Sunday 28 April 2019

Canberra - Australia's Capital

Australia Blog #13 – 28 April 2019
Canberra - Australia's Capital

Depending on who you talk to, Australia’s capital city, Canberra, is either dynamic, livable, and welcoming or bland, soulless, and boring. To be honest, I’ve experienced both sides of that divide. However, I’m leaning towards welcoming and livable. 

Canberra, similar to many capital cities, is filled with official institutions, public buildings, impressive museums, worthy monuments, and a certain amount of pretention. I’m told the city has the highest proportion of PhD’s in Australia. And it is squeaky clean and tidy.

In Australian parlance, Canberra is home to the Commonwealth Government, what Canadians would call the Federal Government. The pleasantness of this well-designed city is at odds with the blood-sport nastiness of its politics. Other words I have heard Australians use recently to describe their national politics include brutish, embarrassing, comical, blustering, inane, and just plain shameful. Not my words – the words of Australians.

A reality check for Canadian readers who are troubled by the SNC-Lavalin controversy in Ottawa: whatever you think of Prime Minister Trudeau’s handling of the affair, the whole thing is a Sunday School picnic compared to the cringe-inducing antics of Australian politics. As I read the Globe & Mail’s (too) gleeful daily accounts of the SNC affair in Tasmania, I couldn’t help but think that the Canadian media elite needed to stop catastrophizing what amounts to a clumsily-handled, run-of-the-mill political operation. The tiresome posturing and finger-wagging was hard to stomach, even 16,000 km away. You know what they say about liking sausages but not visiting sausage factories...

In any case, back to Canberra. Ignore the politics and you’ll have a fine time there. The museums are spectacular, especially the National Museum of Australia (link), the National Gallery of Australia (link), and the National Portrait Gallery (link). World-class, each and every one. Also worth a visit are the dramatic new Parliament House (link), the elegant old Parliament House (link), the Australian War Memorial (link), the Telstra Tower (link), and the very walkable and beautiful Australian National Botanic Gardens (link).

I hope you enjoy my photos of Canberra. 

This blog post is the last about Australia for a while, or at least until our next visit. Next week, I plan to feature the text of a presentation I’m making on Sunday morning, May 5, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Picton, Ontario. The presentation is called “Grace, Gravity & Getting Old”. My thoughts on the aging process. The title is a riff on the Quaker philosopher Parker J. Palmer’s recent book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. But there is an Australian connection: I spent several days writing the presentation while we were living in Tasmania’s Huon Valley – a perfect place for inspiration. The blog post will also feature photos from the beautiful National Rose Garden in Canberra.

As always, thank you for reading my blog.

 The Australian War Memorial
The walls feature the names of every
 Australian who served in conflict.

 The Australian War Memorial

 The Australian War Memorial

 The Australian War Memorial
A plaque honouring Australians who served with 
the Royal Canadian Air Force

 The Australian War Memorial
Unidentified Australian Nursing Sister, WWI

The Australian War Memorial
Unidentified Australian Soldier, WWI

The Australian War Memorial
Dome over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Australian War Memorial
Wreath containing Australian flowers and plants

Old Australian Parliament Buildings
House of Representatives (Australia's Lower House)
Giants have walked here.

The National Museum of Australia

The National Museum of Australia

The Australian National Botanic Gardens

World War One Monument
near the Old Parliament Buildings

Fountain near the High Court of Australia

Australia's New Parliament Buildings in the background;
Old Parliament Buildings in the foreground.
Photographed from the Australian War Memorial

Saturday 20 April 2019

Tasmania's East Coast

Australia Blog #12 – 21 April 2019
Tasmania’s East Coast

It was good to be back on Tasmania’s east coast again. We had spent a very pleasant week last year in a cabin near Little Swanport from which we could hear the nearby ocean. The fact that the cabin was in the middle of a sheep paddock made it that much more interesting! This year, we spent two days in Falmouth, further up the east coast from Little Swanport. No sheep paddock this time – instead, we had a round house that looked like a yurt. Great fun! You know what they say about the advantage of a round house – the devil can’t corner you, or so my Grandmother Walters used to say.

This location was ideal for exploring a section of the coast line that we hadn’t visited before, especially the beautiful Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve, an 80-hectare jewel that was a photographer’s gift. Three of the photos that accompany this post come from the Curtis reserve.

We also explored St. Helens, Mount Pearson Reserve, Denison Rivulet, Bicheno, and the Devil’s Corner Winery. Look them up on your Tasmanian atlas!

Reviewing these photos has made me nostalgic. This is a very special part of the planet, and I hope it will always retain its wild edge and magic. As the pervasive car stickers you see all over Tasmania say, “Keep Tassie Wild.”

Alas, this is the last blog post about Tasmania until we return. Date: tba.

Next week, I’ll post about our time in Canberra, Australia’s capital. Not wild and woolly, like Tasmania, but well worth a visit.

Meanwhile, enjoy!

Banksia, Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve

Early morning dew drops, Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve

Banksia, Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve

Bikers on the Tasman Highway

A wise sign!

Devil's Corner Winery, Apslawn

Sea Grass, Bicheno

Denison Rivulet

Denison Rivulet

Tasmanian Waratah, St. Helen's

Saturday 13 April 2019

Tasmania's North Coast: The Don River Railway, Devonport

Australia Blog #11 – 14 April 2019
Tasmania’s North Coast: The Don River Railway, Devonport

WARNING! Trains Ahead!

Sometimes, serendipity comes along and hands you a gift.

That’s what happened in mid-March when Bill and I were driving from Burnie, on the north coast of Tasmania, to Falmouth, on the east coast. As we were driving through Devonport, I noticed a train yard filled with steam locomotives near the highway. I hyperventilated immediately. TRAINS! A YARD FULL OF TRAINS! We pulled off the highway at the next exit and soon found ourselves in a train lover’s paradise: The Don River Railway (link), an ambitious facility that featured vintage steam and diesel locomotives, passenger and freight cars, a working turntable, a vintage passenger station, and an extensive restoration/repair shop. What an amazing collection of railway equipment! And I had no idea it was there until it flashed by my eyes when we drove past. 

Just as we arrived, a restored antique freight wagon was being delivered by truck to the railway. Watching the wagon being expertly – and gingerly – winched down from the flatbed truck that delivered it was great fun. And then one of the volunteers, Cody, came up to us and asked if we wanted a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the operations. Um, YES! So we spent the next hour being shown every aspect of the Don River Railway’s operations, including its very well-equipped shop, where locomotives were being both repaired and restored. In addition to its functions as a museum and a repair facility, it also runs weekend excursions. And all operated by a brave band of volunteers. Very impressive indeed.

What a treat it was to discover this gem! I hope you enjoy some photos from our visit.

BTW: I learned a great deal about the rich and diverse history of railways in Tasmania during our six-week residency on the island. Plans for an OO scale version of a Tasmanian railway branch line are brewing in my head. Locomotives have been purchased; space has been cleaned... Stay tuned, train fans!

Next week: photos of our travels along Tasmania’s beautiful northeast coast.

The Don River Railway station. 
On the right is a DP class railcar, built in the late 1930s. 
It saw service on the Tasman Limited 
between Hobart and Launceston.
Note the 3' 6" (1,067 mm) narrow gauge tracks.

Arrival of the restored antique goods wagon.

Gasoline-powered switcher towing the wagon away.

Cody - our tour guide!

Fowler 0-6-0 tank engine, built in 1888. 
It's painted for its job as a Thomas The Tank Train engine. 
Sadly, copyright issues prevent it from being used for Thomas service any more. The licensing fees are prohibitive. 

Tasmanian Government Railways crest.

Restored 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive M4, 
built in 1951, awaits servicing.

Repair shop detail: tools of the trade.

Beyer, Peacock & Company 2-6-0 Mogul CCS-23, 
built in the late 1880s.

Saturday 6 April 2019

Tasmania's North Coast: Stanley and Burnie

Tasmania’s North Coast: Stanley and Burnie

Australia Blog #10 – 6 April 2019
Tasmania’s North Coast: Stanley and Burnie

Now that we’ve returned home to Canada, having arrived in Belleville last Tuesday evening (April 2), it’s time to get caught up with blog posts about the remainder of our two-month stay in Australia. 

This week’s post features photos from two communities on the north shore of Tasmania, along the Bass Strait that separates Tasmania from mainland Australia (also referred to as “The North Island” by some Tasmanians).

The fishing village of Stanley is near the northwest tip of Tasmania. It has a rich marine history, filled with stories of seafaring, commercial fishing, a narrow-gauge railway that used to serve the village, and the current influx of visitors seeking its quaint AirBnB cottages. Separating the village from the Bass Strait is Stanley’s famous ‘Nut’, a massive flat-topped volcanic formation that looms 143 metres above the village. (link) We enjoyed a seafood lunch in Stanley but didn’t try walking up the steep path to the summit of The Nut. The village has the atmosphere of a typical seaport, complete with tidal docks, fish-processing plant, steep roads, and small homes huddled together as protection against the howling winds blowing off the Bass Strait.

"The Nut"

Stanley Cottages

Dry-docks for boat repairs

Persistent seagull wanting our lunch!

Stanley Beach

The other community we visited was Burnie, about 80 km west of Stanley, but also on the Bass Strait. We stayed in Burnie for two nights. The city used to be known as the pollution capital of Tasmania because of the discharge from a now-closed pulp and paper mill. When the mill closed in the early 2000s, the city had to reinvent itself – and distance itself from its polluted past. It rehabilitated its main beach and started marketing itself as ‘the city of makers’ – a community that has always made things, from the aboriginal communities before European settlement to its artists and artisans today. Two institutions have led the way: the impressive Burnie Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), led by Dawn Oelrich, its Canadian-born director (link), and the Makers’ Workshop a stylish waterfront facility that is a cultural hub for Burnie’s artists (link). 

Burnie is also the western terminus of TasRail (link), Tasmania’s government-owned narrow-gauge freight railway. Needless to say, I had a great time watching its freight operations at the Port of Burnie!

Fairy Penguin, Burnie seafront

The Makers' Workshop and
University of Tasmania satellite campus

Burnie Surf Life Saving Club

TasRail locomotives, Port of Burnie

Live sheep awaiting shipment from 
Port of Burnie to mainland Australia

I hope you enjoy these photos. Next week, I’ll continue with the railway theme by writing about the Don River Railway in Devonport. 

Until next time!