Spots in the landscape

Every day I realise the extent of my ignorance, especially ignorance about the natural world around me -and particularly within Tasmania which I often assume I know best. When recently I read the January issue of ABC’s Gardening Australia magazine I discovered there was more than one type of ladybird, that wonderful tiny insect with which most people would be familiar. I had never stopped to think that those tiny beings with their spotted backs might have a family with difference. 

So I studied the article and went out into my garden to find some spotted beings and then to see if I could identify them.  At the end of a day I found only one, although I have seen many on various plants over recent weeks – and yes, if you know the food preference of many species, I have aphids on some plants which is wonderful tucker for ladybirds.

I found a glossy example of the Large Spotted Ladybird Harmonia conformis walking around under a leaf. When I looked closely and thoughtfully, I could see the black spots were positioned in a straight line diagonally across the back, over a glistening orange red base. From now on I will be vigilant for ladybirds and I am curious to discover whether I have more than one type in my garden. If I do, I will want to determine whether specific ladybirds prefer one plant over another.

So, despite my level of ignorance being reduced, I have much to learn. I hope this blog post and the magazine article will inspire you to look at ladybirds near you and identify their differences.

Recently a friend told me her daughter has a garden and ‘she just stood back and let nature do her work, after finding aphids in the garden and reading that ladybirds prey on them. And to her amazement, it worked.’

After ‘my’ discoveries of the south west of Tasmania (written up over recent weeks in this blog), the Tarkine and the Derwent and much more around Tasmania, the tiny world of lady birds may seem minor and unworthy of recording.  I have introduced their story because they are part of the integrated and rich environment which sustains us all.

The CSIRO has a website dedicated to ladybirds and you can see and read more here. If you dig around on this site you will find ladybirds from elsewhere in the world. Fascinating. So decorative.

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RTBG – Thursdays in the new year

Weeks have passed since I last wrote about the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) and what was happening in the Food Garden. On the first Thursday of this month some of the team bounded into the Food Garden happily ready to do a day’s volunteering; Lesley told me ‘Neil and I got to select 2 pumpkins per giant pumpkin plant and cut the longest stems back from taking over the sweet corn nearby. Then we weeded around the pumpkins and planted 2 new silver beet beds with Janet. Sorry no photos I had to rush off…’ Thanks for the news. Last Thursday Pam recorded the activities and noted ‘Lots of work removing all the oxalis today’. For most gardeners, oxalis is a terrifyingly difficult weed to eradicate, however it has its virtues and more can be read here. I have been promising to make an oxalis soup and perhaps it is time for me to act, and share.

Pam thoughtfully sent me the following photos which show the volunteering efforts in a portion of this very productive garden.

Many thanks to the contributors to this blog post.

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The grand achievement of 2020

On a number of occasions last year, long term blog followers read (for example read here) about Chorus Master June Tyzack leading the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra chorus out of the restricting mental and sometimes physical spaces associated with the Covid virus pandemic. Now, after weeks of exchanges associated with copyright clearances and much more, I am delighted that access has finally been given to us all, to see and hear members of the Chorus singing. The music is sensationally emotional and the singing rich and powerful, the more so because we see some of the most wonderful landscapes which Tasmania has to offer. Please enjoy this video – and turn up the volume until you cry with the beauty of it all. Then share it with friends.

I am immensely proud of my sister and all the chorus members.  Thank you.

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A trip to South West Tasmania- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner-26 of 26

In the early 1800s Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which could be read at face value concerning a ship voyage or you might construe the poem as a metaphor for other ideas. Regardless, and while the poem is worth reading for its own sake, it will alert you also to some of our routinely heard expressions which I now realise derive from Coleridge’s original word concoctions. For example,

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.


Ah! well a-day! what evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.

On the Windeward Bound we didn’t sail through snow, nor did we feed or kill an albatross but the sun followed similar paths. We sat idly but not through lack of wind rather it was circumstances associated with resources and weather that kept us moored in the one place for most nights. And, in the absence of a useful wind for sailing, we had the privilege of an engine to motor us between Hobart and Port Davey and beyond. As the poem becomes gloomier, no connections remain and any resemblance to our south west voyage disappears.

The poem has no direct link with Tasmania, but the Ancient Mariner’s ship does sail south and describes seas which can be found at any time in the Southern Ocean. That I have returned from a voyage in the Southern Ocean on a sailing ship of the type in existence when Coleridge wrote, has given me courage to include excerpts from his poem here.

And now, all in my own countree,

I stood on the firm land!

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A trip to South West Tasmania – back in the Hobart docks-25 of 26

At the end of the eighth day, the experience of travelling to and from the remote southwest of Tasmania came to an end. No longer would I be looking up at masts and ropes.

In the last hour before arrival, dinner was served for the lucky passengers, while the crew waited and could not expect their meal until we had disembarked.

Around 8pm we reached the wharf knowing this long day of motoring was over; knowing we would soon be off the ship and returning to continue the lives we had left eight days before.

Having packed and organised our gear all passengers were called on deck, and the crew sent below to bring up our luggage. Our bags seemed to cover the aft deck, even though nobody had brought excess with them (during the trip we had been regaled with laughing tales of giant hard suitcases that the occasional previous passenger hoped would be able to travel with them. I can only imagine their shock at the tiny cabins and minimal room for bags. This was not a cruise ship!)

Ropes and ties and connections between the ship and wharf were firmed. Crew members disappeared across the wharves to collect the gangplank. While we waited, the Captain talked to us. Despite the fact that each of us might have wanted something extra that wasn’t possible, we expressed our pleasure for lots of aspects of our voyage. I am very glad to have made that trip on the Windeward Bound.

I am particularly grateful for permission to use the photos of fellow passengers Serena, Ralph and Rob in this blog. I realise that occasionally another person took the photos now on Ralph’s record – I thank those photographers as well. Between us thousands of photos were taken. As extensive as this series of blog posts is, only a few of that massive photographic collective has been included. I hope, from my selection, you have felt the landscape and the character of the water and the sky during our voyage – and that you love what you have seen. It has been a privilege to have accessed one of the last grand wildernesses in the world.

Finally around 9pm the disembarking began. I stepped back onto Hobart, into my family’s car, then talked non-stop all the way home. Thanks for their ears – although from fatigue and super-excitement to be ‘home’ I have no idea what I gabbled!

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A trip to South West Tasmania – motoring home-24 of 26

Early morning chats focused on the experiences of the night; four crew had been violently ill and one passenger had rid herself of last night’s dinner. The rest slept well enough. That the seas were a mild 2 metres at their highest overnight, made me think of travellers historically who had occasionally faced and survived up to 10 metre waves in these tiny wooden ships; frightening.

When I came out on deck, we had travelled about three quarters the way along the south coast of Tasmania. On the night trip to Port Davey we had seen fishing vessels with their strong lights moving or positioned close to the shore.  Refer Ralph’s photo here showing an example of one of those moments.

This morning we saw yachts with their full white sails heading west. The mountains and an irregular coast line provided a constant backdrop.

We were fortunate to be thrilled by dolphins.  It seems not to matter how many times you see dolphins in the wild, each new occasion remains special . Over a 30 or so minute period, a few dozen common dolphins played around and under the bow of the ship are we sailed along. I imagined they left us eventually because there was no competition; our ship wasn’t nearly as fast as they could swim. Around this time I saw the spouting of steam/water whooshed from a whale, but never the body.

Before long after we turned north, the southern end of Bruny Island came into view. A while later I could see the white stalk of its southern lighthouse.

Mostly we sat on deck and watched the landscape as we passed, attempting to name peaks in the distance. Or got blown around by the wind.

While motoring in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel we spotted the Lady Nelson, another replica sailing ship, travelling south in full sail. Ironical. One of my reasons for travelling on the Windeward Bound was to enjoy being on a ship with fully laden sails. Except for a short while at the end of day 2 when a few sails were unfurled, we motored for the rest of the voyage because the wind kept blowing from the wrong direction for the sails to be raised. So the universe seemed to be thumbing its nose by allowing the fully dressed  Lady Nelson to sail so dramatically past us in the distance.

Passing Kettering, I could see the vehicular ferry disgorging cars onto Bruny Island before returning to mainland Tasmania with another load of travellers.

When the Captain listened to the wind report at Hobart, she worried that the easterly might challenge docking. A zodiac would be needed to act like a tug boat. So we motored into the relative calm of a bay off Bruny Island near the Quarantine station. We waited for the lowering of a zodiac before proceeding towards Hobart with the extra boat in tow.

Sometime afterwards, I fell asleep while lying horizontally on the deck in the sun, without a hat or other protection. Weeks later my ankles still showed the sign of a good dose of sunburn and my nose retained some unwanted redness. When I notice these colourings, I am reminded of that final day at sea.

Hours later Mt Wellington appeared on our left in the distance. Around this time we were invited inside for nibbles and a final sip or two of wine.

Mentally I was ready for home before we turned north in the early morning. During the afternoon a helicopter flew overhead, probably carrying a sick or injured person to hospital in Hobart from somewhere further south. I wished they had room for me. After turning north past Whalers Point earlier in the day, I would have happily accepted an airlift home by helicopter. My eighth day seemed to be extremely long.

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A trip to South West Tasmania – the last supper-23 of 26

In the early evening, while moored in Schooner Cove as the sun was dropping, it was time for our ‘last supper’.

Ralph’s photo below puts everything into perspective. A beautiful photo at the end of a beautiful afternoon.

When moored, as distinct from motoring or sailing, passengers always ate dinner together downstairs in the saloon. Here the table was laid with an assortment of glasses and all the other required trappings. Our First Mate, who surely had enough to do managing the rest of the crew, each night took it upon herself to serve us and ensure we enjoyed our mealtime together. She did a sterling job night after night. Other crew members acted as go betweens from the cook in the gallery through the diner to hand over food and condiments to the First Mate, a process which went smoothly and speedily every night. To support our main course meal, a bottle of Tasmanian red and a white wine were opened for our consumption. On one occasion, at the end of a meal a tiny port in a tiny glass was poured for each of us; of course we smirked when some didn’t want theirs allowing another to imbibe a second.

The questions which dogged me throughout the voyage are, why when I say I will be happy with a heaped plate of a small or large variety of vegetables/plant matter every night that have been boiled/steamed or baked with a helping of seafood added on the side occasionally, is it almost impossible for people to believe I will be happy with this? And why is it when I advise to leave my food unadulterated and not make clever sauces or desserts or cakes  or otherwise try and break the apparent monotony of my declared wish, people who prepare food for me think they can improve on what I choose to eat, that they can devise something I will enjoy more? This is a weakness not only on the ship but also amongst friends. I wonder if a PhD research project might not investigate the psychology of why simplicity in food seemingly cannot be considered sufficient in a public or group setting.

Despite this ‘weakness’, meal times were always interesting and a great deal of fun, and loved every moment.

I will always remember the companionable comradery of these occasions. Most particularly I will recall the laughter and sheer happiness of these gatherings; Ralph captured such a moment so well in the following photo.

I am particularly grateful for the following photo of all passengers, taken on Ralphs’s camera.

After dinner we suited up in wet weather gear as a protection from the expected cold winds (not a cloud in the sky) and moved out to sit around the aft deck while the crew prepared to depart. Sitting around we watched the first lights come from the moon and our closest planets; Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

Over time, the sky filled with sparkling whites until it seemed as if a floral carpet was laid above in recognition of the native flower carpets we had encountered on our walks and climbs. Breathtaking speckled blackness, with no land light to diminish their brightness.

As our ship motored from the Channel, via the south passage, and travelled out into Port Davey we felt the swell rising. Not long after passing Big Caroline rock we edged out into the open sea. The swell was travelling from the west with a strong wind was blowing from the east. As we turned south we were now travelling over those irregular peaks and troughs so you can understand why things might become bumpy or, using the Captain’s word, lumpy. Next morning the Captain said the waves probably only reached two metres. Nevertheless because of the swell and the wind, the ship jerked around unpredictably. Of course, while on deck that night we were attached to the ship by harnesses to prevent accidents such as going overboard. Even then I felt I needed to hang on as we bucked and swayed. Gradually the others went to bed while I wondered if I could stay up until we turned east to motor along the south coast of Tasmania. The temperature was cooling and the wind was strong so I revised my hope; I would stay out until we had passed the various islands positioned off the coast not far south from Port Davey.

In the end and after feeling great peace with the skies and the seas and all my experiences, I struggled back inside. It was a challenge to stand and I grabbed at structures to keep upright. After plonking down in the diner to remove my harness, it defeated me and my agitation rose with each buckling of the sea. Independent me who prefers not to ask for help, gave in. Thankfully the Captain struggled with releasing the clip as well; something had locked itself incorrectly or twisted or some such, and I felt grateful for her help.

The next challenge was to lift my legs over the step over at the top of the stairs without falling backwards or down the stairs with each dramatic jerk of the ship. Down the ladder in one piece. Attempting to rehang my harness others were accidentally clipped and fell off, trying again and again while working hard to keep my balance. Eventually all were hooked appropriately and I grabbed my way to the cabin.

After climbing onto the bed and holding on, I felt like I would vomit. Fortunately seasickness is not my norm so I was surprised. However I think the agitation I felt upstairs combined with the constant, what seemed like extreme, movement set something off. If I climbed down from my bed I feared I would break a leg, so I grabbed a dry storage bag, held it to my mouth and waited. I had a sense of giving myself permission to be sick however disgusting. And then, with that permission, I wasn’t. So I tied the protective lead red cloth firmly and lay down no longer expecting to vomit. I didn’t fall asleep immediately and lay feeling the intensity of the rock and roll, and sometimes holding onto the bed above so that I remained on my bed. I couldn’t sleep on my side because the rolling of the ship slapped me onto my back in the horizontal position. “It occurred to me this was a beautiful fine night, no storm, no serious wind or breeze. This was the simple swell of a normal ocean.” Sometime later I fell asleep despite these bounding seas, but woke when the feeling of the waves changed.  We had turned east and the water was less choppy, and the ship threw itself less. Calmly I drifted off and woke next morning ready for our last day. Ready to find and collect all my possessions that had moved radically through the night into crevices that I could never have imagined in a tiny cabin.

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A trip to South West Tasmania- leaving Bathurst Harbour-22 of 26

Late afternoon when the two zodiacs returned and were hoisted onto deck, the anchor was weighed (demudded at length), and we set off on a leisurely cruise around parts of Bathurst Harbour.  The end of day sun shone to sharpen the contours of the rocks and mountains nearby, features which Rob’s photo below captured.

I was in awe and clicked away. This brief cruise reinforced my idea of the large scale of the Harbour.

Ralph’s photos below shows some key crew members who made our voyage successful.

A platter of nibbles with biscuits and cheese was brought onto deck. Ralph recorded the following photo.

Then there was the ‘seagull’ which amused us all; his job was to be on Watch and support the helmsman but when he had a speedy moment, his hands swooped for a quick pick up before the First Mate or Captain spotted the activity, and then he had ‘flown’ back to his job. We had all felt greatly supported by this crew member and laughed at his forays to our platter, and were more than happy to share.

The Captain was keen to get going before dark because of a section known as The Narrows – the point where bushwalkers take a boat across the Channel between the north and the south when walking the Port Davey Track which connects with Lake Pedder in the north.

Finally we entered the Bathurst Channel for the last time with Mt Rugby on our right.

A flight of swans farewelled us; see Ralph’s photo below.

Hanging over us was a degree of sadness at departure; the end of our voyage and adventure was imminent.  We motored along the Channel towards Schooner Cove, passing a pod of dolphins near The Narrows, in “the late afternoon sun across endless mountains and hills highlighting beaches, rocky outcrops and endless tiny plump islands.”

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A trip to South West Tasmania – a day of waiting-21 of 26

The decision had been made that our injured passenger, with the supposed strained/sprained ankle, must fly back to Hobart because she was not sufficiently stable to endure whatever rough seas the home voyage might throw at us. Definitely the best idea considering what followed overnight. Preparations were made.

Her Par Avion flight was due to fly out at 10am so two zodiacs left to transport her to Melaleuca around 8am (regulations insist that if one zodiac is going out of sight then two must go – this meant there were no spares for us to use to leave the ship). Ralph’s photos show the final departure from our ship and our company. “Our tiny ‘family’ has shrunk.”

Eventually they were gone from sight, but with our best wishes and hopes for a beautiful flight.

However no-one believed that a plane could arrive from Hobart because of the extensive cloud cover descending deeply down on the surrounding mountains, the sort which would prevent an aircraft reaching Melaleuca. And so it was.

The plane left Hobart but couldn’t get through and turned back. A new time of a 1pm departure was set. That flight was aborted also. Eventually a plane was able to arrive and our fellow passenger and husband, minus their luggage which was more than the full plane could take, departed after 3 in the afternoon. We were relieved for them. If waiting on the ship ever became tedious then waiting at a tiny airstrip without any sort of amusement and a bung leg would have been excruciatingly tedious. I am sure it required great presence of mind to live through. Later I learnt that clear skies on the trip back to Hobart presented them with sensational views of the country below; they loved the experience of their return flight. A day later we learnt her leg broken so I am glad she flew and didn’t return by ship– more about that last voyage in a subsequent blog post.

During the day, Ralph recorded the Captain having something to say. Look over her shoulder. We all stared.

The cloud across distant mountains was reminiscent of a draped skein of a cotton wool. We took lots of photos and gaped, none of us ever having seen such a spectacle.

Those waiting for hours at the airstrip and those waiting on the ship had been at the mercy of the south west Tasmanian weather, none of which anyone had control over. I didn’t and I doubt anyone else thought to resent this wait. We all knew that any one of us could have had an accident in this wilderness location, and we would have wanted a similar care and concern. This free time gave me the opportunity for catching up on writing new notes in my journal, playing and inventing card games with the crew, bantering and laughing with the others, completing Sudoku puzzles and reading. “Live in the moment, I counselled myself. Ah for a shot or two of an alcoholic beverage! Being on a ship is a reminder to be patient, to be accepting of change, to really appreciate the consequences of weather and its effect on a ship’s ability/capacity to move appropriately for the greatest comfort and safety of passengers. Of course, if you are the Captain or First Mate there is much to think about, make decisions on, manage the actions of others – those are jobs of contrived awareness and perpetual activity even though conducted physically in slow ways. Slow does not mean sloth. Speedy movements on this ship would lead to accidents. Sharp jerky movements would endanger. Slow, careful, measured, alert are the desirable characteristics. Regular patterns of behaviour create habits, and the familiarity keeps us all safe. I realise that I am a darter, moving speedily from here to there in an instant, immediacy being my love. I curbed that style…

Ralph’s photo, with Mt Rugby in the distance, is an example of how relaxed we became.

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A trip to South West Tasmania – back to Bathurst Harbour-20 of 26

From Bramble Cove we motored along the Bathurst Channel to Bathurst Harbour. I focused my attention on the clouds for most of the trip. White drama against the blue. Grey brooding over a silver sea.

When we returned to Bathurst Harbour, the Celery Top Islands were back by our side. These islands had been familiar territory for days and this was our last night so I felt compelled to absorb the view. The immensity of the sky overwhelmed the slips of land on the water.

I gave Mt Beattie on the skyline above Claytons Corner one last evening glance, and watched a pocket of sunshine pass over its flanks.

Edging the Bathurst Channel and Bathurst Harbour, Mt Rugby loomed high and presented mysteriously with a slight veil of wispy cloud masking its head.

And then I focused on the colour of the water, and looked south knowing that Melaleuca Inlet was nearby just beyond the land.

I began to take stock of the experiences at the end of Day 6. My experience had been of three days without leaving the ship and three days when visits on land had begun to open up the world of the south west of Tasmania. As much as I wanted more and never to leave, at the end of 6 days I was ready for time-out to remember, digest, organise my thoughts, and write down the details of my experience and the feelings that arose.

I particularly liked the fact that no sign of humans or their machinations or history was evident while we anchored in the Harbour. This absence was true for pockets of our landings as well. The geographical and physical space provided an escape from the visual noise which humans are want to make. Friends have marvelled about my coping with the tiny spaces of being on a small sailing ship with nineteen other people. However I never felt cramped and believe this is because I could always look out from the ship, and look out for long distances with an expansive sky above. There in front, below and above, expanded all the space I needed.

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