Tag Archives: tasmania

Movie review – Lion

Image result for lion movie

A 5 year-old boy lives in poverty in rural northern India, but is much loved by his hard-working mother and older brother Guddu.

Tragically, he is accidentally displaced to the mean streets of Calcutta, where he survives with other lost children, until swept up into a secure facility. Unspeakable things happen here, but young Saroo is fortunate and is adopted by a caring Australian couple.

Image result for lion movie with nicole kidman

He settles in well – Nicole Kidman as your new Mum can’t be a bad experience, after all – but the family unit is destabilised by another arrival from India. Saroo’s newly adoptive brother Mantosh struggles with demons that he sadly never really overcomes.

Saroo thrives in Tasmania though, and qualifies to study hospitality management at university in Melbourne. He embraces the cosmopolitan environment there, and meets and falls in love with Lucy, sympathetically played by Rooney Mara.

But 25 years after being separated from his real family, Saroo becomes desperate to track them down, with inevitably damaging consequences for his Australian family and friends.

Based on a true story, this is a charming film, if a little mawkish at times. I defy you not to be reaching for the Kleenex when Saroo, played by Dev Patel, finally locates his village and family in India.

Image result for lion movie with dev patel

Two things linger in my mind after seeing Lion. The scene where Sue Brierley tells Saroo that she and husband John could always have had children of their own, but wanted to offer a better life to parentless children from a poorer society.  And the caption – as the closing credits roll – that 80,000 children are lost in India every year.

 

 

Restaurant review – Drake’s, Ripley

Foodie neighbours and friends Ian & Jean have long eulogised about Drake’s in Ripley, but somehow we had never quite made it across the Georgian threshold ourselves.

Well, tick that one off the bucket list.

We’ve just enjoyed – with Ian & Jean – our first adventure at this stand-out Surrey temple of gastronomy. And, mange tout Rodney, was it worth the wait!

Remember the saccharine rom-com movie Jerry Maguire? Towards the end of this far-fetched Hollywood piece of schmaltz, sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) finally expresses his love for Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) in a long-winded speech.

Her simple reply? Shut up. You had me athello“.

The very first bite, one of three amuse bouches – a tiny morsel of tender beef inside a feather-light crunchy bread-crumbed parcel – sets the tone for everything still to come in a long, lazy lunch at Drake’s.

You had me atcroquette“.

And we were still in the bar at that stage, agonising over the many menu options: should we go for the simple, cheaper fixed-price seasonal lunch menu? The grazing menus….either the 6-course Journey * or the 8-course Discovery? With or without the matched wine flights? Or the a la carte multiple-choice option?

We all decided on the Journey*. Well, it was bucket-list time….

We put ourselves in the expert hands of the sommelier to recommend complementary red and white wines. He delivered. And how appropriate – but surprising – that he served up a subtle, spectacular Pinot Noir from Tasmania, where we were a year ago to the day.

I can’t find words that will do justice to the food that we savoured over the next few hours.

The Journey* was quite simply a culinary trek through perfectly balanced ingredients, beautifully married tastes & textures, and impeccably judged quantities and pacing. All transported from the kitchen by charming staff, professional but friendly, helpful but unobtrusive.

My own highlights?

  • the will o’ the wisp texture of the parsnip crackling, accompanying slow cooked pork cheek, scallop and gribiche sauce
  • the complete dish of guinea fowl, coq au vin, dandelion, wet polenta, king oyster mushrooms and pancetta
  • cinnamon, hibiscus ice and Pedro Ximenez

But that’s really unfair to the rest of the menu, like singling out Geoff Hurst from his 1966 World-Cup winning team-mates.

No wonder Steve Drake has been awarded a Michelin star for the 13th consecutive year, and has recently been voted number 35 in the Sunday Times Top 100 UK restaurant list for 2015/16.

It took us a few years to get here, and it might be another few years before our bank balance has recovered – but thanks, Ian & Jean. We’ve finally been Draked. And we loved it.

JOURNEY

Available for dinner Tuesday and lunch/dinner Wednesday – Saturday

Designed to be taken by the whole table

Leek, Haddock, Quail’s Egg

Slow Cooked Pork Cheek, Scallop, Parsnip Crackling, Gribiche Sauce
Brill, Romanesco, Vanilla and Parsley Root, Grain Mustard, Baby Spinach

Guinea Fowl, ‘Coq au Vin’, Dandelion, Wet Polenta, King Oyster Mushrooms and Pancetta

Cinnamon, Hibiscus Ice, Pedro Ximenez

Roast Plum, Hazelnut Cake, Caraway Syrup, Mint Jelly

Book review – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I can’t remember feeling quite so emotionally drained as I did late last night,  after reading the final few words of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize in 2014, the Tasmanian writer’s novel is epic in scale, with a beauty of language describing an atrocity of actions that breaks the reader’s heart on almost every page.

Dorrigo Evans is the story’s main protagonist. He is at once both a good man and a bad man, and in Flanagan’s deft hands becomes one of contemporary literature’s most memorable characters.

As a young surgeon and officer, waiting in Adelaide to be called up to WWII, he has a chance meeting – in a dusty bookshop – with an alluring girl. He discovers Amy is the much younger wife of his uncle Keith, but that does not deter them from embarking on a torrid love affair that will haunt Dorrigo for the remainder of his complex life.

The core of the novel is the horror resulting from the Japanese Emperor’s grand project to build a railway from Burma to Siam, in an impossibly short time and in inhuman conditions, using forced labour from 60,000 allied POWs and more than 180,000 Asian civilians.

The subject of so many other graphic films and novels, Flanagan somehow elevates – or debases – the Death Railway story further, through a haunting combination of almost poetic language and characterisation.

Dorrigo – Big Fella – fights an unwinnable battle every day, with the Japanese POW camp officer Major Nakamura and with nature: his 1,000 charges – no longer soldiers, and barely still men – suffer from dysentery, malaria, beri-beri, malnutrition and myriad other diseases. The surgeon does what he can to delay inevitable death for them, but is still forced to choose those least sick to buckle to the Emperor’s impossible demands in building The Line.

The detail in the description of their deprivation is difficult at times to read, impossible always to understand.

In a makeshift operating theatre, Dorrigo does what he can to save the leg of one of his men. It’s already gangrenous and previously amputated, but he was frantically searching the muck of Jack’s stump with his fingers, trying to find something to stitch, pinching vaulting slime, groping pitching slop, there was nothing, nothing to stitch into, nothing that might hold the thread. The artery walls were wet blotting paper. There was, realised Dorrigo Evans, with a rising horror as the blood continued to pump out, as Jack Rainbow’s body went into a terrible series of violent fits, nothing he could do.

Other characters are fleshed out into whole human beings, even as they waste away to diseased skin and battered bone. We come to know and care about Wat Cooney, Jimmy Bigelow, Squizzy Taylor, Rooster MacNeice, Tiny Middleton , Bonox Baker and other lost souls, as much as their respected officer – Dorrigo, Big Fella.

But the author reserves his most devastating detail and horrific narrative for Darky Gardiner. Essentially a good man, Darky becomes a hapless victim of circumstance one day, and an unavoidable example of Japanese brutality, necessary as Nakamura sees it, to maintain discipline and impose the Emperor’s determination to finish The Line.

The novel extends way beyond that terrible 18 months on The Line, but inevitably Dorrigo’s life after the war is moulded by the horror endured in Burma. He marries Ella, his old fiancee, they have children, he becomes a distinguished surgeon, a public figure and a reckless philanderer. But he still thinks of Amy.

We follow Nakamura and his brutal Korean guard, The Goanna,  who rationalise their brutality, with differing outcomes.

We see how some of the other few surviving POWs deal with freedom, home and memories.

But most of all, we remember horror.

My father’s cousin’s husband – Fred Seiker – is 100 tomorrow. Fred survived a Japanese POW camp and, like one of Dorrigo’s men, sketched life in the camp, presumably also risking immediate death if discovered. His published images remain enduringly haunting, and we should never forget The Death Railway. I will certainly never forget The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

 

 

The Grand Slam Tour 2015 – it’s a wrap

Tuesday, February 17

We’re sitting in Singapore’s Changi Airport, trying to get through 5 hours in transit during the long trek home.

The Grand Slam Tour 2015 is nearly over, after 5 amazing weeks exploring Adelaide for 10 days, a couple of road trips in South Australia, a fun train journey across the border to Victoria, a week in Melbourne – including seeing the Aussie Open tennis – and 2 weeks in Tasmania, 10 days on the road in a camper van and a few fun days in Hobart.

So what have we learnt?

That the earth is round, that Aussies are the friendliest people on the planet, that wallabies are like kangaroos with thalidomide…and that Andy Murray is still mentally weak against Novak Djokovich.

Thanks to all Gill’s Aussie family, old friends John & Eileen and new friends met along the way for making us so welcome and for ensuring we had a really memorable Grand Slam Tour Down Under.

And huge thanks to Gill for being away from home for 5 weeks with me, and for sharing our Great Big Aussie Adventure. Pretty amazing, eh?

We’ll be back…..

Tasmania – Hobart

Friday, February 13 to Monday, February 16

Well, it sure was nice to sleep in  a comfy and spacious hotel room in Hobart after 10 days – and nights – exploring Tasmania’s coasts and wildernesses in the confines of a camper van.

The Old Woolstore is an attractive conversion of an old industrial building, in a good city location, in much the same way as the amazing transformation of the old IXL Jam Factory by the dock is now the beautiful Henry Jones Art Hotel, and the old Gas Works is an atmospheric winery cellar door.

We enjoyed Hobart but were only there for 3 nights and, battery-recharging after a hyperactive tour of Tassie, opted to chill out rather than chase all the conventional sightseeing targets.

But we did spend Saturday morning at the renowned 300-stall Salamanca Market, loved wandering around the dock area seeing the crayfish pots unloaded, and on Sunday walked the 3-4 km out of the city on the Hobart Rivulet Path to be shocked out of our smug 21st century complacency visiting The Female Factory.

And we also explored the genteel Victorian suburb of Battery Point, where we succumbed – twice – to the irresistible delights of Jackman & McRoss, a bakery & deli that every neighbourhood should have. In fact, we should have talked to them about opening up a franchise in Godalming…..

But our overriding memories of Hobart will also be tinged with sadness, as it was a stepping off point for successive European explorers culminating in the British invasion of Van Diemen’s Land, our genocide of the indigenous Aborigines in the 1820s and subsequent colonisation of the island with transported convicts, horrifically abused until they had earned their free ticket.

Not to say that detracted in any way from our enjoyment of a naturally beautiful island and its relaxed capital city, but its history was rightly in our faces in the museum, in The Female Factory, in guide books and on illumination story boards around the dock area.

But Hobart and Tasmania are great 21st century holiday destinations, and I’m very pleased we included them on the Grand Slam Tour 2015.

Tasmania – convicts & colonisation

Sunday, February 15

Imagine being locked up in solitary confinement in a completely dark and damp cell, 3 paces long and just 1 pace wide. For up to 3 months. In a faraway land.

That’s as good as it gets.

Now imagine having to work for more than 12 hours every day, oakum picking – meticulously unravelling, with your already raw hands – huge knotted ropes matted with tar and barnacles from the arduous 4 month sea crossing from England to Van Diemen’s Land. The knowledge that your efforts would be used for caulking the wooden seams of the weather-beaten ships would not be much consolation.

And now imagine having to do all that with the dreaded iron collar around your neck, a heavy metal instrument of torture, spiked and pulled so tightly that over the weeks and months you wear it – day and night – it rubs the flesh raw and damages your collarbone.

Worse still, you could be suffering all this ankle- or knee-deep in putrid water rushing down from Mount Wellington in the depths of winter.

Welcome to The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land.

Yes, women – sometimes including girls as young as 11 – were subjected to these scarcely believable conditions. Between 1828 and 1856, at least 5,000 female convicts were transported from England to this newly settled island off the southern coast of Australia. And sometimes for having committed no worse a crime than stealing something to keep your family alive in times of abject poverty.

On arrival at the port in Hobart, you’d be subjected to the Walk of Shame, a 6 km march from Sullivan’s Cove to your new home, under the cover of darkness to avoid the lascivious intentions of the almost entirely male population.

There, you’d be stripped immediately of your hair, name, clothes and any remaining dignity.

If you obeyed the rigid rules, avoided conflict with bullying overseers and enjoyed an overdue slice of luck, the best you could hope for would be to work a long day in the laundry, scrubbing coarse clothes with your bare hands in freezing cold water. But at least you’d have the company of other convicts, even if complete silence was another strict rule.

But if you fell foul of the regime, off you’d go to solitary confinement…sometimes never to leave.

You might be picked out of the line one day, to go into a service with a family. But there was every chance life outside The Factory would be almost as harsh as within. And the most inhumane treatment of all was imposed if you became pregnant, whether through rape or your own indiscretion. For what good were you now?

Back inside The Factory, your newborn child would be weaned as quickly as possible, and you would be put back to work. With overcrowding and disease rife in the nursery, your baby would have only a 25% chance of surviving. At best, since official mortality records are quite likely to have been sugar-coated.

If your child saw its 2nd birthday in The Factory nursery, an orphanage would be next, followed by as normal a life as could be expected for a weak, socially inept progeny of a convict.

As for yourself, you might finally find a way out of The Factory if a successful application for marriage was made by any man who wanted to take a wife and raise a family in this new land. After all, the purpose of this convict transportation policy was colonisation, after a suitable period of punishment and contrition, wasn’t it?

It’s scarcely believable that this all happened less than 200 years ago.

And yet here we were, reliving such dreadful history on the site of The Cascades Female Factory on the outskirts of Hobart, high threatening walls in the shadow of Mount Wellington still intact, on a warm Sunday in February 2015.

Inside the walls, a few stones have been laid to delineate some of the cells and other defined areas within each yard. Otherwise pay for the Heritage Tour and, more importantly, make sure you immerse yourself in Her Story to bring the experience fully to life.

Her Story is a dramatised account of Mary, a convict sent to The Female Factory who becomes a victim of a brutal overseer’s bullying and endures the worst conditions described above. The other actor plays the overseer and a more kindly, well-intentioned doctor, and together they transport you back to the 19th century and all the horrors that women endured in this terrible place.

A chilling experience that made us ashamed to come from the country that dreamed up this vile policy. It may be a beautiful, enlightened country now but it certainly has a darker underbelly in its history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasmania – Tassie Truckin’

Monday, February 02 to Friday, February 13

Phew.

10 days in a camper van. 1,900 km trekking to all four windswept Tasmanian  coasts, across isolated bushland and wilderness, into alpine national parks, through declining mining communities and genteel Victorian towns.

And virtually no internet connectivity across Tassie until we’re back in Hobart now for the final few days of our epic Aussie adventure.

A few highlights:

  • 1st night’s camp site on remote South Bruny Island, after a ferry ride from Kettering on the mainland. Not advertised anywhere. Owned by Phil, the mad axeman. We had an astonishingly beautiful lagoon and white sandy beach all to ourselves, just a few short steps through towering eucalyptus trees. Shame it rained on the camp fire
  • sharing our barbecued supper with a family of wallabies – or were they pademelons (small wallaby like creatures, rather than Irish soft fruits) – at the eco camp Huon Bush Retreats in the Huon Valley

  • walking around Dove Lake, in the shadow of the iconic Cradle Mountain. A bit too popular with Nikon-toting Asian tourists for our liking, but undeniably picturesque

  • the unplanned time we spent at Strahan, on the remote west coast. Taking to the stage in Australia’s longest running play, The Ship That Never Was, about the brutal penal colony on nearby Sarah Island between 1822 & 1833. I was the drunken captain overthrown by the final 10 convicts who had built the Frederick ship from local materials, fearful of being transferred to the new penitentiary at Port Arthur, like the rest of the Sarah Island felons. Gill was the helmsman who sailed it 10,000 miles to Chile. An amazing true story of hard times told with a sense of humour, and with a lot of audience participation

  • an amazing boat trip from Strahan the following day, to Hell’s Gates which shelter Macquarie Harbour from more dangerous open waters, to the mouth of the iconic Gordon River and to Sarah Island, for an evocative tour which brought to life the brutality of the regime run there, before the final escape we had seen dramatised so entertainingly

  • motoring up the Tamar Valley from Launceston to remote Greens Beach on the windswept northern extremity, and enjoying a leisurely lunch and wine tasting at Velo, a winery owned by Micheal Wilson, a Tasmanian who cycled in the Olympics and competed in the Tour de France a couple of times, as well as in the other European Grand Tours, while living in France and Italy for 10 years

  • time spent at Bicheno, a small east coast seaside community, especially seeing the fairy penguins migrating at dusk from the nearby Governor Island sanctuary to their sandy onshore rookeries, just a few feet away from us

  • looking down at Wineglass Bay from the famous lookout point on the picturesque Freycinet Peninsula …and then spending time sunbathing on the almost deserted wide crescent of squeaky white sand as a school of 5 of 6 dolphins played lazily in the bay

  • the last night’s camp site, a spontaneous turn off the east coast road to Gumleaves, a 40 acre wildlife retreat where the wallabies bounced, the kookaburras laughed as our alarm call, and where an over-zealous possum scratched at the door of the only other camper van on the site….and then tried to climb in the vent on their roof . And where a poisonous 4 foot long tiger snake was lurking

And a couple of lowlights:

  • a scary 30 km+ camper van journey up and down vertiginous unprotected forested mountain tracks – gravel, not tarmac – in search of Pyengana, the place of happy cows and great cheese and ice cream. Apparently. We never made it. We got completely lost, a bit scared….and I almost turned the truck over in remote woodland, with no phone or internet signals and no hope of survival
  • passing through sad mining communities like Queenstown and Zeehan on the west coast, which had thrived a century ago but which now cling proudly to their industrial heritage whilst suffering from a much changed economy and a different way of life

Tassie is a place of incredible natural beauty, indigenous wildlife and remote communities. If we come again, there are some places I’d like to revisit, some I would miss out..and some we didn’t manage to see this time, like the Tasman Peninsula.

But what an adventure. Thanks to Gill for an epic 10 days – and camper van nights – in Tassie. That hot shower and soft bed in the Hobart hotel sure will feel good, though…..

Melbourne – a sporting finale

Day 19 – Monday, February 02

Our last day in Melbourne and it all seems to be about sport…..

The post mortem of the mens final of the Australian Open continues. Was Novak Djokovich faking injury? Why did Andy Murray collapse, again, so comprehensively….was it physical or mental weakness? And what was that demonstration all about, not covered on air but suspending play for quite a few minutes while the security guys ejected the culprits?

No matter. It’s no wonder the players call it The Friendly Slam, the Aussie Open is a fantastic tournament – for players and spectators alike – and having now completed my own personal Grand Slam, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any tennis fan.

The Socceroos won the Asian Cup and all the newspapers are full of admiration for their boys.

And Cadel Evans, that Aussie cycling legend and only Aussie winner of the Tour de France, competed in his final pro race yesterday – The Great Ocean Road Race – and has now hung up his bicycle clips at the grand old age of 37.

A split party for Gill and me today. Gill has ventured out to the laundry and to explore the Botanic Gardens. I’m making another sporting pilgrimage to the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground, home to 100,000 spectators and scene of many more English defeats.

The Adelaide Oval tour was probably more enjoyable, the sheer scale of the MCG is overwhelming. But it’s hugely impressive, especially as it’s gearing up for the ICC World Cup in 10 days time. There are over 250 TV screens dotted around the stadium….the usual maker’s logo has to be covered up and replaced by the World Cup TV sponsor. Similar attention to detail is in evidence everywhere.

The tour gives a fascinating trip into the bowels of the stadium – the physio room, the players’s changing rooms, the press area, the dining facilities, the members’ Long Room and Committee Room, and much more.

And also in the MCG is the National Sports Museum.  For a relatively small country – in population rather than geographic terms – Australia punches way above its collective weight.

 The Museum houses impressive memorabilia about its wide-ranging sporting success through the years, and much film reel about the MCG hosting the Olympics of 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

My favourite parts of the extensive Museum exhibits were Ian Thorpe’s trainers – roughly twice the size of my own pathetically delicate feet – and the hologram of Shane Warne, talking about his career from the very MCG changing room that we had just explored.

If you love sport, Australia in January and early February is a pretty special place to be…although I suspect that’s the same for the rest of the year.

We’re off out now for our final supper in Melbourne, as glorious evening sunshine bounces off the Yarra river through our hotel room.

Not sure about connectivity in the Tasmanian wilderness for the next couple of weeks, so daily blogging might not be possible. And spending time in a camper van will be a far cry from luxury hotels in Adelaide and Melbourne……see you on the other side.

 

 

 

Australia – The Grand Slam Tour

The Just Retiring Grand Slam Tour of southern Australia is looming large. So large that it warrants its own page on this humble website.

Track our progress here if you want to see what we get up to in Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmania through January and February.

See if we meet the cycling stars pedalling away on the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, survive the recommended lunch at the famous D’Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, complete the Grand Slam at the Aussie Open in Melbourne…and manage to chop a log or two on our camper van tour of the Tasmanian wilderness.

See ya in February, mate.