Friday, December 31, 2010



 The southernmost island of Tasmania is often left off maps featuring Australia, an oversight that causes a great deal of teeth gnashing and distress to resident Tasmanians.

Personally I can’t blame them, I think that little badge shaped emblem at the bottom right of our map adds a certain sense of devilish balance or charm, whichever you prefer, to the extraordinary outline that defines Oz.  You know what I mean, the big part somewhat like a squashed soccer ball adrift in the ocean, wide in the girth and exploding out on the edges into long fingered promontories and craggy headlands.

No matter the  reason, Tassie definitely  belongs on our map, it is Australia’s eighth State or Territory, home to spectacular world heritage wilderness,  hosts one of the worlds most challenging  yacht race, produces   heavenly wines,  is home to more than 20 varieties of potatoes and what’s more it boasts Australia’s oldest brewery.  Hold on, I nearly forgot the apples!  

We can thank Captain Bligh for planting three apple seeds he picked up in South Africa  around 1788 when his ship, the infamous Bounty, stopped there to stock up on essentials, that first unidentified apple the forerunner of many hundreds of apple varieties.

In other words, the island that started off with the name Van Diemans Land has a lot to offer prospective visitors.

My reason though for finally visiting the island state was a bit more personal.  That daughter of mine who with husband Chris is now calling Ecuador home spent a number of delightful years in Tasmania, with Chris finding out all he could about the wine growing industry while Jenny learned to combat the cold.

Because make no mistake about it Tasmania is just about as far south as you can go without running into polar ice floes.  And yes, in winter it does get very cold.  As I write it is late December here in Oz, newspapers report the temperature in Hobart has dipped alarmingly and unseasonably and snow is falling on Mt Wellington, that tall monolith you see in the background of the picture above.

Admittedly it was winter when I last visited the mountain some years ago and coming from the tropical heat of Queensland, as you can clearly see.  it was all I could do to keep my teeth from chattering.

Mt Wellington plays an important role in the life of Hobart’s population.  You notice everyday workers and shoppers  gazing up to the mountain, hear their comments, ‘looks like weather coming in, could be snow’ or on a beautiful sunny day, ‘ah, it looks grand doesn’t it.’

One quaint winter custom followed mainly by the younger element is to race up to the top of the mountain to bring back down the seasons first snowfall in the form of a snowman on their car roof.  My son in law fell into this category when he entertained his small nephews, the tadpoles, on their first visit to Tasmania.


Tasmania has a magic all it’s own.  In a matter of hours you can drive from ski slopes to  ocean water sports, from the Franklin River wilderness to the tall trees of the Huon Valley.  And you’re ever mindful you’re so far south there is absolutely nothing, not even a golf club between you and the South Pole.

You can feast on lobster and scallops or enjoy the high quality locally raised lamb and beef.  You can go crazy in a produce store sorting through type after type of home processed cheese, freshly grown vegetables, local apples and cherries.  And the wines in all their varieties are to die for.

Hobart’s colourful and bustling Salamanca market in the historical old waterfront part of the city is a Sunday must do event for locals and tourists alike.  As is another event held during the Christmas New Year period, the extraordinary Tastes of Tasmania held adjacent to the historical Salamanca precinct.  A huge affair featuring the best of the island’s foods, from oysters to lobster, venison and lamb, fine cheeses and wine with a background of music and entertainment.  It’s an all in one example of culinary Tasmania at its best.  

Tasmania is also a magnet for history buffs.  The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named the island Van Diemans Land  in 1642 to honour  his ship’s sponsor.  I imagine even in those days one had to do a fair bit of crawling to the provider of finance.

The name wouldn’t be changed to Tasmania until 1855.  The French also manned several early exploration sorties to Tasmania leaving behind a number of location names that are still in use today;  Bruny Island, Huon River, D’entrecasteaux Channel, the Freycinet Peninsula.   Like Captain Bligh in later years, the French too left behind their gardening efforts.

However England wouldn’t colonise the island until 1804;  and then thirty years later , searching for alternative prison sites for the ever arriving influx of England’s convicts to the mainland, authorities established the notorious Port Arthur penal settlement an hour or so from Hobart Town.  The solidly constructed stone buildings are now part of Tasmania’s tourist trail.

Port Arthur, Tasmania

Early English settlers established fine homes and buildings.  They are in evidence in every town and community you drive through; beautifully designed colonial homes built of solid sandstone, warehouses and public buildings.

 An early painting of Australia’s first brewery with Mt Wellington towering in the background.

The Cascades Brewery today; providing a fascinating tour of a centuries old brewery still in production.

There is a wealth of fascinating history from the early days when the sea was the only means of transport and local shipbuilders turned out small ocean going ships, sloops, ketches and barques  that traded between the mainland and across the Pacific to the islands of Fiji and to New Zealand.

Early photograph of Hobart held in Tasmanian archives.

My Scots great grandfather William McGowan sailed the islands of Fiji as the skipper of a small trading schooner, the Marie Louise, built in Hobart for the Crowther family.  That is a story in itself, and one I’ll tell you more about in stories to come.

Photograph held in Tasmanian Archives
 William Crowther’s schooner the Marie Louise, the smaller  vessel in the middle of the picture taking part in the Hobart Regatta of 1870.

I made several visits to Tasmania, some with the Reluctant Traveller, and each time thought (briefly!) how much I would really like to live there, until I compared Straddie’s  warm climate to Hobart.  No prizes for guessing the winner. The Reluctant Traveller though despite the chill refused to part with his shorts.

No matter which part of the island  we explored I was completely captivated;  enchanted forests carpeted in thick mossy vines, waterfalls cascading into rushing creeks and rivers, snow covered peaks, endless lakes feeding into the wilderness of the Franklin, deserted ocean shorelines offering the joy of beach combing.

The thought that anyone could have all this unspoilt beauty on their doorstep was virtually inconceivable and but for their cold winters this spoilt northerner would by now be calling Tassie home.

And like these eager  19th century mainland tourists making a long ago trip up the long curving road to the top of Mt Wellington, I too never failed to make the summit my first stop.  The view from the top was well worth the effort.

Held in Tasmanian Archives

Should you decide to make the long haul down to Oz,  just make sure you don’t leave Tasmania out of your touring plans. I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Robyn Mortimer ©2010

Next – How the Ancestors made their way to Oz.

Monday, December 27, 2010



I have a question for overseas readers, be honest now, what is the first thought that enters your mind when you hear the word Australia?  Did I hear you say ‘beach’?  Of course you did and to a certain extent I accept a share of the blame, after all I have gone overboard lauding Straddie’s attributes.

  But Oz has a lot more to offer than endless beaches, bikini birds and bronzed lifesavers, gorgeous as they all are.

Thane's Creek, Goomerah

Much as I love Straddie and island life there are times when I crave a mountain change, a drive up into the high country around Maleny or the Bunyas, a chance to breathe in the fresh mountain air, stroll through lush forest trails; or on the other hand, as has been the case for the past 66 years visit friends on their sheep and cattle property a few hours due west of Brisbane.

This is the story of a lifelong friendship between two women. One who spent her entire life in a farming community, and another who would always live in big cities...until the day she moved to an island.  Their friendship began in 1944, and now it is 2010 and we’re still best mates.

During the war when I was very small I lived with my parents in Sydney, Australia’s largest city.  Dad was invalided from the army and because of  my mothers health we made the move to the small Queensland country town of Warwick.  It was a huge move for all three of us but more so for me because suddenly I found myself without my beloved grandparents and the multitude of cousins that always seemed a major part of my young life.

Luckily though my parents rented a flat right next door to the town’s Ambulance Station and that’s how I met the Ambulance Superintendent’s youngest daughter Betty.  

We were only a month or two apart in age, we went to different schools, followed different religions, but way back then we forged a firm friendship that has lasted sixty six years.

We regularly marked the passing years with photographs but it wasn’t until recently when I began to search out the old snaps for this story that I saw the pattern we had slavishly followed all those years.

Have you noticed? In the nine photos making up the collage above,  Betty is always on the left, while I never fail to slot in on the right. It certainly didn’t happen that way by design, we just seemed to fold in together like two peas in a pod.

We were both barely six years old when we posed for our first photograph in a corner of the Le Francke’s front yard.

Now in our seventies this last snap was taken just a few months ago in Betty’s new Warwick home.  It has been a long journey for both of us.

Warwick would be our home for the few years around 1945.  I can remember the celebrations on the day and night the end of the war was announced, a huge street party that went on for days.  Betty’s family had a long association with Warwick going back to the early 1800’s.  It is a beautiful town, one I’m very fond of, wide streets, sandstone buildings, grand old houses in large garden studded allotments. And lots of memories.

Warwick’s main street at the turn of the century, long before either of us was born and Palmerin Street now.

The Ambulance Station in the early 1900’s, by the time  this story began only the vehicles had changed..

Betty would marry a farmer and move out of town to a sheep and cattle property where she and Keith raised three sons.  I would marry a city slicker, live in Brisbane raise a son and a daughter and eventually move to Straddie with my husband, the Reluctant Traveller.

But while our children were young the kids and I spent countless school holidays at the farm with Bets and her brood.  We had lots of wonderful times together.  My two learned to ride horses, help out with the chores, gather the eggs, bring in the fire wood.  Adjust to sharing the bath water many times over in times of drought, toast bread on the old wood stove that also heated the bath water, see for themselves just how tough country life could be.

Morning tea on the farm


Betty and Keith knew first hand about drought.  The hard work they put in to keep the property going as month upon month and year after year it failed to rain, when the creek dried up and money was short, only to be followed by unseasonal rain and flooding. 

These were the times of flash floods and the inevitable rush to shift home preserves onto higher shelves, manhandle refrigerators onto tables.



We all had a go milking the house cows, me with varying success.  The boys loved squirting the milk,  usually in my eyes.  My daughter Jen proved a natural both at milking and squirting.

There always seemed to be an orphan needing to be fed, either the hungry little Joey pictured with me,  or a couple of new born lambs that Betty became so attached to they remained in the house paddock way past their set free day. 

We celebrated Christmas and weddings, anniversaries and family get-togethers.  Over the years I had become Betty’s third sister. Sometimes we  four girls with our husbands would share a weekend stay.  It was a case of first in first served with the bedrooms, and sometimes we found ourselves camping out in the ping pong room.

On the farm there were always plenty of chores needed doing, in the house and around the paddocks;   hanging out the washing or doing the dishes together seemed fun when we did it together.  An extra pair of hands was always welcome when it was time to bail the hay , make sausages after a beast had been slaughtered or just shift the irrigation pipes to another part of a paddock.

They might have been chores for Betty and Keith but they were novelties for us townies.

 In the early days Bets boiled the old copper.  It was a red letter day when they could afford a washing machine.  Do any of you reading this blog remember the old wooden props housewives used  to keep the wash lines from dragging on the ground?

 Summers at Goomerah were inevitably hot and the only way to escape the heat was to toss mattresses out in the shade and snooze the afternoons away.  Of course with Christmas celebrated in the southern hemisphere’s summer the ritual baked roast and plum pudding were prepared and eaten in 90 plus heat...the temps measured in Celsius now,  a sizzling 36 and over.

That's my mattress, the one with the unopened book.

Horses were another Goomerah attraction that continued even after my kids had grown up and moved out of home but still making the occasional visit back to recreate their childhood.

A tiny Steve, a patient pony, Jen, and Keith checking the saddle

The same girl some years later still having the stirrups adjusted. Daughter Jenny now lives in Cuenca with her husband Chris,  a long, long way from outback Queensland.

I immediately think of Swartzenegger and De Vito when I see this snap, the Reluctant Traveller and his much taller son.  Steve brought his bride to Goomerah on this occasion.

And while we’re on the subject of horses, the one in the next photo was always my favourite, his name was Cordy but I thought of him as the Gentlemanly Toff.

We did manage to pry Keith off the farm on one occasion to visit Straddie, but while he said it was nice and the surf looked good I knew he really couldn’t wait until he was back on the farm.

I was always wary when Keith offered to hold down the barbed wire fences, and so was Betty.  We had been caught out too many times with the low voltage power that had enough zing to give me a quick fright.  He had a devilish sense of humour.

The dog seen here with a bearded Keith as they motor cycle out to bring in the stock is Gypsy, the only one of their many successive sheep dogs  allowed inside the house.

Keith  and Betty’s life partnership sadly came to an end a couple of years ago.  The farm was sold and Betts is now back living as a townie in Warwick.  This was a rare photo of Keith all dressed up and a party to go to.  As I can still hear him saying, ‘Don’t scrub up too bad for an old bloke eh?’

No, I guess he didn’t. 

I miss the old days on the farm, the card nights, a fire roaring in the ‘Kosy’, late night trips to the outside loo always on the lookout for a wandering snake, usually yelling when a tiny green frog leapt out of the bowl:  Hours before the dawn with the cows mooing outside the window, the damned rooster setting up a racket in the chook pen;the geese in perfect formation not to mention pecking order wandering down to the creek. Drinks on the verandah in the late afternoon watching twilight creep over the paddocks.   I miss it all.

Vale Keith.

Robyn Mortimer ©2010