On the other side of the world
11 April - 9 May 2012
Monday 23 April
Taking the train from Newcastle station
The day opened with grey skies & light rain, weather that would accompany me all the way to Sydney. After my (by now) regular morning cup of Annie's excellent coffee I finished up my packing and we set off for the station. My Anxious Traveller personality was back to the forefront and it took a conscious effort to relax & enjoy an final short tour of the city & seafront, trusting that Annie would get me to my train on time. Which, of course, she did with time to spare. I bought my ticket, hauled my case up onto the upper level of one of the double-decker carriages and settled back to enjoy the views.
I'd travelled & arrived in darkness on Friday so had no real picture of what I might see on the journey. After making our way (surprisingly slowly) out of Newcastle & the surrounding suburbs we entered tall, wild-looking forest and as we went further the hills rose around us and the track wove between sharp peaks and steep valleys. We passed coastline & rivers, skirting the edges, crossing on varied bridges & causeways and then heading back inland through sudden tunnels. Sadly the rain left drops & rivulets down the outside of the windows which blurred my photos too much to be of use.
The persistent drizzle lent a very different look to the countryside, the blueish-grey light coming through the overcast sky tended to mute the brick and paintwork of the houses and emphasise the infinite range of greens of the trees, shrubs and other flora. The land had the look of rainforest, verdant & lush, sprouting up from any available scrap of soil. I'd seen a little of this in southern Tasmania on one of my previous visits but this was my first experience of a wet landscape on the mainland.
Watching my bag being loaded, Sydney airport
Arriving at Sydney airport (the domestic terminal) I found an almost deserted concourse with a smattering of travellers lost amongst the rows of machines. By now I'd gotten used to automated check-in machines where, in exchange for my booking reference and promises that I had no deadly cargo concealed within my luggage, my boarding pass, luggage labels and receipts were printed for me. But this was the first time I'd encountered automatic bag drop machines that would take my case and whisk it away into the secret bowels of the airport, again in exchange for promises that there was nothing dubious within them. The first actual human being that I interacted with (in an official capacity) was at the x-ray machine, and he seemed to be operating on automatic too. It was all very impersonal and somehow disappointing - as if part of me wanted to be asked the same, inane questions and to be correspondingly irritated. Is there a ritual process involved with air travel that needs to be invoked before I/we can comfortably surrender to it? A curious question.
Once again I decided to eat on the ground and forego the airline food, and once again I chose a spicy noodle dish. As in Aukland I noticed that the oriental food outlets (this one was called Wok in the Air) were doing a roaring trade while the more western burger/grill/chips places were almost deserted. A sign of new cultural reference points? After eating I wandered round the touristy shops looking for keepsakes but found nothing of interest, although it was nice to see a good selection of stuff that was actually made in Australia.
The flight passed uneventfully and 90 minutes after taking off I was safely down again in Hobart. The quarantine dog didn't even give me a sniff as I passed into the arrivals hall, met up with Peter (the host for my Tasmanian stay), collected my bag and headed off for the car park.
It had been over ten years since I'd last visited Hobart but it all seemed familiar - the long, high bridge over the Derwent river, the harbour, the brick and stone buildings of the town centre (Hobart feels so much more like a town than a city, in a nice way), and the wandering road out through Sandy Bay and up & on to Taroona. When we pulled up outside Peter & Krista's house (all arriving together as Krista drove in just ahead of Peter & myself) it was like coming home again, the perfect way to end a day's travelling. After settling in, enjoying a splendid fish supper and a goodly quantity of chat, my energy started to flag and it was time, once again, for an early night.
On the platform at Sydney
The view from Peter & Krista's house
Tuesday 24 April
The weather forecast was for heavy rain but the day opened bright, clear & sunny so we threw caution to the wind, loaded up the car with lunchtime goodies and headed north along the banks of the Derwent. Our objective - Mount Field National Park.
As we drove out of Hobart the houses thinned out although the land remained gently rolling. The towns dwindled into villages and housing developments became farmland, mostly for livestock rather than crops although we did pass through an extensive area of hop frames, bare & stripped in these autumn days. The road began to rise and the woodland to thicken around us as we approached the loftier hills ahead.
Once at the park we headed off on foot. The humidity rose and the temperature fell as we entered the rainforest, following the path through tall ferns as giant, arrow-straight gum trees rose majestically into the canopy far above. There was a cathedral-like hush with just an occasional bird cry off in the distance but as we walked further into the trees I began to hear the rush of falling water, slowly growing in volume.
This turned out to be Russell Falls, a multiple-level cascade of water crashing down through a gap in the forest. It was quite a thing to experience - not just the visual spectacle but the thundering roar, it was as if you could feel the impact of the water onto the rocks below. And all of this through the thick, wet air - part mist, part spray, part rain.
Faced with this wonderful scene I was inspired to start investigating the options & capabilities of my camera. Since switching from film to digital several years ago I'd been generally happy to leave my camera set on AUTO and just snap away, letting it take care of the metering & exposure as it saw fit. I'd had a quick look through the various menus when I'd bought it but had found myself soon lost in the dozens of possible settings, and over time I'd been generally content with it as a point & shoot device.
But not today. I began exploring the other modes and found that 'in action' they made a lot more sense, and after a while I was merrily switching between them, tweaking the settings and snapping away. It even brought back some of my dormant photographic skills as I rediscovered exposure levels, depth of field and other arcane ways of playing with light. A lot of the results turned out to be 'interesting' but enough of the rest were good enough for me to feel happy with the return of this Lost Art.
From the base of the falls we took the winding path up to their top and continued upriver to the smaller Horseshoe Falls. These, although less dramatic than the great cascade below them, were just as beautiful, set in moss covered rocks and with richly green ferns spreading around them and tall trees overhead, filtering the light to a gentle green glow.
Returning to the car we drove a short distance to the picnic area, deserted at this point in the season. Peter & Krista set about their bushwork and had soon collected a small pile of light kindling which, after producing clouds of thick smoke, consented to burn. The billy can was filled & placed on top for our tea and we tucked into a splendid packed lunch, watched over by a small group of currawongs, keen to see if we would be leaving anything behind. These black, crow-like birds had piercing yellow eyes and powerful, strong beaks, they looked like they meant business and seemed disappointed by the thin pickings we left behind.
Being interviewed on Hobart FM
After lunch we took the Tall Trees walk through the park. This certainly lived up to its name with giant swamp gums rising 70m and higher into the sky, their tops almost impossible to make out through the leafy cover up above. Equally fascinating was the huge variety of fungi down at ground level, allsorts of colours & shapes slowly eating their way through the trees. The hush of the earlier forest was replaced here by loud, raucous cries from above - I guessed dinosaurs but they were apparently white cockatoos.
In the evening I had a new experience ahead of me, being interviewed live on local radio (Hobart FM - The Sound Of The City). Peter drove me into town, through town, and out the other side, crossing the bay and eventually ending up at a medium-sized building in the suburbs. We climbed a set of outside stairs and found the studio perched on top, a small cluster of rooms with a professional but casually funky feel. Betty, the presenter of the folk music show I'd be appearing on, met us at the door, led us in and helped us settle down - an impressive achievement as she was in the middle of her show by this time and seemed to be the only person in the studio, there was no engineer or other support person around.
Betty & I had a quick chat about what questions she'd be asking and which tracks would be most appropriate to play (with short breaks while she lined up music or made announcements), then I put on my headphones, had a quick lesson in microphone placement ("Keep close to it") and we were away. I'd worked with PA systems in the past so wasn't too phased by using a mic but it was a bit daunting to imagine my voice spreading through the æther, even if it was just that of the greater Hobart area.
Luckily Betty was an excellent interviewer, quickly putting me at ease and encouraging me to chat away without letting me ramble on too much. We talked about dancing, music, ethnic instruments and the ritual aspects of community dance and managed to plug my upcoming workshops while doing so. There was lots of fun & laughter and the time flowed quickly by, so much so that before I knew it she was wrapping up the interview and moving on to the rest of her show. As we drove back, listening to the rest of Betty's programme, it was as if it had all passed in an instant. I could get a taste for this radio lark.
Mount Field National Park
The primeval forest
Getting the billy going
Peter and a Tall Tree
Wednesday 25 April
Peter & Krista on Goats Bay beach
Wednesday broke greyer and colder than Tuesday so we decided to head south. Once I'd remembered that south is the cold direction in this hemisphere I wrapped up in jumper and coat but to be honest it still felt pretty nice to me.
Today's first destination was South Arm, just a few kilometers across the Derwent estuary but a long way round by land. As we drove around to reach the other side of the river the clouds kept coming & going, letting the sun shine through for a few minutes then cutting it off with thick grey billows. As we came into Hobart city centre the traffic suddenly multiplied and ground almost to a halt, explained as we spotted the pipes & drums leading the ANZAC Day parade. An adroit change of direction, skirting the middle of town, enabled us to keep moving and to rejoin our original route over the Tasman Bridge and away to the East.
As we passed from town to countryside there were more and more signs of horse riding centres & activities (although no actual riders, too late in the season for that). The houses we passed retreated from the roadside until eventually they appeared as just a mailbox or nameplate with a driveway winding off into the bush.
At South Arm we took a dirt track off of the road and parked by Goats Bay/Beach/Bluff (there was no consensus about the name). As we took to the sand the sun retreated and the wind, straight from the Antarctic (or so it felt), came in hard & strong. Despite this it managed to feel bracing & refreshing rather than an ordeal to be endured and we set off strolling along the soft sand.
Amongst the clumps of washed-up kelp we discovered a strange (but sadly dead) creature, a seadragon. I'd never seen (or even heard of) these before and was entranced by the sight - it really did look like a dragon, both in its sinuous shape and bright colours. A nice reminder that there really are more things in the world than you'd ever imagine.
The washed up Seadragon
(Later research confirmed it as a Weedy Seadragon (really!), found only in southern Australia.)
From Goats Bay we continued around the curved tip of South Arm to the very sheltered settlement of Opossum Bay, nestled within the wide estuary of the river Derwent. In contrast to the wind-lashed Goats Bay, facing out towards the ominously named Storm Bay, this was an oasis of calm and we arrived to find it bathed in sunshine. Descending to the beach we strolled along, contrasting the local summery conditions with the dark clouds amassed across the river, shrouding the upper reaches of Mount Wellington.
The varied buildings along the beach provided a visual potted history of the town, with basic (but often brightly painted) sheds and huts mixed in among larger and more grandiose buildings of more recent construction. There were a few prominent FOR SALE signs but overall it felt like an area that was moving from humble beginnings to a more upmarket ambience. I imagine there'll be a cappuccino bar the next time I visit.
On our way back home we called in to visit Tirriki, Peter & Krista's daughter. We arrived to find a major construction project underway with rocks scavenged from the surrounding paddock being cemented together to form a dramatic water feature. The work was being done as a fully inclusive family (& friends) project, the adults arranging and cementing, the older children collecting stones, the younger ones playing & filling the air with childish laughter. Or something like that. Anyway, things were going well and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Which was nice.
From Tirriki's we came home via the superbly provisioned Salamanca Fruit Market where we stocked up on produce for the evening's supper. Which was dutifully eaten, with great relish.
Peter photographing the surf, Goats Bay
Grey skies over Goats Bay
A tasteful residence on the shore of Opossum Bay
A shoe tree at Oppossum Bay
The view from Tirriki's house
Thursday 26 April
Eastern side of the Neck, Bruny Island
Today's adventure demanded an earlier start - we were off to Bruny Island and intended to catch the 9:30 ferry. Luckily this only meant an 8:45 departure so breakfast & packing were still somewhat leisurely and by 8:46 we were in the car and on the road.
Our drive took us south, passing through the delightfully named town of Snug and on to Kettering, home port of the ferry to Bruny Island. The ferry was a simple drive on/drive off type and the waiting cars & vans were swiftly & efficiently slotted into place before we set off, bang on time. We crossed the D'Entrecasteaux Channel (named after Bruni D'Entrecasteaux who explored the area in 1792 - how's that for historical research?) in about 15 minutes and were soon heading south on Bruny Island itself, at an easy pace as we were the last car off the ferry and there was only one road to take.
The weather was decidedly changeable with sunny patches, drizzly rain between them and, as a consequence, quite a few rainbows (although only ever one at a time). I'd been warned that the southern half of the island (where we were headed) was the wetter one so I was bracing myself for more 'bracing' weather but as the day progressed the rain dried up and although the cloud cover came & went things stayed (mostly) bright and (generally) warm and my jacket remained inside my daypack.
The island is (in a very abstract way) shaped like an hourglass with a thin 'neck' joining the two lobes. I was expecting this to be a low causeway of sand but it turned out to be quite substantial with some very tall dunes, one of which had a long, straight staircase leading up it to a viewing platform on the top. The views from up here were spectacular - the beaches either side of the neck, the southern half of the island, appearing out of the clouds & mist, and the other islands (including Tasmania itself) further off in the distance.
The neck is a game reserve for Little Penguins (also known as Fairy Penguins, which is rather cute) and evidence of their burrows could be seen quite high up on the dune. It seemed odd that a flightless bird should nest somewhere so far from the water but maybe they like the views from up there. There were no penguins in evidence but apparently they are only out & about at dusk.
The hollow of stacked stones, Bruny Island
After a refreshing cuppa at the appropriately named Penguin Café we parked near the start of our main walk, a circuit from Adventure Bay to Grass Point and up to Fluted Cape. Starting off on the dark sand at the south end of Adventure Bay we climbed up to a walkway through the trees, paralleling he shoreline and rising & falling with the contours of the land.
At a point where the path dipped down to the sea we came across a little hollow filled with stacks of stones. It seemed like every flat surface had its own little tapering column of sea-smoothed pebbles, from the waterline up to the edge of the forest and even along the limbs of a skeletal tree lying on the beach. It was an intriguing and totally unexpected artwork and after spending a while trying to capture it on camera I found myself observing in the hushed reverence of being in an art gallery. (Later research revealed that this community sculpture has been slowly built up by locals and contributed to by visitors, a tradition that we dutifully observed.)
Reaching Grassy Point we saw a sea eagle soaring over Penguin Island (but again no penguins) before turning to follow the path steeply uphill. As we rose above the sea we were treated to some spectacular views, both of the crashing waves on the shoreline far below and of the dark land masses on the distant horizon. The climb was stiff at times but the path was well maintained and clearly marked and we met a few people travelling in the opposite direction, confirming that we we on the right track.
At one point we crested a rise to reveal a much higher peak rising above it. I jokingly shared my relief that we weren't going to have to walk to the top of that one, only to find myself working my way up it a while later. This turned out to be Fluted Cape itself, 272m high (and it felt like it) with steep cliffs plunging down to the sea below. From here we took a gentler inland path back, weaving through the trees and slowly descending to our starting point on Adventure Bay. After a well-deserved coffee & snack break in the Bruny Island Berry Farm (where we sampled some delicious Taziberries) we drove back to the ferry and from there back home.
Thursday night is circle dancing night in Hobart so after rest & supper we were back in the car and on our way to the hall. In theory part of the reason for me going along was to check out the hall (where I'll be teaching on the weekend) and the sound system but in practice it was an opportunity for me to be just a dancer, to let other people decide which dances to do and just follow their steps. I was kept on my toes (if you pardon the expression) as I only recognised two of the evening's dances but even so it was a predominantly relaxing & easy evening. Excellent preparation for the weekend of dance to come!
Adventure Bay, Bruny Island
Gum trees, Bruny Island
The long stairway, the Neck, Bruny Island
Fluted Cape, Bruny Island
View from Fluted Cape, Bruny Island
Friday 27 April
With the weekend fast approaching it was time to do some preparation work. I'd been mulling over ideas for my two workshops but hadn't yet done anything about the Saturday evening live music session, a monthly event run by the Folk Federation of Tasmania at which Xenos would be playing and I would be the special guest teacher. So after another leisurely breakfast I set off to walk across Taroona and meet up with Anne & Rob.
Taroona, a southern suburb of Hobart, lies on the slopes between the Derwent estuary and "the forested foothills of Mount Nelson" so as I walked along I was treated to views of the wide, smooth river on my left and steep, wooded slopes on my right, both sides dotted with (to my eyes) relatively modern looking houses. The road was quite quiet with as many lycra-clad cyclists as cars while the river had a scattering of dinghies & yachts with larger commercial vessels coming & going in the middle of the channel.
Arriving at Chez Xenos I spent a good while just catching up with Anne & Rob. It had been over ten years since I'd met up with them in person (as with most of my Australian friends) and although we'd been in fairly regular email contact since then it's not the same. News was exchanged, lifestyle changes commented upon, old pictures dug out (in digital form, of course) and a satisfying amount of lunch was partaken of before we moved on the the Serious Business of looking at a set list for the gig on Saturday.
As a British-based circle dance teacher I don't get that much opportunity to teach (or even dance) with live music and when I am working with musicians it's usually a case of looking through their repertoire and choosing from within it. So it's quite a change around to work with a band who start off asking what I'd like to do, with the (usually accurate) assumption that they'll know a tune that will go with any dance I come up with. And a bit scary too - sometimes limited choice makes it much easier to narrow down a evening's worth of dances. Faced with a daunting blank sheet we ended up looking at the set list from the last Folk Federation evening that they'd played at and used it as a prompt sheet to come up with ideas & suggestions.
The set list provided another surprise - thirteen dances in the first half of the evening and around the same number in the second. I'd not enquired too closely into the format of the event (especially when I'd been repeatedly assured that it would all be easy & casual) and had imagined it would be a couple of hours with maybe six or seven dances in each half. Turns out the evening normally kicks off at 7:30 and carries on until around 11:30 with just a single break halfway through for tea & nibbles. Oh well, sometimes you have to just go with the flow. I can normally keep going for lengthy dance sessions (in fact I was notorious for it with my Late Night Rom events) and I had a free morning on Sunday so I figured I'd manage one way or another.
After not too long we had assembled two lists, one with a (fairly) fixed set of tunes for the first half of the evening and another with a collection of 'possibles' that we could choose between for the second half. Apparently it was common for a lot of the dancers to leave during the break and so a more flexible approach was needed for the remaining, smaller group. We had enough tunes to carry on until the small hours (something we were all keen to avoid) and Anne was happy to teach the few I didn't know so it felt like we were well prepared.
Of course this was all on a theoretical level. A few pieces had been hummed to establish that we were talking about the same thing but generally we were working on the assumption that we had enough shared repertoire or experience to plan things on paper. Some rehearsal time would establish just how reliable an assumption that was...
We were joined by Alistair, a tall, thin, sometimes fiercely intense young man who would be playing accordion with the band. After greetings, introductions and settling in various instruments were unpacked, tuned & prepared and we began to work our way down the list (in the vaguest & least systematic way possible) to see how it would actually fit together.
It's such a joy to work with musicians who really know their stuff. In most cases we'd just go through something long enough to establish the tempo & feel so I could decide which dance would go with it but sometimes the band would go on for a while and I would wallow in the glorious sound. As the day wore on my contributions became fewer and fewer as the focus shifted towards the musical arrangements & interactions and eventually I found myself becoming more of a small, lucky audience at a very select performance. Good times.
After supper I realised that the combination of small, powerful cups of coffee and small, powerful glasses of clear, fierce (in a very nice way) rum was starting to get to me so I gathered my bits & bobs (including my copy of the all-important list) and made my farewells. A lift home was (repeatedly) offered but I felt that a walk home would be good for my system, which turned out to be the right decision. Arriving home I caught up with Peter & Krista and sorted out plans and schedules for the next day before retreating to my bed. A very full day of dance awaited me.
Saturday 28 April
Dancing at Hobart
Saturday was to be a full working day for me - my Balkan dance workshop in the afternoon then teaching for the monthly Folk Federation dance in the evening where there would be live music from Xenos. My original plan had been to pop into Hobart in the morning to visit Salamanca Market (an amazing collection of art & craft stalls) but in the cold light of morning it seemed like a much better idea to stay home and do some organising work. Just as well I did - the inevitable list of a million and one things to do before the workshop started soaked up the time and before I knew it we were in the car and on our way to the hall.
I'd danced in the hall on Thursday evening at the weekly Hobart circle dance evening so I didn't have to worry about what I'd find there. I've had some 'interesting' experiences in the past where I've arrived at a new hall to find a newly laid carpet, or freezing/roasting temperatures and an incomprehensible (or unlocatable) heating system, or birds flying around inside, or the only power socket two rooms away, or a variety of other challenges to be faced. No such trouble here - the hall was large, airy, and had ample seating and places for people to plonk their stuff.
The only potential problem was with the sound system. The group had tried out a new replacement system on Thursday evening and it had sounded slightly underpowered for the size of the room to me. I'd talked about this with Peter and he'd brought along their older system, it had been having problems with its CD player but as I was using my trusty iPod I didn't think this would be a problem. When I tried it out it worked fine but I could hear that the bare brick walls were echoing the sound back and making it a bit hard to pick out the rhythm at times. Still, it was loud enough and easy to operate so I figured all would be OK.
The workshop had been billed as "General Circle and Simple Balkan Dances" but I knew that several of the participants were quite experienced dancers so I wanted to give them something they could get their teeth (or at least their feet) into. When I'm planning a workshop I usually end up with a list of 'possibles' that I choose between depending on how the group is coping, for this one my list was about four times as long as would fit into the time available which was good in that I had lots of options but not so good in that I had a bit too much choice at times. But once we got underway things settled down, each dance seemed to lead to an obvious one to follow it and as I was repeating each one (and would repeat them all in the last hour) the time was quickly filled. I often fall into the trap of trying to cram too many dances into a session but this time I managed to curb my enthusiasm and we finished pretty much exactly on time.
There's no way out from one of my workshops!
As we went through the final set of repeats I was feeling a bit concerned with how the workshop had gone. I'd not managed to find a volume level & tone selection that had overcome the 'echoey walls' and a couple of the tracks had been quite difficult to hear clearly and to dance to. And I was still fretting about whether my dance selection had been quite right, there hadn't been many cases of people sitting dances out but quite a few of the participants had struggled with some of the rhythms & step combinations. But it all came well in the end, the group moved with smooth ease (and a dash of style) through the dances and there were lots of grins & contented smiles as we worked our way down the dance list. Very satisfying. I got lots of very positive & enthusiastic feedback afterwards so I suspect I was just worrying too much, not a first for me.
Between the end of the workshop and the start of the evening's dancing there was a two hour break to get some supper, which was more like 90 minutes after allowing for packing things away, clearing up and the inevitable chatting. Coming out of the hall the temperature had dropped sharply and there was drizzly rain in the air, I wrapped myself in jumper & jacket (I didn't think I'd need both of these in Australia!) as we drove into town to the little Thai restaurant where we'd decided to eat. The restaurant turned out to be upstairs (my legs registered every step on the way up) and was cosy & friendly, the food was excellent and arrived fairly quickly. There were some alarming thundery noises from outside as we ate but when we emerged the storm had passed, leaving just wet pavements and some light rain. We drove around the block and came to Wesley Hall, the venue for the dancing, at just about the time it was due to start.
I came in to find Anne & Rob all set up but waiting for Alistair who was nowhere to be found. A little, slightly nervous, discussion on what sort of repertoire was possible with just the two of them was getting started when the Wandering Accordionist turned up, all smiles and (almost) ready to go. A quick chat with Anne confirmed that we were sticking to the first half list that we'd drawn up on Friday, then Dave (the evening's organiser) pointedly suggested that it was time to get going and the music started.
The stage for the Xenos gig. Note - there's still no escape!
As Xenos played the introduction to the first tune I stood with my arms raised, expecting a dance line to form up beside me. But this was no polite, genteel affair - another person started dancing even though there was no rhythm yet to dance to, and other dancers moved to join her. By the time the music got going nearly everyone had joined her line, which was a shame as she was one beat out of sync with the musical phrasing. Still, I didn't want to start off giving the impression that I was just another Whinging Pom so I joined the line and carried on without making a fuss.
After the first dance I was properly introduced and, apart from one dance that I didn't know and that Anne led, I taught all the rest. It was a bit of a struggle at the start as I had to discover how long people needed to talk & unwind after a dance before attempting to get their attention for the next one, something that seems to differ with every dance group or event. I don't like shouting at people, ringing bells or making some other noise to regain the group's focus and it doesn't normally work very well to do it that way, more often than not it just pushes the noise level higher each time. I find there's usually a kind of 'lull' that occurs a few seconds after people start talking and if I speak then I can gently lead them back towards the teaching. Mostly.
The group was very mixed with experienced dancers & comparative beginners all looking for a good night out. An unusual element was a group of about ten youngsters in their late teens, not something I see in many dance groups nowadays. They were generally keen but suffered from not wanting to look like they were taking it too seriously in front of each other, so long as only two or three were in the circle they managed really well and seemed to be enjoying it.
A delightful and unexpected surprise was to see Anne's sister Lee among the crowd. She had been singing with Xenos when I first met them but had vanished from the scene soon after with no word of explanation. She joined the band on stage for a couple of songs and, after a slightly wobbly start, was providing a wonderful harmony voice alongside Anne's. We didn't get much of a chance to chat but it was great to see (and hear) her again.
The dancing went pretty well but I felt that with a bit more preparation it could have been much better. I hadn't really grasped what tempo some of the tunes would be played at (I was enjoying myself too much in the rehearsal when I should have been working) and some of the dances didn't quite match the feel of the music. People were enjoying themselves but they were having to work at the steps at times, a couple of different choices would have made the evening flow much more freely and encourage people in their confidence. All in all it went well but I ended the evening with a long list of Things I Could Do Better Next Time.
We danced from around 7:40 for about two hours, after which we had a break for drinks & nibbles. When we came back the group was much smaller (this is apparently common practice at this event) and the dancing became much more focussed & harmonious and (from my perspective at least) much more enjoyable. The live music continued until 11:30 and in that time we did some quite difficult & challenging dances, and did them very well. Dancing to live music isn't always an unqualified delight but when it works there's nothing like it (in a good way) and this was one of those times. I ended the evening with a broad grin and a joyous glow in my soul.
Peter & Krista had long departed by this time but Anne & Rob had managed to pack the car with an extra Andy-shaped gap amongst the instruments and drove me back home. I was teaching again the next day but that wasn't until the evening, I had time to relax and recharge before then.
Sunday 29 April
A nice place for Sunday brekkie
After nearly half a day of dancing & teaching (with a few breaks to eat) on Saturday it was time to recharge the batteries. Rather than breakfast at home we drove to Margate (yes, the British place names continue to amuse me) to dine at Brookfield, an old corrugated iron barn that has been restored & converted into a restaurant, café, music venue and generally funky place. While we were there we caught the end of a 24-hour piano marathon where people (of any level of ability) were invited to keep playing through an entire day. We heard a variety of show tunes, then some interesting chromatic ramblings, then some hits from the 60s while we were eating. The breakfast was excellent and it was a really nice place to just take some time.
On the way back we avoided the main road and meandered around some of the smaller places along the coast. There were great views of North Bruny Island and of the South Arm peninsula on the far side of the Derwent estuary. It was nice to take it slowly and to not think too far ahead, there was planning to do for the evening's workshop but lots of time to do it in.
This sounds like the build up to but suddenly it was time to go and there were a million things left undone but actually it worked out very nicely. I got home in the middle of the afternoon and had time to prepare a list of possible dances for the workshop, eat a light but ample supper, get myself (and my clothes, always importent to look good as a teacher) cleaned & tidied and was ready to set off well in advance. We arrived at the hall in good time and I was set up with time to spare.
Gently getting started with the dancing
My workshop had been billed as "Dances With Unusual Rhythms" which in some ways limited what I could present but this made it much easier to choose which dances to do. In the two hours I taught six dances which gave a brief taste of some of the 'lumpy' rhythms of the Balkans, none of them were particularly complex (in the sense of having lots of steps or parts) but they presented quite a daunting prospect to the participants who hadn't experienced these strange beats before - that is to say most of them. However I've been leading these sort of dances for many years now and (though I say it myself) I've gotten pretty good at introducing folk to the unknown pleasures of irregular dance beats. There were some wobbly moments early on but slowly people got a feel for how the rhythms are structured and before too long we were bopping along (in an uneven sense) very merrily.
It was very satisfying to see the group move on from their stuttering first steps (and I mean this very literally!) to really dancing in a smooth, controlled way to some very uneven & irregular rhythms. When I'm teaching I try (where possible) to use different pieces of music when repeating dances, this can seem like yet another challenge for the participants as they can't associate a particular piece with a specific dance but over time it can help them pick out the underlying rhythm and (hopefully) make them more confident about dancing to a previously unknown tune. That's the theory anyway, and I feel quietly confident that it does work in practice.
Another 'trick' of mine is to do different dances to the same piece of music. When I did it here I got a very common response - people said that the music sounded very different when doing the different dances. I find it fascinating how people react & respond to dancing and I like to encourage them to view the interplay between dancer and music as much more involved than just a simple one-way relationship, even when dancing to an unchanging recording.
At the end of the workshop I was instructed to stand in the middle of the circle while holding a candle, after which the group joined hands and did a dance around me as a Thank You gesture. It was a really nice way to end my teaching stint in Hobart and I playfully bounced around (although not jauntily enough to spill the candle wax) while I was bathed in blessings.
The view across to Bruny Island
Listening to teacher
Wild dancing in 7/8
Nibbles & drinks at the end of the evening
Monday 30 April
Today we were off to the other side of Tasmania, north to Launceston. I'd been invited to run a session to help a new group to get established and it was a nice opportunity to see another part of Australia. We breakfasted (relatively) early and were soon on our way out of Hobart on the Midland Highway, heading north.
The road led through the interior of Tasmania and as we rose higher above sea level the trees thinned out to reveal a very open terrain. Flocks of sheep appeared with increasing regularity and it was no surprise to hear that this was wool country. It felt very empty, we would go for miles with no towns, branching roads or any other interruption to the open road. A single track railway line parallelled our course for long stretches but this is apparently only used for freight, there's no passenger service.
There was some unexpected entertainment along the way. Every now and again we'd come across a topiary hedge in a strange shape - I saw a crocodile, what looked like a giant rabbit and several others that weren't recognisable but were definitely the product of creative clipping. Then there were a collection of silhouette sculptures - a settler family with their wagon, a group of thylacines (Tasmanian Tigers) and a highwayman robbing a horseman.
When we arrived in Launceston our first stop was at the City Park Radio studios where I was to be interviewed. This turned out to be a much more professional and businesslike affair than my appearance on Hobart FM, Ron (the host) fired a series of questions at me and kept things briskly moving between topics before thanking me and moving on to the next record. I definitely felt like I'd been 'processed', an impression that was reinforced when the next interviewee was shown in just as I was being shown out. It wasn't an unpleasant experience but it didn't have the warmth & friendliness that I'd felt with Betty in Hobart. On well, that's show business.
Teaching in Launceston
After a lunch of fish & chips (just a child's portion for me as I'd be teaching later) we had some free time so we wandered about Launceston town centre taking in the sights. It was a very nice looking city with lots of impressive and unexpectedly colourful buildings, most of them built in the early years of the 20th Century and in very good condition. As is usual in modern cities you needed to ignore the flash & tackiness of the ground floor shop displays to see the good stuff but once you kept your eyes pointing upwards there were some very handsome buildings to be seen.
Soon though it was time for the dancing and we made our way to the (very impressive) church hall in which it was to take part. Inside there was a bit of a surprise as a diagonal wall, painted in stylised graffiti, fenced off part of the floor but it still left ample room for dancing so was merely a visual distraction. I checked that my collection of connectors allowed my iPod to talk to the sound system, helped Julie (my host) roll up the carpet, put on a clean shirt and got ready to begin.
But there was one more thing to do. As I was coming back into the dance hall Julie led me over to two people sitting off to one side and introduced them as a reporter & photographer from the Launceston Examiner, here to do a little article on the dance session. With just a minute or so before we were due to start (I like to start on time & reward the punctual ones) I gave a one line description of what I hoped the workshop would provide and agreed that pictures could be taken if the group were OK with that. Then it was time to get going.
I'd been asked to do a more 'Findhorny' workshop in Launceston so I based the programme on the Experience Week dance sessions I used to run back in the Findhorn Foundation. This meant more emphasis on group experience, giving people suggestions on what a dance might symbolise or mean for them, and using simpler dances with less of a focus on steps & style. In some ways it's more work to lead a session like this where I have much more of an explicit holding & nurturing role but once the group starts to come together it gets much easier, there's a strong sense that the participants are moving in the same direction (even when physically this isn't quite happening) and sharing a journey together. This feeling can also come with more advanced or experienced groups but it's particularly strong when a circle of beginners begin to discover (or rediscover) the joy of dancing in a supportive & non-competitive way. Or even just a sense of belonging in a situation where they weren't expecting it. A very human need.
The workshop went really well. People were quite nervous and uncertain early on (especially when the press photographer started clicking away) but over the course of the two hours they started dancing with ease, confidence and maybe even a dash of style. I had a great time getting back into some of my less frequently taught dances and seeing them come to life again in the fresh enthusiasm of the group. The time flew by and it was a surprise to virtually everyone when I announced we were doing our last dance.
We finished just after 5pm and set off to drive back to Hobart rather than linger in Launceston. Our plan was to eat en route in Campbell Town but when we arrived there we found that the restaurant we were intending to patronise had just this week decided to close on a Monday. There was nowhere else open in the town so we pressed on, eventually arriving in Ross where a foursquare pub was the only option in town. I was apprehensive about eating at the Man O' Ross (yes, that's the real name!) as I've had some decidedly dubious experiences in rural Aussie pubs in the past but this one turned out to be rather nice. They had no problems coming up with gluten-free food for Krista and my Traditional Sri Lankan Curry, a very unexpected entry on an otherwise conventional menu, was delicious.
Arriving home well after dark we disturbed a mixed group of wallabies & rabbits who were munching away on the grass verge opposite Peer & Krista's house. Although they all fled as we got close they seemed somewhat half-hearted about it and some judicious braking was required to avoid hitting them, particularly the wallabies who lolloped away with no visible sense of urgency. I followed their example and lazily found my way to bed.
Colourful Launceston buildings
Post & tower
Dancing beside the graffiti wall
Tuesday 1 May
Colourful Hobart shopfronts
Today it was back to being on holiday with no teaching, radio interviews or any other work related items in my (virtual) diary. With Krista & Peter having things to do I took the opportunity to get out of their hair for a while and went into Hobart for some touristy wandering and (possibly) some retail therapy. The day looked grey and foreboding at the start but things gradually improved and I spent most of my time with jumper & jacket wadded up in my backpack.
Central Hobart is fairly compact and easy to get around on foot, the pavements are wide and the pedestrian crossings don't keep you waiting for very long. The ground rises quite sharply as you get further away from the central harbourside area so gravity acts as an unconscious homing device, if you're not specifically heading somewhere the tendency is to drift back to the center. On top of this the streets form a very regular grid pattern making it easy to keep your bearings. Wherever I went I always had a good idea of where I was.
There were a couple of items on my shopping list, nothing essential but things that I hoped would be easier to find in Australia than back in the UK. I'd seen the film Lantana during one of my earlier Aussie visits and although I couldn't really remember much about it I had the feeling that I'd enjoyed it so I was looking to see if I could pick it up on DVD, having failed to do so from home. A friendly tourist information person directed me into what seemed like an electronic hardware store but as I explored deeper into its subterranean depths I found the computer games section and beyond that the CDs & DVDs. A quick alphabetical search led me straight to the disk I wanted. Result! At this rate I'd be loaded down with purchases in no time.
Thompson waited lazily outside the shops. Apparently.
The other items I was searching for were both by Mark Seymour, former lead vocalist of the Australian band Hunters & Collectors. The first was a book, 13 Ton Theory, an autobiographical account of his times with the band. In each of the bookshops I visited there was the good news that whoever I spoke to instantly knew of the book (one of them proudly revealed that she owned a copy) but the bad news that they didn't have a copy and that it was out of print. Sigh! I worked my way around the bookshops and then worked around the secondhand bookshops but all to no avail. I still have one shop to try before I leave Hobart but after that it'll be down to eBay.
I was also looking for From Bondi To Bedlam, a live performance by Mark Seymour on DVD. This too turned into a fruitless search and the people I spoke to said it would be very hard to find. Sigh!! For some reason I assume that any foreign artist I like will be lauded & venerated in their home country and their most obscure works will be easily available from any high street store. Oh well, such is the path of the eclectic aesthete.
While wandering around chasing books & DVDs I (somehow) ended up in a bar that sold Tasmanian whisky (really!) and while waiting to try a sample I spotted a bottle of Benromach scotch for sale, my local distillery when I lived in Scotland. I'd never seen a bottle outside of Scotland before and this led to a discussion on the unlikeliness of circumstance with the barman (actually barwoman but both it and barperson are awkward words). I tried the local malt and found it very palatable, so much so that a bottle somehow ended up in my bag. Something to savour when I'm back in England.
MY experience in Launceston had taught me to look above the shopfronts and take in the fascias above them, and once again this revealed some delightful and very colourful buildings. In many ways these were grander & fancier than those in Launceston with a greater variety of colours, more intricate detailing and, especially in the more official buildings, some very grand stonework. Sadly the grey skies didn't bring out their glory in my photos, sorry about that.
On getting back home I found out that my Launceston workshop had made the local paper (click here to see the online version). It was only on page 9 and I was sharing the space with Man loses legal fight to keep his pet sheep but I figure every media personality has to start somewhere.
With all the work & activity of the past few days my blog had fallen long out of date so I took advantage of my lazy evening to catch up on it and the neglected emails in my inbox.
More colourful Hobart buildings
There are gargoyles up at the top!
Wednesday 2 May
Arriving at MONA
Wednesday dawned dark, cold and wet from the heavy overnight rain. With more damp & bleak weather forecast it seemed to be a good day for indoor activities so Peter & I drove to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art.
The drive took us a few miles out of Hobart, following the Derwent river upstream, and we entered MONA through a vineyard filled with yellowing and fallen autumn leaves. Inside there were a cluster of small office buildings and light industrial units, just what you might expect from a modern vineyard in fact, but also the first indication that there might be Art in the area - two converging concrete walls with a wrecked car caught between them. As the car park was tastefully laid out with low, plant-filled borders the plain walls were as incongruous here as a flower display would have been in a multi-storey car park. Did that make it more arty or less? As with a lot of modern art this sort of question kept popping up during my visit to the museum.
(And why was it a museum and not a gallery? Did this imply a more passive, accepting role for the visitor? Or was it just pretentious? And was that a bad thing? The questions just kept on coming.)
The entrance to the museum itself managed to be both discreet (most of it is underground and invisible from the outside) and brash (the entrance is in a mirrored wall) but once inside things took on a familiar form. We paid the entrance fee (well I did, Peter as a Tasmanian got in for free), left our bags in the cloakroom (I was confused when one of the staff pointed at my backpack and asked if I'd like like it cloaked which sounded like something out of Star Trek) and picked up our guide books. These 'books' turned out to be customised, touch-controlled iPods that could receive & display information about the art works we were close to. For each piece they could show a brief summary, give more details about the piece or the artist, play accompanying music (where applicable), show an essay inspired by the piece (the delightfully titled 'Art Wank'), or something totally off the wall. You could indicate whether you liked or hated the work (there are no other options in Art, apparently), keep track of what you'd seen (it would even remember this for future visits) and probably did all sorts of other clever things that I never discovered. They were a really good way of getting information when you wanted it and keeping out of the way when you didn't, although they came with a lanyard and most people wore them around their necks I found it easiest to pop mine in a pocket.
Part of the huge Snake mural
From the entrance we went down a long, spiral stairway through the veined yellow sandstone that the museum is dug out of, with a transparent circular lift forming the central core. This was almost an artwork in itself, the primal rock pierced by a gleaming, clean & futuristic piece of modern technology, the sense of using contemporary tools to revisit the hidden secrets of the (or our own?) past. Like I said, the whole concept of Art On Display brings up these questions for me and it's easy to get over-analytical about everything.
On an immediate, sensual level the place was a delight. Cool and still within the rock, hushed as people read their iGuides or listened with headphones, dimly lit to emphasise the well-lit works on display and with a very spacious feel due to high and multi-level ceilings. There was a lot to see but the layout encouraged you to meander rather than follow a set path, Peter & I quickly lost each other but met up again & again in different areas.
The Art itself was an eclectic collection, there were a few 'Old' items (some Ancient Egyptian statues and carvings, some jewellery and coins) but most was emphatically 'New'. For me about half was pointless, infantile, stupid or obvious, half of the rest had something of interest, and the remaining quarter made me think, made me smile, or had some sort of unexpected beauty to them. This was a pretty good result from my experience of art galleries and I spent a good long time wandering around and enjoying my reactions. Some of the highlights were:
A small, square 'labyrinth' of very dimly lit walls covered with binary numbers ('0100010') and single words ('VOICE', 'LIGHT', etc.) and filled with droning, electronic sounds. At the centre was a small cubicle in the same design with a mirrored ceiling, making the viewer part of the scene. I'm not sure what it meant (if that was the purpose) but it had a wonderfully solitary atmosphere that was somehow inverted by seeing myself reflected back.
The chubby Porsche
A huge mural made up of smaller pictures, the brighter ones making up a serpentine shape that flowed across them.
A Porsche that had been altered so it looked like it was obese. This was particularly striking at the lighting & setting was very similar to that of a car show, increasing the effect enormously.
A bare room with lots of large light bulbs in the ceiling, pulsing in a way that seemed random but possibly wasn't. I spent a while trying to analyse what was happening but eventually gave up and just enjoyed the flickering light.
A long corridor with curtains along either side. To be honest this might have been just an access route within the gallery but it had a nice feel.
I was looking at a long white wall that contained a series of loops of rope held within a frame when I noticed that just beyond it a young girl was sitting on top with her legs, clad in bright red tights, hanging over the side. Sadly I couldn't get a photo before she moved away but it was a strangely pleasing juxtaposition, and all the more enticing as it was so random. (Unless it was a carefully staged performance, but I don't think so.)
After soaking up the Art we enjoyed a very nice lunch in the museum café and headed out towards the car, only to find that there were various installations and objects outside. With cold, grey skies and a very brisk wind it wasn't a good day for lingering over them but the wind provided a final thing to remember - the fencing on the seaward side was made up of metal slats that rang in a continuously changing chorus of harmonic resonances (if you pardon my prose). This ethereal 'singing' swirled around us as we left, a mysterious & unearthly sound and a siren call to come back again.
With so much stimulation swooshing around in my mind it was nice to come home for a quiet afternoon before heading out for pizza and an indulgent ice cream dessert (for me at least). The final quirk of the day was finding that the beer I ordered ('Moo Brew' - how could I resist?) was made in the vineyard/brewery that surrounded the museum. Spooky.
The Art of parking
Handy objects for the garden
The singing fences
Thursday 3 May
The gentle thunder of rain on rooftop had been there all through the night and was still going strong as I arose. Not a day for bushwalking. I'd missed the Salamanca Market on Saturday but the area in which it was held had arty crafty shops all around so I thought I'd wander through and see if I could find something to bring back home with me. There were also a couple more bookshops to visit in my increasingly Grail-like search for the Mark Seymour volume, so after an even more leisurely breakfast (I was getting good at this!) we set off for Downtown Hobart.
The rain had lessened to intermittent showeriness by the time we reached the Salamanca area and we were generally able to scoot into shops to avoid the heavier downpours. The bookshops were singing the same song as yesterday but suddenly there was a breakthrough - although the shop didn't have the book itself they suggested an online secondhand book website and, when doing a quick search for me, found that there was a copy for sale! Could this be true? I decided that rather pester Peter & Krista to take me home RIGHT NOW so I could buy it I would trust that after this long it could wait another few hours. A foolish choice? All will be revealed in due time...
Krista was teaching one of her dance groups over lunchtime so Peter left with her to drive her there leaving me to check out the Art on sale. There was an interesting selection of things on sale in the various shops but not much that tickled my fancy, partly (I suspect) as I wasn't in a particularly acquisitive mood, partly as I was aware that I'd need to carry them home with me and was fearful of a Jam Incident (or similar) in my luggage on the flights to come. There was also some concern that certain foodstuffs wouldn't be allowed into Western Australia for my Perth stop, honey for example. I picked up a couple of small things but didn't manage the Shopping Frenzy that I'd anticipated.
One of the shopping areas had several silver silhouette sculptures dotted around. One of these was decorated with a bicycle security lock which I took to be an abstract form of art criticism (MONA had certainly had an effect on my thinking) but it turned out that these pieces were actually there for people to chain their bikes to. With no bikes around (it wasn't a good cycling day) they worked pretty well as Art, especially in an area crammed with galleries.
When Peter returned (we would meet up with Krista later) we took a stroll across the harbourfront, which turned into quite a brisk stroll when the rain came pouring down. Between deluges I enjoyed the mass of contradictory impressions - working boats, leisure yachts, touristy excursion cruisers & venerable historical vessels (the Maritime Museum has several exhibits in the harbour itself). Tastefully restored old buildings stood beside beside tacky little shops and faceless concrete office blocks, the car parks contrasted immaculate 4x4's and tidy urban runabouts with workmanlike trucks and rusty utes (open backed vans). I suppose a lot of modern harbour cities have this mixing of worlds, especially when the heavy duty cargo handling has moved out and the resulting cheap warehouse space goes from being cheap & bohemian to trendy & expensive.
On returning home I leapt into action on the books website - 13 Ton Theory was still available but the postage to Europe was more than the cost of the book itself. It was a bit late to be niggardly about the money but I thought I'd take a few minutes to look at the options. Another search revealed that the book was available in Kindle format - perfect! - but the universe was determined to keep me from it - it was only for sale in the USA and the American online store wouldn't let me set up an account with a British credit card. Gnash! In the end I ordered the (physical) book and used my Perth workshop organiser's mailing address, if it didn't arrive in time I'd leave her enough money to post it to Britain. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.
Back home it was an afternoon of packing and helping Peter identify & catalogue dances, music and video clips. He'd judiciously filmed the group during the workshops and had captured clips of each dance, long enough to contain the complete step sequence of each. I confirmed the names, checked the spellings (seems like more than half of the dances I teach have strange accents in their names) and generally made sure that there was a reliable set of reference information for each of the dances I'd taught. It was rather satisfying, not just that my teaching had been clear (there were no mistakes) but that I was leaving something that would carry on after I'd returned home.
All being completed I went along to the dance group meeting that evening and enjoyed my final hours of Tasmanian circle dance. I reviewed a few of the dances from the weekend and joined in the others, just another dancer in the circle. Peter & Krista had one last surprise when they put on the music for a dance I'd taught there ten years ago (and hadn't done since then) but I found that my body still remembered it (more or less) and I could almost remember being here and teaching it all those years ago. A very nice way to bring my Hobart visit to a close.
With a very early start the next day (my alarm was set for 04:15) it was soon to bed, after a farewell hug with Krista (who wasn't going to be rising to see me off). Tomorrow - Western Australia!