Australia is a substantial and beautiful country that until recently left my interest unpiqued. Until that is, Exocet (Youngest of All) deemed her culinary career incomplete without experiencing the territory’s joyful food culture; she moved to the other side of the world last April.
In January, a long and gruelling flight delivered Tornado (FirstBorn) and I to Australia for our first reunion holiday since Mexico, Christmas 2011.
Our first days in Melbourne were a little blurry; we met with old friends from London, visited landmarks and enjoyed the fabulous foodie culture that tempted Exocet there in the first place. She has a point. Every café we passed was bursting at the seams with the promise of wholesome, organic, piquant plates and glorious confections designed to spread a smile across any sweet tooth.
Marvellous Melbourne served as our landing post and departure gate, but the mainstay of our trip was Tasmania, a place that hitherto barely tweaked my radar. We would be mostly in the middle of nowhere, exploring the unknown. My major apprehension however, lay with the need to hire a car; I had not driven for twelve years. People, I was terrified.
Before long, I found myself behind the wheel of a stationary Hyundia; Tornado smoothing a map across her lap, Exocet nursing misgivings. Feigning cheerfulness, I turned the ignition key. Nothing. Again and again. Nothing. As we located the car’s instructions the Girls noticed that our car hire representative was watching, quizzically. He approached the car and within seconds had set me right; You need to depress the clutch and then turn the key, he said. It wasn’t so the last time I drove but times and technology, they change. We lurched out of the car park, our man looking less than impressed.
Happily, old habits do indeed die hard and moments later we were hurtling along the motorway, destination Hobart and the Convict Spa Cottage that awaited us for a two night stay. From this perfect base we explored the town with the highlight of our visit to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. This is a ferry-ride away with the Mona Roma being an art installation all on its own; life-size cows and sheep gazing out at the passing seascape, swanky lounge bar with central gilded cage housing a talkative parrot, this was more club than ferry.
MONA itself is an architectural and engineering miracle that extends deep into the earth. Its collections are compelling, spoiled only by the Museum’s insistence that visitors use a hand-held device they call “The O” to establish any narrative about the art. This means that people wander through the building with eyes focused on the thing in their hand, not the art and artefacts on show. If you don’t use one of these, then to hell with it – you don’t know what you are looking at because policy dictates that no handy little white descriptions are mounted on the walls. An infuriating first hour was spent navigating the busiest areas of MONA, avoiding hapless individuals focused not on what was around them, but The O. Not art and not smart.
Emerging eventually from this extraordinary building with its magical spaces and still more magical (if unexplained) art, we bought a bottle of MONA’s own cold white wine to complement our picnic and settled down in the sun before exploring the outside installations and boarding the return ferry home. O-dious devices apart, this trip was well worth making.
It was soon time to leave Hobart, a small town steeped in history, craft and friendly faces. Heading towards the Midlands, destination Avoca (population 123) we stopped first at the Oatlands Roadhouse for a small snack and secondly at the Ross Female Factory. This compact piece of land was once a workhouse for women convicts guilty of crimes that included falling pregnant as a result of rape, usually by their employer. We were utterly mesmerised for a good hour or two and grateful for modern day emancipation.
Arriving at Avoca we received a warm welcome by The Rs and The Hs, both couples being dear friends of Beautiful Boyfriend’s family. Having expressed joy at our arrival, they confessed to not knowing what to expect, other than two small girls and a Mum. In actuality, they got two big girls and a small Mum but it mattered not. Our stay shifted into gentle gear with a game of Boules accompanied by champagne and canapés. This became a daily component of an enchanting stay that included trips out, walks, swims and absorbing conversation over delicious dinners. The Rs and Hs are our sort of folk.
On the final day of our stay, Tornado and Exocet ventured out with our hosts while I unfurled in their garden to consider our next stop. An extensive and admittedly last minute browse of available accommodation left little option but to drive down to Port Arthur where the White Beach Shack beckoned. We departed from Avoca sadly but in anticipation of the Grand Tasmanian Roadtrip and reader, we were not disappointed.
Tasmania’s terrain is rough, ready and remarkable. Long wide roads traverse huge tracts of land made up of light and shades of vibrant green, hues of ochre, deep reds and burned orange. The sky above was at one moment dotted with tiny clouds and at another dusted with swathes of moody grey and white through which the sun burst with celestial light.
Taking the East Coast we discovered the many different and wondrous bays that punctuate the Tasmanian coast. We saw tessellated rock, layers of geology, coves and caves of granite, sandstone, limestone and coal. We strode out on long walks through local and world heritage sites visiting the Remarkable Cave, Coalmines Historic Site at Saltwater River, Fortescue Bay, Wineglass Bay and the pinnacle of our promenading at Nubeena, where we sat together atop the highest point, marvelling at Cape Raoul ahead.
Our “shack” was in reality a well-appointed house overlooking White Beach, a bay so deserted as to become our own private playground. We had everything we could wish for; my observation that our hosts could have improved upon the components available for our first breakfast was stymied by Exocet who declared the matter to be “very controversial” due to the myriad options available. How, for instance, would they know what orange juice was preferred? I could not disagree and we made our own, fresh.
We spent our evenings here exhausted from walking; the Shack boasted a woodburning stove and splendid film collection. Both were enjoyed with a little help from Prosecco and chocolate before we retired for the deepest of sleeps.
This precious time with My Girls was bliss. The natural falling together of mother and daughters was enlivened by their clever conversation, childhood memories and silly stories. There was also the great joy of shared homemade meals, so long the glue to our family life and much missed. It was not all plain sailing of course; there were arguments, bickering and occasional sulks over navigation malfunctions – and the Girls weren’t perfect either.
Thanks to driving, my right shoulder had seized up and on our first day back I experienced the clinical excellence and hospitality of Melbourne A&E. An effort to relax the muscles pre-flight led me to a massage therapist recently returned from London where she had lived quite literally at the end of our road in Bethnal Green. Distance notwithstanding, the smallness of this world astonished us both.
It had to happen; sixteen days of filial camaraderie came to an end. It could not be left lightly and we promised each other a holiday together in another two years. In the meantime, Exocet and Tornado each pursue their adventures in Melbourne and Istanbul respectively while Mum thanks her lucky stars for daughters who are kind, clever, vibrant and yes, so beautiful.
To Tornado and Exocet, thank you.
© Giovanna Forte 2015