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When you are deep into a vicious game of A_sehole, up against the devious El Presidente, you never, ever want to be forced into picking up a fistful of cards. The whole point of the game is to whittle your hand down to none as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I had no choice. An ace had just been played and I had no “two” or “ten” to beat it. El Presidente’s eyes gleamed in the night. Damn!

It was raining softly, the last night of our kayak expedition down the Freycinet Peninsula. The six of us were huddled under a tarp playing one of the most perverse card games ever invented, the rules of which changed continuously as the evening progressed.

It is a little-known fact that river and kayak guides spend much of their spare time inventing such games in order to drive their clients to bed so the trip leaders can have some peace and quiet after a long day. It is an unknown fact that opossums, the pests of campgrounds in this part of the planet, hang around simply to sit in on such games. They are, in fact, avid card players, but we ignore them or even drive them away, assuming they are after dessert.

This adventure began on a sunny day a month earlier when we stumbled into the office of Freycinet Adventures in the town of Coles Bay. It was our reconnaissance trip to Tasmania. We had worked our way slowly across the top half of the island, sampling Cradle Mountain and the wines of the Tamar Valley before dropping down the East coast to check out the spectacular scenery and do a little paddling.

It was after we had arranged to rent a kayak for half a day that Nikki said, “You really should come back and take advantage of our four day Easter paddle.” To set bait for two people who love to get out on the water you don’t need much more temptation than that. We were hooked.

Down in the southern hemisphere, Easter is the last gasp of summer. Everyone here heads for the great outdoors. Fortunately, with a bit of head start, we were able to book two nights at a wonderful B&B in Coles Bay called Sheoaks. That was our anchor. After that, I cast the net for a place to stay in Hobart, for flights and a car.

With only one night and a morning in Australia’s second oldest city, we were not able to see a great deal. It was Good Friday, after all. Many of the shops and restaurants and all the museums were closed. Fortunately, we were staying at Colville Cottage in the old port area known as Battery Point within walking distance of Salamanca Place. The City seemed sleepy, but not half as sleepy as it would be in winter, when it appears to function mainly as a jumping off point for scientists on their way to Antarctica.

The first European to visit the Freycinet peninsula was the ubiquitous Abel Tasman, for whom Tasmania itself is named. He named Schouten Island (our home for two nights) but mistook the peninsula for an island. A French expedition in 1802 provided the area with most of its current place names. A whaling station was established in 1824, followed by quarrying and mining operations until it became one of Tasmania’s very first national parks in 1916.

The high pink granite outcrops that plunge down into the sea at Freycinet are part of the same geologic formation as Wilson’s Promontory, three hours south of Melbourne. With sufficient planning, preparation and stamina, it is possible to kayak Bass Strait, separating Tasmania from Australia, thanks to a handful of small islands bridging the gap.

Our jaunt would be a paddle in the park by comparison. We gathered on the beach on Saturday morning for the first time. Our companions were a congenial brother and sister team from Newcastle. Our guides, Tim and Matt, took turns going through the safety procedures, then helped us cram our personal gear into the hatches.

Soon we were on the water. There is something magical about being self-propelled on the ocean. Everything falls away. It is just you, the waves and the glint of the sun. We made our way slowly along the shoreline down to the bottom of Hazards beach.

It was just enough paddling to feel the weight of the boat, the heat of the sun. We set up camp and had lunch, then our four companions headed off on foot for Wineglass Bay. We had hiked there on our previous visit, so we took advantage of the lazy afternoon and had a nap.

It may be possible to actually lose weight on a Freycinet Adventures trip, but I can’t picture it. When our two guides broke out the wine and the chocolate fondue on the very first evening, I knew it was all over. We were in for a gourmet indulgence. Fortunately, we had some hard paddling booked for Easter Sunday- fourteen or fifteen kilometers to Schouten Island. Once there, we could set up camp for good and enjoy ourselves.

And so we did. We paddled the choppy waters of the open ocean, hiked to the top of Bear Hill , swam a bit (keeping a wary eye out for the stingrays), walked the beach, watched the billowing sails of boats in the distance, wined and dined, told stories and played cards.

The game is insane, of course. It is called A_sehole. Just so you know, the trick is– keep your tens.


Despite my recent rant against the Grand Prix, I am as addicted to the convenience of the automobile as anyone else. I use our car for errands, occasional grocery shopping, carrying my bicycle to the starting point of group rides, and, (here comes the hard part) going for walks.

Two or three times a week my wife will hold out an imaginary leash and do her best Barbara Woodhouse imitation of “walkies.” For those of you too young to have seen Barbara on TV, suffice it to say that she was the Margaret Thatcher of dog training. Viewers sat up straighter when her show came on. Dog owners knew instinctively that they were the ones being trained; not the dogs. My wife doesn’t drive, so if she is to have her favorite walk, I’m part of the deal.

The walk she has in mind is a four-kilometer loop down along the banks of the Maribyrnong River. It is pretty, generally quiet and just enough of a walk to feel like a workout. The alluring part is along the river itself. I’m not sure why, but getting there by foot has always seemed out of the question, even though the river is only about three kilometers from our home.

It is the contemporary conundrum, of course. How does one justify driving a heavy piece of machinery to go for a walk? Or to an exercise class? Or a bike ride? As I suggested in my previous post, it may be time to rethink everything. The perils of global warming and major increases in the price of oil are going to require big shifts in our habits, sooner than we think.

The name Maribynong was probably derived from a native word meaning saltwater river. Although the river starts at Mount Macedon about 50 km north of Melbourne, it is tidal in its lower reaches. Although in the early days of settlement in Melbourne, it attracted polluting industries, it now supports many recreational activities, from biking to boating. It is particularly popular with dog walkers, which may be why my wife has associated it with Woodhouse.

On our last outing, we happened upon an annual regatta called Henley on the Maribyrnong, or Henley on the Mud. Not quite on a par with the glamorous Grand Prix, it is, nonetheless, a colorful event, complete with sleek boats and lycra clad paddlers. The race day commemorates the original Henley Royal Regatta dating back to 1829, a competition between the rowing teams of Oxford and Cambridge.

Summer is finally drawing to a close. Everyone is eager to take advantage of the last long days of sunshine. Even if they feel compelled to drive to the one place they most enjoy going for a walk.


One of the more bizarre narratives floating through the news lately is the escalating series of threats by Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One boss, to yank the big race from Melbourne and award it to some other, more compliant city. His latest edict insists that in order to attract a European audience, the race will have to be staged at night from next year on. Tim Holding, the Major Events Minister, is holding out.

Part of the problem is that the race is not held at a permanent race track. It circles Albert Park, a residential area well within the confines of the city. Staging the event is a logistical challenge, involving the creation of a temporary town complete with three TV towers, 3000 concrete barriers, gravel, paint, marquees, bars, potted plants, tents, fences etc. Over 50,000 tons of equipment needs to be trucked from the storage yard in Altoona to Albert Park for an event that lasts four days.

Despite all this, it would appear that the great race is losing money hand over fist, and has been for quite some time. In other words, it is being subsidized by taxpayers. Kevin Barnett, the man in charge of logistics, said that losing the great race would be like losing the Great Barrier Reef. It is an odd analogy, but most Victorians are loathe to let the thing go. The government’s last offer is eighty million and a five pm start.  No more, no later.  Bernie’s holding out for  7 pm.

Despite the obvious attraction of the classy cars, the high testosterone drivers and the grid girls hired by the truckload to hang out and decorate the track, some of the letters to the editor have been downright cantankerous. Charles Meo writes: “I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that the long-suffering Victorian taxpayer has endured the depredations of Bernie Ecclestone long enough….Let’s find a better way to put Victoria on the map.”

An Easter “entertainment” that contributes little more than noise and pollution and squanders huge amounts of petrol for four days might not make sense anymore. According to recent studies, peak oil may be past us already. There will be little or no new oil production beyond 2012 and we are looking at a 30 percent reduction in world production by the year 2020.

This is at a time when demand is increasing exponentially. China and India are building automobiles like crazy. Oil was only $20 a barrel six years ago. It is now over $100 and climbing. Doesn’t that require some fundamental shift in thinking?

The time for gratuitously wasteful “bread and circuses” is over.  Take it away. Bernie.


I must admit to indulging in a bit of hyperbole, literary inflation if you will. We did not actually have the smallest tent at the campground. I saw one that was even smaller, and I may not have suffered from the worst sniffles ever, but our little abode was dwarfed by most of those around us. I must say Australians have this car camping (caravan) thing down to an art form; Americans are amateurs by comparison.

When the pros hit the campground, out comes a tent that could easily provide shelter for six in the Antarctic, followed by cots, sleeping bags, chairs and tables, a barbecue and four-burner cook top, a rug (no, I’m not making this up) and an Eskie, of course. (That’s a cooler for you yanks and Canadians.)

Port Fairy is a tiny town about three hours from Melbourne that is host, once a year, to a huge folk festival on Victoria’s Labour Day weekend. The town swells from some 2,700 peaceable souls to about ten thousand festival goers and another twenty or thirty who swing into town for free bands and buskers. Needless to say, this taxes the available accommodation to the breaking point. So, most people camp.

Those with flexible schedules show up early. I arrived on Thursday afternoon when the town still looked very sleepy. I latched on to a couple of people I knew and enjoyed a nice, relaxed dinner and breakfast in one of the more popular cafes in town. By Friday night the hordes had arrived. The music began at 6 pm and carried on until early afternoon on Monday. I knew I was in trouble Friday night when my throat got sore.

I’m sure there are people who handle colds with aplomb, with the same sort of equanimity that enables them to set up a tent, drive a golf ball or do taxes. I am not one of the chosen few. I get all snotty and miserable and go through entire forests of paper tissues. I sneeze and make everyone around me shrink away. I can’t imagine how performers cope in such situations.

After investing in the tickets and the campground and luring my wife down on the train, I could hardly pull up stakes without hearing the music. So we went, Friday night and Saturday until mid afternoon. By that point I knew I didn’t have the stamina to carry on, despite a musical lineup to die for– the Duhks, Peggy Seeger, Ron Sexsmith, Loudon Wainwright III, and Faerd, a trio from Scandanavia.

We had heard some wonderful music performed by Mamadou Diabate, an amazing musician from Mali, a threesome from Quebec called Genticorum, a lovely Scottish diva named Eddi Reader, Trouble in the Kitchen and more. We soaked up the flavour of the festival, the food, and learned how to carry beach chairs from tent to tent and set them up right quick.

Maybe next year we’ll do it up right, with a bigger tent, a camping stove, morning coffee, servants, perhaps. And absolutely no cold. Stay tuned. You never know what’s in store for your reporter down under.


Now that we have been here a year, we are beginning to see the circularity of events on the city’s calendar. The offerings are considerable, appealing to everyone from race car fanatics to horse jockey junkies to book lovers. The Fashion Festival is drawing to a close with the Comedy Festival hard on its heels, separated briefly by the Moomba Waterfest. The one that appeals to the masses, of course, is the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Everyone likes to eat.

This year’s festival began on the 22nd of February and lasts until the 8th of March. If I had had sufficient time and resources to properly indulge by taste buds, I could have enjoyed a river cruise followed by a glass of sparkling wine, an education in coffee, a food lover’s guide to seduction, a master class in Australian cheese, a duck crawl and an introduction to the world of chips.

There were arts inspired food events, slow food events, food films, and the world’s longest lunch at any of 24 locations across the State of Victoria. And that’s not counting the master classes in recipe writing, low temperature cooking, seafood preparation, finding ingredients and preparing Kashmiri food, Greek food, cuisine Quebecois, souffles and Thai street food.

My Last Supper– the dinner was sold out at $165 a person for four courses with cocktails and wine. The countryside offered even more temptations: high tea at a sensory garden, around the world in eighty mushrooms, amphora euphoria, harvest picnic at Hanging Rock, bubbles and brunch at Chandon, and dinners at the vineyards. A virtual cornucopia for foodies.
The catalog came in plenty of time to book the most sought after event, but I had Tasmania on my mind, so it slipped to the bottom of the pile only to resurface last weekend. At what event could we indulge ourselves without advance reservations? What else, the most democratic of Australian institutions, the barbecue– beef, chicken, goat, lamb, pork, salmon and scallops, with mushrooms and salad as a sop to the vegetarians.

And Sunday afternoon, in complete contrast, a genteel tea at the colonial mansion called Como House. Tasteful little sandwiches on soft white bread and pastries. Croquet and badminton. Surrounded by five acres in the center of the bustling city, it is easy to imagine yourself in the Armytage family, circa 1880, gazing out over the vast expanse of green lawn. The horses clopping up the drive with the elegant carriage in tow.

You’ll be dining out this evening. Champagne, oysters, idle conversation. Perhaps the latest theatrical production. It does one good to be out and about in the City. Melbourne is the place to be, after all.

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