Monday 8 January 2018

Cycling the Island 4: Tasmania Felix

Next morning, as I sit behind the wheel of the campervan, I’m wondering whether I’ve drawn the short or the long straw. Today we’re taking backroads from Campbell Town to Deloraine via Cressy and Bracknell. It will be our longest ride, well over 100km, so my legs might appreciate the break. On the other hand I’ll miss out on riding one of my favourite parts of rural Tasmania.

[Across a field of canola to the Western Tiers] 
19th century explorer Thomas Mitchell called the lush pastures of western Victoria Australia Felix, meaning fortunate or happy Australia. What superlatives he’d have chosen for Tasmania’s rich Northern Midlands I can only conjecture, but for me this is Tasmania Felix. As we travel through the rich quilted fields, quartered by blooming hawthorn hedges, grazed by fortunate livestock, the visual feast is all the richer for the backdrop of the Western Tiers. These dolerite eminences rise some 1200 metres straight up from the Midlands to the wild Central Plateau.

[Idyllic riding beneath the Western Tiers] 
In the van I am missing the olfactory glory of this trip, especially the head-spinning tang of hawthorn blossom. As I’m driving very slowly behind the riders, and traffic is rare, I wind down the windows, stick my head out canine fashion, and take long draughts of the delightful air. It helps keep me awake, as do some CDs I discover in Tim’s van stereo. At one point Tim slows down till I draw alongside, and together we sing a few snatches of Dire Straits.

[Hawthorn blooms and Millers Bluff] 
We’re due to stop in Cressy for lunch and a recharge. But we are also talking electric vehicles with students from the school, and giving them a chance to test-ride our e-bikes around the playground. While the keens ones hurtle around the grounds, I chat with a couple of calculatingly uninterested high school girls. They warm up a little after we share a few stories, but I leave with the impression that this isn’t necessarily Tasmania Felix for them. Perhaps once they’ve exchanged this peace and beauty for some urban grunge they might recognise what they once had. I wonder how true that is for a lot of Tasmanians.

[A student tries out an e-bike in Cressy] 
When we were young my sisters and I would often spend a rainy day hunkered over our Cumberland coloured pencil sets. If our colouring-in books were full, we’d draw our own scenes, then colour them in. My landscapes were full of trees, fields, and mountains. But somehow I’d always manage to fit in a waterfall as well. This afternoon’s scene brings some of those drawings to life. As we leave Bracknell, we draw as close to the Western Tiers as we will. Forests tumble down from the rocky heights and meet deep green fields, some cropped, some grazed. And I know that just up there is a waterfall. Liffey Falls, a favoured haunt of mine, is surely one of the prettiest cascades in Australia. But our road goes the other way, so I’ll have to be content that I was up there just a few weeks ago.

[Where the forest meets the fields] 
When I stop for a photo, Barry, one of today’s other support drivers, tells me he spent some of his youth clearing forests to make these fields. It was hard work, and his memories are a little bittersweet. Perhaps he may have over-achieved, given how much forest has gone since those days.

[A lone forest survivor finally succumbs] 
And then we ease into Deloraine. Well I ease: for the riders it’s a hilly section at the end of a long day. Still, by the time we dismount at Drumreagh, our overnight stop on Deloraine’s outskirts, there are plenty of smiles. I get the sense that for most of us this has been a superb day travelling through Tasmania Felix. And for the doubters, there’s always tonight’s well-deserved pub meal and cold refreshments.

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