I’ve been in Tasmania for about half of my 4-month stay, and apparently even people who rarely use the internet read my blog and are curious about what I’ve been up to. I’ve been mostly focusing on my Flickr Photostream, rather than writing, as far as my uploads to the parts of the web that have my name on them.
I arrived in Tassie on October 24th, a Wednesday; due to the International Date Line the Tuesday was swallowed by a time rift (or something, I am not an astrophysicist). I am told I will get that day back when I return to North America on February 22. It’s a day spent crammed into a metal tube flinging itself at high speed through the atmosphere, so I’m not sure I want it back.
There are some interesting holidays in Tasmania. The Thursday, day after I landed, was an official Holiday for the southern half of the state, to coincide with the first full day of the Royal Hobart Show, a kind of agricultural fair / cultural event that spans about three-and-a-half days in late October every year. For the first time this year, they held a “Circle Work” event, a cultural experience I knew I couldn’t miss.
Circle Work is local parlance for “paddock bashing”, or driving one’s car in circles with lots of dust and noise. At the Show, it was an organized competition, giving me my first real taste of Tassie administration styles (i.e. pretty laisez-faire). Essentially, each competitor had to drive a ute (more on that in a moment), for 1 minute in a defined area. They gained points for each full circle completed, double points for figure-8s, and bonus points for “style” and “crowd reaction”. As one competitor put it during the pre-event interview,
“Normally I try to keep the back wheels behind the front, but here I guess I’ll try it the other way around”.
And much sliding and engine over-revving ensued.
An ute is a distinctly Australian thing. It includes vehicles that a North American would call a pick-up truck, but there’s a category difference, too – what a Gringo would call “something like an El Camino” or a “car-truck mashup” is also, and definitively, an ute. It’s short for “utility”, obviously, and essentially means any four-wheeled vehicle with a bed or tray at the back. The last North American utes were the Chevy El Camino and the Ford Ranchero, both of which ceased production some time in the 1980s, while here in Australia the Oz subsidiaries of those corporations, Holden (for GM) and Ford Australia have continued to refine the designs and compete fiercely in the large domestic market. There’s even a race series based around the versions of these vehicles fitted with V8 engines, and an origin myth that claims the ute is an invention of Ford Australia, circa 1930.
I set out to purchase a distinctly, stereotypically Australian vehicle so I could continue my Sunday Drives here in Tassie. I set my budget to $5000 (the Canadian and Australian dollars don’t typically stray far from 1:1 to each other) and started digging through Gumtree, the local equivalent of Kijiji in Canada. Strangely, Holden Commodore utes (the “SS” and related forms) are not available at that budget – older Holden utes, sometimes advertised as “project” or “ran when I parked it” (or the dreaded codewords* “Needs new battery”) sell for less than $1000, and newer utes, newer than about 2000, go for $7000 and up, but almost nothing appears in the $3500-$5500 range. On the other hand, there’s usually a range of Ford Falcon utes in that price range, covering model years from the mid 90s up to the early 2000s. I emailed a few sellers, heard back from one, took it for a test drive, and bought it.
* “Needs new battery” is a code phrase for “Many, many features of this vehicle are heavily damaged or neglected, to the point it would cost several times the value of this vehicle to effect all of the necessary repairs.” The dead battery is just the icing on the rusty cake, because it’s ridiculously easy to replace a dead car battery, and costs about the same regardless of the vehicle. If you’re trying to sell a car that legitimately only needs a new battery (and nothing else), you’d replace the battery before posting the ad.
Since then, I’ve been using my ute to continue my Sunday Drives, visiting the Tasman Peninsula...
...the Gordon River dam...
...the Tasmanian Midlands...
...Southeast Cape, southernmost point of the island of Tasmania* and the furthest south I’ve ever been in my life...
...the Tasmanian Highlands...
...and the Styx River.
* The various Wikipedia and other articles that describe the furthest-whatever of various parts of the Earth bend to national and international politics as well as the rulings of such bodies as the International Union of Geological Sciences. The State of Tasmania includes a few islands further south than Southeast Cape, and administers points even further south, such as Macquarie Island.
I’m having a great time exploring Tassie.
Today is Christmas Eve, which seems an auspicious time to pay some attention to the blog. Also, I depart tomorrow for my long-sort-of-planned Tour of Tasmania, as the stretch of time between Christmas and New Year’s is the only longer-than-a-weekend break I have here, making it ideal for a longer trip. In fact, this will be my first trip away from my rented basement in Hobart for a night, I’m actually going for 5 nights.
The plan is thus:
I intend to spend Christmas evening on the beach, somewhere in Freycinet National Park. Then, up the east coast of Tasmania to Mount William NP, stopping in at Douglas-Aspley to check it off the list. Thursday will be a longer drive along the northern coast of Tasmania, stopping in at Narawntapu NP and Rocky Cape NP before finding a motel/hotel/B&B/whatever in or near Wynyard. Then it’s into the wilderness, camping near Corrina (there’s a ferry!) and near Strahan on the west coast before the final 300km run back to Hobart on Sunday.