HOBART: AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
IF you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you’ve got there.
That was the thought that played on my mind while preparing for a mystery flight from Brisbane I had been booked on. At least the destination was a mystery.
Just pack a jumper, walking shoes and an iPhone, I was told. No need for a passport.
That narrowed the destination down. It would be within Australia.
Four days at the end of November.
The Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s southern coastline was a possibility. Maybe Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. Perhaps the Three Capes Walk in Tasmania.
Don’t you want to know where? I was asked.
No. That would take away the surprise … just like with a present. Part of the wonder is the delight of unwrapping that which is concealed or hidden.
Arriving at Gate 38, the 6.30am departures were either Melbourne or Hobart.
In a little more than two hours we were off the east coast of this island state to the south of the Australian mainland and starting the approach to Hobart International Airport.
Everything feels fresh. Friendly. After the novel greeting of life-size replicas of the native wildlife at the luggage collection area in the airport terminal, the drive into Hobart is mostly through bushland or rolling farming country.
The approach to the Derwent River Bridge opens up a beautiful view of the city on both sides of the glacial-formed river and deep harbour. The backdrop is the majestic Mount Wellington, known as kunanyi by the first people, the Muwinina.
You soon discover there’s more to Tasmania than apples, wine and seafood. It’s full of cultural surprises, whether it be art, music or architecture.
And as well as the world-famous Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, there is another link to an even greater journey … a link to man’s landing on the moon.
Hobart is easy to love. And to get around in. It’s such a walkable city for the most part.
You only need a car for day trips to such locations as the wineries of the Coal Valley, historic Port Arthur Convict Settlement, the wooden boats centre in the Huon Valley or to the summit of Mount Wellington.
There is the magnificent Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) to explore, the coastline of Bruny Island and so many walks. Treks such as the Three Capes Track, Bay of Fires, the Overland Track, Cradle Mountain, Tarkine Rainforest Walk, and the South Coast Track.
What you don’t expect about Hobart is for it to snow on the first night in summer.
You don’t expect to stumble upon an art exhibition opening on your way to dinner.
You don’t expect to experience the strings section of a symphony orchestra playing to a packed house at a brewery.
There’s a lot to Hobart you don’t expect … and that’s part of its charm.
Hobart is easy to love … even when the weather turns cold and grey.
To see the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at Hobart Brewing’s Red Shed at Mac Point was something to warm the soul. It was simply an 800m walk from the Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel, near Victoria Dock.
Despite the soft rain and chill wind the atmosphere was warm at the brewery. Flannelette shirts and Blundstone boots were the order of the night as the sold-out crowd readily warmed to the unusual blending of an exceptional orchestra in such an industrial setting.
Pot-belly stoves inside, open fires in the courtyard and the talk from the bar area added to the sense of occasion.
The TSO is based right in the heart of Hobart. It is widely travelled throughout Australia and the most played on ABC Classic FM.
On the Thursday night the strings section would be playing everything from Elgar to Lady Gaga.
On Saturday night it was another sold-out event with the orchestra’s brass section performing at St David’s Anglican Cathedral, about another 800m up the hill in Murray Street.
The TSO reaches a broad cross-section of listeners with free outdoor concerts in Hobart and Launceston, and performs in regional Tasmania, schools and community centres as well as these events that started three years ago to reach out to new audiences.
As marketing director Sam Cairnduff says, they are looking at different ways to take music out there.
“We are going through our most successful period in 71 years. While subscriptions around the country are challenging, ours are going up year on year.
“We are pretty much getting right around the state, and around Australia.
“A specialty is Australian composers. We have recorded more than any other orchestra.
“We have championed a lot of composers. Our Australian conductors’ workshop is a pipeline for aspiring conductors to build skills.’’
Tasmania’s food and wine are celebrated for their quality, especially its seafood. And there are so many good places to eat in the city.
Walking back from the brewery, we stop at the Drunken Admiral, right on Victoria Dock.
I had wondered about it, being in such a convenient position. Would it be a tourist place?
I can imagine it being packed to the rafters at the end of the Sydney-Hobart sailing classic.
Friends had all talked about it, including those who had lived in Hobart. Yet fears of it being impersonal were quickly dismissed as soon as we walked through the door.
It was a step back in time … to the inside of an old sailing ship with bowsprits, figureheads, heavy timber tables, all sorts of nautical bits and pieces such as shackles, ropes and chains, old sails, and gimballed navigation lights. Everywhere you looked was like being in an antiques shop.
It was busy … and despite it being a cold night the welcoming was warm. We were happy to sit up at the bar and grab a drink while ordering.
The rum barrel behind the bar reminded you of what it must have been like in the time of sail.
To finish we walked around the waterfront to the floating Van Diemen’s Land Creamery.
The city fronts the River Derwent, so it has not just a nautical past but it is still part of its seafaring culture. Constitution Dock, famous for the finish of the Sydney-Hobart, is also home to sailing ships from Tasmania’s past.
The sailing vessel May Queen, Australia’s oldest sail trading vessel, is one of only a handful of wooden vessels of her era still afloat in the world.
Westward is a fishing vessel that was converted to a racing yacht and claimed handicap victories in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Races of both 1947 and 1948.
Recently, the Sydney-Hobart pioneer Mistral II has joined the fleet, in preparation for a major restoration to take several years.
Along the waterfront are statues to explorer Sir Douglas Mawson’s missions to Antarctica. More recently replicas of the huts built by the team for their research work in 1911-14 have been erected.
These replicas stand just 200metres from where Mawson’s team left in 1911, and provide an insight into the daily lives of the Australian Antarctic Expedition that spent two winters living and working in the windiest place on Earth.
Walking allows you to stop and investigate these links with the past yet also admire the research and development of ideas taking us into the future.
Being able to virtually walk everywhere in Hobart adds to the intimacy of the city.
Such as enjoying the Salamanca Markets of a Saturday morning, on the western side of the waterfront. And then to walk up to Battery Point.
Kelly’s Steps, named after adventurer James Kelly, link Salamanca Place with this once working class area yet now highly sought for its charm.
At the time Kelly constructed the steps in 1839, Battery Point was on a cliff that overlooked wharfs of Sullivans Cove. The steps were a link for boatmen, seamen, sailors, workers and the women who did piece work at Peacock’s Jam Factory, Turner’s cannery or IXL.
There are stories of sailors being lured into the laneways leading to the steps, and then being assaulted and robbed … or worse.
Today there is an art installation to look out for – We Are Made of Stardust. The colour programmed LED signage and stereo soundscape is one of a series around the world involving Sydney-based contemporary artist Michaela Gleave.
The installation allows us to reflect on our relationship with world, and the vast expanses of time and space.
Gleave was also involved in The Galaxy of Suns that premiered as the opening event for the 2016 Dark MOFO festival in Hobart, with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
As for Dark Mofo, it is a midwinter festival that runs in conjunction with MONA and is a thought-provoking exploration of the darkness through large-scale public art, food, film, music, light and noise.
Kellys Steps lead up to Battery Point, and places such as the picturesque Arthurs Circus, and the remarkable Jackman and McRoss Bakery, arguably one of the best you could wish for and with a philosophy that sees left-over produce distributed at the end of the day to those in need.
Yet there was another reason for our walk, the Shipwright’s Arms Hotel with its seafaring history.
Shippies, as it is known, was established in 1846 and remains a traditional old-school pub complete with nautical mementos and pictures.
Merchant seaman as well as sailors from navies around the world rub shoulders with locals, with those who share Battery Point’s boat-building heritage, and those who have links with such blue-water sailing races as the Sydney-Hobart.
Yet Hobart also has a host of interesting places within easy reach, whether it be by car, tour or ferry.
Mt Wellington, the dramatic backdrop to the city, is 1270 metres high, and climbed in 1798 by surgeon and explorer George Bass.
You can drive up, walk up or take a bike tour. Yet the weather can change quickly … from sunshine to cloud and scotch mist in minutes. But the view is enormous, and gorgeous. You could do this every day and not get tired of it. I imagine many locals do…
Stop at the convict women’s factory in South Hobart to get a sense of the harsh conditions the prisoners found themselves in during the 1800s. Sobering.
Catch the ferry out to MONA, a remarkable and iconic art gallery cut into the sandstone cliffs and privately funded by Tasmanian David Walsh. Don’t expect the usual stuff here; the art will surprise, confuse, delight, alarm and bewitch you. Bring a fully charged phone or camera; you are going to need it.
You come to MONA to see all the great art that the other galleries won’t hold. This is an art gallery for people who wouldn’t usually go to art galleries. Unmissable.
Allow time to discover what’s there as there is a remarkable backstory about how it came about.
Although it is not publicly funded it has earned such a name that virtually everyone who goes to Hobart probably experiences it … 400,000 visitors a year.
Art and wine … both need even temperatures and controlled light to preserve them at their best. MONA was built in 2011 with the philosophy that arts and culture should always be accessible.
A bit further out is Richmond in the Coal Valley, the perfect place to wander through the wineries, try the food and sketch the second-most photographed bridge in Australia.
Standing among the rows of grape vines at Frogmore Creek Winery, the shape of the Mount Pleasant radio telescope provides a juxtaposition. Something from the future in such an old landscape.
It had been the Orroral Valley radio telescope to the south of Canberra and was the first deep-space tracking station. That was before nearby Honeysuckle Creek and then Parkes, in the central west of New South Wales, became forever etched in history as the sites to relay the first televised pictures of the moon landing … the “one step for man, one giant leap for mankind’’.
Yet there’s more to the Mount Pleasant Observatory than the telescope. Sharing this tranquil location between wineries and the Coal River is a museum that showcases the life and work of Tasmanian radio astronomer, Grote Reber.
Reber was a pioneer of “big dish’’ technology to map the sky at radio frequencies. Built in 1937 in the side yard of his mother’s house, that first dish antenna radio telescope was made of wooden rafters, galvanised sheet metal and spare parts from a Ford Model T truck.
He spent 40 years in Tasmania studying low frequency emissions with other telescopes he built himself.
Yet not only was he the father of radio astronomy, Reber was responsible for some remarkable accomplishments in electrical powered transport as well as carbon dating aboriginal settlements.
The museum and the observatory are open to school groups and the public but reservations are necessary.
Between mountain and sea, Hobart is timeless. Such clean air, good food and interesting landscapes.
The city is wrapped up in history, culture, adventure and the natural environment.
Even the story of Tasmania is somewhat of an adventure. The first reported sighting by a European was on November 24, 1642, by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. He named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, later shortened to Van Diemen’s Land and eventually it honoured the explorer himself.
Since then, generation upon generation of Australians have discovered it as well.
That’s the thing about travel, it’s what you discover along the way. And you will always know when you have arrived.