Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snaps of Tasmania

Ann Bay, NW Tasmania
Yes, Tasmania has a dark past, but having now seen quite a bit more of it, I have to tell you it is a wonderfully beautiful place. 

I took a tourist day cruise 14km up the Arthur River on the west coast, and looked at trees that are hundreds of years old in bush that has never been logged. We were told, and it was easy to believe that if the Tasmanian Tiger had survived, this is where it would be found. It was wonderful to imagine that maybe some were still there, hiding and watching. We were also told that if the locals ever saw one they would keep quiet about it because once the news got out, the "greenies" would see to it that plans presently being developed to expand logging in that area would be stopped. The "greenies"  were hated by lots of people out there, the fishermen and loggers whose livelihoods depended on being able to carry on chopping down the trees and catch whatever they could along the wild and desolate coast. 
Arthur River
I had planned to continue down that west coast along a back road through the forest, but there had been a slip, the road was blocked and I was turned back. I decided instead to go to the far southeast of the island, passing through Hobart to the Huon Valley, and the Kermandie Motel.

In the northwest the land is rather flat and the coasts wild and the beaches long and sweeping. By contrast, in the southeast, the coast is highly indented and tortuous with hundred of little bays and headlands, islands and small harbours. The land is hilly, even mountainous in places, with dense forest descending down to the long valleys of farms and cottage industries that sell raw wool and fresh home grown  vegetables, apples, cherries, jam, wild honey, and vegetables. The coffee shops are great, there are art and craft galleries everywhere, and you can stay in upmarket Hotels, B&Bs, cheap motels or set up tents in numerous campsites on secluded bays and bush sites. 

Across the road from my motel was a small marina. Fortunately the security gate was ajar when I went down at 6.30 on my first morning there, and it was such a pleasure to wander about in the still quiet morning air and admire the many beautiful yachts there. Later I took the car ferry to Bruny Island and then went for a wild ride in a high powered commercial speedboat. We went  out into a rough ocean with 30 knot southerly blowing onto the cliffs and saw seals and blowholes and a few albatross, as well as massive dolomite cliffs .

A bay in the far SE of Tasmania
Lastly I visited the extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart. It was built and paid for from the gambling winnings of a maths genius who worked a system to beat the odds at race tracks and casinos round the world! Its set on a low headland jutting out into the harbour, and has a nice restaurant, open grassy area in front of a stage, and lots of space.Inside, the art is mostly New art - but there are Egyptian Mummies there! -  all housed in a modern maze-like building thats mostly underground, dark and cool. Its a place that should really be visited  numerous times - theres much too much to see and take in at a single visit.
The Entrance to MONA with a real tennis court beside it

And then I came back to work. The Road Trip had been a great success.

Friday, January 24, 2014

History Tour

The Windfarm at Woolnorth. NE Tasmania
(The white things in the distance are huge rolls of Hay, not sheep)
I am having a week off for a road trip around Tasmania, an island which according to our Guide on the Arthur River Cruise ( more later ), was originally one big Prison - colonisation of Tasmania began with the establishment of a convict settlement at Port Arthur not long after the first one was established in Sydney, in 1788. Yesterday, overlooking a huge lake in the centre of the island I saw a single grave, a monument to an explorer Pioneer described on his tomb as the "first person" to set eyes on the lake.

Except that there was an Indigenous population here for millennia, ignored by the people who thought they would use the island as "one big prison" and by the Explorer who stupidly believed he was the first "Person" to see the lake.

On the first day of my trip I went to the extreme north western tip of the Island where there is a huge wind farm that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, it can only be visited by Tour groups, and none was running the two days I was in the area, but I drove out there anyway and saw from a distance about 50 of them lined along the cliff tops facing into the roaring 40"s. A notice at the locked gate gave the history of the property they were on, called "Woolnorth", founded in 1829

"Its the kind of place that would defeat most people and yet its here, at Woolnorth Station that one of Australia's oldest companies continues to work the land, turning the grey sands into milk and beef"

The West Coast looking north to the Wind Farm
They make it sound quite magnificent, as all colonial history is meant to sound in Australia, but one clue to another truth is in its name - the property was initially intended to be a sheep station - wool!  It didnt get off to a good start so two things were done to try and keep it afloat - displace the indigenous people from their ancestral homelands, and get rid of the animal that they thought was attacking the sheep, the Tasmanian Tiger.  

What a Beautiful creature 
An extraordinary animal, correctly known as a Thylacine, they disappeared from the mainland of Australia 3000 years ago. They are not a tiger or a wolf but a marsupial, like the kangaroo  the koala and the possum, animals which are almost unique to Australia, and are distinguished by the fact that they give birth to their young at a very early stage of development and then keep them in a pouch, attached to a nipple until they are big enough to live independently. 

But in spite of these measures the business venture was a failure and eventually Woolnorth gave up on sheep. 

And the Tigers?  A bounty was paid for their hides, and inevitably they were hunted to extinction, the last lonely one dying in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Click here  to see a sad You Tube video of the only known film of a live one. 

And the indigenous people? They were all "deported" to an offshore island (Flinders) and most died of European diseases there.

What a horrible but all too typical story of how indigenous culture and the environment so often are ruined by Capitalist Exploitation. And in a few days its Australia Day, also called Invasion Day by Indigenous activists, but they will get little if any coverage of their feelings about the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 and of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of Convicts on 26th January 1788. Instead it will be wall to wall Flag waving, boozing and a a day off to celebrate.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Eight Thousand Seven Hundred

A Japanese Twister
When I came back from Ethiopia the first time I was 8 kg lighter than when I went three months before.   I was quite pleased to have lost that weight but was amazed at how quickly I regained it all.  I lost a couple when I was in South Sudan last year but again, quickly regained that when I got back - and then some!  My cholesterol and my Blood pressure were borderline when checked, so I have been taking a bit of notice of my weight and my diet over recent months, stimulated also by the attention in the Press to the "Obesity Epidemic" that is overwhelming the west.

I am sure the main cause  of this epidemic is not our sedentary lifestyles, though they are part of the problem,  but the sheer volume of food we eat. Simply put, we eat much more than we need to, and our bodies store the excess kilojoules of energy as fat. We are encouraged to do this by a constant barrage of advertisements for food and drink,  the endless parade of cooking shows and competitions on TV, the Takeaway food industry and the proliferation of "Convenience" foods. Even take-away coffee is served in a huge cup unless you ask for a "small" one - which used to be the standard size. And why is it that people cant watch a movie unless they have a massive bucket full of buttercoated popCorn, a litre of Coke and an ice-cream?

All I actually wanted to write about this time was an advertisement seen dozens of time by anyone watching the test Cricket on TV last week, for a KFC product called a "Twister". Its promoted as a fun tasty snack. I wondered how much of an adults daily recommended energy intake would be supplied by one of these things - so I looked it up.

Now, you need to know one thing, and this is your fact for the week - the average daily energy intake for an adult, is 8700kj (kilojoules) - if you only ate at three meal times that would be 2900kj per meal.
But remember, as we have an obesity epidemic on our hands this average is probably too high. And its much much too high for kids, the ones who are eating this stuff.

I predict that if you ask any one who has seen the Twister ad to guess how significant a contribution one of those would make to their daily energy requirement, they would answer "not much" and generally regard it as a minor food item you consume  to get through to the next proper meal if you're feeling a bit peckish. I haven't asked anyone so I might be wrong but thats my guess.
From a Blog that Compares what they advertise with what you get!
Well, if we are to believe the KFC website, a BLT Twister on its own supplies just over a quarter of your daily energy requirement (2273kj)  It costs $6.95 in Melbourne, but for three more dollars you can get a BLT Twister Combo ( chips and pepsi Max)  and 1000 more kilojoules : 37% of your daily requirement. The Large Combo ( just more chips and more Pepsi ) for two more dollars is 4453kj, just over HALF your daily energy needs! I noticed they also have an enormous amount of salt.

Who would  have guessed these numbers were so high?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Animals are wonderful

As you can see Angora rabbits are very cute fluffy little animals that apparently make good pets :

"People keep angora rabbits for breeding, showing and for their wool. Either way, they are quite docile creatures, very intelligent and make good pets as long as you are prepared to spend some time grooming them. As a result of all this grooming, angoras are used to human contact and react well to being around us."

Ive just followed a link from the NZ Herald website to a video that shows how their long fluffy wool is removed , so it can be made into beautiful soft garments that most of us can't afford.  I probably should have  included the link to the video because it is something many of us probably need to see :  horrifying and distressing cruelty, a naked demonstration of the bastardry and viciousness of human beings towards innocent and defenceless animals.  I couldn't watch all of it.  It is sickening and revolting and utterly appalling : the animal is tied to a board, and the wool ripped off in handfuls, like you would pluck a dead chook, revealing the angry red soft skin underneath, while the rabbit shrieks and cries out pitifully, struggling . And this is repeated every few months. The wool can be cut off but it is worth twice as much if "plucked" because the fibre is longer

Apalling cruelty - an image from the video 
And for the sake of what? Personal gain for the grower, luxury and pampering and prestige for the buyer. Is there no limit to the extent we are prepared to go in our need for comfort and status and glamour? How could anyone argue this is not abhorrent?

This video was made in China where 90% of Angora wool comes from. The article reported that several stores in the UK have now refused to sell Angora products, and one has even offered a full refund for any that are returned. I hope more shops follow their lead, but such is the nature of human greed that I doubt this monstrous practice will disappear until its outlawed.