Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXVIII: Off To See The Wizard

Ok, I've finally made my mind up. Thank you for your help and suggestions - it was a hard decision.

Cellobella's suggestion, A Capital Idea was sharp and pithy - an absolute joy, and far too witty for me. You'll have to cast your pearls before a better class of swine, Cellobella!

I liked Greg's A Long Way From The Beach, but it had too many end-of-the-the-world, Neville Shute connotations. Damian's West of Sydney, North of Melbourne had legs for a while, but the sub-editor streak in me agreed it was too long. Garry's bad Can'tBerrit pun was good - I've also heard and enjoyed Can'tBerra. It was better than Mollong,... Molung,... Mlong... that electorate I can't spell.

Other inside knowledge was appreciated, including James's recollection that the area was once known as the Limestone Plains, and Lemmiwinks's musings about Woden Valley hospital were amusing in a Schadenfreude sort of way.

And Dave From Albury, thanks fer nuthin. You rock.

In the end I incorporated ADM's suggestion of circles, and shortened Can'tBerra to The Berra - think of Kenneth Cook, and his 'Bundanyabba' as 'The Yabba'. And Damian, Lord of the Rings made me think (perversely) of the Wizard of Oz. So here you have it:

The Berra Circular, adventures in the National Capital of Oz.

See you there.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXVII: So long, farewell

The lights of Devonport are fading
- Weddings Parties Anything, Riveresque, 1997

Hasta la vista, hasta manana til we meet again... so many movies and songs, and I can't remember the last line of the Weddos song that actually deals with sailing away from Devonport. I'll fix it later.

Since finishing work a week ago, it's been a strange, nostalgic week of doing-things-for-the-last-time. Last fish and chips from a punt at Constitution Dock. Last coffee and breakfast at Tricycle. Last beer at the Republic. Last sourdough loaf from Salamanca Market. Last visit to South Hobart Vinnies, the Hobart Mission and Hello Gorgeous. You know what I mean. I'll be coming back, but when you're a visitor it's different.

I finally abandoned the futile (and token) attempts to pack and on Friday drove away to catch the ferry. For non-Tasnarnians, you may be surprised to learn that Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania berths, is at quite the other end of the state to Slobart, and thus necessitates a road trip of significant distance and hours for the average Tasnarnian. It was a strange, hazy-shade-of-winter day, a combination of mild still weather and everyone from Forestry to local gardeners burning off (just the sort of thing mainlanders used to do thirty years ago) and the resultant glare made driving uncomfortable. It also buggered with the usually beautiful views Tasnarnia is so famous for, which was a bit disappointing on this my last trip up the highway.

There in Devonport the Spirit of Tasmania loomed large on the Mersey. I find any travel exciting and boat trips thrilling, so the sight of the ferry fed my anticipation. It compensated for the disappointing lack of cullinary options presenting themselves there in town. At least this stunning view was available from the McDonalds carpark.

When boarding the trusty old Volvo onto the ferry, I was instructed to go to a vehicle area in the lower hold, and parked as directed. The traffic controller smirked as I pulled up, "Not bad for a Volvo driver!" Har har. After all, it was a VERY big space I'd been assigned. I got out and that's when it dawned on me: every other vehicle in that hold was a very large 4WD, a 1-tonne ute or a commercial van. There was just one ordinary car - mine. The size difference was profound. Evidently they were allowing me significant leeway - just in case.

The trip was pleasant, and the 30 knot winds didn't create undue swell. Watching the lights of Devonport fade was sad, and I stayed outside for as long as I could until I got sick of the wind forcing my hair into my mouth and the occasional sting of sleet, and went inside for a glass of wine.

Arrival in Melbum yesterday morning was heralded with grey skies and precipitation, a typical weather welcome except that it hasn't been in these drought years. The 30mm rainfall was trumpeted in news bulletins and papers around the state as a welcome turn of the weather, and I had to remember how to drive in the rain.

I've spent a quiet weekend under paternal care (food, and lots of it) and tomorrow head north, for Our National Capital.

Keep those suggestions for new titles coming.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles: Interval

There was movement at the station, for the word had got around
That the dolt, with some regrets, will get away...

Yeah, I know it's bad to mangle Banjo, and that counts as pretty bad mangling even by the lowest standards.

It does signify, however, that this columnist is about to quit Tasnarnia for the even less balmy climes of Canberra.

The pertinent question has already been posed: will The Hobart Chronicles have to change its name? Well duh, that would be yes. After all, in 2 weeks it won't be chronicling Hobart at all, will it?

What I want from YOU is your witty, pertinent suggestion for what this thing should be renamed. I've had visions of terrible alternatives like "A Dip In Lake Curly-Gherkin", or boring ideas like "Notes From The Grassy Knoll".

Please help. You must be more imaginative than this.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXVI: Beautiful People

Beautiful people
They haven't really much to say
- Australian Crawl, Beautiful People, 1980

What a performance
What a cheap tent show
- Australian Crawl, The Boys Light Up, 1980

There is something both satisfying and disturbing about having a set of inner - and irrational - prejudices confirmed as true.

I've decamped from Slobart temporarily, to make a flying visit to the Gold Coast for a friend's wedding* (and to try to forget that on Tuesday I have six outdoor broadcasts. As you can see, that bit didn't work.)

Anyway, it's been roughly a decade since I was last at the Gold Coast, and really I don't remember a lot about that trip except that the place seemed to be as hideous as any black-clad Melbournite might expect. (And I ended up having to ditch the 5-star accommodation for a hospital - but that's another story).

An infinitely more tolerant and enlightened individual these days (ahem) I truly hoped I might appreciate the place from a whole new perspective this weekend.

Here's what I saw within half an hour of arriving: no less than THREE people wearing white shorts and gold sandals. Uh huh. It's the new white-shoe brigade.

And really, you just can't get away from that stuff. It's as though the place attracts the in-yer-face crowd of all ages like a Narre Warren piss-up attracts hooded bogans. In fact, I think it's the same crowd up here, on holiday. Tattoos, bad hair with product, tattoos, stupid sunglasses and more tattoos. LagerlargerlargerSHOUTING. It's bound to provoke a range of reactions in right-thinking people; in me, disgust is quickly followed by a desire to dispense a good smack in the head. Shame it's illegal. Adding to the clamour is the drone of construction, as perfectly serviceable establishments are razed and replaced by multi-story horrors, all the better to feed off the annual Schoolies debacle I suppose. I passed at least four active construction sites within a block of Cavill Ave, so it's on for young and old.

Perhaps my least favourite moment this afternoon was seeing a large, black, stretch HumVee. I had no idea such abominations existed, and I had to do a double-take to ensure I hadn't imagined it, which of course is exactly what the damned thing is designed to do. No doubt the insufferable occupants thought I was ogling them with envy. I could kick myself.

How did it happen? The place has every redeeming natural feature: golden sand, warm sea, a climate to die for - mild temperatures, a bright sunrise, endless sunshine and beautiful sunsets.

So I wandered down to the beach for a short while this afternoon to try to find some of that Gold Coast magic. I sat upon an unoccupied spot on the sand, pulled out the weekend magazine and read for a little while. Mind cleared, I looked up and gazed into the middle distance. There before me stretched a glittering vista: a wide variety of adults and children playing happily in the waves, the sails of dozens of para-surfers weaving in a colourful dance overhead. Close by, a family of overseas tourists forgot their uncomfortable formal clothing and splashed in the shallows, collecting seashells in a bucket. A determined surfer struggled in the sloppy waves, and a girl nearby read a book while a veiled matriarch lifted her modest long skirts to wash the sand from her feet. It was enough to make the hardest heart sing.

Then suddenly I felt a little chilled. Why did it all go dim? I looked around, and sure enough, the hotel towers were casting their inevitable pall, throwing the entire beach into shadow. It was just half-past three.

* yes, I know Gold Coasters, but it really was a quick visit, no time for pleasantries, so don't email me any abuse, okay? Next time we'll catch up, I promise.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXV: Run Through The Jungle

Whoa, thought it was a nightmare,
Lo, it's all so true,
They told me, "Don't go walkin' slow
'Cause Devil's on the loose."
- Creedence Clearwater Revival, Run Through The Jungle, 1970

One of the great joys of Tasnarnia is the great outdoors. Great.

There's been a bit of tramping about in it lately, not least this weekend just gone when for once I managed not to go to work on either Saturday or Sunday, and instead made a determined effort to go outside and play, just like our Mums always encouraged us.

Some organised friends found out about some marvellous little cabins near Lake Dobson in the Mt Field National Park, available for short stays through National Parks. Dating back to 1932, the cottages are quaint but equiped with cracking wood fires, a must so near to the snow line. It's just rustic enough to give you the impression you've had a wild weekend.

One shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security by small comforts, however. We got out on Saturday morning and began what looked like a simple walk; well, the walk was simple, but the weather wasn't. The wind screamed and the clouds closed in to form mist around us; the cold became too much for the junior member of the team sitting in the backpack, so we abandoned the walk along the chain of tarns.

Instead we began another walk down a little lower, along a more sheltered route, and to begin with it was quite pleasant. But somehow, what started out as a well-marked side track via Platypus Tarn somehow disappeared shortly after we left the tarn. Hmmm, Tasnarnian bush, on a cold day in an alpine area where there were snow patches on the ground. What's the best thing to do? Retrace our steps? There were blokes in our group, so of course there was no retracing any steps, ha ha you must be kidding. We pushed on. There were also women in the group, so maps were consulted. But since the people consulting the maps are not, if you believe Alan Pease, actually able to read them (and there was still no going back), we soon found that we weren't where we thought we were. Or indeed anywhere we could identify. There we were, in the great outdoors without a clue. Great.

It's funny how all one's nice ideas are thrown aside at the first sign of adversity. All those leaflets we read about treading lightly on the delicate landscape? Pah! If there was a break in the wall of foliage there, we tramped there and bugger tiptoeing around the pretty orange moss. How quickly the thin veneers of civilisation are stripped away.

Finally, we all capitulated to the inevitable: time to do The Right Things. That is, we got out the map again, and the compass made its first appearance; we observed the sun, the landscape, sighted north and read the topography lines. Then we pooled our collective brainpower, and made a decision. Some 500-600m in that direction we'd find the main track.

Now the bush bashing got really serious. Even if we'd had a machete, there wasn't room to swing it. We walked, stumbled and flailed about 500m, and got to our goal, the top of the ridge. BC, who was in the lead, turned in the middle of a thicket and said, well, this late in the day and with no sign of a way out, we'd better fire up the portable stove and create some shelter. Caro and I looked at each other. Oh boy, this was bad shit.

Then Ricky laughed; he couldn't stand the looks on our faces any longer. The path's just there, he said. And there it was. Bastards.

But you know, I really enjoyed it anyway. It was funny.... later.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXIV: Planet Earth Is Blue

For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
- David Bowie, Space Oddity, 1969

I have a new crush. His name is Mike Collins.

I saw him at the movies last week. He's witty! charming! and sooooo cute! He's also a bit out of my reach, being the third member of the Apollo 11 mission, and thus a retired US astronaut. Go have a look at the doco In The Shadow Of The Moon, if you get a chance. It's enlightening, especially if you weren't yet around to see that first landing. Collins was the bloke who stayed in the command centre, in orbit around the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin fartarsed around with flags and buggies on the surface. Those astronauats were a frighteningly able bunch - physically fit, handy and smart. Nearly 40 years later they still appear very switched on. That Mike Collins though, with those limpid brown eyes and lovely sense of humour... if only he was 30 years younger.

Though really, I suppose the age difference isn't so much, or at least it doesn't seem so after having had yet another birthday come and go. Sigh.

What I do seem to be achieving in my old age is a certain adventurousness in the kitchen. Perhaps you'd more accurately describe it as a gradual shedding of fear - a willingness to try new things. My inner D'ohmestic Goddess has been in full swing, with not one but now two successful batches of blackberry jam under my apron belt.

Perhaps the secret has been in the blackberries. They grow like mad here in Tasnarnia, and while they're a feral species and a pest, they do grow large and luscious, and seem tolerated by locals.

Not long ago I was invited to a gathering at a farming property on Bruny Island, where the blackberries grew in abundance on the fenceline. Myself and friends piled out of the car and, faced with a tsunami of ripe fruit, went straight over to the towering brambles and began stuffing our faces before we even introduced ourselves (I don't think the mob there rated us very highly for our sociability).

Anyway, we picked about twenty tons of berries and brought them home. Then the reality set in - what to do? None of us had any idea. Thank God for the CWA - a long time ago the Quirindi branch gave me a CWA Cookbook, and it finally came in handy, just like I knew it would one day. The blackberry jam recipe was three lines long, and I reprint it here for yourr edification:

Blackberry Jam
Ingredients: 1lb. sugar, 1lb. blackberries, some red ones.
Put blackberries in a presering pan and crush with a bottle. Stir all the time and boil 30 minutes. Head sugar in oven and add. Boil 10 minutes. The seeds should be soft.

I didn't have any idea what a 'preserving pan' was, but a plain old saucepan was just fine, and I like lumpy jam so I skipped the bizzo about 'crush with bottle'. There is a moment when you look at that horrific mount of sugar and wonder if it's all a good idea. But the recipe worked a treat.

So this weekend we made another trip to the little farm on the island off an island off an island, and even thought it was the end of the season we scratched together enough fruit for a few more jars. Sweet victory.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Hobart Chronicles XXXIII: In The Navy

Oh my goodness
What am I going to do in a submarine?
- Village People, In The Navy, 1979

Did you have any idea that the first of the Royal Australian Navy's Collins Class submarine fleet, HMAS Collins, was named after a Tasnarnian?

Well, there you go.

According to the vessel's Commander, Matt Buckley, Admiral Collins was the first Australian born chief of our Navy. He (Collins, not Buckley) was a decorated World War II hero and was actually born in Deloraine in northern Tasnaria. In fact, three of the six subs are named after Tasnarnians.

I'm not really quite sure what that signifies. Except that in my line of business, you can learn a whole lot of nothing-very-important in an hour. It's very rare that I pull rank and use my position to satisfy personal curiosity, but during Navy Week when HMAS Collins and the frigate HMAS Parramatta steamed into Slobart I broke my own rules and had a junior colleague get us on board to do a story. After all, how often does one get a squiz at the guts of one of our nation's... [border defenders? warships? expensive US castoffs?? fill in your own pejorative of choice].

Of the two, the sub was certainly the most interesting for me. I can't talk about much of what I saw as it's classified (this is no joke - I can't talk about what or how many if any weapons I saw, for example, and they reviewed my happy snaps and actually made me delete a few before disembarking). But I did get to play with the periscope, taking aim on the main landing deck of HMAS Parramatta, and inspect the three sets of V18 diesel engines. No wonder the damned things are reputed to make a heap of noise, unless they switch to the electric engines which are silent. The sleeping cabins are beyond description. From what I could see, they lever six fully grown sailors and their belongings into a cubicle the size of a kombi van's interior, with nothing but a little blue curtain each for privacy. All belongings, that is, except for a lot of sets of golf clubs which materialised as various sailors emerged from HMAS Collins to take shore leave. For all I know, they were stowed in spare corners of the weapons bay.

HMAS Parramatta's landing pad (it carries helicopters) was the scene of cocktails at dusk, which I attended courtesy of an invitation issued to my boss. I mean, cocktails amongst men in spiffy uniforms? How could I refuse to do my professional duty? Actually, it was a civilised affair (so to speak), the highlights of which were the food and wine (copious and good) and the officers, who were gratifyingly good conversationalists. Their PR skills must be honed by many such soirees in many ports, though if they were bored they were also well-mannered enough not to show it.

It was a chill Slobart [summer] wind racing across the deck after sundown that finally chased us off the frigate and back to our homes, while the boys and girls in white went about their business.