Tasmania’s Devils and Deep Blue Seas
Published in the Financial Times UK – 22nd February 2017 by: Mike Carter
Tasmanian Wildlife Field of Dreams – With its fine food, wild landscapes and tame wildlife, the former penal colony feels more like paradise
It was a field of dreams. But I was not in Iowa, and there were no ghostly baseball players emerging from the cornfields to hit a home run one more time. No, I was in a field, surrounded by melaleuca and black wattle trees, in the remote Tyne Valley, north-eastern Tasmania, where, a decade ago, the man standing next to me, Craig “Bushie” Williams, had begun leasing the land in order to allow a very different crowd to come and play.
The sun had disappeared behind Ben Lomond, and we sat in the crepuscule. “It’s nearly time,” whispered Bushie, scanning the dense woodland fringe. Suddenly a little dark shape emerged, then another, then scores, all heading slowly towards us. The first to emerge from the forest were the bare-nosed wombats, then Tasmanian pademelons (little wallabies), then the larger Bennett’s wallabies and the possums. They hopped and grunted towards us. For the next few hours we were surrounded, the creatures snuffling around our feet, like in some giant petting zoo.
Bushie, 58, is sixth-generation Tasmanian – “about as far back as it goes” in terms of European settlers – his ancestors some of the first people to leave England for Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was known until 1855) in the early 19th century. Earlier that day, he had picked me up from Launceston Airport, where I’d flown from Australia’s Northern Territory – from a red world to an emerald one. We drove along lanes flanked by hawthorn hedges, with rolling fields beyond, in which grazed Corrieddale sheep and belted Galloway cattle, producing some of the most sought-after meat for the world’s top restaurants.
We passed a vineyard, tumbling down a hill. Bushie told me that Tassie (as Tasmanians call their homeland) produces 0.1 per cent of Australia’s wine but 10 per cent of its best-quality stuff. A Tassie wine took top honours at the National Wine Show of Australia for the first time in 2015, and in 2014 a whiskey from the Sullivan’s Cove distillery, just outside Hobart, was named best single malt at the World Whiskies Awards in London.
“Did you see the sniffer dogs at the airport?” Bush asked me. “They’re not looking for explosives, they’re looking for diseases. We don’t have any in our crops. We just get the purest air and water in the world, straight from Antarctica, before the rest of the world gets it.
We drove through Evandale, a sleepy little town of Georgian houses and neoclassical mansions that looked straight out of Gone with the Wind, the broad streets dripping with cherry blossom. Then the road started climbing, up into the North East Highlands, hardly any cars on the road, the forest now one of black peppermint trees, myrtles, stringy-barks and the gargantuan mountain ash, the plant’s tallest flowering plant. Tassie is home to the mountain ash world record holder, a 99.8-metre specimen (which is considerably taller than the island’s highest building).
We pulled over and walked for a while. Bushie explained how his dad had been a forest ranger, so he’d grown up steeped in bushcraft; how he’d started his travel company, Pepper Bush Adventures, in 1997. A green rosella flew low, an endemic parrot not really green at all but seemingly every colour of the rainbow. Bushie reached out and grabbed a handful of leaves, inviting me to chew one. it was Tasmanian pepper bush with one hell of a kick “We’ll take some for the pot,” he said.
We drove between the twin peaks of Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond, and arrived at the clearing in the Tyne Valley, where in a stream along its edge we saw a platypus swimming. In the middle of the paddock beside a copse of elms was the hut where Bushie brings guests to meet the wildlife. Ben, his son, had started cooking dinner on an open fire and a platter was put in front of me, full of Tassie cheeses and olives, smoked wallaby and Tasmanian truffle oil, accompanied by local beers and wines. Afterwards, we ate local salmon poached in butter, lemon myrtle, sassafras and mountain pepper leaves. If I’ve ever eater anything more delicious, I can’t recall it.
After dinner, it was showtime with a Tasmanian wildlife field of dreams, the nightly highlight of Bushie’s trips. “The farmers used to shoot the wildlife so their numbers fell and they were very cautious around people but now they’re safe here,” Bushie said, shining his torch into the black. “There,” he said. I could see two fierce yellow beams of light, soon the owner of the eyes had joined the marsupial meet, a Tasmanian eastern quoll, a gorgeous squirrel-sized black creature with smart white polka dots. Out in the darkness, banjo frogs twanged their mating calls.
End of Mike’s Tasmanian wildlife field of dreams experience
The next day I took a hit car and drove 120 miles through the rural heart of Tasmania, an island roughly the size of Ireland but with a population of only half a million…….
For the original Financial Times article, Google search – Tasmanian Devils & Deep Blue Sea