By Daggett Harvey
When I was a little boy, more than 75 years ago, I had vivid dreams of a far away place. I dreamt of a jungle, in front of volcanoes, behind a beach. The volcanoes were smoking and frightening — but also strikingly beautiful. Perhaps these dreams were caused by world events at that time —1945.
My father’s Commission as a Navy Lieutenant JG after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused my family to move six times in the first six years of my life. Chicago to Travers City, to Chicago, to Elk City, Oklahoma, to Carmel, to Pebble Beach, to Lake Bluff. All to be near my Navy Dad — although the California moves are hard to explain as, at that time, he was in the Solomon Islands or on an aircraft carrier off Okinawa and Japan.
Enter Laura Sudler in 2016, whom I had known from early childhood. She had conducted many group tours, had an excellent reputation as a tour leader, and was a very, very good saleswoman.
So when she approached my wife, Yvonne, and me with a double header trip — a land portion in Australia and a related luxury cruise to the Coral Sea it — was an easy sale. Yvonne had done extensive traveling in Micronesia before our marriage and I had a historical interest in World War II.
So we bought the package, both parts, a stop in Melbourne, five days in Tasmania, and a two-week cruise from Sydney to the Coral Sea.
Shortly before we left Chicago and remembering my father’s Navy letters home from the South Pacific and my boyhood dreams I decided to keep a travel log for my children and grandchildren. It begins below with a December 2016 email to them:
“We have just signed on for this late Jan-early Feb cruise in 2017. It’s aboard the 51,000 ton Crystal Symphony. It will depart and return to Sydney and visit Papua New Guinea ( PNG), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. “
Then, on the day of departure the travelogues began:
Day 1: Dreamland — Written on the plane to Los Angeles
Since this trip finds its origins in my childhood dreams I thought I would relay a quote — I cannot find the source — but it is a beautiful summary of the power of dreams, particularly in Australia.
“The Dream existed before my life begins, and continues to exist when I die. Both before and after life, I exist in The Dreaming and am only initiated into life by being born through my mother. My Spirit entered my body during the fifth month of my mother’s pregnancy. She felt me move in the womb for the first time — this was the work of the spirit of the land in which my mother then stood. When I was born I became a special custodian of that part of that land and I am taught the stories and song lines of that place.”
Time to catch the 10:20 pm to Melbourne. Sweet dreams to you (and me)! Dad.
Day 2-4: Big birds and little birds.
Flight from LA to Melbourne was uneventful, two fine Aussie movies and two aging Sheilas to take care of us.
Dreamt I was on an Alaskan cruise with (daughter) Leslie, (which was in 2015 for a week), only to find out that there are more people on this flight and there were on that ship. 508 to be exact. The Qantas A380 is the Ocean liner of the sky, 40% larger than a 747, can take 853 people in one configuration — two levels three classes — untold Shelaghs and Blokes to take care of you — or, in my case, to tell you to keep out of first class.
The first day in Melbourne did not have an auspicious beginning. Took airport & city buses and a 3 block walk with luggage, Guide Melina, (who unexpectedly left us), and fellow tourists Louis and Laurie Sudler and Derry Henderson to get to our hotel. The hotel was no great stakes either, a tiny room with a dirty window view of a high-rise under construction next-door. People eating sandwiches in the lobby while their children rioted in several languages.
The first city tour took the sleepy bunch of us to the National Gallery for a magnificent but thin survey of all the world’s art from 50,000 BC, to now. (special exhibit David Hockney and Bulgari Jewels — wow! Imagine having sapphires matched to your eye color as Elizabeth Taylor did!)
Melbourne downtown is quite lovely with architecture from mid-Victoriana to the present, all straddling the Yarra river.
The afternoon took us on an odd but pleasant trip.
A streetcar, turned into a dining car, was our vehicle for a downtown tour of Melbourne. Not quite the Super Chief, on which I had worked, but nonetheless a very interesting way to see this attractive city.
Next came our big trip in search of small birds. After a two-hour bus ride with an unnecessarily loquacious driver, we reached our location, Phillips island. That island, not really an island, is the home of a daily invasion of the smallest penguins in the world.
Each evening these tiny penguins, all under a foot tall, by the hundreds, come ashore and make their way, after great hesitation in the water, to their homes inland. Some of them waddle more than 2 km to get home to see their babies. Together on the beach, in groups of 20 to 50, they appear to talk it over and then boldly follow a 3-foot wide penguin dirt freeway to their various homes in the nearby Hills. It’s quite a sight with many seeming quite uncertain where they live. Was it worth seven hours out of our day? Yes, given the tour of Melbourne, its suburbs, and rural countryside on the way out. Back to our unlovely hotel by 1 AM.
Tomorrow we’re off to see the Devil, in Tasmania! Maybe.
Days 4 and 5
After our arrival in Hobart, Tasmania we strolled along the waterfront of this second oldest city in Australia, population 200,000, (think Madison Wisconsin size). But unlike Wisconsin, Tasmania is studded with Agapanthus, 29 varieties of eucalyptus, (called gum trees here), She oaks, (which are not female oaks but evergreens). It might just be as beautiful as Wisconsin. (Wisconsin grandchildren please note.)
Large, fresh, delicious Pacific oysters, strawberries as big as Yvonne’s fist, freshly caught scallops plated on the shell, fat sumptuous mussels, rock lobsters, local crabs, and all kinds of delicious wines fill our stomachs here. And then there is the “Wooly Jumper,” a burger made of ground kangaroo and ground lamb. AKA KangaBaa.
But this is an animal paradise!
are no surprise — we expected them, but quolls, wombats, pademelons, bettongs, and echidnas are. Then there is always the (Tasmanian) Devil,
we are still looking for him — doubt we will find him although he is in short supply due to a devastating disease, is very elusive, and hunts only at night.
I used to think that Australians and Americans spoke the same language. Not so! I missed about 50% of the wonderfully Irish/Australian jokes our guides told but fortunately have Yvonne to translate.
The newspapers are something else again. I’ll never complain about the Chicago Tribune — it has at least a modicum of news. Here, the local papers are concerned only with The Kardashians and a 14-year-old boy who bit his sister. But I can relate to that. Happy 80 today, sister Jean, alias the biter, alias Hell Babe!
Oh yes, a bit about yesterday — we took a 20-mile bus ride through absolutely splendid scenery — rolling hills, sleepy cattle, sheep, eucalyptus and eucalyptus and eucalyptus for a boat ride to the beginning of the great southern ocean, and the end of the Tasman Sea. (A note on Abel Tasman, who discovered this island in 1642. He stopped at, and named Blackman’s Bay and was so impressed that he sailed on, never to return. Which was lucky for locals as shortly after, a wandering Captain Cook, arrived in 1772, his countrymen quickly exterminated the local population. There is a plaque to the last aborigine who died here.
But I digress. The boat ride was a fast bumpy run by spectacular cliffs…
ending in the anti-climax of hundreds of lazy seals who seem to have nothing better to do than to bicker and half-heartedly attempt to bite each other. The cormorants and New Zealand seagulls looked on in lofty disdain.
A seaside dinner of luscious mussels, delicious duck, and fine local Sauvignon Blanc concluded by a harbor-side walk home lit by an enormous full moon concluded the day.
Days 6-8: Do 3 Wallabies = 1 Wombat + 1 Echidna?
Day 6 was controversial. It consisted of a ferry boat trip to an astounding museum, MONA, Museum Of New Art. The museum is the product of one very good gambler. He was a “Card Counter” and a very big winner in Blackjack in the leading casinos of the world where he made hundreds of millions of $. His name is David Walsh. He says it is the world’s most controversial museum. He did the Museum after he was thrown out of the casinos of the world for his successful card counting and took up betting on horse races as his next venue. After his big Blackjack hits, he decided to do “something good.” Behind a tennis court, he built a windowless, totally iPhone-based museum. No written descriptions of anything; everything described through your iPhone.
The museum is built down about five stories into the earth. (which is the reason I have no photos. )It exhibits art from Egyptian mummy coffins to a later-day chocolate, full-size replica of a Chechen suicide bomber. Also staring are parts of women’s bodies that could be made to look like butterflies. You can guess which is which, maybe. Yvonne and I left quite bewildered but the crowds were enormous; Laurie and Louis Sudler stayed an extra two hours. Darry Henderson came home wide-eyed.
The next day we left Hobart and traveled by bus all the way across Tasmania, (which is as big as England, but has one hundredth the population) to the Cradle Mountain National Park. We now reside in cabins near a mountain lodge — think Bright Angel Lodge, at Grand Canyon, only smaller and no Mary Coulter. There is, however, in Chinese, a demonstration picture on the wall of how one should use a toilet. “Sit Don’t Stand!” The weather is in the 40s and raining but we hiked for an hour through the rain forest on a necessary boardwalk…
We did see animals: Pademelon & 1 echidna ⤵️
Several wallabies. Perhaps tonight a platypus or quoll or even The Tassie Devil although that’s unlikely.
The drive up here was spectacular again. Went through towns more English than England…
and others that looked like southern Montana. En route, we peeked in on senior Gentlemen’s Clubs Bowling on the Green…
crossed lovely bridges built in the 1830s and bought beautiful Merino wool scarfs and sweaters. ⤵️
One thing every village had was a memorial to the Boer War, to which had been added The Great War, to which had been added World War II, to which was added the Korean War. Although New Zealand might argue this country claims to have suffered more from foreign wars than any other, that was not occupied by a foreign power. In the town of Ross, the number of war deaths was larger than the current population of about 400.
The town of Ross has an area called four corners, which is locally described as follows:
- Temptation: The Man O’ Ross Hotel
- Recreation: Northern Midlands CouncilOld Town Hall
- Salvation: Roman Catholic Church
- Damnation: Jail (now a private residence) — (Mother Darazinsky, my catechism teacher would be happy about this.)
This morning we took a walk among the trees of this temperate rain forest. The Sassafras and Myrtle Beech trees are gigantic hardwoods but they were eclipsed by the larger Swamp Gum and King Billy Pine, both reaching up over 250 feet, the second tallest trees in the world. You can see why the 19th-century British Navy loved this land- tall trees make good masts and spars. The undergrowth is all moss, ferns, and sphagnum which squishes a couple of inches when you walk on it. All this gives it a fantastic look — something out of Tolkien.
Multiple trails and scat revealed very active marsupial life below. The animal droppings also revealed that Yvonne is σκατά-phobic. If your Greek suffers consider “excessive fear of Poopoo,” as a definition.
It’s approaching 9 PM and we are off on an expedition to see nocturnal marsupials.
(An hour later.)
As I walked outside I spotted a quoll, ⤵️
a cat-sized marsupial carnivore, strolling down the lodge deck, shopping for a baby Bandycoot to eat. ⤵️
The nocturnal expedition by searchlight equipped van proved quite profitable: 5-6 Wallabies, 2 possums, 3-4 Wombats and YES…….. THE TASMANIAN DEVIL! But so dark and so fast was it that I couldn’t catch it in a photo. So I plagiarized another one:
(To be continued)
Please climb back aboard with Yvonne and Daggett for Part 2 of our three-part series!