dimanche 1 juillet 2012

Creation: Jean-François Vernay’s Tasmanian Travelogue: Part I & II

    Friendly Beaches, Freycinet – photographer: Alan Long

Tasked with the privilege to report on my ten-day trip to Tasmania’s East Coast as writer-in-residence, following the invitation I received from the From France to Freycinet Festival organizers David and Jennifer Lathwell, I came across a series of mind-expanding adventures that, I feel, could benefit Trouble Magazine readers.
Stopping at Triabunna for the kickoff of the Francophile festival, I met a score of Hobart-based medical students who came to the East Coast townships for their “Rural Week” programme. While debriefing with a PowerPoint presentation that would make trite comments sound more seriously professional to the local community, their genuine interest in their training came through loud and clear. One of the slides listing their various goals read: “Understanding the attractions of a rural community”. Tourism-wise, it is not hard to gather why anyone would visit Coles Bay, Australia’s first plastic bag free town, or Swansea which is home to the multiple-award winning ecotarian restaurant The Ugly Duck Out – almost fresh out of Portlandia, America’s satiric big hit comedy series – or even Bicheno which prides itself on having more than 300 sunny days year in year out when temperatures drop in places like Hobart and Launceston.
If you want to avoid touristy and crowded places like the capital city, Autumn is the best season to discover the serene scenery of the East Coast, a season that puts the impact of colonisation in the limelight, an impact given away by the exogenous deciduous trees displaying their full array of different coloured foliage that sprinkles the landscape – all native trees being evergreen. Fear no stress and no technology that makes people absurdly accessible to everyone else, as American novelist Thomas Mallon once observed (Internet cafés are scarce and there will be no mobile coverage if you are travelling on Vodafone), for the East Coast smacks of the dolce vita. Slow-paced activities make you switch from tee time to teatime, from dry-shod strolls along the Swansea foreshore path bordered by lichen-covered boulders to nonchalant hikes in Freycinet National Park renowned for its distinctive pink granite rock formations and generous wildlife, from shorebird-watching to whale-spotting (alternative spotting also include pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, penguins and Australian Fur Seals that occasionally bask in the sun) while cruising to the Wineglass Bay, and from relishing gourmet food on the Long Lunch Tour to petting and admiring the wonders of nature at East Coast Natureworld. The peacefulness is largely explained by the youth drain that has emptied these townships blighted by unemployment and scant education infrastructure. As a result, families move to Hobart or Launceston when their offspring reach senior high or university level.
Commercials on local channels certainly know their audience like the back of their hands when promoting CDs by Neil Diamond, Michael Bolton and Julio Iglesias, and no doubt that the ageing population on the East Coast will pick up the phone to place an order …if the locals have the time for that sort of thing. Where on the mainland the intellectual elite might take up artistic callings when retiring to avoid being bogged down in a dreary daily routine, educated retirees on the East Coast embark on speculative profitable (and tax deductible) ventures, mostly in hospitality (but also other businesses like logging trailers, for instance), to keep busy and contribute to the dynamism and range of services the local Bureau of tourism showcases to visitors.
   Photograph by Bruce Troode is of the Blowhole at Bicheno
After three days, I woke up at the sound of Great Oyster Bay’s waves under the impression that the Pied Piper had walked through the Tasmanian East Coast. But I quickly dismissed this thought as a preposterous bad dream. When hanging around in the evening to find out about nightlife, fellow New Caledonian writer Françoise Tromeur and I met a few young people at the local Swansea pub – four youngsters, tops. And when Doria Loigom drove me around Bicheno on the previous day I spotted another three teenagers– surfies packing up their gear as the swell of the sea was gently breaking upon the shore in the sunset shimmering light. And so I came back to my senses: with a seaside culture ingrained in their national consciousness, how could Tasmanians be lured into water and drown? Australians need no spell to embrace water. They swim, surf and sail; sometimes even in the company of the Great White Sharks. How brave, how foolish! But who cares? We are Down Under. It is all very relaxed here … and comfortable, as a former Prime Minister used to say.
As far as comfort is concerned, there are some luxury resorts for billionaires to have a spoil and travel in style (but try out the most recent ones because some dated so-called “deluxe” resorts are confident enough to charge twice the price they are actually worth) and, at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of budget accommodation, a cosy spick and span youth hostel in Swansea is available for a song. At mid-price, you probably could afford the homely bed and breakfasts that give you the same pampering and attention you got from your grandparents in the childhood to which you keep thinking back nostalgically. Regression and indulgence being a great cocktail, I spent some extra relaxing time at Margaret and Alan Morgan’s serene haven sitting by the sea, at the threshold of Freycinet National Park. These two retired academics are real walking Wikipedias who not only attend to their guests’ every need but also passionately inform them about the region.
After eating scrumptious locally grown food and savouring ultra fresh mussels from Freycinet Marine Farm (a must-stop attraction!) enhanced by a glass of chilled regional wine in their pleasant company, nature-friendly Margaret drove me back to the Waterloo Inn in the dead of the night. Midway, she suddenly pulled up and made a U-turn to shoo off an owl standing on the opposite lane so that it would not get run over by a car. Roadkills of all sorts – dead Eastern Barred Bandicoots, wombats, wallabies, possums, and other native species – are strewing the East Coast roads. Now and again, crows come and peck away at the decaying carcasses and meat torn to pieces by the whizzing vehicles. It used to be the job of another carrion eater, the cute little one tamed, glamorized and immortalized by the Looney Tunes creators, but Taz and his kith and kin are all too mortal, depleting fast due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease, “a transmissible cancer spread from one animal to the next through biting,” Margaret explained Wikipedia-like. This is the reason why you are unlikely to spot these jeopardized animals anywhere in Tasmania but at East Coast Natureworld. Something has to be done about this national disaster! Who or what will come to the rescue? Pr. Chris Johnson? Microbiology? Do you realize they are the most Romantic creatures on earth? Taz is indeed capable of fighting Darwinianly to death just to win over Mr. or Mrs. Right. From a French perspective, this is good a reason enough to save these ugly wild mammals which, in captivity, are unglamorously fed a daily diet of crunchy dead mice. [Sigh] Why does rock-hard reality run into the habit of blowing up all these fabricated myths? 


Source: Trouble Magazine, July 2012:

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