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

Tasmanian Road Tar Art
January 30, 2011

Call this one the update from the road more repaired….

Used to be I dreamed of becoming a sophisticate – drive a fancy car and swish wine around my face while gazing at modern art I pretended to understand. I got as far as drinking the wine but went off adventuring long before I developed the taste and finances for fancy cars.

No these days, tackling the back roads of Tasmania on a bike that cost less than a six-pack of Tassie’s Cascade beer, I’ve discovered something much more eclectic.

Road tar art.

To return to the beer analogy, the first time I rode my ten-speed bike, for which I paid the equivalent of three Tasmanian beers, I discovered only half the gears worked – and they were the high ones. Dang….

You’ve come a long way baby: sometimes in life, you aim for a wine tasting but end up pushing a bike up a muddy hill – and are happy… (outside Fingal, Tasmania)

That means I spent lots of time shoving my bike up hills. Any time I come to a grade steeper than 2%, I have to get off and push. Which is lots of the time. Tassie is one hilly island. Which means, on hard top roads, I spend lots of time staring at pavement – at the pace of walk. At first, while the parrots whizzing from gum to gum were still a novelty, that was okay. But in time, to keep a middle-aged fellow’s mind off the foolishness of pushing a bike uphill day after day, he has to turn his brain to other distractions.

Like road tar art.

Here in Tasmania, right in front of my eyes, I discovered an amazing world of art that’s slipped under the bumpers of the high tone art world. Yeah, nestled among the tar repairs of Tasmania’s backroads, I started noticing all sorts of beautiful designs and sketchs. Okay, so it’s a bit like me looking into the clouds and seeing sailboats, mules and mermaids. You see what you want to.

With road tar art (a new field art I just made up) it’s the same. In my case, when I’m sweating and pushing my bike up another damn steep Tasmanian hill, I’m dreaming of a Harley. Or maybe a go-fast touring bike with a shiny paint job and a fancy flag.

Which is how I discovered my recent find: a road tar chopper, in the sleek Retro Deco look, just outside Risdon Vale, Tasmania. Right there on the road I was pushing my bike up. Sure, for all you litteral cads, it didn’t have perfectly round wheels. Or even handle bars now that I look closely. Call it more of a concept bike. Which suits me fine. I’m more of a concept guy.

There it was – my dream bike, right down to the flag. Hell, it even looks like it’s moving fast
Two bikes: Call me crazy, but some guy in a hardhat and a tar pot is having a hell of a good time out there on these back roads. Makes you wonder what other designs are out there.

Since then, I’ve quite enjoyed my uphill Tassie struggles. I’ve taken to spending that bit of extra time scanning the tar beneath my feet looking for designs and sketches compliments of the highway department. Sketches, if they were framed and hung in some fancy gallery, would surely be discovered by the critics that have driven over them for years. Artwork, if I’d gotten my wish of a fancy car and drink, I’d have roared over in my haste to get to the gallery opening….

Good luck spotting some tar art of your own! And be sure to email me some pics of your masterpeice.

Posted Sunday January 30, 2011 by Bernie
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Ian Summers Explains Leeches Interview
January 25, 2011

Recently, while I was camping in the Tassie bush, the leeches had a go at me. Curious, I decided to start asking Tasmanians what they knew about these critters. In St Mary’s, the first town I got into after my walkabout, while looking for a fuel bottle for my Optimus stove, I ran into Ian Summers.

Ian Summers steps into “Cranks and Tinkerers”, his monument to things past

Ian operates “Cranks and Tinkerers”, an incredible collection of things mechanical, literary, acoustic and eccentric- from a Ford Anglia to “Advanced French for Sophisticated Cats”. And while, no, he couldn’t sell me a fuel bottle, he did invite inside for a gam. After covering banjos, flying boats and polishing off a plate of scones and jam – but before we got to discuss the World’s Worst Orchestra (According to the book “The Book of Heroic Failures, it was “Sinfonia”…) – I picked his mind on leeches.

Bomber and banjo: Ian at his deck with two of his favorite things in life (okay, there are hundreds…). The scale model in front of him is a 1/24 scale de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber. He alludes to this during the interview you’re about to hear.

In a moment, you’re going to hear Ian talking about these little blood suckers. But first I have to set the scene for you.

We’re in Ian’s exhibition hall. A few visitors are strolling around chatting softly. You’ll hear them in the recording. I’m sitting across from Ian who’s sitting at his wood desk. In front of him, on his desk, is a 1/24 scale model of a World War II de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber. He’d just attached the wings to the fuselage but the engines were still exposed. When I ask him to describe how long a leech is, talk swerves to the plastic model plane – specifically the cooling system delivery pipe. Then the dialogue veers wildly to the Duke of Edinburgh’s plane trip. Then returns to leeches. Takes off on another tangent. All in all, a damn funny and informative way to listen to Ian, a teacher in St Mary’s, offer his take on the Tasmanian leeches.

Looking for a feed: an Aussie leech on a Yank’s boot – mine.

Prime leech on my olive oil bottle

Aussie lingo alert: when Ian mentions “thongs”, he’s not talking Victoria’s Secret. He means like what you wear on your feet to the beach.

So here goes. As the interview starts, I’ve just asked Ian to state his name, and what he knows about the Tasmanian tiger leech. To take it from here,
click on the player below.

Thanks Ian, for a great interview. Also, a hearty, well-fed thanks to Beth Elliott who treated Ian and I to a plate of fresh bakes scones complete with marmalade and whipped cream. And for folks visiting St Mary’s, Tasmania, be sure to drop by Ian’s “Cranks and Tinkers” exhibit on main street. If you ask nicely, he may even play you his banjo or guitar.

Posted Tuesday January 25, 2011 by Bernie
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Trapped by Tasmanian Leeches
January 22, 2011

Okay, so leaches do some funny things to your head. In a moment, you’re going to hear an update I recorded while holed up in my hammock. It was the third day of rain and I’d pitched what I now call Camp Leach. Yep, thousands of the inching buggers were vying for my life blood so I cooked a quick lentil meal then crawled into my hammock.

In a moment, you’re going to hear what it’s like to sleep in this hammock
Tasmanian leech doing what it’s famous for. In this case, my multi-tool took the sucking-on.

You generally don’t take photos in lousy weather just like you don’t make audio recordings when the plan has gone off the rails. Still, it makes for interesting footage. So in that spirit, I fired up my camera and audio recorder, and, with leeches covering what amounted to my nylon jail, spoke my mind.

The scene inside the hammock: Bad photo for a bad night

What looks like a stick will keep you fooled right until the moment it clamps down on you.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the rain drops hitting the hammock fly sheet. They make a popping sound and come and go. You won’t have to strain to hear the freak out in my voice. Sure, it’s easy to sound composed and cheery when you’re interviewing someone about their gummy-lipped hound – the one with the special knack for retrieving duck eggs. But interviewing yourself after a few days’ isolation, in dodgy weather, is, well, sometimes not so elegant. Still, I figured I’d capture some audio for you. Note how the mind wanders….

Wait, that line’s not part of the camo poncho just above my head… That’s a hungry leech.

So, ready to crawl into a leech crusted hammock with me?

Be brave. Hit the player below, mate…

(Note: the map below is only a rough approximation of where this recording was made.)

Posted Saturday January 22, 2011 by Bernie
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Leech Week Part One
January 20, 2011

First a hearty “howdy” after almost 2 weeks ramblin Tassie’s bush wilds. From the comments on the latest posts, it seems y’all are freezin’. Sure would be nice to hear how nice and warm it is in Tasmania, right?

Well, you’re not gonna. It’s been flooding here and I’ve been battling leeches. Yep, real honest to god blood sucking, anticoagulant injectin’, rash leavin’ critters – that no one talks about.

This end bites: the business end of a leech

Suddenly all that Northern Hemisphere winter weather sounds pretty good, huh?

In the spirit of traveling around Tasmania on a ten-dollar bike, I have tried to make my animal encounters as authentic as possible. You see, if I was filming a high budget doco on this trip, folks would want to see a tasmanian devil. Then I’d have to run to the zoo or some home for orphan tassie devils, and pay them more money than I have invested in my bike to have a “real” encounter with a tassie devil.

That’s not going to happen.

So, in the spirit of make it up as you go, I bring you…..


Yep, leeches as in the ones that suck your life blood then leave you with a terrible rash.

It all started about two weeks ago when I decided to go ramblin’ up Tasmania’s east coast. Not stick to the shoreline but rather, head onto the roads that on the maps are marked with dotted lines labeled “weekend access”. The lines that, when you point them out to a local, make them say, “What, are you mad? Plenty of pretty country around here Yank. Why the hell do you want to go see that?”

Prime Tasmanian leech swamp: (outside Penny Father, Tasmania)

The answer is “because that’s were you go ramblin‘”.

Too bad, in my latest outings, I didn’t check the forecast.

In case you haven’t heard, Queensland Australia, in the north east corner, which has suffered massive droughts, is now flooding. Big time.

A wet slog

Last week, while I was out ramblin’ miles from the nearest humans, another bout of rain struck Tasmania and, right where I was gone bush, dropped record rains – which resulted in major flooding. It rained for days, and while I found this curious, it didn’t catch my attention as quickly as the wormlike black attachements that started showing up between my fingers and toes.

I noticed them the third night it rained. It was the end of the day and I’d pitched my hammock in a low valley. I figured this would be a good place to get out of the wind that was raging on the higher peaks. It was.

Camp Leech: looked good at first. Too bad about the neighbors…

Too bad the extra digits between mine were leeches.

What were these critters? What was it like to be surrounded by them? Out came my audio recorder and camera. And for the next days, while Northern Tasmania roads flooded, I pushed my bike through the gum forest fought the Great Leech War. Alone. Then, when the sun came out, I drove to the nearest town, St Mary’s, and began interviewing Tasmanians about their little blood thirsty fauna.

So stay tuned for some pretty cool Tasmanian leech facts, a leech interview – heck, maybe for mood, some Tasmanian bluegrass music.

But first, a shower is in order. When leeches crawl all over you the leave slime tracks. Luckily, they’re water soluble. So before I get my photos and audio ready for you, I have to do some laundry…..

Then comes Tasmanian Leech Week!

(Note: the map for this article is a bit off but it’ll give you an idea where to go for some prime fine leech hunting.)

Posted Thursday January 20, 2011 by Bernie
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Still Ramblin'
January 12, 2011
Bruny Island lighhouse: a fine place to ramble out to. (Bruny Island,Tasmania)

I’m still ramblin’.

A few days ago I mentioned I was headin’ up the road for a few days – just to see what’s around the next Tasmanian bend. Well, I’m still out there. Should be back in a few days – unless, like my buddy Kenny and I are bad for doing, I just keep going for a spell longer.

Come to think of it, ramblin’s just not something we do much anymore. It’s frowned upon, sort of like galloping your mule through town. No, these days, every moment needs to be accounted for. Sorta like at the end of your days, there’s going to be a big time audit and you’re going to have to puzzle all those bits and pieces of time back and it’s supposed to be a picture of your life.

Where would a fellow fit the “ramblin’” peice?

Hell, I once almost lost my ramble. I attended one of those priority life management seminars and some slick guy got me so wrapped up in my prioritized A,B,C,1,2,3 lists I was gridlocked for days.

Until, of course, I went for a ramble. Then it all came back to me where I was supposed to be going.

Happy ramblin’! Catch you up the road a spell.

(PS: Zoom in on the map below (on “Satellite” mode) and you can see the Bruny Island lighthouse and to the north of it, the lightkeeper’s compound. This photo was taken during my stint aboard the crayfishing boat “Miss Carmen”.)

Posted Wednesday January 12, 2011 by Bernie
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Gone Ramblin'
January 8, 2011
Ramblin’ road: a perfect road for wandering (Catamaran, Tasmania). You can take a closer look on the map below. Click on “Satellite” for the best view.


That’s what my buddy Kenny calls it when we take off on our mules with no destination in mind.

Which is precisely how I plan to spend the next few days. Only I’m heading out on my $10 bike instead of a mule. ‘thinking of heading up Tasmania’s East Coast for a look.

‘til then, I hope 2011’s started well for you. Drop by in a few days to see what’s turned up.

Now go do some ramblin’ of your own! Or, if the winter weather’s got you cooped up inside and you’re in the mood for visitin’, drop me a line…

Posted Saturday January 8, 2011 by Bernie
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Shy Albatross
January 4, 2011

For the past month, the Southern Ocean has been my back yard. Aboard the “Miss Carmen”, my junk shop bike and I have voyaged from Hobart, Tasmania, south to Port Davey then north to Bruny Island (for a closer look at these places, check out the map below. You can zoom in to get some incredible detail).

Miss Carmen and my $10 bike (Southport, Tasmania)

Mornings at sea, after the day shot was finished (when the crayfish pots were put in the water), we steamed to another fishing spot. It was during these hours that the Shy albatross came to visit.

These are large birds. Adults boast a wing span of 7 to 8 feet. Solitary wanderers, they cover tens of thousands of miles in their lifetimes, coming ashore only to nest. Then they put back to sea.

Shy albatross

Swooping low to the water, their flexible wings conforming to the Southern Ocean swell, the tips of their wings inscribed tiny wakes on the watery surface. Then the birds would wheel skyward, tipping at dizzying angles up into the blue.

Sometimes they landed on the water behind the boat – looking for a piece of bait. Other times they dove for a mackerel tossed their way.

On the water

In rare calms, they would land briefly on the water. Resting only moments before lifting off back into the sky.

At rest

Then came the day our fishing trip came to an end. As we steamed back to land, a final albatross came into a view. It hovered in Miss Carmen’s wake. Then wheeled. Shot into the sky. My old camera, crippled now from all the salt water exposure, clicked. The photo came out blurry. But it captured the albatross’ spirit better than any other shot.

Albatross spirit

And then the magnificent bird was gone.

My cray fishing days were over.

Posted Tuesday January 4, 2011 by Bernie
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