I have to admit my first exposure to Tasmania came via Saturday morning
cartoons at a time before Bugs Bunny was deemed too violent and having long-term
negative effects on children. I am sure there are others who first heard the word as part of
the ‘Tasmanian Devil’ character. There is indeed a creature called a Tasmanian devil, and
he is nothing like the cartoon character.
My second exposure came when working on my Nuffield Scholarship and the
scholars from Australia spoke of this island state and its vegetable production. That in
fact led to an offer to exchange houses for a month or so at Christmas time. I was feeling
pretty tempted until the visiting scholar asked about my knowledge of irrigation and
whether I could handle the field pipes. At that time of year, she added, vegetable
production is at its peak and there is a fair amount of wrestling with pipes and moving
from field to field. When she said that, I knew the offer was not going to materialize.
We finally did get to visit the island as part of a cruise in 2017 when our ship
stopped in Burnie, a port city on the northwest coast of Tasmania. The mayor of Burnie
came out to meet the ship in full robes and chain of office. She took the time to welcome
individuals and have a brief conversation with any of the passengers who cared to do so. I
had my picture taken with her before moving on to the waiting van.
The first stop was the Makers’ Workshop, uniquely laid out in a large open area.
The centre provided a mix of Burnie’s history with a series of small shops/kiosks for
artisans from the surrounding areas. Products ranged from cheese to paper and other
things; it is obvious where my interests lay. I spent a good deal of time with the cheese
maker who offered a variety of samples. By then I was running out of time and missed
delving into the intricacies of paper making with an artisan who was using old blue jeans
to make a denim-based paper. I purchased a variety pack made from 10 different paper
products with a different texture on each individual sample. I believe the other shops sold
things like wool and women's clothing but I did not have the time (or interest) to make
my way through that part of the market.
I had heard enough about vegetable production in the state to make me want a
tour into the countryside, and as luck would have it, there was a van waiting to provide a
tour into the country for a reasonable price.
The driver/guide had only slightly more knowledge of agriculture in the area than
I did, but was willing to stop anytime I wanted to take a picture.
The intent of his tour was to get us to a series of waterfalls. The falls were a
substantial walk from the parking lot and the trek would use the majority of our time
before we had to be back at the dock to board our cruise boat.
The walk in was strenuous by tourist standards but the view was a just reward for
the effort required to reach the falls. I found later that there were a number of trails
ranging from Grade 2 (families with small children) to a Grade 5, which was
recommended for experienced hikers. Personally, I felt I was a 2.5 stuck on a Grade 4
hike but all ended well.
On the way back to port I questioned our driver about the name on the van and he
admitted that he and his wife were wedding planners. Guiding this tour during the week
was an opportunity for him to make a few extra dollars since the cruise ship deposited a
goodly number of passengers who were willing to spend the few dollars on local tours.
He was not going to get a lot of return customers in any case, so his lack of knowledge of
the surroundings was not a serious drawback.
We had an opportunity to sample some of the area’s dairy products during a stop
at Penguin, a town of about 3,000, home to what the sign claimed was a world-renowned
ice cream store. The town had taken its name from the Fairy Penguin, the world’s
smallest penguin, and had celebrated it’s centenary in 1975. According to the bronze
plaque beside a huge fibreglass/concrete bird in the park across from the ice cream shop,
the area was named for the bird by botanist Robert Campbell Gunn.
The ice cream was good and we posed for the obligatory pictures with the statue
of the bird before re-boarding the van and heading back to port.
Not a Tasmanian devil to be seen anywhere.