Friday, June 30, 2017

Adventureland – A flying visit to the South West

View from the Humboldt Divide (651m) - Highest Point on the Gordon River Road
It must have been reading about Lady Franklin, but Hobart suddenly seemed all too tame and having been promised a couple of pleasant days, I loaded up my trusty van and headed off to the South West to the World Heritage listed Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. You need a Parks Pass to enter here. If you don’t have one yet, call in to the Waterfalls CafĂ© and Information Centre at Mount Field on the way through and pick one up there. It’s a good place to find out what the roads are like too, before venturing further.

East of the Divide it's all rainforest and tall trees, while to the west it is moorland and  buttongrass plains
The road gets steep and windy after Maydena and you don’t need to go far beyond it to get that sense of utter isolation – no traffic, no shops and just raw nature all around.  It has been a long time since I travelled this road and winter is not the best time to be travelling. The days are short, frost lies thick on the ground and the roads, though sealed, can be treacherous. In shady spots the frost may not leave at all or worse still, it will half melt, only to freeze again, creating the condition Tasmanians call “black ice.” You can’t see it but it’s very slick, so if you must drive, drive slowly and steadily and keep the motor pulling.  Parks and Wildlife recommend no more than 60 Kmph. Make no sudden moves and try not to use the brakes because any abrupt change in velocity may cause you to lose control, slide off the road, or worse still, into another vehicle in a place where there is usually no signal and rarely any help in sight. My friendly neighbourhood hydrologist and others who must travel these roads never leave without a hot thermos, a thermal blanket and warm clothes so that at least they don’t die of hypothermia while waiting for help in the event of a breakdown. You used to be able to buy fuel in Maydena, but I see that service station is now closed, so the last fuel is at Westerway  until you get to Strathgordon, over 100 km away.

The fungi continue to delight
Not so rare perhaps, but prolific

and or charming

I wonder if I am echoing the osmiridium miners’ loneliness as they made their way to their camp at Adamsfield in the 1920s when osmiridium was used for fountain pens and was worth more than seven times the value of gold. Or was it the hydro workers and their families who lived at Strathgordon from 1974 to 1996 while the dams were being built?  The rewards for braving the isolation are the superb views of jagged mountains such as the aptly named Sawback Range and Mount Wedge, delicately frosted with snow and the glimpses of forested valleys and lakes – awesome nature, with not another car or person to be seen. 

After stopping here and there to admire the fungi, it's almost nightfall by the time I reach Scott’s Peak dam road. There's just time for a short walk through a bit of rainforest, so I stop there for a cuppa  and a brief stroll through tall trees, mosses and lichens to the Twisted Sister, a soaring survivor of our forest wars.  The only reason this patch of bush and the tree whose name it bears still exists, is because of a thirty year battle by conservationists to have it included in the World Heritage Area in which it was inscribed in 2013. There are other walks, some of them close by, but there’s no time or distance shown and it’s getting dark, so I move on to the picnic area close to the Needles which I want to climb in the morning. The night is not silent.  I am sure I can hear the singing of ice crystals or the music of the stars and I am not sure if the brightness I see above the treeline is a faint aurora or the reflection of distant city lights. 

The lichens are amazing too - this one looks like lettuce
Another like oak leaves...

Whereas this one looks more like - though I hate to say it - vomit

Base of the "Twisted Sister" - Eucalyptus delegensis  or alpine Ash, not our tallest tree but a significant one

Despite my doona and the down sleeping bag it’s a fairly cold night and I am up early. It’s only a short drive back to the Humboldt Divide, at 651 metres, the highest point on the road, where the walk is supposed to start. I assume it was named after Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) geographer, explorer and naturalist who wrote on the zoology, botany, astronomy and the minerology of several continents and inspired many other scientists and naturalists including Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau. Nearby Mt. Mueller was most probably named after Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller (1825 – 1896) a prominent German -Australian physician, botanist and naturalist, who has lent his name to many plants and place names in Australia, as well as being the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. 

Looking up - You can see how the Twisted Sister got its name

The Needles -this series of striking rock formations can be seen and reached from the highway
Unfortunately the track up is more like a running creek - I'm so glad I brought extra socks and shoes

Between these fantastic landscapes is the start of the Needles walk. Not quite as straightforward as the Twisted Sister, this is supposed to take about two to three hours and involves a continuous uphill scramble over what is more like a running creek. Horizontal and cutting grass tear at my clothes in the lower reaches, after which the vegetation grows tougher and more compact. At last I arrive at the monoliths on the ridgeline which offer expansive views in every direction.  To the North West there is Tim Shea (I haven’t a clue as to why this mountain was so named)  and the Thumbs. Due West there is the Sawback Range and to the South West there is another, possibly Mount Anne and friends. Over to the East there is the Snowy Range and possibly part of Mount Field West, though few of these are marked on my map.

Jagged peaks and snowy ridges stretch away on the horizon in every direction
  That, and the cold breeze coming from those snowy ridges take my breath away. Humboldt’s Divide is not just the highest point on the road. It is more like a Wallace line. To the East it is all forest and tree ferns, while to the west lie riven valleys covered in Alpine moorland which from a distance looks deceptively like fertile plains.  It is of course - for wildlife -for wallabies and possibly wombats and devils, for frogs and snakes and for birds, especially the wedge tailed eagle and the white goshawk, and for countless other tiny organisms that enjoy the mix of swamp, heathland and button grass. Close up, there are plants clinging precariously to windswept rockfaces. In summer the wildflowers here on the heathlands are spectacular and while you can see that they are trying, there’s not yet much to see.
Promises of things to come - A tiny bauera (the bushman's nightmare) blooms along the way
Reluctantly, I turn to make my way down. I am not alone now. There are other cars in the car park. Two elderly gentlemen in Northface jackets lap me on the way down. Makes me wonder what they do in their spare time. Climb the Himalayas maybe? I slither down a rock and do an ungainly splat into a mud puddle at the bottom. How glad I am that I have another pair of shoes and dry socks in the van. I'm looking forward to that thermos of hot coffee too. Wet and bedraggled as I am, I feel exhilarated and refreshed too. Perhaps we need that bit of wildness now and then like tulips need a frost to bloom their best. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Jacinta, another lone female traveller I meet in the carpark, tells me that bad weather is on its way this afternoon. I  have an appointment with the tooth fairy in the morning, and can't afford to get snowed in, so it looks like it's back to civilization for me, but it has been a nice little break from reality.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Ancanthe” -Lady Franklin’s Folly

Snow swirls around the mountain. The wind howls around the house and there’s a big pot of soup on the stove. I should be doing Tax Returns as it’s  the end of our financial year, but I have instead become engrossed  in the story of Lady Jane Franklin (1791 – 1875), since visiting her delightful “temple” stuck in the middle of what still looks pretty much like a kangaroo paddock.

Dusk at "Ancanthe" being restored to its former glory
You simply have to admire a woman who could look at a bit of raw bushland where the kangaroos roamed freely and decide that what the brutish convict colony needed most was a Greek Temple where Art and Culture could flourish. That, however,  was by no means her only gift. If I could, I would make a movie about her life. It would have everything - adventure, passion and pathos, daring, intrigue, triumph and tragedy, except a Hollywood ending. 

Side view - small but exquisite and perfectly proportioned

In the few short years from 1837 to 1843 in which she was first lady of Van Diemen's Land, she left her mark on many aspects of colonial life – too many according to some, which was to lead to the recall of her husband, polar explorer Sir John Franklin, in 1843.

Lady Jane Franklin - Intelligent, beautiful and for a short time regarded as "the brightest ornament of Hobart's social circles."

In the meantime, she sought to improve the lot of the convicts, ensuring that the women had sewing supplies and could learn some skills. Her character was described as being of “kindness, benevolence and charity" and she is also reported as being the "The brightest ornament of Hobart's social circles," but it is also noted in the article by Lauren Young on Lady Franklin's contribution to polar exploration, (quoting someone called Johnson) that " Settler locals soon learned to loathe her for cheerfully replacing balls with public lectures on botany, science and ethnography,” and, (quoting Russell) that almost from the moment of her arrival "she was mercilessly satirized by the colonial press."

Certainly, Lady Franklin did encourage education, not just in Tasmania, but in Victoria and South Australia too, where Christ Colleges were subsequently established. In Tasmania, she bequeathed 400 acres for the establishment of a college but this did not eventuate before her departure.

Rescued from oblivion by the Arts Society of Tasmania in 1949, there is currently a ceramic exhibition "Shades of Clay" on  inside

Already well -travelled before arriving in Van Diemen’s Land, she continued to travel widely, making the first trip by an Englishwoman to the state’s remote West Coast and being the first to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney when there were still no roads.* She also encouraged her husband to establish a Royal Society for Science - the first outside the UK, which made Tasmania the foremost intellectual centre among the colonies, and from her own purse bought land at what is now Franklin, to create an agricultural community of free settlers, each of whom she interviewed personally.

A pair of several charming guinea fowl by Eve Howard

She envisaged that the land which she bought at Kangaroo Valley, now called Lenah Valley, would become a botanical garden with a Museum of Natural History and a Library. She called the building  “Ancanthe” meaning “the valley of flowers” and it opened as the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 1842. However, after her husband’s abrupt recall, following political infighting and accusations that his wife influenced too much of his decision - making, the books and exhibits were dispersed  and the quaint little building fell into neglect. For over a century it languished, sometimes being used as an apple -shed  or as storage for the University of Tasmania, until it was rescued by the Arts Society of Tasmania in 1949 and renamed The Lady Franklin Gallery.

"Langalini" - The Little Mermaid - by Heather Creet
 After leaving Tasmania, Sir John returned to the possibly less fractious business of finding the North West Passage, a journey from which he never returned. Long after official searches ceased, Lady Jane was so distraught that she continued to fund no less than seven missions in the hope that her husband might still be found alive, though this was not to be.  Fondly remembered by the people of Tasmania, if not the officers, some £ 12,000 were raised by Tasmanians to outfit another ship. Although these expeditions contributed greatly to geographic knowledge of northern Canada and the Arctic, her husband’s ship “The Terror” was not found until 2016 and she died a lonely widow in the northern - most reaches of the British Isles to be close to where he died.  For a haunting ballad written in her honour not long after that event, click here.

"Language is Leaving me"  - Poignant ceramic by Dawn Oakford  reflecting on her mother's Alzheimer's Disease

 I had thought we needed a memorial for Lady Franklin, that she should perhaps have a commemorative statue alongside that of her husband in Franklin Square, which was at least named after him, but perhaps the Lady Franklin Gallery is a more fitting one. It’s good to see it being restored and lovingly used. I don’t think Lady Franklin would be disappointed were she to call by today or if her ghost still hovers over Lenah Valley.

Playful crackle -glazed seal cubs by Robin Roberts
Of course, we still have our huge Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery which takes up a good part of a city block and was an offshoot of the Royal Society inspired by Lady Franklin. There is also a residential college at the University named after her.

·       *  Several sources including the Encyclopaedia Britannica credit Lady Jane with being the first white woman to climb Mt. Wellington, however, according to unconfirmed local wisdom, that honour belongs to one Salome Pitt, who together with her Aboriginal companion, Miss Story, climbed it in 1810.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Burning - Goodbye Ogah Ogah, Goodbye Dark Mofo

It’s Sunday night on the waterfront. At dusk the haunting Siren’s Call brings us together. Tonight is the last official night of Dark Mofo, though there’s still the nude swim at dawn on the Solstice.  The excitement builds as the sky darkens. Children wave lanterns decorated with cyclopean eyes.  Then to throbbing drums, grotesque figures begin to bob above the gathering crowd – evil spirits we are told – a hobgoblin, a black razorback pig, a loathsome dreadlocked red female. Some distance behind her is the Ogah Ogah, the giant papier machĂ© Tasmanian Tiger in which we placed our slips of paper with our regrets and fears the previous Saturday.

One of the wiggling, jiggling demons goes by - possibly some kind of  demented fertility goddess

More people stream in from the side streets as we swarm, shuffle and trip along the waterfront. As we pass by the blood red Museum, Ogah Ogah obliges by stopping in the middle of the street and putting on a little dance. Both the shaking and the dance are part of the performance in its native Bali where it is part of the New Year tradition.

The procession surges past the blood - red museum
As we enter Dark Park, the drumming becomes more insistent and frenzied. The anticipation reaches fever pitch as we press against wire mesh fences to get a better look. I don’t know how many people there are but it seems like thousands of bodies pressing in on each other. Tall men seem to have bullied their way to the front, but I can see a glimpse of the action on the iPhone of the man in front. The other figures – the demons, now continue on into the darkness but the Ogah Ogah remains alone on a huge circular dais. The drums beat on. For a moment part of me thinks, “What a shame to burn this wonderful creature. This should go to a museum or a school.” Then the older darker reptilian brain chimes in and says, “Go on, let it burn. Hurry up and light it.” At least we aren’t sacrificing a real animal in the name of art, unlike the performance by Austrian Hermann Nitsch in another part of the docks. Patrons of this event needed police protection from animal rights protesters. Its probably no worse than what happens daily in our slaughterhouses, though we keep that knowledge hidden from ourselves. Presented as Art it seems frivolous and unnecessary.One hopes that the bull was humanely killed.

The Tasmanian Tiger dances above the heads of the crowd drawing in more people from the side streets

Throbbing drums accompany the procession, I had a much better clip of this, but it exceeded the file size

Still, even here there is a sense of doing something illicit and forbidden. A quick look behind me makes me think I see something of the repressed excitement that probably accompanied public hangings and witch burnings.

Mostly my view looks like this - short people, children, unless on parent's shoulders, and people in wheelchairs don't stand a chance
The crowd falls silent as first smoke, then flames and sparks rise heavenwards into the night sky. After the build- up, it is almost an anticlimax. Soon, burning pieces start to fall off.  People start to wander off in little clumps. I don’t know how many people participated this year, but last year 10,000 people had filled the Ogah Ogah with their negative thoughts. Let’s hope the magic works. 

Drummers stand by as fire consumes the Ogah Ogah along with our fears and regrets

 My walking buddy remarks how the shared spectacle reminds him of the community bonfires we used to enjoy as children. I am not sure when they became illegal, but you don’t see them anymore. In that sense Ogah Ogah has been cathartic. We enjoy a hot cider and some bad music. My companion is a musician, so it’s torture to his ears and we don’t stay long. Then it’s Good Night and Goodbye Dark Mofo for another year as we part company and go our separate ways into the night.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

The fantastic world of Fungi

Brave little fungi on Mt. Wellington. This lovely photo of Mycena sp. is by Rachel Harper

Yes, I have been hanging around in the rainforest again – no leeches thank goodness, but I must confess I am turning into a mycophilliac. I was quite intrigued by some of my finds last year, but have now joined a group where members can not only identify them, but send in images of what they have found. According to Pat Harrison of the Fungi group, some 20,000 macro species have now been identified worldwide, but this is only around one tenth of the number which are known to exist. Some of the specimens on the site are positively mind boggling and the photography is exceptional too. Some species, especially the Stinkhorns and Earthstars, look as if they belong on an alien planet. Then there are translucent blue ones, all green ones, deep purple ones and even some which glow in the dark. While I have yet to see any of the latter myself, it has certainly opened my eyes to wonderful world at our feet.

This I am told is a Podooserpula Pusio, a type of Pagoda Fungus

One of many types of bracket fungi
Some members have allowed me to include some of their photographs, all much better than mine, but I just have to show you some of the more unusual ones I have encountered.

More Polypore Brackets, but a different one. These were very prolific this year
I am still very partial to the fairy -like ones, though I know that's not very scientific

I 'll put names on these as i get to know them better. Obviously there are thousands more, but I want to show you what real fungi afficionados can do

 Not a lot is known about the toxicity of our fungi – the luminous ones are definitely poisonous, as are the Amanita Muscaria –the cheeky red ones with white spots, nor are fungi similar to those found elsewhere, necessarily safe to eat here as several unfortunate consumers of what they thought were  “straw mushrooms” in Canberra have found to their cost. So the message is, look, but don’t touch and especially don’t eat. Also please be careful where you tread. Not only the fungi, but much of our forest vegetation – ferns, grasses, mosses and lichens, is also very fragile and often lives in a symbiotic relationship with the fungi and other plants.

Also by Rachel - in case you haven't guessed I am quite partial to the blue and the purple ones, though I have seen few of these myself
Mycena sp. Another one of  Rachel's photos- I haven't seen any of these yet
Had to cheat a bit here . This photo was actually taken in Victoria by Sarah Bacon - thanks Sarah, but we have at least one of these too. Glow -in -the dark fungi are something of a Holy Grail of Fungi hunters. I haven't seen one of these yet either.
Many thanks to all the people who have contributed, commented and or identified my finds (and put up with my ignorant newbie questions) and especially to those who have allowed me to use their images. My own photography leaves plenty of room for improvement, but I promise I'll try to do better next time. This is just to whet your appetite. It has  certainly made me far more aware and more careful where I step.