Author Archives: Marce

Fly away home

We don’t often leave Escape Velocity and when we do we worry that she’ll be ok while we’re gone. Before we left for Victoria and Tasmania we had a difficult time finding a safe place to leave our home. Sydney is bow-to-stern packed with boats. Every marina, every mooring field is dense with yachts of all kinds and after calling every club, marina and boatyard I could find I came up empty. As time ticked by and our planned departure date approached with no solution I took the plunge anyway and booked our flights and car rentals in a sheer act of optimism that it would all work out in the end.

Salvation came in the form of Women Who Sail Australia, a private Facebook group who share local info and can generally be relied on for up-to-date tips in just about anything related to boating in Oz. I put out a call to my sailing sisters and within days I had a mooring booked at a small boat shed up the Parramatta River. Roger, the owner, was borderline non-verbal on the phone but promised a heavy and safe mooring ball and a ride to shore when we left for the airport so we could leave our dinghy at Escape Velocity for the duration.

On moving day we had no trouble finding the boatshed but Roger was nowhere to be found. He finally answered our phone calls and asked if we could wait until he finished a repair job further upriver. Sure, we said, and Jack held EV in station against wind and rambunctious ferry wakes for the promised half hour, which then stretched past an hour. Finally Roger and crew appeared in a paint-spattered, beat-up launch. He approached and asked if we could wait until “after lunch.”

Jack and I looked at each and shouted back simultaneously. “No!”

“We’ve been circling for more than an hour!”

“Ok,” he said reluctantly. “We have to move a boat.” And they disentangled a small powerboat from one of the moorings on the outer edge of the mooring field and moved it to another mooring further into the river shallows. Jack and I picked up the newly freed mooring, only to discover we would be within a few feet of the small sailboat just behind. Not ideal, but Roger assured us all the moorings are oversized and plenty strong enough to hold us in any weather. We snugged up as tight as we could to give maximum clearance with our neighbor.

We asked where we could land our dinghy and it turns out, no place. What?! There’s no public dock, Roger’s is packed with his work boats, the nearby rowing club won’t allow dinghies and the ferry landing prohibits tying up even at the back and out of the way of ferries. It was Friday and we weren’t leaving for the airport until Tuesday. And we can’t get ashore.

We spent some time on boat projects, but then in a desperate act of defiance we tied up to the back of the ferry dock anyway when our friend Alex offered to pick us up and take us shopping. It was a welcome break from the relentless wind and ferry wakes in our temporary home upriver.

Roger took us ashore on the day we left and we called him the day before we returned to make sure he’d still be around to take us back to EV from the ferry dock. He promised to be at work at the boatshed until 5 o’clock.

It’s fun to fly over Sydney because the harbor is beautiful even from the air. We easily picked out the opera house and harbor bridge and just for fun I tried to follow the river to where our boat was. I counted the curves and bridges we remembered navigating. And suddenly there was Escape Velocity, easily recognized by the orange canvas and bright kayaks on deck! As the plane banked to the airport approach we watched in awe and relief that we could see our home from the air and that she was safe and sound, just as we’d left her. And did we grab a camera and snap a photo? No, we did not.

We had an easy time collecting our luggage and taking the train and ferry and we were back at the dock within sight of our home within an hour. It was 4:30 and Roger was nowhere to be found. When we called he told us he was towing a boat, that we would see him passing the ferry dock soon and that he would come get us as soon as he could. Sure enough we watched as he towed a sailboat down river and in a little while he came back to the boatshed and took us and our luggage the 100 yards to Escape Velocity.

We told him we’d be leaving in the morning so we could get back to Sydney and a supermarket. We don’t have any fresh food onboard, we told him. He seemed concerned.

“What will you eat?”

“Spaghetti, probably,” said Jack.

We hoisted our luggage up onto our deck and climbed aboard, happy to be home before dark and waved goodbye and thanks to Roger. A few minutes later he reappeared, still looking concerned. I think the idea of spaghetti must have been unimaginable.

“There’s a restaurant over there,” he said, and he pointed across the river. “And another one on the other side of that marina down there,” pointing the other way, “but they don’t like you tying up there.”

We assured him we’d survive the night on spaghetti and jarred sauce, which happens to be Jack’s specialty, and we celebrated our homecoming with a bottle of red.

The next day we motored the five miles back down the river to our old anchorage at Rozelle Bay and went ashore to the supermarket for a few essentials. Back onboard I was unpacking and sorting laundry when Jack called down, “Hey, I think that’s Roger towing another boat!” Sure enough there was the beat up workboat towing a sailboat right past us. We stood on deck and waved as he went by and he called out, “I’m the patron saint of derelict boats!”

He was gone before we could reassure him about the spaghetti.

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Caving

Another tide-dependent destination lead us south from Port Arthur to arrive at Remarkable Cave by mid afternoon. Our lodging host told us that at low tide we could hop the fence and walk through the cave to the beach. It sounded good to us until we saw that “hopping the fence” also including some rock climbing, an activity more suited to younger limbs and those with no fear of heights. I think if one of us was willing the other would have followed, but we decided our lives would still be complete if we didn’t do the hopping and climbing. Still, it was a pretty cool place but hard to photograph.

Our last foray along Tasmania’s Convict Trail was the ruins of the coal mine where the worst of the worst were sent to serve out their sentences doing the hardest of hard labor. At one point the mine provided all of the coal used in Tasmania but it was poor quality coal and eventually the mine was closed and the convicts moved to Hobart.

The shafts are collapsed now. The site is remote and unstaffed but well preserved and interpreted with cleverly placed placards and an online and downloadable brochure for more info. I found the setting ruggedly beautiful in contrast to the brutality that took place here.

The punishment cells were barely large enough to lie down, and were underground and windowless.

We drove a further few kilometers on the unsealed road to the far northwest corner of the Tasman peninsula and Lime Bay, as peaceful and lovely a place as we’ve seen in Tasmania. The boats anchored off in the distance made us almost wish we had sailed EV down here. This truly is a special place. It’s not exotically beautiful like many places we’ve been to and the landscape is so similar to our homeland that we were initially underwhelmed, unfairly so. We were also shocked a few times by overt, unconsciously racist remarks made in casual conversation by some locals, but Under Down Under has grown on us day by day.

At Lime Bay the rains came again but it was only a brief shower and as always, when it stopped we were rewarded with a rainbow.

We only have one more day here and we’re on a mission.

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House of horrors

“We could have spent two days,” friends told us about the Port Arthur Historic Site. And so we staged ourselves on the Tasman peninsula a day before the original plan so we could maximize our time at one of Australia’s World Heritage sites. There are actually eleven locations that comprise the UNESCO designation of Australia’s convict history and five of them are in Tasmania, with Port Arthur being the largest.

Walking through the perfectly groomed and maintained grounds today it’s hard to imagine the brutal treatment that thousands of convicts were subjected to for the twenty years the station operated.

The entry fee included a guided walking tour of the convict areas, after which we could explore the rest of the settlement on our own, plus a harbor cruise to see the dockyard, the boy’s prison and the Isle of the Dead, where both convicts and free people were interred.

Our guide was young and enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and far more accustomed to the capricious Tassie weather than the tourists in our group. Our changeable conditions continued, bright sun, light rain, gusty wind, seemingly in five-minute increments. I was happy to have my laugh-at-the-weather Kiwi jacket and Jack was sporting a new waterproof jacket he picked up on our second day on the island.

The guide introduced the site with a historical overview and took pains to dispel the myth that most convicts were guilty only of stealing a piece of bread to feed their hungry families. The men sent to Port Arthur, he said, were hardened criminals, repeat offenders from all of Australia’s colonies.

This is also the site of another incident, a more recent one, our guide told us, adding that if we wanted to talk about it he preferred we ask him personally rather than other staff members, as many of them still have “connections” to the event. I was initially puzzled by this, but within seconds it dawned on me.

I knew the story in broad strokes: Australia suffered one mass shooting and reacted within a short period of time to make significant changes to their gun laws and haven’t had another mass shooting since. I had confirmed the facts in the past year to bolster an online political argument and at this moment the bell began to ring. Port Arthur, the location of the shooting. This Port Arthur. Here.

I don’t know if anyone else spoke to the guide about the shooting. I know I didn’t. But as we continued our tour the new knowledge of where we are, both in regards to the shooting and the events of the convict period, opened a deep well in my brain.

We were guided through and around the convict areas and learned about the theory of English prison reformer Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy, along with other contemporaries, proposed to remake prisons into penitentiaries. Instead of just locking up criminals they should be penitent and reformed, in Bentham’s ideas through “discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, and training and education.”

Similar ideas were taking hold around the world during this period. In the city of my birth, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the radical new Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1829 with the same “reform rather than punishment” goal. I have an ancestor who did seven years at Eastern State. Don’t ask.

As our guide described life at Port Arthur, the story veered dizzingly from brutality — punishments of 200 lashes with a cat o’ nine tails — to benevolence — free health care after the whipping! I don’t know whether the patter was written to whitewash or downplay the cruelty or not, or maybe just to make it family friendly, but it was starting to remind me of guides I heard as a child touring slave plantations in the South, about how the owners “took care of” their slaves, providing food and clothing and honest work. I was cringing.

Jack reminded me that it was a cruel time, and told me how much worse it was at sea but still, I was having a visceral reaction to the thought of human beings treating other humans with such cruelty. I imagined the resident flogger whipping a convict to near death, then walking up the hill by dinner time to say grace at the table and tuck into a nice roast and jacket potatoes with his family.

After the introductory walkabout we made our way to the waterfront for a harbor tour. Almost as soon as we were aboard the vessel the sky opened up and dumped a few minutes of pea-sized hail. Could Tassie weather be worse than New Zealand? Maybe. The hail turned into rain and we passengers had to rely on the photos displayed on the TV monitors to see what the tour guide was describing, as the view out the windows was distorted.

By the end of the boat tour we were cold and hungry and headed toward the visitors center for a bite to eat. As we walked the path toward the back entrance a placard caught my eye.

It marked the entrance to the memorial for the shooting in 1996. “I’m going in,” I told Jack, and he made an about face to follow me. Within ten feet of entering the wooded pathway, I was overwhelmed with sadness and burst into tears. Thirty-five people died that day, most of them at this very spot, the location of the previous cafe and gift shop, now demolished but the ruined frame preserved as part of the memorial. I have felt this kind of sorrow before, for example at Gettysburg, where the peaceful beauty of the rolling farmland can’t erase the memory that thousands of mostly young men died a horrible, senseless, lonely death.

But my sadness in Port Arthur came not just for the victims of the deranged shooter, but for my country. When Australians learned of this incident they were horrified and sickened and the leadership sought ways to lessen the likelihood of it ever happening again. Within months they legislated a multipronged approach to reducing gun violence. The American NRA fought hard against it — they represent gun manufacturers who stood to lose revenue from the new laws — but wiser heads prevailed and the tighter restrictions on gun ownership have had the desired effect. Australia has not had a mass shooting since Port Arthur.

In my country there is a mass shooting nearly every other day, in theatres, shopping centers, offices and most tragically, schools. Rather than feeling horror and outrage, Americans shrug and call it Tuesday. “There’s nothing we can do,” they say. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they say. “If you take the guns away from the good guys, only bad guys will have guns,” they say. All of these arguments were bandied about by the NRA and others during the debate over Australia’s gun legislation and in the end all of them failed to pass muster. Australians value life without the fear of gun violence more than they value the freedom to amass an arsenal of deadly weapons. And no one with a good reason is prevented from owning a gun.

We stayed in the memorial for the Port Arthur victims feeling the pain the families and friends of the victims live with until the cold and damp sent us reluctantly back to shelter. Upstairs the café was crowded and noisy.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “We can come back later.” As we drove up through the multilevel car park out of the valley and back onto the main road, I felt the anguish lift, leaving me drained but still sad.

If anyone doubts that a nation as diverse in political, cultural and ideological thought as America can come together to make changes for the benefit of all, let them come to Australia and see what humanity and concern for their fellow citizens can do.

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Looking eastward

We covered a lot of territory over the last few days and we took a day off, just driving the Freycinet peninsula and doing short walks to overlooks and protected areas. The weather continued to be iffy, sunny one minute, spritzy the next, and generally gusty on the shoreline. We were grateful it wasn’t the heavy relentless downpour we experienced on our trip to New Zealand’s South Island, but still, a sky with fewer clouds and clearer vistas would have been welcome.

At one car park a couple of bold and friendly wallabies visited a camper van where the travelers were eating lunch. No dummies, these little guys, and even though I didn’t have anything to offer they still let me pet them.

The big thing to do here is the hike to Wineglass Bay overlook, but we agreed that a four hour hike was not in the cards for us today and instead took the easy routes. According to my Fitbit we still clocked a couple of miles and 40 floors of climbing, albeit at a leisurely pace. Given the conditions I don’t think the view from higher elevations would have been very good.

Our last stop of the day, as the rain began in earnest, was the “Spiky Bridge” built by convicts in 1843 of fieldstone using no mortar. No one is quite sure why it’s topped with the vertical spikes but it certainly prevents loitering on the walls.

By late afternoon we were in a downpour and Jack drove us safely down the coast to Triabunna where we had a decision to make.

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Take me to the beach

After an overnight in Launceston we drove east toward the coast across a landscape that reminded both of us of our home state of Pennsylvania, with rolling hills, farmland, mountains, gorges, forests and, sadly, a lot of roadkill. On some roads there was something dead in the middle of the road every couple of hundred meters. We got good at identifying the carcasses using our guidebook of Australian wildlife, mostly by the ears and tails, the only body parts that were recognizable.

All day, and for most of the days ahead, we drove on unsealed roads about 60% of the time, most often newly scraped and watered, but sometimes deeply rutted and washboarded. No worries, though. We are the Schulzes, and it’s a rental.

Like many places we’ve been, the geology interested us as much as the flora and fauna, and we are definitely interested in seeing the most iconic of Tasmanian wildlife, the devil. We’re on the lookout!

Nothing gives me more pleasure than foraging, and we stopped for about 45 minutes along the roadside to take advantage of these ripe blackberries. We ate our fill and collected enough for our morning cereal, too. Just another way that Tasmania reminds us of Pennsylvania.

By the time we reached the sea a front was passing through and the wind was blowing a near gale, the perfect summer temperature started to drop and the Tasman Sea showed its true colors. These fishing boats were bucking wildly on their moorings and I almost felt seasick watching the sickening motion.

We’re overnighting in Bicheno to see penguins, and spent the late afternoon on the rocky shoreline until the wind chased us to shelter.

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To market again and beyond

Hobart is a beautiful city, much larger than I pictured it and in the most perfect harbor setting. We didn’t plan to spend much time here, though, because there’s a lot of territory to cover in Tasmania and we’ve only budgeted a week to do it. Naturally I wasn’t going to miss the weekly Salamanca market. It’s huge and varied, with the usual fresh produce and specialty food vendors, along with very high quality arts and crafts.

There were also at least a dozen buskers, ranging in age from polished elder statesmen to tiny tots. They were all terrific. I don’t know who books the musical talent but kudos for the depth of talent and variety of styles Hobart offers up.

Jack is perpetually on the lookout for additions to his t-shirt and cap collection. I usually refrain from buying myself anything but I did succumb to the charm of this gentleman and bought a blackwood rolling pin to replace the plain pine dowel Jack made for me that I’ve been using since we moved aboard.

Honey bees and bee product vendors are ubiquitous in Australia; our friends Alex and Diana even have a hive in their pocket city garden, not so much for the honey but to pollinate their fruits and vegetables. But who knew Tasmania has truffles? There was quite the crowd around that booth.

As always, I could have stayed at the market all day, but we tore ourselves away and drove north out of the city toward one of Tasmania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Tasmanian Wilderness area. It’s a network of national parks covering almost a quarter of Tasmania’s land area and preserves a glacial landscape and one of the last remaining temperate rain forests. You could spend a lifetime exploring the remote areas of cliffs and gorges and forests, but we only had time to nip at the edges and hiked to Russell Falls. We didn’t realize at the time that our warm, clear weather was a gift.

The roads through the Wilderness are the kind of twisty mountain passes that Jack loves to drive and that reveal breathtaking vistas with every turn, but they also mean you can’t cover much territory in a day. We reluctantly left the mountains and turned our sights toward the east coast and headed to Launceston as a staging area for the coming days. On the way we saw a couple of echidnas shuffling across the road, and finally got to photograph one who wasn’t as fast as the others in disappearing into the roadside bush.

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MONA love

Our first full day in Hobart was dedicated to the must-visit world class Museum of Old and New Art, MONA. (Official site here.) We could have spent days there. The collection includes a few antiquities but most of the gallery space is dedicated to large contemporary pieces and installations. It is the largest privately owned museum in Australia.

The building itself is intriguing. From the outside you see a low, unimposing structure, but once inside you feel as if you’ve descended into a gigantic ancient tomb. It’s beautiful, and cavernous.

Some of the works were installed in vast gallery spaces, some were created in situ.

As much as we appreciate contemporary conceptual art, we were both even more drawn to the depth and variety of the collection on display in a subsection of the building called The Museum of Everything.

From the MONA website:

The Museum of Everything is a travelling institution, which opened in London in 2009. Its purpose is to advocate for the visibility of art that falls outside the confines of the art world proper; the work of ordinary people, working far (literally or otherwise) from the cultural metropolis.

I’m always drawn to people who live to create — I married two musicians, after all. I love artists like Alexander Calder and Andy Goldsworthy, who can’t help but make art out of whatever happens to be at hand. I especially appreciate craft, whether passed down through generations or invented.

Many of the works in this iteration of the Museum of Everything moved me beyond their beauty, or uniqueness or ingenuity. And that brings me to the genius of the MONA experience. There are no placards identifying the art. Instead, you are given an iPod Touch running custom software, and headphones. When you want to know about a work you touch a logo, a big O, and the device knows where you are and what you’re looking at. You get a description of the work, you can read a review of the work from a respected journal, if available, and sometimes listen to an interview with the artist. You can add your response to the work by tapping either + or x, only recording it for yourself. It’s the perfect way to appreciate the art, because there’s no visual barrier between you and the work — you don’t have to lean in to a small card identifying the artist, title, medium and date — but you can get that info from whatever position or distance you prefer, as your own curiosity dictates.

In one gallery a display of metal assemblages caught my attention and reminded me of one of my favorite contemporary artists, Toby Atticus Fraley, who started out making whimsical “robots” out of old Electrolux vacuum cleaners, Thermos jugs or other iconic 50s household items. But these objects before me were crude, rusted parts like shovel blades or can lids, perforated with large holes and festooned with strips of leather or heavy cloth. I was so transfixed that I forgot to take a photo. Finally I tapped the O on my device and learned they were made by a blind man born in the 1920s in Tennessee and they functioned as scarecrows. The strips would have fluttered in the wind, and the metal parts would have creaked and groaned on their mounts. As a collection the shapes and textures were beautiful. As objects created out of necessity by someone with no visual notion of what constitutes art they were profound.

Many of the works in The Museum of Everything were like that for me, life-affirming reminders that when people have a passion to communicate and something to say or a need to fill, creativity will find a way.

I wish I had taken more photos but I didn’t. Suffice it to say that the collection confirmed that for me, art in everyday life, art in the way we live, art in ordinary objects, art as a raw expression of the human condition, is the art I want to live with.

When we eventually emerged from the catacombs of the museum we joined the other visitors lounging on the lawn listening to a band playing New Orleans jazz. It was a pretty good way to spend a day in Tasmania.

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Recovery Day

We had every intention of packing in some tourist sites while we were in Melbourne, you know, museums and stuff, but after a long day and late night at the AusOpen, we slept in later than usual and spent the day instead repeating the enjoyable amble through the laneways that we did last year with Alex and Diana. We did a little big-city shopping and bought a new pair of sports and bird-watching binoculars to replace our beloved Leicas that succumbed to the marine environment, and I bought a decorative pillow cover that spoke to me last time we were here but that I refrained from buying because my default position is Self-Denying Tightwad. Aw, loosen up, I told myself. We’re on vacation. (I’ll pay for this later. Literally.)

It’s been years since we’ve been in a place where we can follow our favorite sports on TV, let alone live, so we were just as happy to spend the day walking around then retiring to our room in the evening with takeout food and watching whole tennis matches on TV in air-conditioned comfort. It may not seem like a vacation to most of you, but for cruising boat dwellers, it’s heaven.

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Marketing 101

There’s barely anything that puts a bigger smile on my face than a market. A whole corner of my brain is dedicated to memories of favorite markets — Palermo, Sicily; Schlesiches Tor, Berlin; Ft. Pierce, Florida; La Herradura, El Salvador; Papeete, Tahiti; so many others. Wherever we go I seek out the local markets, not just for the freshest produce but for the Cliff Notes on local culture through street food, music, dry goods or housewares on offer, crafts, ethnic influences and traditions. City markets that have been around for decades especially paint a picture of a community better than any guidebook can do.

Our second trip to Melbourne is as brief as our first but we squeezed in a must-do early on the day we planned for the Australian Open tennis tournament. The Queen Victoria Market has been in existence since at least the mid 19th century and today boasts of being the largest market in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s massive, a collection of indoor and outdoor spaces with hundreds of stalls. The older part, the indoor area that includes vendors of fish, meat, dairy, bakers and confectioners and specialty stores reminded us of a more upscale version of our beloved Reading Terminal market in Center City Philadelphia.

The outdoor sheds offer everything from leather goods to toys to socks and underwear. And of course there is produce.

One of the shops put together picnic antipasto for the Open and Jack took advantage of that. We also bought grapes and bananas and bagels with Tilsit cheese for our day at Melbourne Park. As you can imagine, I could have stayed all day, but Roger and Rafa were waiting just a tram ride away.

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Below the plain

We have a date with the Australian Open and we’re off to Melbourne. We spent more time than expected at the aboriginal cave art sites and arrived in Ballarat too late to participate in the Women’s March event there, or anything else, for that matter. We were disappointed about the march but with the Aus Open on we’ve been just as happy to get takeout food and watch a match on TV.

Our hire car was due back by noon and we anticipated an uneventful couple of hours on the road. The landscape east of the Grampians is as flat and featureless as Nebraska, so we were puzzled to see signs warning of a steep grade and directing trucks and RVs to an alternate route. There was seriously nothing sticking up in front of us to warrant the caution. Suddenly the earth opened up in front of us and we plunged down the aforementioned steep grade into a lush valley of rolling hills of forest and vineyards. We were so taken by surprise that we forgot to take a photo of the abrupt change in elevation, but you can definitely see in this photo how utterly flat the ground is above the valley.

We took a turn directing us to Bunjil’s Lookout, another reference to the aboriginal creator we’d seen depicted in the cave painting the day before. The valley is called Moorabool and I tried to find the meaning of the word — we’ve seen “bool” in other place names — but the sources don’t seem to agree.

At the lookout we watched a young German traveler fold up his rooftop tent and I stopped to chat with him. He was an exchange student in Perth in high school and came back to travel Australia after university. I shared that I was an exchange student too, in Sweden in 1968 and he very politely suppressed the inevitable jaw drop. He’s nearly circled the country in his rig and I envy him for that. He was sad to be coming to the end of his journey, making his way back to Sydney, then home to Germany.

Later we returned our car at the airport and hopped a Skybus to the city. Jack was staring out the window and as we turned onto the highway he said, “Look! There’s the German guy just behind us!” We always feel an affinity for fellow travelers, however they travel, for however long, and wherever.

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