Thursday, July 26, 2018

Secret Hobart – A cosy night in and an evening out

A Pint of History takes place amid the barrels and vats of Shambles Brewery in North Hobart

Our streets are usually rather deserted at this time of year, so where do Hobartians go on a cold winter’s night – that is, those who aren’t hibernating or escaping to Queensland or possibly Tuscany?  I can confide that a goodly number go to the Shambles Brewery in North Hobart on the first Thursday of the month for “A Pint of History.” 

Interesting backdrop with occasional gurgling accompaniment

Out in the back amongst the barrels and gleaming vats you will find an assortment of history buffs imbibing ales made on the premises, local wines and my own personal favourite, mulled apple cider. All seats are occupied. Tables overflow with food and drink. I and my friend Jane settle for a couple of glasses and a pint of chips.

Tonight’s event is called “A cosy night in.” It begins with some light entertainment with the MC presenting fashionable jokes of the C19th.   Most of these fall rather flat, proving how ephemeral humour is. Then there are strictly timed presentations –no more than ten minutes each, by three local historians on obscure aspects of history – the evolution of board games (who would have guessed that one of our eminent historians was a board game aficionado) or what went down in military mess halls or what Arctic explorers did while being snowed in. 

Ann reads from the letters of famous Arctic explorers, such as Franklin of Tasmanian and North West Passage fame
Afterwards there’s a bit of Q & A and a raffle of book vouchers and ‘rare‘ books  -all very pleasant and convivial and much more entertaining than speeches delivered in a draughty lecture hall. 

I also went out on Wednesday night. My, my social life is really taking off. This time it was for a quiz night at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania for another pleasant evening. There were about 120 people at this regular event and the competition though good natured, was fierce. Thanks to a brilliant team member well versed in celeb. doings, we won round one and also earned a round of drinks in a sudden death playoff.  In the second round our collective lack of football knowledge led to defeat by the Smooth Echidnas. Obviously something we shall seek to remedy before the next one. There is a $2 entry for this one, but that's hardly going to break the bank.

Quiz night at the Yacht Club is also well attended and highly competitive
Our champs won us a round of drinks

Interesting venue too. Just the place for a hot toddy or a hot buttered rum

Next up it will “Science in the Pub” at the Republic Bar and Grill, also in North Hobart and there are several other little known gatherings which I have yet to attend such as Saturday Irish musical afternoons at the New Sydney Hotel or the monthly meeting of Skeptics in the Pub.

The thing is, no matter what your interest is, be it line dancing, sport, Mah Jong, gospel music, intellectual stimulation, movies, crafts  or Rotary, there will be a group somewhere that caters to it. The secret is to know when and where so that you can commune with like minds, get to know new people or learn something new. If you are coming to Tasmania, do a little research beforehand and you will be pleasantly surprised.

If you don't fancy coming to Tasmania in the depths of winter these are things which you could try at home. Pubs and clubs usually don’t mind as in our case it brings business at a slow time of year. In my case at least, it definitely beats huddling around the heater watching reruns on TV.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

At the Growling Swallet

Part of the slippery descent to the entrance of the Growling Swallet

Don't you love that name and please note that I said ‘at’ and not ‘in.’ At 360m, the Growling Swallet  is the second deepest cave in Australia, but requires you to be an experienced member of a Caving Club to enter. Looking over the rules and membership requirements – abseiling skills, proficiency in rope work, a rescue course, a high level of fitness and ability to carry lots of gear, with scuba diving skills as an optional extra,  that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, though the importance of these skills was highlighted with the rescue of the Thai junior soccer team this week. 

Fortunately, if the idea of being underground appeals, there are at least three sites around Tasmania which are not only spectacular, but open to the public and where you can view such wonders in complete safety. These are listed at the bottom.

Meanwhile getting to the start of the track to the Growling Swallet is no mean feat.  Because it is in a Forestry Reserve you have to get the key from Parks and Wildlife at Mount Field. This must be booked in advance and requires a $300 deposit.  After travelling three Km past Maydena you turn right onto the Florentine Road  and travel another 16 Km. Though this is unsealed, it is wide and mostly good gravel with one or two potholes and slippery bits, so don’t take it too fast.

Velvet red fungi
After finding and turning off at the F8 East Road, which seems to take forever, things get a bit more difficult. ‘Road’ is a bit generous. It is a track that gets narrower and narrower with a deep boggy section and a high crown.  Although my van has a high clearance and truck tyres, the vegetation closed in on all sides and I had to keep checking to see if my ventilator had been ripped off. I also had to keep my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t meet anyone coming the other way as there is simply nowhere to turn or move off the track.  If the days were longer, I would have walked that section instead, but as it was it started getting dark before I left the forest.

One of the warning signs
There are warning signs signs at the start of the track. This is a Karst area with lots of sink holes, so it is not a good idea to stray. Parts are also prone to flooding and getting very slippery, so be especially careful if bringing children. 

A wonderland of ferns and mosses awaits those who dare to visit the Growling Swallet

That said, the track is a mostly pleasant ramble through rainforest vegetation, home to tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Parks and Wildlife says it takes 20 minutes, but it probably took me a bit longer.
There were not many fungi about, but there were some very striking red velvety ones (probably Hygrocybe erythrocrenata) and I caught my first glimpse of tiny blue -eyed Mycena interrupta.  The climax of the walk was the gully where the creek disappears into the giant rockface.  All that rushing and roaring is what gives Growling Swallet its name. You get the distinct feeling that if there’s a hell that’s what the entrance would look like, albeit a cold and wet one.  It is one of those breaks in the earth which truly inspires awe. However, not wishing to be swalletted by either the cave system or the encroaching darkness, I didn't linger long and didn’t really breathe easy until I was safely out of the woods and back on the main Forestry Road. Australia's deepest and most difficult caves are in this area and they have names like Niggly Cave, Tachycardia and Midnight Hole and no one is likely to come looking for you either, unless Parks and Wildlife run out of keys.

It's a place of rushing, roaring waters that give the Swallet its name

You can catch a bit of the sound here

Stargate? Mayan Temple? Gates of Doom? This is as far as normal mortals can go

Yes, it was impressive, but you can get almost as big a bang for your buck – i.e. slightly less spectacular rock formations, but a shorter drive and a less risky track, by going to Junee Cave - the road starts right in Maydena, where the same river emerges from the mountain 30 km later and after flowing through some 300 caves. 
For those keen to go underground, there are publicly accessible caves at Mole Creek in the North, at Hastings Caves in the South and at Gunn's Plains inland from Ulverstone. Tripadvisor also has more information and better pics.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Sweet sunshine

Sweet Treats, Richmond, perfect for a little indulgence

It’s not often that we have such a perfect winter’s day. Yes, I know I should be doing my tax return but as I am also temporarily stalled on my other project, I took myself off for a gentle drive to Richmond, that quaint, frozen -in -time village about 23 Km north east of Hobart.

With school holidays coming up, I was wondering if the Richmond Maze was still open but couldn’t get an answer on the phone.  Unfortunately, the maze was closed and had a big “For Sale” sign on it, but while looking for a parking spot, I found myself outside the Richmond sweet shop which, leaving aside the hazards of tooth decay and obesity for the time being, would indeed be of interest to children of any age - occasionally

Walls of temptation

The sweet shop fits in beautifully with the Georgian architecture. Here they all are, things you don’t see much anymore – the cobbers, the clinkers, the bananas, the raspberries, the false teeth and the musk sticks and somewhere past acres of bullseyes and licorice, there are Jaffas,  the freckles, toffees and fudges, and even the Esmerelda balls I used to have in the shop. Alas, not many of the latter found their way to the customers. I blame that on my (sweet) deprived childhood.  It’s like meeting old friends.

Sue tells me that this shop has been leading people astray for 34 years

 Luckily I’d already eaten some caramels on the way here, so for the most part I managed to resist temptation. The lollies might be the same, but the prices definitely aren’t what they used to be. Not that I can complain about paying $1.80 for three extra long sherbet straws for the girls.

There are two cabinets of icecream to drool over too

Not all the customers are older or here for a bit of nostalgia. There are dinosaur sweets, assorted sours and what seem to be transformers. There’s also a special on waffles with hot chocolate and there’s every kind of ice cream you can imagine. I expect that it's standing room only here in summer, but today there are only a few people about and a coachload of schoolchildren who have been to the historic goal. I peer through small paned windows and poke around in some of the tiny shops.  The whole place reminds me of an English jigsaw puzzle we once had which depicted neat cottages behind perfectly trimmed hedges. Even the garbage bin is faintly artistic.

A tiny coffee nook
A peek inside other shops

Handmade jewellery sparkles in this one

Shop keepers take the time to talk

Venetian Glass sparkles in another

There are antique shops, galleries and craft outlets aplenty, not to mention all the other opportunities to eat, drink and generally ruin one's diet

Even Richmond's garbage bins seem to have a certain style

I leave before the sun gets too low. It will be dark soon and I am going to a children’s drama performance later this afternoon. I feel vaguely guilty as if I have wagged school, but I have enjoyed the little break. Every sunny winter’s day in Tasmania should be a public holiday, Vitamin D deprived as we are.

Look out Lollipops - next time I'll be bringing the tasting team!

I apologise for not having any heroic outdoor adventures to report. I am a fair weather walker and the days have been too cold and short. - More soon - enjoy your summer you Northerners!