Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tasmania: Day 4 - "Here: Loonagana"

  1. "Society", by Eddie Vedder, from the Into The Wild soundtrack
  2. "Indifference", by Ben Harper and Eddie Vedder


Urgh. After 10 hours on the road yesterday I'm not sure it was a good idea to stay up until 5am drinking wine with our Couchsurfing host and new friend, Peter Bedford... but geeeez his wine is good!

Home-made from blueberries, raspberries, and loganberries grown organically in the garden patches right outside the main house, there are jugs of new batches bubbling away in the kitchen. We made a pretty good dent in their supply getting to know each other last night...

Surprisingly, I'm not hungover, just tired from being on the road and then staying awake for so long. Guess that's what happens when you drink wine that is made from organic fruits, with no preservatives or additives - the wines taste clean, crisp, and fresh, like we are nuzzling from the bosom of the earth.

Aside from sharing our stories and drinking copious amounts of wine, last night - or rather, this morning - we learnt how to find due south by lining up the stars of the Southern Cross with the Pointer Sisters [with Peter's bright green laser pointer which seemed to touch the stars], and were given a tour of the place in near-total darkness. When I finally rise at around 10am, I
jump out of bed eager to explore the place in the daylight.


The sun has cleared the mountains and the temperature hovers near 4 degrees C, only one degree warmer than last night. I walk down to the dam to get a better look at the "luxury camping" compound that Peter has built for his family over the years. A builder by trade, the building have all been constructed of materials reclaimed from old tear-down houses in the area, or timber milled on-site from the few trees they felled to create the clearing in which the houses sit.


For the first 18 months or so, the Bedfords would hike in from the main entrance and camp around the fire pit seen in the middle of the photo. The fire's embers were kept glowing 24 hours/day to give the family warmth and cooking capacity until a double wood-fired oven, barbeque grill, and covered dining table were all added later to finish out the heart of the compound. The original structure, which can be seen to the right, was built; then the family moved their tents into this shelter.


This structure was later expanded into what it is today: carpets cover the original earth floors on one side, and a wood-fired stove sitting on carpet-covered brick floors warms the cottage from the other. It feels like a writer's cabin in the woods, complete with a corner desk that overlooks the dam and is bathed in sunlight each morning.


The bath-house can be seen to the left of the photo above: inspired by the bathtub cauldrons used to skin slaughtered
pigs, Peter has built a wood-fired hot-tub out of brick and a reclaimed cast-iron bathtub. Fresh dam water is used, the color of weak herbal tea from being seeped with eucaplytus tannins. A chimney pipes out all the smoke from the fire, and a very high-tech system of pulling the plug to drain water while turning the tap to let in more cold water is used by the bather to regulate the temperature and prevent themselves from becoming boiled soup.

The veggie gardens sit above this area, well fenced to keep out unwelcome guests. The growbeds are raised, sitting on the north-facing aspect of the gentle slope everything is built on, and are a combination of worm castings and compost that has been cultivated on-site over the years. Most of the veggies have been harvested, though a few heads of lettuce and other yummy munchies can be seen growing; the seasons are shifting and the winter veggies will be grown in the two hothouses that have been built.

Peter uses what he calls "organic worms", which live in worm baths that sit in the shadows of a grove of eucalyptus at the edge of the compound. These worms are happiest munching on a combination of kitchen scraps and horse manure, and differ from regular earthworms in the quality of worm casting they produce. Buckets sit at the bottom ends of the worm baths collecting "worm tea", which is a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer that is used throughout the gardens.


The "main house" that we pulled up to last night is the most recently built structure on the premises: also built almost entirely from reclaimed building materials and timbers milled on-site, it features heated floors. A concrete slab was poured with copper pipes laid throughout that connect to a modified wood-fired stove in the middle of the house. Water fills a chamber surrounding the fire chamber, and a small pump helps circulate the water to keep the house warm in the cold winter nights.

The north-facing wall is almost entirely glass,
bought for $100 from windows reclaimed from another tear-down house in the area. Growbeds line this wall, about three 1/2 feet off the ground so that tomatos and other veggies can be grown inside the house throughout winter. It's also a handy feature to be able to throw your dry scraps right onto the garden to be composted. Originallly intended to be the "kid's house", this structure has become the main living area, with a large kitchen bench to hang out around, and plenty of room to hang out wet gear.

A flat screen TV and impressive collection of dvds and video games look like any other suburban kid's living room, though these kids are hardly what you'd call any other suburban kid. Wilbur is 23 years old and is currently in Norway leading whitewater kyaking expeditions, while 16-year old Oscar is away with Mum whitewater kyaking somewhere near the Walls of Jerusalem national park in the middle of Tasmania.

We strike out towards the waterfall that can be heard in the background, and follow a large trek leading away from the ompound. The stream at the top of the waterfall is narrow enough to jump across, and seems harldy capable of producing the roar of falling water humming in our chests. There are a couple eucalyptus trees here that would take four men holding hands to span its circumference, and soar majestically 30 stories above the forest floor.

At the bottom of the falls, we are humbled by the sight which greets us. Only a handful of humans have ever born witness to this place, Peter tells us later that the locals didn't even know it existed until he moved in and discovered it himself.

We are standing at the bottom of a small canyon, whitewater falling in slow motion over glistening black boulders that are almost perfect squares, tempting me to climb this beautiful natural staircase. Massive tree ferns lining the canyon walls create perfect acoustics for the water to gently echo around this room, and we stand in silence for quite some time in awe and gratitude of this discovery. It feels wrong to cheapen the moment by snapping photos, so we quietly say our thanks and move on back up to the house.

Electricity for the entire compound is generated from one turbine at the base of the falls, and is pumped into a converter and battery store room where power levels can be easily monitored. Sitting around under one light bulb in the middle of the night no longer seems creepy once we've walked down to the turbine and followed the power cables all the way back up to the house.

They don’t get many visitors this far out into the bush, as Peter explains, “those who are meant to find us, eventually do…” This afternoon he is picking up 18-year old Aoba [pronounced “Oh-bah”], whose Couchsurfing sister has arranged for a two-week stay to get her out of the city and broaden her horizons.

She barely speaks English, and I am lounging naked in the hot-tub when she arrives late in the afternoon and is given the tour. “Can I take photo?” she says, and I nod vaguely through the clouds of eucalyptus steam.

Who woulda thought that I would be snapped nude by a Japanese tourist out in the wilderness of Tasmania?

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  1. Hi Matt
    This is Aoba's mom again. I finished reading your journal of a trip to Peter's last night. I'm Japanese as not a good English reader or writer but your writing just come into my deep inside directly.
    Some how I feel perfectly understand.
    I thought of your words from deep within your soul. That breaks the language barrier.

    You are such a wonderful writer. (are you a professional writer?) Your writing expression is so beautiful. Especially when you depict the nature scenery that your flowing words like a breath of wind. I'm not sure if you are connected to Hawaii or not but it reminds me of an old Hawaiian harmonious melody.

    I read different kind of books by Japanese or translated in my past but only few writings did hit deep my inside. It did for me in this time. It brought me spiritually high level.
    Thank you so much ~*

  2. Dear Mimi,

    Thank you very much for leaving this feedback. It is so encouraging to hear how my words have touched another soul.

    Yes, I am a writer... though I would hardly call myself 'professional'... I write because it gives me joy, and it makes my heart sing to hear that my writing has shared this joy with another.

    Yes, I am from Hawaii, and have a deep connection to the 'aina [land] there. Should you ever find yourself lucky enough to visit, please drop me a line to let me know!

    thanks for reading!

  3. Hi Matt

    Yes I have been Oahu and Hawaii island with my children when they were little.

    A long time ago also I stopped by Oahu. It was my first journey by myself from home on my way to Sea.US by PAN AM airline. So Oahu is a place my first step on the foreign country graund.

    I always liked the feel of the welcom breez and the warmth with the big giant trees around.
    And I wish I could get around more local places at the time.
    I sure like old Hawaiian slow tone slides too.

    Yes I'm definitely looking foward to read some more of your new travel jurnal.

    Thank you ~*