The voyage of Captain Quirk (2) Selfie

Captain Quirk is always looking for unusual angles, for variations on a theme, for new ways to render old truths.

This image is the Captain’s unusual slant on a selfie, taken next to a parking lot in Cradle Mountain National Park.  For a reason that I can no longer remember there was, on this stretch of road, one of those convex mirrors that are designed give drivers a wider view of their surroundings.  Captain Quirk decided that photographing it would give a unique view of her good self, of her immediate surroundings and of the distant mountains.

See what you think: tasmania-cradle-mountain-ronny-creek-2016-4

[5 December]

The voyage of Captain Quirk (1) Mailbox magic

Tomorrow we leave mainland Tasmania for Flinders Island.  It’s high time, therefore, to look back over the voyage of Captain Quirk.

Mrs P, or Captain Quirk as she’s now known to Platypus Pandemonium, loves taking quirky photos.  Her favourite subject in the USA is the humble mailbox.  Outside big urban centres, mail is delivered to a mailbox on the curb-side rather than being posted through a letterbox cut into the front door.  Most US mailboxes are boringly utilitarian, rectangular in shape with a simple domed roof.

Just occasionally, however, on our American road trips, we’ve come across an act of rebellion, a mailbox that doesn’t conform to type but rather gives us an insight into its owner-creator, perhaps a trout-shaped box outside the home of a fisherman or a maybe a horse-shaped creation at the gates to a farm.  Inevitably, therefore, when we spot one of these quirky American mailboxes I’m required to screech to a halt to allow Captain Quirk to photograph it.

To our amazement, and the Captain’s utter delight, the Tasmanians have got in on the act too.  It was only a couple days into our trip, on Bruny Island, that we spotted this Dalek, a truly brilliant creation that comprises, amongst other things, an egg whisk and a plunger for unblocking sinks: tasmania-letterbox-2016-27

After that we kept our eyes open, and came across other mailbox magic.  Sometimes we’d drive three or four days without seeing one and then stumble across two in a single afternoon.  Maybe it’s something in the water?

Whatever, here are some of the best.  I’m not quite sure what these mailboxes tell us about Tasmanians, but her keenness to record them tells us heaps about the good Captain.  She was, for example bowled over by this fellow, who bears a striking resemblance to Sean the Sheep, still loyally guarding an item of mail awaiting collection: tasmania-letterbox-2016-13

Here’s a smart skewbald horse: tasmania-letterbox-2016-1

And a lighthouse, inevitably seen on a coastal road: tasmania-letterbox-2016-11

This dog looks full of personality, though perhaps a bit goofy: tasmania-letterbox-2016-15a

But sometimes a much-loved dog isn’t enough, its owner wants to get in on the act too: tasmania-letterbox-2016-35

Some tailor-made mailboxes, such as this, almost qualify as works of public art.  It’s not clear what the guy’s occupation is – note the enigmatic tank on his back – but he’s plainly of the Aussie persuasion as there are corks dangling from his hat: tasmania-letterbox-2016-39

This knight in shining armour looks a little out of place on a rural Tasmanian road, though no more than a marauding Dalek I suppose:tasmania-letterbox-2016-18

A splendid cockerel looks much more at home in Tassie: tasmania-letterbox-2016-20

But as for this aviator, I’m lost for words.  The Red Baron’s long lost cousin, maybe? … tasmania-letterbox-2016-44

Reviewing these photos for Platypus Pandemonium, I’m reminded that at its best travel engages all the senses and emotions.  The trick is to be open to the possibilities inherent in day-to-day existence.  We didn’t visit Tasmania for the mailboxes but they brought us moments of sheer delight, of hysterical laughter, of shaking our heads in utter bemusement.  All credit to Captain Quirk for recognising that these mailboxes should be recorded for posterity, as final and irrefutable evidence of the human ability, when the mood takes us, to be as delightfully daft as a brush.

[5 December]

A spiky bridge, a pointed peak and some big trees

tasmania-spiky-bridge-2016-1Today is primarily a driving day as we head south to get into position for an all-day trip to Maria Island tomorrow.  On the way we pass the Spiky Bridge, built by convicts in 1843.  Now by-passed by a new main road, it’s yet another example of how convict labour was central to the early development of Tasmania.  Some commentators suggest that the spiky parapet was intended to prevent cattle falling over the sides of the bridge.  Other, more enlightened commentators say that this theory is a load of dingo’s kidneys and that we should simply regard the Spiky Bridge as the brainchild of someone who’d spent way too much time on the sauce.

We drive inland, along a twisting road that climbs steadily into the mountains.  When the land flattens out we get distant views of St Mary’s Mountain, with a strikingly pointed profile that dominates the surrounding plateau:

tasmania-st-marys-mountain-2016

We have taken a major detour to take in another of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks at the Evercreeech Forest Reserve.  This area features some magnificent White Gums, which are the tallest trees of their type in Australia.  To see them we must first walk through the fern-clad undergrowth, marvelling at the various subtle shades of green that surround us:

tasmania-evercreech-2016-16

When we finally reach them, the trunks of the big trees are massive:

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And trying to see the tops of these towering White Gums can be a real pain in the neck:

tasmania-evercreech-2016-18

Thankfully Evercreech is a reserve, so these magnificent trees are safe from the chainsaw and will be there to be enjoyed by future generations.

[3 December]

P-p-pick up a penguin (2)

Several years ago we visited Roswell, New Mexico, close to the infamous Area 51. Images of aliens and models of aliens are everywhere in Roswell and the visitor is left in no doubt that this is the alien capital of the planet.  However real live aliens are much harder to find.

tasmania-penguin-2016-3This syndrome is also evident in the coastal town of Penguin, Tasmania. It is named in honour of the Little Penguin which comes ashore to lay eggs and rear young in various spots around Tassie.  Penguins are the town’s emblem, and images or models can be found all over the place: on the side of the rubbish bins attached to lampposts, at both ends of the seesaw in the kids’ playground, outside the visitor information centre, on posters and billboards, and so on.

The most famous example is the massive model penguin on the esplanade, well over two metres tall by my reckoning. It’s a notable local landmark, and while we are parked nearby a constant stream of people turned up to be photographed next to it.  We are a little disappointed to see it’s been desecrated with a Santa suit, but after all it’s late November so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

tasmania-stanley-2016-6

Of course, the one penguin-related item that’s hard to find in Penguin is a genuine pukka penguin. Not so in Stanley, the coastal town we’re heading to in western Tasmania.  The road signs in Stanley make it abundantly clear we’re in penguin country:

We’ve done our research and know just where to go. A cool wind blows off the sea as we wait in a car park next to Stanley’s beach, which adjoins a small nature reserve where some of the penguins have their burrows.  We check out the nature reserve, but nothing doing.  The light is fading fast, the wind is getting colder and so are we.  A few other hardy souls join us, but despite our torch with the penguin-friendly red light we see nothing.

A question arises: is this a wild penguin chase or simply a wild goose chase? We give ourselves a deadline: 9.30 then we’re out of here.  We go back to the nature reserve.  Mrs P shines her torch under a bush and we see two penguins, barely visible in the gloom.  Success!  Then she shines her torch in the other direction, towards the beach and in the eerie red glow we can just make out a couple white waistcoated figures as they pick their way over the rocks and towards the car park.

We take our positions and the penguins approach. They hesitate behind a white picket fence, just a few feet from where we’re standing.  They must know we’re here, but the instinct to return to the burrow is too strong.  The leader plucks up courage and he’s off, almost running over our feet as he crosses the car park and climbing the grassy bank at its rear boundary.  The light from Mrs P’s torch is feeble, and soon he’s swallowed up by the darkness.  We look back to the picket fence and two other penguins are on the move now, waddling with comic determination like David Suchet playing Agatha Christie’s Poirot.  Soon they too are lost to sight, heading away from the beach.

In all we watch about six or seven penguins start the epic journey they must make daily in the breeding season. It’s been far too dark to take photos but no matter, we have an indelible memory of birds doing what their ancestors have done since the dawn of the species.  It’s humbling to witness this tiny fragment of nature at work.

We return to our car to drive off, but as we pull out of the car park the headlights pick up penguins in the middle of the road.  Having traversed the car park and climbed the bank at its rear they are crossing the road to people’s front gardens where presumably they have their burrows.

We stop in the middle of the road and wait until they’ve crossed safely, then edge uphill towards our accommodation on the outskirts of Stanley. As we do so, pademelons are visible on either side of the road and sometimes in the middle of it, playing chicken as we approach.  They bounce out the way when the car is nearly upon them, turning to watch thoughtfully as we pass.  Perhaps they are wondering what business we have to be out after dark, which is rightfully their time, their domain.

A couple of hundred metres from the car park I round a bend to find more penguins crossing the road, working their way uphill. We watch spellbound until they’ve disappeared under roadside vegetation, and continue our journey.

Within minutes we are indoors, out of the cold and the darkness, home comforts duly restored. But as we drink our tea we talk and talk about the penguins and the pademelons, for whom the night is still young.

 [25 November]

A tale of two cities (2) Sheffield

Just a few kilometres down the road from Railton is Sheffield.  It styles itself Town of Murals, and is a world apart from its topiary touting neighbour.

Sheffield seems like a lively place, with a sense of energy. And pride.  There are murals all over the town centre.  It seems as if every available wall is covered with a massive, colourful painting relating to the history of the local area and its people, or to Tasmanian wildlife and landscapes:

tasmania-sheffield-2016-20

The artwork isn’t necessarily great, but the murals brighten the place up and give it character, creating a pleasing sense of place:

tasmania-sheffield-2016-6

There is even, it seems, an annual mural-painting competition, presumably to keep alive the interest of both locals and visitors:

tasmania-sheffield-2016-12

While Railton did not, in my view, live up to its billing Sheffield exceeds expectations. Maybe I’m wrong about Sheffield, or Railton, or both. But if the first impressions of an outsider with no previous knowledge of either count for anything then Sheffield is plainly going places while Railton, sadly, is going nowhere.

[22 November]

A tale of two cities (1) Railton

Railton, in the north of Tassie, styles itself Town of Topiary.  On the Internet there is a town plan showing the location of dozens of topiary features dotted about all over the place.  We like quirky, and decide to give it a go.

tasmania-railton-topiary-2016-28

First indications are promising. As we drive into Railton we spot a topiary show-jumper, pretty much life-sized and in good order, a real labour of love.

But as we drive on into what Americans would call downtown, along what they think of as Main Street (actually its Foster Street), we begin to feel uneasy.  In the UK I’ve driven on motorways that aren’t as wide as Foster Street, but apart from a few random parked cars the road is unoccupied.  The place has the feel of a nineteenth century American frontier town that’s down on its luck.  It would be no surprise to see John Wayne to ride by on a black stallion, closely pursued by a ball of tumbleweed.

We’ve been driving for hours and need a break. The cafe looks fairly OK from the outside, and in the absence of any other options we decide to give it a try.  Inside the place is deserted except for the server and one old man, presumably a local, who is wading through a pile of newspapers.  He glances up briefly, decides our presence is not worth acknowledging further, and returns to his reading.

The hot food cabinet is all but empty, just three sausage rolls huddled together in a corner looking sorry for themselves. The pastries seem a little better, so we order and take ourselves off to the seats in the window.  Outside the supermarket is boarded up and for sale; it doesn’t look to be a proposition that would get Alan Sugar’s heart racing.  A stray dog wanders up and down the street, sniffing and listless.  An occasional car passes through, but there are no pedestrians.  Railton seems lifeless.

tasmania-railton-topiary-2016-1

Revived by lunch and mocha (who can’t be revived by mocha?) we take to the streets in search of inspiring topiary, but are quickly disappointed. Many of the living sculptures have seen better days and are apparently suffering from die-back, or neglect, or both.  A few are plainly still tended and the “topiary park” has some reasonable figures, but others have clearly been abandoned to their fate and nature is taking its inevitable course.

We suspect that the topiary was The Big Idea to revive the town, to get people energised, to engender a sense of pride and community, to bring the tourists in. Only it hasn’t quite worked out: topiary requires long-term effort and commitment, and apparently there isn’t enough of it here.  Too many people have moved on or moved away, have lost interest or hope or maybe both.

The Town of Topiary isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The topiary could almost be a metaphor for Railton as a whole: some pockets of achievement and honest effort, but not enough to overcome the sense that this is a place that’s lost its way.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye, but I came here expecting much more, and leave saddened by thoughts of opportunities lost.

[22 November]

Strangers in a strange land

We’ve been in Tasmania about 10 days and like it a lot. The people are open and friendly, the settlements characterful and uncrowded, the landscape green and varied, the forests luxuriant and magical, the critters & birds weird and wonderful.  Tasmania has a reputation for being the most British of the Australian states, and although this isn’t necessarily a recommendation I suspect it’s true – we feel at home here.

And then suddenly we come across something that reminds we’re definitely not in the UK:

tasmania-tahune-airwalk-toilet-sign-2016

Julie spotted this notice in a ladies toilet a few days ago, and just for a moment we feel like strangers in a strange land.

[15 November 2016]