Tasmania: Quirky, quaint and quite beautiful

Australia's flag
Oceania » Australia » Tasmania » Beauty Point
November 20th 2018
Published: November 20th 2018
Edit Blog Post

The Tesselated Pavement on Tasman PeninularThe Tesselated Pavement on Tasman PeninularThe Tesselated Pavement on Tasman Peninular

Formed by stresses in rock and action of salt in cracks
Beauty Point, Tasmania

12 – 21 November 2018

Our flight from Melbourne to Hobart was early, 7.20am, so we had to book a taxi for 4.45 and we were at the airport by 5.15. We checked our bags in and the young lady taking them from us looked at our boarding cards and said that as Jim is tall would we like a free upgrade to an exit row and to share three seats between us to give us plenty of space. For a moment I thought I must still be asleep and dreaming. But no, it was real, and we had a very comfortable and short flight of just over an hour.

A short taxi ride to TasCamper depot and we collected our Toyota Pop-up vehicle and by 10.00am we were on the road to explore Tasmania.

This campervan is the same vehicle as the one we had on the mainland but instead of a fixed hi-top it has a pop up roof. Unsure whether this was an improvement or not we soon realised there are pro and cons. The advantages include much greater stability on the road especially in high winds, lower fuel consumption, wider single beds so that we do not need to make up the double, providing easier access and less bed construction each night and a much quieter sliding door. Another plus is that we do not bump our heads so often in this vehicle. However the most exciting news was that we can drive on dirt roads. At last, freedom! I think it is necessary in Tasmania as there are lots of dirt roads and it is seen as normal to the point where signs everywhere give speed limits, 50k in residential areas and 80 on dirt roads unless otherwise notified.

Our vehicle is also in very good condition, (hope we can keep it that way) and well fitted with better equipment and bedding than is usually supplied by Travellers' Autobarn. We even have an outside BBQ as well as microwave and double hob burner run on methylated spirits inside. There is an outside awning, two chairs and a table. As you might guess with all this equipment in a small vehicle there is a lot of moving things in and out of places. For example, when we want to use the microwave the first step is to take out my reading glasses, spare packs of tissues, a packet of cream crackers and the bread. When the microwave has cooled down we put them back.

Most of the time all works smoothly. However occasionally there is a little hitch. One morning I was preparing cereal for breakfast when I dropped the carton of milk. Normally we use plastic bottles which have handles but the last shop only had cartons which are slippy. It fell and spilt some milk on the floor at exactly the same moment that Jim, who was sorting the front seats ready for leaving, dropped my jacket off the front seat and of course it fell in the milk. Thankfully it was a dry day so I managed to wash it.

The main disadvantage discovered so far with the pop up roof version is the pop up roof! I am not strong enough to either push it up or pull it down which I find frustrating. It only takes Jim a second to do but it is hard work. I wish I could help him. I can hang from the handles but nothing happens. Once raised we have plenty of space. Quite early on we had a BBQ lunch outside without raising the roof. Then I tried to wash up inside and found my chin pressed down to bra level and my back hunched. I soon realised that in order to do anything inside apart from drive and lie flat on the bed the roof needs to be raised. I won't make that mistake again. The only other serious design fault is that if it is raining there is no ventilation as 'windows' backed by insect netting are positioned in the sides of the pop up roof. But if they are open the rain comes in. Overall we do prefer this version. We will see if we feel the same in a month.

After stopping off at the supermarket to stock up we were off down to the Tasman Peninsular in the South East but not far from Hobart. We soon reached our first campsite in Port Arthur. It is a pretty site with good facilities but at dusk is inundated with Pademelons, also called Rufous wallabies. They came very close to the van and a number of them had Joeys in their pouches. There were lots of parrots around too, which did become a nuisance when we tried to eat, we had to keep chasing them away. The problem is some people feed them and that teaches them to expect food which is not good for their diet as well as making them aggressive. There are signs everywhere saying it is not allowed to feed birds or wildlife but people do as our neighbours on site did.

The reason for coming to this area was to visit the Port Arthur Historic Site. The Port Arthur penal station was established in 1830 as a timber gathering camp using convict labour to produce sawn logs for government projects. From 1833 Port Arthur was used as a punishment station for repeat offenders from all the Australian colonies.

The English prison reformer Jeremy Bentham designed a radical new prison at Pentonville which he described as, 'a machine for grinding rogues into honest men'. According to the information leaflet these methods were implemented in Port Arthur and the cogs of this machine included discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education. The literature states that this process broke many men but others left PA rehabilitated and perhaps with a new skill to equip them for the rest of their life. The degree of bureaucracy and organisation of the settlement surprised me. By 1840 there were as many as two thousand convicts, settlers and soldiers living in the community. However the lifestyle of the military and free men and their families contrasted starkly with that of the convicts.

Parties, regattas, literary and musical evenings were common and beautiful gardens were created for the pleasure of these groups. The site looks something like a country estate in England, minus the stately home, but with an adjacent village and of course the setting overlooking the sea makes it appear very pleasant. Many buildings remain although some are in ruins but it is possible to visit the Government Cottage, the Parsonage, the Priest's House, Commandant's House, Police Station, Accountant's house, Officers' Quarters and many more.

The convicts were housed in the Penitentiary, the Separate Prison (for repeat offenders and more serious crimes) and the Asylum on the lower slopes by the water and the military and civil officers with their families were higher up on the hill where they could look down on the convicts.

Life was harsh for the inmates with hard labour, poor food and a cruel climate. To the north of the peninsular is a narrow isthmus joining it to the mainland. At that very narrow point of land they had the Dog Line. Exactly what it says, a line of fierce dogs were strung across the strip of land that any convicts would have to cross if they wanted to escape. It was rare for anyone to cross the Dog Line as the dogs would warn the soldiers by barking if anyone came near, then they were soon returned to the Penitentiary or Separate Prison for additional punishment.

That all sounds grim enough but then our guide explained the regime of the Separate Prison. It was designed as a new method of punishment which was intended to reform convicts through isolation, loss of identity, sensory deprivation and contemplation. The men were locked in their tiny cell for twenty three hours of the day where they ate, slept and worked. They were allowed to walk in the yard for an hour each day but to reinforce their 'invisibility' and sensory deprivation they had to wear face masks so could not recognise anyone or be recognised, they could not speak, they were addressed only by number, not name, and the guards communicated with each other by signs so the convicts heard no speech. Our guide said the prison guards even resorted to wearing slippers so that prisoners could not hear their footsteps. On Sunday convicts went to church on the site but the church pews were designed like tall boxes so that each convict was put in one alone and could not see anyone else in the church apart from the parson. They were allowed to sing which was their only 'pleasure' of the week. Even worse, if they tried to escape or behaved in any other way that was considered unacceptable by the authorities they were put in isolation in a room that was entered through three other rooms without light or windows in them so that the fourth room allowed no glimmer of daylight in at all. They could spend up to thirty days in there depending upon their offence. Visiting the Separate Prison was a sobering experience.

Trying to understand how and why the whole process of transportation of convicts came about is bewildering especially when the 'crimes' were often minor and a result of poverty and starvation. The guide explained that Tasmania, or Van Dieman's Land as it was called then, was populated by convicts to keep out the French who wanted to colonise the island. Other considerations include the possibility that it was a strategy to prevent civil unrest in England at a time when a huge portion of the population was being displaced and oppressed by changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution, towns were growing at an unprecedented rate causing lawlessness, disease,poverty and starvation amongst people fleeing from the countryside. There were also many political problems so perhaps the government was trying to gain support where it could by supporting the status quo.

But the reality was that the result of convict transportation was to provide slave labour that produced raw materials and goods cheaply for Britain as well as enabling the building of infrastructures in the colonies. I had no idea that convict labour was responsible for so much building, of ships,roads, bridges, government buildings, railways and water courses, as well as sending resources back home. At Port Arthur convicts were able to learn any of forty two different crafts, to make it easier for them to find gainful employment but obviously also of value to the community.

Other political issues add to the mix too as political prisoners were also housed at PA, many involved with Irish politics and even the 'Canadian Rebels', although the political prisoners were treated much better than ordinary convicts with more food, reasonable lodgings in houses and even staff to take care of their private accommodation.

We were lucky that the weather was kind the day we visited Port Arthur especially as the ticket includes a boat ride around the bay to see the Isle of the Dead, and Point Puer where young boys were confined until they reached an age where they could be put in the Penitentiary alongside the men. It made it more pleasant to walk around in the warmth and the sun made it easier to cope with the dark past of the settlement, which is now a World Heritage Site.

The next day we drove to Swansea across a dirt forest road but when we arrived it was raining heavily and freezing. We had planned to drive further up the east coast the next day but when Jim saw the forecast for low overnight temperatures he decided to make a quick escape to the west of Launceston as it was going to be milder there. Travel here is like a strange board game. Distances are not great but to reach Launceston from Swansea we passed through Epping Forest and Perth. Very confusing.

We stopped for lunch at the public BBQ at the Trevalyan Recreational Reserve which is at the wall of a reservoir. After eating we went for a stroll as usual with binoculars and camera. A couple of minutes later I spotted a little animal digging. It was a beautiful Echidna, only the second we have seen in Oz. I managed to take a couple of photographs before he (or she) disappeared into the undergrowth. We walked some more but it was an anticlimax after the echidna so we decided to return to the same area and were lucky to spot him again a little distance away. This time I was able to take a video. He went behind another group of bushes so I sneaked around to try and be ready to photograph him from the front when he arrived but he was already there. Then I realised it was a second echidna and the first one came round the bush shortly afterwards. Interestingly, they did not seem to notice each other. They have poor eyesight but very good hearing and sense of smell. We moved on and met a Ranger at another reserve who recommended where we could spend the night. It was a little way away in an isolated but beautiful forest by a river. I would have liked to stay for a few days as it was such a lovely place but our drinking water was getting low so we moved on the next day.

Our present vehicle does not need us to charge the battery on a commercial site as long as we have a good drive during the day so we have had four wild camping nights. Luckily the site on the second night by the oval in St Mary's provided lovely hot showers for $2 so we stayed clean too. We will only stop at a commercial site if we want to wash clothes or visit one area without any driving. We find that wild camp sites are often in beautiful, remote and occasionally idiosyncratic places preferable to most pay sites.

As the weather improved we moved back to the east coast, to the Bay of Fires which is a string of beaches stretching along the coast, originally given that name because early explorers saw fires burning where aboriginal people were using fire as a way of managing the land. The colours in the landscape are stunning, the sea is a vivid azure, the sand as white as sugar and many of the rocks are splashed with vermilion. This is caused by a lichen particular to the area and the colour contrasts wonderfully with the sea, sky and sand. It is undeveloped and it is possible to wild camp on many of the beaches.

The next night we stayed in Derby. The Lonely Planet gave the information that there was a free site there by the river so we drove up, saw the free camping sign by the river and parked up. We did not realise until we drove out of the town (population 420) the next morning that we were in the wrong free site. The moment we stepped out of the van we were nearly mown done. There were BMX riders in full gear and of all ages whizzing by in every direction. It was if we had entered a parallel universe where everyone was permanently fixed to the saddle of a BMX. Close by was a special BMX track with ramps and bumps like a skate board park but much larger, and up and down the forested valley were numerous bike tracks including along an old railway line. Jim almost had a heart attack when a middle aged female rider shouted hello as she flew by and then immediately disappeared as she dropped down out of sight into a ravine. We did not hear a scream so assume that she knew where she was going.

It seems the village hosted the Australian Cross Country Marathon Mountain Bike Championships twice and they are hoping that the publicity and the special tracks will bring riders to the area and boost their economy. It certainly seems to be working from the number of riders we saw plus the specialist coaches with bike trailers parked nearby. It seems to be a big business now.

The next day on our way to Beauty Point we made a detour to a small township of Legerwood, set amidst forest and pasture land. After the 1914-1918 war the town planted a row of trees in the main street, (more or less the only street) as a memorial to the soldiers from the town who had died overseas. The trees grew until not long ago they had become so large they were a danger to houses and power lines. The government said they had to be cut down but local people were very upset at the thought of destroying the memorial row of trees. Eventually it was agreed to cut them right back and then have a chainsaw expert carve figures on the remaining trunks and lopped branches. They might not be the most superb carvings ever but I love the compromise which updated the memorial as well as making the trees safe and at the same time personalised the monument and probably made it much more interesting and accessible to younger people.

Beauty Point is our next stop at a lovely site, again with pademelons hopping around at night. We came here to visit Seahorse World. I thought it was simply a tourist attraction but in fact it is a commercial business breeding seahorses and exporting them around the world. Tours have been added to the agenda as a way of producing additional income. It is fascinating and we learnt a lot about them including how quickly they reproduce which in a protected environment makes for a very profitable business. At last I was able to find out about the males giving birth. The females deposit hundreds of eggs in the male's pouch, who then fertilises them and carries them for nine to forty five days, and the babies emerge fully developed but tiny, looking something like tadpoles to begin with. As soon as they are ejected they are independent and have to look after themselves. Meanwhile the female is ready to deposit up to 1500 more eggs. It is a very speedy turnaround! Seahorses are monogamous. We were allowed to hold them.

I had planned to write one blog for Tasmania but we have already seen so many unusual and quirky sights that I think I might try and post this soon if we can find a connection good enough before we go off into the wild again.

Additional photos below
Photos: 45, Displayed: 34


Tot: 2.528s; Tpl: 0.076s; cc: 12; qc: 29; dbt: 0.0439s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb