Stories from Bernie's new trip - heading "down under" to explore Tasmania

Razor the Amazer
November 29, 2010
Razor the Amazer and son Darcy: you’ll hear more from Razor in a minute (Southport, Tasmania)

My original plan to explore Tasmania ran along my ideas of freedom – visit the island under mainland Australia by mule. I couldn’t find one, ditto the horse, and found myself tackling the island state with a ten dollar junk shop bike. Not the flavor of freedom I was originally going for….

Because my bike can’t carry much weight, maybe twenty five pounds, I haul little in the way of provisions, especially food – some rice, oil, a half a pound of cheese. Last night, to augment these rations I went fishing. With a borrowed rod, reel and bait, I caught a “Cockie”, a wild Tasmanian Salmon. Cooked up with a clove of garlic and a hunk of ginger, it made a dandy meal.

One meal.

This evening, in search of another meal, I took my bike for a short spin. The plan was to search the shoreline around Southport for mussels. So this is what bike freedom is like…

Finding the pickings slim, I strayed onto a long cement pier. Fishing at the end of the jetty were two men. Next to them stood a van: “Razor the Amazer” was written on the side.

Curious, I struck up a conversation with the older of the two men. Turns out it was Razor.

Razor Love is an accredited builder and brick layer by trade. He and his son Darcy were in the area for a few days’ work. Finding themselves here a bit early, they grabbed their rods for a spot of fishing. We talked work, travel and Razor’s upcoming visit to the ‘States. How his wife Risky was “the most beautiful, beautiful woman in the world”.

Yes, Razor really was his born name. And yes, he wore one around his neck. It hung from a fine chain and was worn smooth from countless swings across his chest.

Razor, Flathead and Darcy

While we spoke, Razor reeled in a flathead, a local bottom fish. He offered it to me “for tea”, the late evening meal Tasmania. Then he told me, in his mind, what it was to be free. Razor’s freedom had nothing to do with mules or boats. But I found them incredibly beautiful – something you’d want to hear. Slowly, in its mechanical way, I’m starting to see the freedom in my ten-buck bike. It allows me to carry just enough to be mobile but not enough to be self sufficient. In making up the deficit I get to meet Tasmanians like Razor and Darcy – and learn about other folks’ ideas of freedom.

So, again, tell me the three things you think when I ask you what is it “to be free”. Email them to me if you like.

Now click on the audio player below to listen to Razor’s definitions.

Thanks Razor and Darcy, for the visit. And yes Razor, I’ll be sending you a card when I return from the States. Because we shook on it at the end of the pier!

Posted Monday November 29, 2010 by Bernie
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Stan West Plays a Tune From Tasmania
November 25, 2010

A man never knows where he’ll find a horse to buy. In this, my third week of Tasmanian horse hunting, I visited the Cygnet History Museum on a whim. Like I said, you never know….

That’s where I met Stan Watts. Stan is a museum volunteer. And while he couldn’t put me onto a horse, he did offer to play me a tune on the museum’s harmonium.

Stan Watts seated at his organ

Built by Stan’s reckoning in the 1920s, the harmonium, a type of simple church organ, reminded me of a cross between a piano and a furnace bellow. The bellow is operated through vigorous foot pumping and blows air over the open pipes that make the instrument’s sound. Then there are levers to pull, keys to depress. It gives the operator the appearance of flying slowly through syrup – all to the tune of something you might expect in a serious moment at a carnival.

Stan at the organ
Hands, keys and levers

I figured you’d enjoy listening so I had Stan play you a tune. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear all matter of clicking, pumping and pushing sounds as Stan operates his lovely music machine. So sit back, hit the audio player below, close your eyes and let your mind wander Tassie-way. Enjoy!

To have Stan play you a tune click on the player below.

Posted Thursday November 25, 2010 by Bernie
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Postcard from Southport Tasmania
November 22, 2010

Call it a banner day. Not only was I able to enjoy a beer at Australia (and Tasmania’s) southernmost pub, I was able to send out some postcards – all from the same building. What makes these cards especially unique are they were posted from Tassie’s southernmost post office agency!

There’s no wrong place to write a postcard – or put down your beer glass for that matter….!

I know, I know, these cards should show up in your letter box as a complete surprise. But I get excited so I thought I’d give you a quick preview of what’s headed your way. Sort of like a sneak glimpse at your Christmas present – just because you peek at the bike under the Christmas tree doesn’t mean it’s not exciting to get!

Okay Postcard from Tasmania subscribers, brace yourself for some toothy post.

Cheers from Southport, Tassie!

Posted Monday November 22, 2010 by Bernie
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Seth and the Crayfish
November 22, 2010

Funny how things work out. I rode to Australia’s southern-most pub on my $10 dollar bike looking to drink a beer- and learned about crayfish.

Seth and the crayfish: Seth Adams of the Southport Settlement Pub showing off a big crayfish one of his patrons caught (Southport, Tasmania)

Crayfish, or just plain “fish” as they’re called by the Tasmanian fishermen, are what, back in the states, we would call “spiny lobster”. Lacking the great claws known to Maine Lobster eaters, they make up for their pinch with taste.

A taste folks are ready to pay lots of money for.

At present, a live, one-kilo (2-pound) lobster, goes for over $40 Australian. At current 2010 exchange rates, that’s about $40 US. So fishermen are keen to get them.

Southport is one of the larger crayfish fishing ports in Tasmanian. As it’s close to the fishing grounds, boats leave here for fishing trips that last from a day to a month. The fast, light boats do day runs where they set and retrieve their traps in one day. The heavier, full displacement boats go out for longer. The trade off is one of speed versus hang time. Fuel is expensive so the fast boats, which burn lots of fuel, had better catch lots of lobster.

By the second beer, Seth was talking me through season limits, quotas and the Chinese crayfish market. Seems China is one of the largest crayfish importers. But that’s another story for another day.

Thanks, Seth, for taking the time to educate me on your “fish”. Heck, now I want to go out and catch one myself!

For those who want to see more of Southport’s pub and caravan park, drop by their website

Posted Monday November 22, 2010 by Bernie
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Tip Shop Bike
November 18, 2010

To tour Tasmania by horse, which is my dream, I need a horse. Getting one, now that I’m here in Tassie, hasn’t been as easy as downing a Cascade ale, getting rained on or spotting a wallaby at night. After almost three weeks of searching, I still don’t have a Trigger to ride among the gum trees.

So I’ve decided to visit Australia’s southern-most pub on a “tip store” bike. You know, nothing diverts like a diversion. My thought is to look for horses along the way.

Scene of the tip store bike collection: with all these bikes, it’s hard to decide….

So what’s this tip store?

It’s what Fred Sanford would have run where he Tasmanian. Remember how Fred used to pull up in his raggedy truck piled high with old furniture, tables and that record player that needed a penny on the needle arm so it played right? Well here in Tasmania, the equivalent is the tip store. It’s a charity store often located next to the tip (we call them dumps in the US – or solid waste recovery resource facilities if you want to get all PC with it). They sell the still-useable stuff that would have headed for the trash – like furniture, tables and vinyl records.

Oh, and bikes.

For my tip shop ride, I visited the Margate tip shop outside Hobart. There, for $10, I got a bike. Not a new one, mind you. But one with the basics – wheels, pedals, handlebars. And as a sort of Sanford and Son bonus, the shop threw in a few lengths of aluminum angle iron off a sliding door.

Over the next days, between looking at horses, I put together a bike I aim to ride into Tasmania on my horse hunting mission.

Pedal repair: I’m looking serious because one of the pedals just wouldn’t thread. That’s when I remembered on bikes, one pedal is right hand thread – and the other left…..

To carry my gear, I built a bike rack that fits over the front and rear wheels. Here some improvising was in order. Using a tractor draw bar as a pipe bender, I shaped the straight pieces of aluminum into pieces that would mimic the curve of the wheel. These bent pieces I riveted to pieces of a cast off boat awning. Screwed the whole thing to the bike frame and, voila, bike rack!

The bike before work began: I used part of the tractor in the background to bend pieces for my bike rack.
The conversion is complete

For fenders I used old bicycle tires turned inside out. For panniers (that’s what fancy touring bikers call those bags they store stuff in) I used two old backpacks.

And today I hit the road.

So how far will it take me? Hell if I know. Hopefully as far at the Southport pub which is about 80 miles from here in Cygnet. Figure on a couple of days. A man has to visit lots of horses along the way.

We have lift-off!

What I do know is that this morning, setting off on my fully loaded bike, I caught myself whistling the Sanford and Son soundtrack. And somewhere, way off in the shadow of memory, I heard Fred crowing “Lamont, come look at this man’s bike…!”

(In the spirit of things musical, coming soon we have a field recording of music in Tasmania. Hold Fast!)

Posted Thursday November 18, 2010 by Bernie
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1953 Daimler Conquest
November 16, 2010
Home from market: Sylvie, Pat and the Daimler return from town

This week I caught a ride into town with Pat and Sylvie Synge. Pat and Sylvie have been hosting me these past days as I look for a suitable mount.

Like most Australians, Pat and Sylvie drive sensible cars – like the Honda that sits in front of their house. Then there’s the Daimler.

The Daimler

Out back in their shed, behind a set of roller doors, lives a 1953 Daimler Conquest. It’s in this magnificent beast that we recently visited town. While rolling through the Tasmanian landscape, Pat took a few moments to describe what he was seeing. I say “a few moments” because cars like the Daimler demand constant attention while driving. Levers need pushing. Pedals need depressing. When starting, throttle controls need tugging – then shoving back in.

Gauges: read closely and you’ll spot labels like “start”, “petrol reserve” and “mixture”)

There’s not much time for chit chat – and don’t even think about texting.

Here’s what you’re about to hear.

In the recording below, you’ll hear Pat firing up the Conquest in his shed. It takes a few tries. Then we fade to the open road and this is where your imagination needs to carry you far, far away. To Tasmania in spring where on a river road, a Daimler heads toward the Southern Ocean. You’re in that car with us, sitting on those deep leather seats, and as the coast rolls by, you wonder how you’ll ever commute in your car again….

To take a ride in the Daimler click on the audio player below.

T321NR: The lever used for selecting gears. “T” stands for Top gear.
The view over the wheel

Related links:
In addition to his marine surveying business, Pat Synge runs an online classified ad site. Click here for a gander

Posted Tuesday November 16, 2010 by Bernie
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Sea Garden to Vegetable Garden
November 12, 2010
Shell and tomato leaf: along with plant matter, seaweed mulch contains rocks, fish bones and sea shells, like this one at the base of a tomato plant.(Outside Hobart,Tasmania)

Think “garden mulch” and usually, we’re talking ground leaves, wood chips, bark or, if you’re around Southern Pines, North Carolina and feeling flush, pine straw.

But seaweed? It’s not something we see lots of back in Carolina.

Not so in Tasmania.

Outside Hobart, I recently visited a garden that featured seaweed mulch around the tomatoes. Crispy and black, it surrounded the plants in a crunchy mat that, if you looked closely, included the odd shell and fish bone. What I enjoyed most was hearing the gardener, an avid waterman, describe this link between the sea garden and his vegetable garden.

To have a listen, click on the player below…

Posted Friday November 12, 2010 by Bernie
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Sailor Seeks
November 10, 2010

So just how do you find a suitable means of transport in a foreign land? You could do as I did before showing up. You could trade in precious tea drinking, pipe smoking hours for something much more hazardous – searching the online classifieds. 

Total waste of time.

Really, a man wants to buy a horse he should hang out with mule skinners, right? Maybe go to a bar, drink some whiskey. Talk bloodlines, draft, pack saddles and picketing. See where things lead. Not plop down on the couch with the laptop typing up Advanced Searches like “Mule Tasmania”. Internet’s fine for checking email but for horse shopping it’s, well, sort of lame. Search engine performance should be about how long it takes your mule to break into that feed sack you’ve got lashed to the back of your wagon, not your network connection speed.

In the end I just booked a flight to Tasmania -figured I’d just start looking when I arrived there.

Flash forward to Cygnet, Tasmania, just outside Hobart. Today I visited the library where the librarian, when I told her what I was looking for, handed me a pen and a piece of paper. “Here, write a sign” she suggested “and post it over at the Red Velvet Lounge”.

Now we’re talking.

In a hurry, because it was rainy outside and my borrowed bike unseaworthy, I put ink to sheet and created an ad simple enough to catch the eye across a southern hemisphere pub.




Followed by my details.

A suitable sign

Then I trudged across the street to the Red Velvet Lounge and enjoyed a pot of tea. After which I posted my handiwork on the community billboard. There it enjoys pride of place among the dance lesson sign (“Attention Mature Dancers….”) and the TasPride Festival (“Tasmania’s Celebration for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Intersex, Transgender and Queer Community and their Family and Friends”).

Mission accomplished I hopped onto my borrowed bike and pedaled back to headquarters in the rain. That’s more like it.

Posted Wednesday November 10, 2010 by Bernie
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Ludo and Chico
November 8, 2010
Ludo and Chico (Hobart, Tasmania)

Walking the streets of Hobart, I ran into a wooly looking creature on a leash manned by a Hemingway-esque looking fellow. Thinking he might steer me in the direction of a suitable mount, I approached the duo. Turned out he didn’t know where I could find the equine I’m questing. But he did shed some light on the critter he was walking – and the island I was visiting. To listen to Ludo Mineur and Chico’s story, click on the player below….

Posted Monday November 8, 2010 by Bernie
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Fishing Vessel Chaparral
November 6, 2010
Fishing vessel “Chaparral

Okay, so a man looking for a horse in Tasmania gets distracted. During a recent shower outside Cygnet, I tucked into a small shelter overlooking a marine railway. That’s where I found “Chaparral”.

Chaparral is a tradition fishing boat of the sort used by fisherman in the Cygnet, Tasmania area. Descended from a long line of fishing boats, she still sports a sailing rig. Look closely and you can see the mainsail bent to the boom (it’s covered by a sailcover). The sail acts to steady the boat while underway. It also provides propulsion.

Chaparral on the ways
John Rose

Owner John Rose says she was “built 38 years ago” by a father and son who wanted a fishing boat. She’s traditionally constructed of Huon Pine, a prime, Tasmanian boatbuilding timber. John says he is only the boat’s second owner and says she takes her name “after the famous race car”.

Helping John with scraping and painting was friend Anthony

John intends to relaunch in the next few days. Next time I see him, I hope it’ll be on horseback.

Posted Saturday November 6, 2010 by Bernie
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