Thursday, January 21, 2016

Of Tasmanian Devils and other wonderful encounters

We are now in St Helens, a small town on the north-east coast of Tasmania, for a couple of nights. There are bush fires burning to the north and north-west...we are going to look at the fire services map before deciding which direction to go from here on Saturday. Not only do we want to be out of the smoke, we also don't want to be bothersome tourists. We don't have a fixed itinerary so we can go where we won't be in the way. This apparently is one of the worst bush fire seasons in recent history (not surprising given how dry it is) but fortunately the fires are burning in mountainous regions at a distance from homes. 

We spent most of Wednesday on short walks in Freycinet National Park. There are many French names in this area as a result of French explorers on the east coast in 1802. This expedition during the Napoleonic wars is what spurred the British on to lay claim and start settling here. Wineglass Bay is probably the most famous short walk in Tasmania, and we shared the trail with a multitude of people from all over the world. 

The pink granite boulders on the hillsides are amazing.

We have noticed a lot of Chinese tourists here, mostly travelling in extended family groups in large white vans, about 10 to 12 people in each group. Tourist information is often in both English and Chinese, and includes signs like this in many bathrooms.

On Wednesday night we went on a wildlife tour "Devils in the Dark" to see Tasmanian Devils in their natural environment. These are small endangered carnivorous animals--very hairy with strong jaws and sharp teeth--about the size of small pigs. We were ushered into a blind in a wildlife park, and served refreshments of Devil's Corner (an appropriately named local wine) and local cheese. 

For well over an hour we watched about 9 of them alternately feasting and fighting. It was fascinating to see how they tackled the carcass (going for the rich internal organs first) and fought off their opponents. Clearly these particular animals are well fed, and when each of them had had enough they walked away to be replaced shortly by another. Our guide said there would be nothing left of the carcass in the morning, not even its hooves or fur, which is why Devils are so important to this eco-system.

Devils are endangered because of a rampant jaw bone infection. They also feast on road kill and don't have the smarts to drag the carcasses off the road out of harm's way, thus becoming road kill themselves. In this wildlife park they are trying to breed, develop and support Devils who are resistant to the infection, and reintroduce them into areas where they won't be in as much danger from traffic. Given the amount of road kill on the roads (wallabies, hedgehogs and possums) I wonder if part of the strategy should be to quickly clean up the roads too, or at least to drag carcasses off into the bush.

We had a couple of very pleasant encounters Thursday in the village of St. Marys. I noticed a sign on a shop advertising Art Quilts and organic clothing. I persuaded Lloyd to turn around (not too difficult...he's very amenable), and I had a very pleasant visit with Rita Summers, a fibre artist specializing in natural dyed clothing. Check out and also on Facebook...Gone Rustic Studio Gallery. She collects vintage natural fibre clothing--t-shirts, blouses, shirts, dresses, vests--from "op shops" ("opportunity shops" or thrift stores) around the state, and dyes them with iron, eucalyptus and other plants and mineral sources nearby. So everything is one-off, and I valiantly tried on a few pieces but nothing was quite right. It would have been wonderful to have been able to buy something from her. As it was, we had to be content with a great conversation and a "meeting of the minds". As we were leaving she suggested we drop in on her husband Ian in his "Museum of Interesting Things" (aka St Marys Cranks and Tinkerers) in the old railway station, and again another delightful encounter and a lovely wander amongst curious objects from the last 100 years. I can just imagine Ian and Rita talking about their day over supper and discussing our visits! 

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