Thursday, May 30, 2019

Turning the Tables - Café Auslan opens in Hobart

Rachel at work in Hobart's newest cafe

 Winter has come a bit early. Since we have been in the grip of an icy Antarctic blast for about a week, it seemed the perfect time to check out one of our newest cafés. Not that Hobart has a shortage of cafés. In Hampton Road, where this one is, I can probably count about six, without even going down the hill to Salamanca. What makes this one different, is that Café Auslan  represents a coup for the Deaf Community. 

The café is located in a former sweet shop in colonial Battery Point, just behind Salamanca

So what is Auslan and why have a café dedicated to it? Auslan stands for Australian Sign Language which is used by some 200,000 people largely by and for communicating with hearing impaired people. While similar to the 130 or so variations of sign used around the world, it is, so to speak its own language. So why do we need a cafe? About the only way I can describe it, is like this: You know the feeling you get when you first arrive in a foreign country - the frustration and confusion of not being able to make yourself understood and even having people shout at you and regard you as stupid for not doing as you've been told? That’s the kind of struggle which Deaf people face every day when dealing with the hearing world. It is source of immense stress.  How lovely then for Deaf people to be able to relax for once, to be able to socialise normally and maybe even have a bit of laugh as others try life from their perspective. 

Not so different - sweet treats and good coffee

There’s more to it than that though. As co -owner Jane who has long been an advocate for the Deaf says, “It’s about creating awareness about Auslan and about the needs of people with hearing problems.” From all accounts hearing loss is one of those invisible conditions which is rarely covered by the National Disability Scheme, yet, according to the World Health Organisation, affects around 30,000 people in Australia, about 37.5 million in the USA and around 5% of the world’s population or around 466 million people worldwide.

 Deaf people do not necessarily want to be adjusted to fit the norm. Indeed, theirs is for the most part a quite separate culture that just wants a bit more acceptance and understanding on the part of the wider society. And why should the Deaf always have to do the accommodating? According to Jane, despite decades of effort by community groups, things have changed little for Deaf people in the outside world, a few closed captioned movies or signed television news items, notwithstanding. How, for instance, should you engage someone's attention if they can’t hear you call their name? In that case, a light touch on their arm will help, as will maintaining eye contact. Giving a Deaf person a little more personal space to allow for hand movement is important too. Given that disabling deafness is expected to increase to around one in 10 people by 2050, Jane believes it’s time Auslan was taught in schools, if we are to have a more inclusive society.

Jane talks about some of the challenges faced by the Deaf, while Rachel makes a point

Lastly, the café also demonstrates what Deaf people can achieve, given a more supportive environment. A similar café in Melbourne, Trade Block is part of the Vocational Training program at The Victorian College of the Deaf and gives participants more self-esteem and the opportunity for financial independence.  It sends a message that it's OK to be different and by engaging with the public on their own  terms, it helps to break down the fear of “the other.”  As yet, there are few such vocational and employment opportunities for the Deaf, especially in Tasmania and internationally I know of only one other venue like this, one I encountered in Nepal back in 2008, but I dare say the Deaf Community in each region will know of more. If there are none in your area, it could be an idea whose time has come.   

The small selection of sweets is a nod to the building's former status as the Village Lolly Shop

For the most part this café, in the former sweet shop in Battery Point, does not differ much from its peers – good coffee, charming hosts, a selection of small treats, Devonshire teas and yes, you can have the usual range of lattes and macchiatos, including decaf and lactose-free, but as well as being smart and immaculately clean, it is almost Spartan in its décor. This is because undue clutter imposes additional stress on people reliant on visual cues. Learn more about how you can help here.

Minimalist decor and wide tables make life easier for Auslan speakers

In the meantime, I challenge you to order your coffee in Auslan, but don’t despair if you can’t. You can always point to what you would like on the menu. I still haven’t worked out how to say, “I wouldn't mind one of your vanilla slices, thanks” and wish I wasn’t on a diet. I am ashamed to admit that I don't even know how to say "Please" or " Thank you" or even "Hello" or "Goodbye." Maybe next time.
 If you need help with any aspect of hearing loss please contact

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ah yes, the Election....

Image may contain: text and water

This rather sums it up, though there were some other issues too. Climate Change obviously didn't get a look - in.

* Eloquent image nicked from Ben Penning's Facebook Page

the Cider Trail - Part 2 -The Two Metre Tall Farmhouse Ale and Cider Shed

Approach to the Two Metre Tall Farmhouse Brewery
The Two Meter Tall Farmhouse Ale and Cider Shed in the Derwent Valley is at home among the gumtrees in a former shearing shed on Ashley and Jane Huntington’s farm at Hayes, just past New Norfolk. While lacking some of the cultivated ambience of say, Willie Smith's, it certainly has the goods under the hood, notably the brewing equipment from St. Ives Hotel in Battery Point. Their dry cider is made from traditional English cider apples grown in the Huon and, unlike mass produced ciders, theirs is slowly fermented in bottles using pure apple juice and natural yeasts. The end product is unfiltered and has no additives, preservatives or sulphur dioxide. Occasionally they also make barrel -aged special editions which include fruit such as cherries or medlars, but this year's batch has already sold out.

Brewhouse with the equipment acquired from St.Ives in Battery Point
Ashley and Jane have been brewing beer here since 2004, well ahead of the growing interest in craft beer, though Ashley (the Two Metre Tall in the name) admits his first brews were not exactly what he had had in mind. Having trained and worked as a senior winemaker in France, he and Jane had planned to start a vineyard, but seeing the abundance of hops in the Derwent Valley and the bounteous supply of fruit, it was almost inevitable that he should turn to Ale and Cider instead, though the vineyard remains on the drawing board.

The business end is much more elaborate than the bar

Having pioneered craft beer in Tasmania, it seems that the Huntingtons are really onto something with cider.  In keeping with global trends which show cider sales to be up by 74% worldwide, the number of  regular cider drinkers in Australia has increased by some half a million between  2013 and 2017 according to Roy Morgan research, and now totals around 2.4 million. Kathleen Willcox,
writing in Vinepair writes that it is the happy conjunction of several trends which  which have helped things along such as the interest in artisanal produce and  the farm - to -table movement.

The other half of Two Metre Tall -  Jane Huntington dispenses some of the house cider 
 There’s no food on offer here, but guests are welcome to bring their own or to have a barbecue in the picnic area.  There’s  a real Aussie feel here. It could be the gumtrees, but it's also about the down -to  -earth attitude of its owners. The slowly matured cider isn’t half bad either.

View from the picnic area

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Cider Trail – Part 1 Willie Smiths

Just a random farm gate made of scrap timber and rusted barbed wire at Willie Smith's Apple Shed, but it embodies some traditional country values such as thrift,  as well as patience, creativity and time

This was going to be about three of our cider makers,  but after searching in vain for one of them  - “The Lost Pippin” out the back of Richmond, it turned out not to be open to the public, so this is it for today. There are at least two more here in the south which I have yet to visit, so consider this a work in progress.

The Cider Trail came to my notice while I was in the Huon Valley a couple of weeks ago and lingered a while at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed.  Cider -making seems entirely appropriate for a state which used to be known as the Apple Isle and it also suits the mellowness of the season. Black -faced sheep browse in empty paddocks, the harvest is in, and though a few golden leaves still cling bravely to the vines in vineyards, you can see their bare bones showing through. It reminds me that beyond the cities, nature’s schedules still hold sway.  

Unassuming exterior of the Apple Shed
The cider establishments were a homelier, more convivial affair than the vineyards, where I felt I should have dressed. Since you can buy the product almost anywhere – at a pub, at an anonymous bottle shop or in some identical supermarket which could just as well be in Cairns or Sydney, it’s what I go for really – atmosphere, personality, friendliness. It's also nice to know what's behind the label. Cider belongs here, among the orchards, among the hop fields, among the black -faced sheep.  I also like the earthy, slightly pagan aspect which dates back to pre -history and is celebrated  with wassailing  (singing to the apple trees to ensure an abundant harvest) in the winter festival at Willie Smith’s.

The interior is simple but stylish

At Willie Smith’s, my first port of call was the apple museum. Some 300 apple varieties are on display here including the elusive Geeveston Fanny and a tiny little green one which I’d seen here and there in Hobart but nowhere else – an apple called Grandmere.  The museum tells the story of the apple industry in Tasmania through the lives of several generations of the Smith Family. There are family photos, memorabilia and equipment.  The museum  recalls why Tasmania was called the Apple Isle,  how until the early 1980’s there were over 1000 apple orchards here, producing 8 million apples a year, of which 7 million were sent to Europe. After Britain’s entry into the European Common Market, only three hundred orchards remained including the Smith family's.  I wonder if the Apple Isle will rise again post Brexit, or have we already subdivided all that land? 

Some of the 300 or so apple varieties grown in the Huon.
The famous Geeveston Fanny

Who can forget those old apple labels

The premises, inside one of the original apple sheds are cosy but classy and there’s a big outdoor area with plenty of heating for major events such as the annual winter festival. There is also live music on most Friday nights.Specialities on the menu include pear pistachio tart and fig and apple pudding for a modest $7.  There is also a distillery here, though you have to book a tour to see it.  There’s a little bit of interest everywhere, even in the toilets. I don’t often wax lyrical about toilets but these did catch my eye. Each one was decorated with bits of memorabilia, with just a hint of both social and environmental values – such as the “Thank you” brand toilet soap whose purchase guarantees donation of an equal amount to charity. This reflects a mindset and an attention to detail which I enjoyed as much as the cider.

The apple theme extends to the food

Spirited -Apple brandy is also made here, but you have to do the tour to appreciate it  more closely

Even the littlest room has its charms

Friday, May 03, 2019

Reflections on a River - Walking along the Derwent

Looking east from the bridge at New Norfolk

Dragonflies hover, black swans glide effortlessly over the river’s mirror surface where clouds and mountains are momentarily transfixed. Only the sound of a gimlet -eyed cormorant slicing through the water or the occasional plop of a fisherman’s lure disturb the stillness.

Looking upstream
Over the last couple of weeks we have been exploring some of the lesser known tracks on the Derwent, upstream of its busy harbour. The Derwent's journey begins 239 Km away in glacially formed Lake St. Clair - Australia’s deepest lake, and winds slowly down from the Central Plateau to the sea. Along the way it supplies drinking water, water for agriculture, industry and hydro - electricity for 41% of the population. It also provides recreational opportunities and nurtures the plants and animals which live in and along its route. Since it traverses a wide range of habitats - from the mountains of the Central Plateau to marshlands and occupies the borderland between saltwater and fresh, it is home to a wide variety of species.  Much could be said about its history or about it being the site of our earliest extinctions, or about its contamination* due to past industrial practices or about the cruises you could take, but today I want to focus on its beauty, something which has rarely been mentioned. Where, I wonder are our poets and balladeers, our Mark Twains, our Henry David Thoreau, or maybe a Banjo Paterson or a Smetana  to sing the praises of our river?


It occurs to me that our pioneers were practical folk, too busy trying to wrest a living from an alien land to wax lyrical about their surroundings.  Not that the river’s utility was ever denied. For Aboriginal people, it was a major food source.  Early mariners made terse notes in their logs about its deep, safe anchorage and the availability of fresh water, though the convicts hacking stone from the riverbanks or standing waist deep in its mud to make the causeway across it, would most likely have shouted curses rather than praise. Shippers of goods and people still appreciate its navigability, long after the coming of the roads, and the farmers and engineers who came later, would have revelled in its consistent flow, yet of its beauty there is never a word.

In the marshy lower sections native reeds help to remove pollutants

I would like to remedy that. I am thinking that we need a poetry competition or similar, such as the Friends of the Mississippi have. Any funds raised by say, holding an exhibition, could go towards remediating some of the damage done over the last two hundred years, so that its beauty will be more than skin deep. We could include photos, paintings, music or any other media. Not sure what the prize should be or whether local councils could be interested.  Other ideas welcome. Will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of quotes about rivers for inspiration:

“I have an immoderate passion for water; for the sea, though so vast, so restless, so beyond one's comprehension; for rivers, beautiful, yet fugitive and elusive; but especially for marshes, teeming with all that mysterious life of the creatures that haunt them. A marsh is a whole world within a world, a different world, with a life of its own, with its own permanent denizens, its passing visitors, its voices, its sounds, its own strange mystery.”

View from the Bridgewater end

Or maybe this one:

 “I thought how lovely and how strange a river is. A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and is never still. It’s always changing and is always on the move. And over time the river itself changes too. It widens and deepens as it rubs and scours, gnaws and kneads, eats and bores its way through the land. Even the greatest rivers- the Nile and the Ganges, the Yangtze and the Mississippi, the Amazon and the great grey-green greasy Limpopo all set about with fever trees-must have been no more than trickles and flickering streams before they grew into mighty rivers.
Are people like that? I wondered. Am I like that? Always me, like the river itself, always flowing but always different, like the water flowing in the river…. “

Not the best picture, but here you can see some of the Black swans which populate the river -but note how dry the banks remain

How is your river? What do you love about it and are you doing anything special to protect it?

 Love your river

More Walks
Walking and Cycling Tracks  Around the Derwent - Click here
Walks around New Norfolk - Click here


You need a licence to fish anywhere upstream of the Bowen Bridge and some species should not be taken, especially shellfish. Flathead, being bottom feeders, should not be consumed more than twice a week and not at all by children or pregnant women. Find out more here.


Both Tripadvisor and Viator show a number of cruises which depart from Hobart and the Mona Ferries would also be an excellent way to travel upstream

Helping the River or want to know more, Click here