, nothing really stood out. My wandering green eye noticed the turbines almost immediately. If I had known at the time that Tasmania was the first in the world to form and establish Green Party; the United Tasmania Group, I would not have been as surprised.
Relatives of ours in Hobart recommended Richmond for wine and cheese, Peppermint Bay for lunch and Mount Wellington for the view. So off we went in our rental to cover the sites and to create memories.
First stop, Richmond. We drove into the first noticeable vineyard there and it was ‘Pooley’. For a couple of tourists with very little knowledge of Tasmanian wines, we were lucky to have driven into an award-winning wine estate.
Pooley grapes are grown in Coal River Valley, an area known to produce cool climate wines such as Pinot, Riesling and Chardonnay. Pooley has been run by the Pooley family for three generations since 1985. At the Cellar Door we tried their award-winning Coal River Riesling and Pinot Noir but finally settled for the 2012, medium sweet Late Harvest Riesling.
After Pooley, we drove up to Grand Vewe which is a family-run cottage industry and their specialty is sheep’s cheese. Before entering the Cellar Door, I noticed sheared wool placed at the base of plants. I thought it odd then but later came to know that wool in fact helps retain water while releasing nutrients to feed flowers, fruit and vegetables during the growing season.
At the Cellar Door, there was a range of cheese on display that we could try. From Sapphire Blue to White Pearl, each one had an unmistakable and unique taste and texture. I am not a blues fan, but the pair of Sapphire Blue (Roquefort style) and Pinot paste that immediately follows was exquisite.
The main attraction with industries such as Grand Vewe is that there is no middle man. The very person who is milking the ewes is serving you the cheese. We ordered a cheese platter and stared into the horizon and occasionally to the side where the ewes were resting and looking in our direction. It seemed only right in that moment to thank them for the cheese we were eating.
After teasing our stomachs with cheese, we were ready for a full meal. So onward we went to Peppermint Bay. The restaurant at Peppermint Bay is a strangely modern looking building in the rural village of Woodbridge. While nestled amongst green lawns and feasting on fish n chips, we had a good view of salmon pens and the lush rolling hills of Huon region.
Huon region gets its name from the mossy lemon green Huon Pine which ironically, is a conifer. This tree is endemic to Tasmania and its wood is a sought-after timber. Huon wood is durable due to the presence of an essential oil, methyl eugenol, which also gives it its unique odour. In school, all we were told about Tasmania in Geography class was that it produced premium dairy and wool. So I was pleased to learn of other good quality Tasmanian produce like salmon, Huon pine and wine.
A few selfies later, we were off to our next destination; Mount Wellington. Sitting in the car with the windows up, we didn’t realise the drop in temperature. Upon reaching the top, we got out of the car only to be shot in the head by the spiteful cold wind. I scrambled my way to the highest point to witness panoramic stills of Hobart and surrounding areas.
Then, I jolted from one information board to the next and in doing so, grasped the significance of the mountain.
‘Though it has had many names, Kunanyi’s presence connects Aborigines to country with a single voice. Aboriginal people have been on this land since time began. Kunanyi is their history.’
(Kunanyi is the aboriginal name for Mount Wellington)
‘Seasons of rain and wisdom of stories past, Kunanyi brings forth life for 2000 generations past. And forever more. Songs and dance honour this power. Listen. These words still carry in the wind, so that kangaroo and mountain berry will always grow in Kunanyi forest cloak. -Greg Lehman
These words draw a picture of Tasmania before it was whited out.
According to Mike Bingham, a Tasmanian reporter, ‘the English came to Tasmania in 1803. After one or two early clashes in a relatively brief period of living side by side, the aborigines were grossly mistreated. There are reports that in some areas they were driven over cliffs to clear grazing land, to stop them from spearing sheep. Their women were carried away by sealers for obvious reasons.
They were poisoned, they were shot at. They contracted European diseases. The last full-blooded aboriginals died within 70 to 80 years of European occupation.’
Tasmania is a beautiful island that has recently been through a recession and less recently been missing an entire race of people. I cannot think of many countries that do not have a dark past but some are darker than others.
John Masters wrote in his piece, ‘Tasmania The Tourist and The Tiger’ (1989) ‘I was amid the descendants of men and women who had been sluiced here like scum, who had wiped out a race and possibly extinguished a species. And yet Hobart, with a population of 180,000, is as pleasant and peaceful a place as you could wish for.’
That was 25 years ago. Today it is a pleasant and peaceful place with a population of approximately 217,973.
Miriam Chacko is essentially an environmentalist. After completing her postgraduate degree in Environment and International Development from the University of East Anglia, she got involved in projects promoting environmental awareness. Drawing on her experience, she has written articles on climate change and conservation.
A keen traveller, she has visited many countries in and around Asia and her love of the outdoors and interest in different cultures comes through in her writing.
Miriam has been writing for The Borneo Post SEEDS since 2013.