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February, 2015

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Newly retired Andrew Morris has dragged his wife Gill with him to Australia for 5 weeks. The main, wholly selfish, reason is to complete the tennis Grand Slam – sadly as a spectator, rather than as a player. Wimbledon, New York and Paris were conquered over the last four decades, the Australian Open in Melbourne will complete the set.

It’s a long way to go for a game of tennis, so they are also visiting Adelaide and Tasmania.

Part 10 – Hobart

After a A$40 taxi ride from the Apollo depot near the airport to sunny Hobart, we checked into our hotel, The Old Woolstore, on Macqaurie Street. Comfortable, clean, air-conditioned, with a large bathroom and power shower and with space to unpack our suitcases for the first time in 10 days, it felt good after the confines of touring Tasmania in a camper van.

We had 3 days to enjoy the island’s capital city on foot, after covering 1,900 km of often isolated roads through bush and wilderness, to all four windswept coasts.

First up, a wonderfully relaxing 2 hour orientation stroll around the city, thanks to the excellent Lonely Planet guidebook.

Around the picturesque dock area, we loved the Henry Jones Art Hotel, the imaginatively restored old IXL Jam Factory, once Tasmania’s largest employer. And at nearby Victoria & Constitution Docks you can grab fresh seafood straight off the fishing boats. Here there are also some truly remarkable wooden boats, with real history attached to many of them, stretching back to the 19th century and now available for tours.

In nearby St David’s Park, the walls are made up of colonial gravestones of the original pioneers settling this faraway island.

We climbed up the gentle slope to the atmospheric suburb of Battery Point, its restored Victorian and Georgian properties standing cheek by jowl, and looking like many a genteel English seaside town. And we also enjoyed – at the command of Lonely Planet, you understand – a self-indulgent pit-stop at the acclaimed Jackson & McCross bakery and cafe on Hampden Road. I defy anyone not to openly dribble, like a starved puppy, when faced with their array of freshly baked breads and cakes, especially after 10 days on the road. Peach and white chocolate cream cake and a muesli and white chocolate slice were digested with obscene haste.

The introductory walking tour ended up at Salamanca Place, Hobart’s warren of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and jewellers. The world-famous market takes place here on Saturdays, 300 stalls setting up in the wide street. Our trip had ensured we’d be in Hobart for the market, but unfortunately it rained most of that day we were there. But make sure you go – to enjoy local food, beer, wine and cheese producers; for Tasmanian arts, crafts and jewellery; but especially for Smiths Pie Van, selling the famous scallop pie so enjoyed by John Torode, of Masterchef fame, in his youth.

That evening, being February 14th, we enjoyed a romantic dinner at Monty’s on Montpelier, embracing a no-choice fixed 4 course meal of imaginative, modern Australian tucker in an atmospheric Victorian house, diners separated into separate, cosy rooms.

There’s plenty to do and see in photogenic laid-back Hobart, and by taking bus and boat tours from the capital to its surrounding areas. We could have climbed Mount Wellington, watching benevolently over the city from the west. We could have taken a tour out to the Tasman Peninsula, particularly to explore the dreaded Port Arthur penal colony. We could have gone to the Penitentiary Chapel. We should have visited Mawson’s Hut Museum, a replica of the historic huts in Cape Denison, Antarctica built in 1911 by Dr Douglas Mawson and his team from the Aussie Antarctic Expedition. But somehow we didn’t do any of those, preferring to recharge the drained batteries by scribbling in our journals, or sipping a drink by the dockside.

But what we did do, and what I’d recommend any visitor to Hobart makes an effort to see, is go to the Cascades Female Factory. We walked the 3 km out of the city by way of the Hobart Rivulet Park to this haunting place. It is the site where around 6,000 of over 12,000 female convicts transported from England to Van Diemen’s Land between 1788 and 1853 were sent. Governor Arthur ignored the surveyor’s findings that it wasn’t a fit or healthy site for a penitentiary, because of its lack of light and propensity to flood when the winter snows of nearby Mount Wellington melted. As a result, the women were forced to work in unbearable conditions, often under brutal overseers, hoping that they could eventually gain a free ticket through marriage or service.

Sign up for Her Story, an evocative and heartbreaking re-enactment by two professional actors of one of the female convict’s time at The Female Factory. Harrowing stuff.

On our way back to the hotel, we had a quick visit to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, marvelling at the stuffed animal collection – some of which we had seen in the live flesh, some we hadn’t – and being appalled at the graphic depiction of the white man’s destruction of Tasmanian Aborigines, when permanently settling the faraway island in the early 1800s.

Almost total genocide of the indigenous people and the brutal treatment of transported convicts were recurring themes during our Tasmanian trip. They didn’t detract from our enjoyment of its wonderful wilderness and natural beauty, but it was sobering to think what had happened here just 200 years ago.

So our epic Grand Slam Tour of Australia was almost over. 10 days in Adelaide and the surrounding area. 1 week in Melbourne. 10 days touring all 4 windswept coasts of Tasmania. 3 days in calming Hobart. All very different, and all calling us back to explore them in greater depth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my articles on our trip Down Under. I can thoroughly recommend all the places we went to for active Silver Travellers…especially when you hear about the winter snow and sub-zero temperatures on the other side of this endlessly fascinating world.

Andrew Morris

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