Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Credit for this title must go to Paul Thistle in Zimbabwe. We have been feeling as though it is pretty great to be stuck in this state between the Tasmanian devils, Devil’s Corner winery and the Pacific Ocean.

img_6918We have adapted the more relaxed rhythms of life on the East Coast. Because we only have a mini-fridge in the unit we are living in, I walk the 5 min into St Helen’s most mornings for groceries and other errands. Paul drives 15 min the other direction to Scamander. I’ve been doing a bit of gardening around the unit and some writing projects and the girls are starting to catch up on their distance educatimg_7186ion classes. Thea and I are attending yoga when we can (the instructor picks us up on her way to class) and Thea is having flute lessons in Launceston, 2 hours from us, when possible. If the weather is fine when Paul gets home from work, we head out to a nearby beach. We notice whether the fishing boats are docked or at sea and have learned that a couple of the restaurants only open if there is a fresh catch. Paul and I are big fans of the signature Tasmanian dish, curried scallop pie. We are eating ground wallaby as it is cheaper than ground beef. Yes we’ve had “Skippy Lasagna”.

The girls mock us for our interest in birdwatching. However, we are enjoying getting reacquainted with the gaudy and garrulous sulfur-crested cockatoos, galahs, and rosellas and learning about the shore birds around St Helen’s, including the pied oystercatcher, the hooded plover, and the bar-tailed godwit that migrates from the Arctic to Tasmania, the longest nonstop migration of any bird. We have read that up to 1/3 of all birds in Australia can be found around St Helen’s. fullsizeoutput_1837We think it was a bell bird that sounded like R2D2 was in the trees when we were on a nature walk. It has also been amazing to see some of the numerous types of eucalypts, whose variegated trunks remind me of the paint-by-numbers I would do as a kid. The banksia trees look like they are covered with fuzzy minions.

Paul is getting to know his patient base, which includes a lot of OEHs (old ex-hippies) and RFSs (refugees from society). He is doing a great deal of mental health and chronic pain management, which is what he expected and what he was prepared for. Nevertheless, it is still challenging in an region where there are few resources other than him. At least the fact that he is being paid sessionally means he has the time to spend though not always the answers to give. In contrast to the “FSJ workaholic” vibe of the Energetic City, most of the populace here are either semi, retired, working part-time, dabbling in artistic activities or on a pension of some sort.

Even he has been caught out by some of the Aussie shortened words. “Exie” was how one hitchhiker Paul picked up described a cafe (expensive). Launceston (our current equivalent of Grande Prairie for the FSJ crowd) is Launnie and uncimg_7301o is uncoordinated. A couple of words have had their meaning renovated. In FSJ the word lagoon is usually preceded by the word ‘sewage’ so lagoon had a negative connotation but here it is often an idyllic place to swim or bird watch.

I had a lovely week on the mainland with a good friend from university and her husband. We spent some time on the Mornington Peninsula, drove down the Great Ocean Road, and explored parts of the Yarra Valley and Melbourne with Paul’s generous aunt and uncle. Melbourne displayed its typically erratic (oxymoronic) weather. Although we didn’t attend the tennis, it was fun to soak up the vibe of the Australian Open around Federation Square. The one very distressing note was the pedestrians being killed in downtown Melbourne; we encountered all the police and emergency vehicles as we hadn’t listened to the news that morning.

fullsizeoutput_1966Paul, the girls, and I had a 4-day weekend on the west coast; Thea was amazed we could drive across Tasmania in 4 hours. Travelling on the steam train at Queenstown that serviced the gold mine was enjoyable (especially for the trainophile in the family). We loved the phrase that was attributed to the early settlers: “it rains for 8 months and then the wet season starts.” and it was fascinating to compare the temperate rain forest (3 meters of rain a year) there with the tropical rain forest of Uganda. The moss-covered trees look more like statues than living trees. We also did a boat cruise from Strahan that went around MacQuarie Harbour and up the Gordon
River with a visit to the former penal colony of Sarah Island. Even with the excellent and informative guide it is hard to imagine the hardships enimg_7388dured at such a desolate and remote outpost. In Strahan we attended a wonderful performance of “The Ship That Never Was” about the last ship that was built at Sarah Island and how the convicts who built it used it to escape to Chile. Yes Chile! In true pantomime tradition there was lots of audience participation – Thea got to be the ship’s cat.

The weather en route home inspired us to walk around Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain, which we hadn’t planned on. It vies for the position of “our most favourite spot on the planet” as it’s beauty never ceases to astound. We think we saw more people in the national park than we had seen in all of Tasmania up to that point. imgp7375Thea had a hilarious comment that the zombie apocalypse couldn’t happen in Tasmania as there aren’t enough people to sustain the zombies. We have attended mass in various old and interesting churches in small towns and in fact doubled the size of the congregation in Zeehan by our presence.

Last weekend, we again benefited from the unfailing hospitality of Paul’s aunt Noelle in Hobart and took in Salamanca Market and MONA ( with a family friend of the Mackeys who came from Melbourne to spend a couple of days with us. Thea says she feels scarred by the visit to MONA and the rest of us are still processing it, although we loved the building and the style of curating. From all reports, the museum has been a boon for tourism and exponentially upped the hip factor of Hobart and Tasmania in general. Thanks to Paul’s cousin David we now have a second car and a mountain bike to use.

fullsizeoutput_182bWe were so pleased to have Laurel and David Batterham, formerly of FSJ, visited us for 2 days. The weather was wet but we still got some nice views of the Bay of Fires and a pod of dolphins. It was helpful to have people we could discuss both FSJ and Zimbabwe with (one of their daughters who used to babysit Jeryn and Liam married a Zimbabwean and they live in Melbourne), as well as touch on the many other conversation topics that we did. Laurel also provided a great challenge for Scrabble and David was an assertive Wizard player.

imgp7369There are many bushwalks and beaches we want to explore and have several visitors lined up to achieve these goals with during our remaining time in Tasmania. While the weather has been less ‘beach’-worthy the past 2 weeks, we have been grateful to avoid the >35 degree temperatures in some cities on the mainland.

There have been a few times since beginning our adventure in September that Paul and I were returning to places we had travelled to early in our relationship (Shrewsbury, Prague, Cradle Mountain). It doesn’t seem possible that we visited these places 25 years ago, although the day after a hike it does seem as though we have aged. Revisiting places is conducive to reflecting on experiences, opportunities, circumstances, challenges, and decisions.