Today we leave mainland Tasmania, taking a short flight from Launceston Airport to Flinders Island. Over the past 30 days we’ve driven 4,269km and it seems like we’ve explored every corner of Tassie; it’s surpassed our expectations and we are sorry to leave. Flinders, however, is off the beaten track, even by Tasmanian standards, and offers us a chance to chill before the mayhem of Melbourne and the horrors of the flight back to the UK.
We know we’re in for an experience when the guy at check-in tells us our hand-luggage is too heavy. We re-pack, shifting stuff into suitcases until the weight meets the airline’s rules. But we needn’t have bothered; when we try to take it on the plane the captain says it’s too big, and will have to go in the hold anyway. As we clamber on board we take his point. It’s a 19 seater, and we’re packed in like sardines. I never thought I’d be dreaming wistfully of the creature comforts in a British Airways economy class cabin, but plainly we’re playing by different rules here in outback Oz:
In Flinders we are staying in a self-contained cabin on a farm, with great views of Franklin Sound beyond the trees:
Free-range guinea pigs and partridges roam the farmyard, kept in line by Jess, an eager and friendly sheep dog. This seems like our sort of place:
Our genial hosts, Rob and Lorraine, are in the habit of treating new arrivals to a barbecue in an outbuilding that Rob has built himself from salvaged materials. As well as running cattle and sheep on his smallholding Rob is a builder by trade, plainly a skilled and versatile one. He points to various bits of the building, explaining proudly where they’ve been sourced. As the barbecue gets going some bats are flushed out of the roof space, circling madly for a few seconds before exiting via a convenient gap in the eaves.
Rob puts a vinyl record of Abba’s Greatest Hits on to an ancient turntable, and we’re ready to rumble. We talk about the death of Andrew Sachs a few days ago. We say we are amazed that it was mentioned on Australian radio news, and Lorraine explains that Fawlty Towers is massively popular over here. She and Rob both enjoy British TV comedy, and can’t get the hang of US sitcoms. We share their sentiments.
The tricky subject of mutton birds raises its head. Driving us back from the airport Lorraine had told us about the menu for the barbecue, including mutton birds. These are better known as Short-tailed Shearwaters; they are common birds in Tasmania, and are regarded around these parts as a culinary delicacy. I politely declined, explaining that we are birders and came to Tassie to watch the local wildlife rather than to eat it. No offence was intended, but we appear to have scored an own goal.
Rob makes the case for eating mutton birds, and he too scores an own goal: they’re very common, he says, and we’ll probably like them as they taste like minke whale. We are truly sorry if we have offended two decent people who are giving up their evening to cook us a barbecue. We are not criticising their customs or way of life, but we have principles and must stick to them if we are to be true to ourselves. An awkward silence descends across the proceedings.
By unspoken agreement everyone quickly moves on, determined to make the most of an evening without mutton birds. Lorraine cooks well, and we tuck in eagerly to her home-made sausages and pesto, washed down with Rob’s excellent home brew. Julie doesn’t much care for lamb, but Lorraine serves some which is sourced from the dorper sheep Rob has raised on the farm and she is won over.
Soon we are swapping travellers’ tales. Rob and Lorraine prove to be the best-travelled Aussies we’ve met, and are frequent visitors to Europe. They know Orkney and Shetland well, as do we, though they prefer the latter while we could easily spend the rest of our lives on the former. They even know Holt in Norfolk, which Julie and I visit most years. How many Brits, let alone Tasmanians, can claim to know Holt?
The evening draws to an amiable close; the guinea pigs are safely tucked up in bed for the night, and we need to follow their example. Flinders is surprisingly large – more than twice the size of the Isle of Man – and we have just two days to explore it so tomorrow we’ll need to make an early start.