Saturday, August 29, 2015

False Dawn - It's still winter

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago when I thought it was the last we'd see of the snow
Now the weather gods have sent us a quick message that winter is not over yet.

Road weather alerts, snow, hail, flood warnings, gale warnings, warnings for boaties, warnings for bushwalkers and sheep weather alerts.
I shiver for those poor skinny sheep who've already been shorn.

Today's news looks like this:

Police rescue motorists stranded in heavy snowfall in Tasmania's south

12:56 EST
Snow has affected some roads in Tasmania's south, prompting police to warn drivers to use extreme caution after a number of motorists were left stranded on Friday night.

Wild weather for the Southwest

12:13 EST
A strong cold front is moving across the Southwest bringing gusty winds, heavy rain and the chance of some severe thunderstorms.
Heavy snow in Tasmania leaves motorists stranded south of Hobart

While this can happen at almost any time of year in Tasmania, especially in the highlands, the message is clear. Don't go anywhere without your winter woollies, not even on what looks like a sunny day.  
Wish my daughter would stop sending me photos of golden beaches and tropical sunsets!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Praise of Footpaths

Some beautiful weather and the wattle is in bloom -it even smells like spring!
OK I take it back. There is something to be said for footpaths. Meandered along The Margate Rivulet Walk a few days ago when the weather was delightfully springlike.
For the most part it was very pleasant, having been cleared and maintained by the Green Corps and the Tramway Hill Landcare Group, but on the map it looked as if the track would continue further up the river.
We struggled on for a while but were soon defeated by blackberries, swamps and fallen trees.
We should have stayed at the wide grassy area which would have made a great picnic spot. Above it were postcard views across the rolling hills to Snug Tiers, replete with grazing sheep and contented cows. We also enjoyed a friendly encounter with frisky young goats and a friendly farmer (maybe that should that read, a frisky farmer and friendly young goats). Felt rather frisky myself but was still grateful for the strategically placed seat at the top of the only hill.

This was probably where the saw mill was as there are the remains of a stone wall. Margate started as a convict sawing station in 1818 supplying much of the timber for the large buildings in Hobart. It then became a farming community with orchards and hops while its sheltered harbour was used  for ship building. I was surprised to discover that it was once also a coal mining region as there is no evidence of that today. Several of the walks in the area are in fact old tramway routes.These days Margate is more famous for its seafood and has a lovely Picnic/BBQ area on its beach and the harbour appears to be popular with yachties. Birds abound on this track and in the summer there are wildflowers and sometimes platypuses/platypii in the creek, though we didn't see any today.

There was one other little surprise though, a bit kitchy I know, but I am sure the children would just love it. The said friendly farmer told us that he finished building it after his grandchildren had started the project, but that guinea pigs live in it now. He did however, make it long enough in case he ever had to sleep in it. 

Gnome Home
Interesting use of Found Objects

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Near Earth Orbit - Two Geological Gems in Suburbia

Were Tasmania not generously endowed with spectacular landforms, these two at  suburban Blackman’s Bay, only about 20 minutes from the city centre would be famous. 

The first is the Blowhole, just off the Channel Highway along aptly named Blowhole Road.  It is almost as deep as the Devil's Kitchen on the Tasman Peninsula and locals say they have seen the spray spilling out of the top. There is ample parking and should you get tired of the churning and billowing, the cliffs nearby and the views across the bay are spectacular as well. Just don’t bring your dog. It is also a bird sanctuary. 

The Blowhole

Another natural wonder is only a little further on. Follow the coast road south to end of the beach and take the right hand fork.  After you have left all the houses behind and it looks like there can’t possibly be anything else, watch out for a small dirt road on your left called Fossil Cove Road.  The track starts at the rough parking area on the right hand side near the end of this road.This walk is supposed to take about thirty minutes but there are lots of stairs and you may want to spend a while on the little beach there. Watch out though that you don't get caught by the tide.

Natural Arch at Fossil  Cove
The mudstone here was laid down around 280 Million Years ago - sorry creationists, and further upheavals followed around 180 million years ago, when dolorite intruded producing the crazy columns and the riven coastline. 

Dolorite Cliffs rise abruptly from the sea*
Hobart - well Greater Hobart, is full of surprises like this. Sometimes not even the locals know them. We had to ask several people before we found the road to Fossil Cove.

Blackman's Bay itself  is one of those terribly 'nice' suburbs with a lovely scalloped beach. The beach is clean with well laid out paths and seats. Genteel houses take advantage of sea views and their yards are neat. When I stop for  a cigarette, people stop to chat. Even their dogs are well behaved. Why do I get the distinct impression that there would be a public outcry if someone were to pass wind?

*It's late in the day now, hence the bluish cast.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Goodbye Fairy Garden. This is what it looked like a few years ago. The little girls I met there called it that
The next two pictures show what it looks like now.....

Sorry. I don't see this as improvement

Obviously the people who did this don't have a romantic bone in their body and should be found some kind of occupational therapy that doesn't involve chopping things down or doing things with chainsaws and bulldozers.  Perhaps they had an unhappy childhood. Ask any child if they would rather have one of those ubiquitous plastic playgyms or a pile of dirt and some trees to climb and you know what the answer will be. There is plenty of native bushland in the background, so it is not as if the willows and ivy were doing much encroaching here either - at best they held the soil, but more on that later as I am also having an argument with one of my sons about the last post.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tale from Tasmania's Dark Side - Vale of Sorrow

Entrance to "The Valley of the Shadow of Death"

Behind these grim walls just a kilometre or two from the CBD is the Cascade Female Factory, a place of correction for female convicts transported between 1822 and 1856. Together with 10 other convict sites it was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2010. While Port Arthur is probably the best known of these and the work of male convicts is apparent in the building of infrastructure, clearing of land and the cutting of stone and timber, Cascades Female Factory is a memorial the 12,000 women who were transported to Van Diemen's Land. Most of them were guilty of only minor infractions - the theft of clothing, a pair of boots, a few coins, a bolt of cloth, a parasol or just  food, saying more about conditions in England than about the convicts themselves. Many had originally come from Ireland, which was experiencing the worst famine in European history.

It was fitting that my daughter and I had come here on a cold winter's day with snow on the mountain. It really gave us a feel for what it must have been like for the original occupants. It was also good that we had paid a little extra for a guided tour since many of the buildings are now gone and much of the history not readily apparent. The guide's voice echoed hollowly in what was once a crowded but silent enclave and a pervasive sense of sorrow remains.

Shelley, the guide stands in one of the low doorways. Most convict women were under five foot one, another indication of the harshness of the times
Women were in great demand in the colony since the ratio of males to females was seven to one. Soldiers, administrators, free men and settlers, especially farmers, wanted women as wives or domestics. Lieutenant Governor Arthur also had a hidden nation building agenda, hoping that once men were settled with wives and families, the lawlessness and unfortunate roots of the colony as a penal settlement would be overcome.To this end he divided the women into three classes. 
First Class was for those women awaiting assignment. These were women who had behaved well on the four to five months sea voyage or who had been returned by their masters through no fault of their own as well as those who had worked their way up through the system. Later, as the prison became unbearably crowded, Probation of six months was carried out on a Prison hulk anchored in the bay where women were given moral instruction and taught domestic skills such as sewing to enable them to make their way in the Colony. Class Two was for women who were doing their duty - possibly working in the kitchens, the hospital or the nursery, and working towards freedom. Their duties were usually lighter, though if they misbehaved, absconded,  were insolent to their masters or keepers or any number of graded infractions, they were immediately condemned to  Class Three, the Criminal Class reserved for severe or repeat offenders.

Entrance to Yard 1
The heaviest work and the most severe punishments were reserved  for the women of Class Three. Governor Arthur's aim was to make the prison self supporting so women were consigned to the washtub, doing the industrial laundry of Hobart. Dressed in their coarse woollen clothing, also made at the "Factory" and emblazoned with a letter "C,"  they washed in open troughs in the yard using water from the adjacent  Rivulet. The little stream was by now little more than an open sewer and often flooded the yard in the winter. Another occupation was picking oakum - pulling tar from sections of thick ship's rope until their fingers bled. They slept in solitary cells barely big enough for one person to lie down in and in the event of misbehaviour, were forced to wear a large spiked collar which made sleep even more impossible, except perhaps for the fact that they were worked from sunrise to sunset. Not all inmates suffered in silence. Members of the "Flash Mob" defied authority by rioting, trafficking in banned substances such as tobacco, putting on plays and making up songs that poked fun at their gaolers. Not that it did them much good since they were then certain to be placed in the solitary cells and put on reduced rations instead of their already meagre diet of sheep's head broth.

Underground Solitary Cells
Originally designed to hold two hundred women, the prison was soon overcrowded. By 1841, it held 730 women and 130 babies. Women who fell pregnant during service  -not uncommon since abuse and exploitation were occupational hazards -were also sent back there for confinement. In consequence of the appalling conditions, many women lost their babies and infants. It is said that of 1270 babies born in the prison, 900 died. Once a child was around three months it was weaned and sent to the nursery which was crowded and unsanitary. After a public outcry, the nursery was relocated to Dynnryne in 1838, but after the completion of a new yard, it was restored to The Cascades at the end of the 1840's.  Little is known of the fate of the children who survived, though some of their tragic stories can be read in the former matron's house.
Matron's Quarters -a semblance of normality. In response to complaints about the state of the Female Factory and more enlightened ideas about the purpose and management of prisons,  caretakers were replaced by a matron when a new spacious yard was built in 1850, shortly before the whole enterprise of transportation was discontinued.

When transportation ended in 1853 ( This is also when Tasmania changed its name from Van Diemen's Land - to mark the end of a sorry past) and the last of the prisoners had passed through in 1856, the buildings went through several incarnations - first as government buildings of various kinds - a male invalid depot, a female invalid depot, a boy's reformatory, a Contagious Diseases Hospital, a Lying- In Home and a Hospital for the Insane, before finally being subdivided and auctioned off to private enterprises including a winery, a paint factory and a fudge factory and even a tennis court, before being bought with Federal grant money through the efforts of the Women's Electoral Lobby in the 1970s.
Of the women who passed through its doors, with a few notorious exceptions, most went on to marry and become the solid citizens as Governor Arthur had hoped. Their stories are now being collected and published by the Female Convicts Research Centre. You can also learn more about them at Cascades.  

Memorial Garden
We finish our tour at the memorial garden where a few wan shafts of sunlight filter through the bare branches. It is  beside the Visitors Centre where yard three used to be. I'm sure the female inmates of the factory would have given anything for a few minutes of quiet relaxation like this.
The Female Factory is open from 9.30 a.m to 4 p.m. daily. As well as the tour which we enjoyed there is also a dramatised version involving two actors "Her Story" which happens daily at noon though you do need to book for this.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Lament for a Lost Landscape

Only a shadow of its former self. The dense thickets have already been removed. Wish I had taken a photo earlier
A few months ago, while hunting and gathering, I came upon a delightful spot near the river at New Norfolk.  There were several  banned species -willows arching over the banks, tall stands of fennel, a couple of wild fruit trees and a clutch of berries. A motley assortment of ducks swam towards me as I approached the river bank. Insects buzzed and fish leapt in flashes of silver. Another of those Wind in the Willows sort of places,  - for dreaming, sketching perhaps, having picnics, playing games. Definitely one to bring the little girls to, next time they came.

I saw it again in the Autumn – a riot of golds and yellows with rich dark hawthorn berries  all around.  Then it happened.  I could hear chainsaws in the distance as the willows were brutally chopped down.  By the next visit,  on a dark winter’s  day, all were gone, along with the secret bowers, the birds, the fish and the fantasies. In their place was a properly laid out path, a row of native trees, evenly spaced in their identical containers and wherever you looked, there were dog walkers and joggers going about their business  with their ubiquitous Mp3 players plugged into their ears.

The axeman cometh
 Now there are no secrets.  No shelter. Nowhere for children to play hide and seek or where lovers might steal a kiss, or where hubby  might go for a spot of fishing away from the wife and kids. Definitely no place for solitude or quiet contemplation.  The fish and ducks may still be hiding somewhere, other things will eventually grow back, but everything which made this place special for me has been removed. It now looks like every other place that has been ‘cleaned up’ and reminds me of a cartoon I once saw – “When the power came to Wire Grass.”  In the before picture, the houses are hidden amongst the trees. Everyone has their privacy. In the second frame, power poles have replaced the trees and both houses and power-lines stand  like rows of teeth with braces.
Yes, I know willows are regarded as an invasive species. I too have spent many weeks grubbing them out with Landcare and others - yet they didn’t seem to be doing much invading here. Indeed, in the North along the Detention River, their removal  has resulted in massive erosion, with farmers losing  a good bit of their waterfront land. In Deloraine, where the willows were removed for flood control , flooding seems to have become more severe, rather than less.

It’s not that I dislike native vegetation. Perhaps it's all that neatness I dislike,  and the sameness of things - like going to another town and finding the same banks, the same golden arches, the same chain stores. I also feel that we have lost a bit of history.  It took two hundred years for that landscape to evolve. How thrilled the pioneers must have been to have been able to create a little bit of 'home' in such a strange country so very far from Europe. The greenness, the autumn colours and  our cottage gardens are among the things which make Tassie unique on this vast dry continent.
As I mourn the mangled remains of the amputeed willows, I wonder if some day we will miss their hasty dispatch. I want to complain to someone, but what would be the point. Everyone seems to have their earpieces in.



Yes, I know it's laughable compared to  Northern climes - bit like a British heatwave, but this is the most snow that Hobart has seen in thirty years.