Australia · Christmas · Sport · Uncategorized

Week 65: Visiting the Apple Isle

After an early morning Gates Council meeting on Skype, I spent most of my Monday watching the cricket on television; specifically the Perth Test and the farcical sight of the groundskeepers trying to blow dry the rain-soaked pitch with leaf blowers. Otherwise, it was a mostly relaxing day, even though the rest of the week was to be a little more involved.

On Thursday morning, Indy and I both had follow up appointments with the dentist in Lobethal; we were scheduled for consecutive appointments. Once we had each finished, we walked around to Nana’s place to catch up with her. We went across to the bakery to get some cake and have a chat. It wasn’t anything too formal, just a casual catching up. That afternoon, I went home to wrap up all of the Christmas presents I had bought the previous week.

On Wednesday, I headed out for another bike ride, still aiming to combine both familiar climbs and new roads. I started by climbing up Torrens Hill Road, a very straight, but steep climb that gets easier the further you rise. It had been made popular by being the stage finish a couple of times in the Tour Down Under. Once over the top, I headed down and into the suburbs, racing down The Grove Way at breakneck speeds. Then, it was a rather traffic filled ride up Main North Road and up the climb of Black Top Road, that leads into One Tree Hill. I hadn’t ridden that climb before, and while you did get some views over the city, the traffic on the road didn’t make it as pleasant as I had hoped. Finally, I came home over Mount Gawler, a very shallow and steady climb with a very fast decent down the other side.

Most of the afternoon was spent simply at home, packing up all of my belongings for our impending trip to Tasmania, and helping Dad carve up a lamb he had just butchered. That evening, we all headed out to Nana’s place to have a family pre-Christmas dinner. Neither Nana nor Dad would be joining us in Tasmania, so we wanted to have a last moment between the five of us. These days, Nana isn’t feeling quite so keen to cook, so Mum and Dad made some food to take around. We shared in some nice cheeses and hors d’oeuvres before carving up the meat for the main meal. After dinner, we sat around and gave presents, sharing in each others company and joy.

On Thursday, it came time to leave for our trip to Tasmania for Christmas. This is something my family has done almost every year for most of my life. My mother was born in Tasmania, and her parents still live near Devonport. Most of the family congregates there for a week or so in late December. Mum, Indy and I were to drive over to Melbourne and catch the ferry across to the island state. We set out early in the morning, car fully loaded with bags and sleeping gear, and the bikes hung on the back. It would take us around 9 hours to drive across the mostly flat countryside. We rotated through the drivers, stopping briefly at a couple of bakeries and servos along the way for food and supplies. After many long hours of driving, we could see the skyscrapers of Melbourne peeking over the horizon. We made our way through the suburbs, the traffic getting heavier and heavier, until culminating in a heavy stop-start flow over the West Gate Bridge.

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Our first destination in Melbourne was not the ferry at Station Pier. Instead, I had prearranged to visit the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club in Richmond, one of only three active real tennis clubs in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. Here, some of my Cambridge habits and activities were seeping over into my Australian ones. It would be the first time my mother had seen me play the game that now qualified as my Cambridge hobby.

We were welcomed into the club and shown around the facilities. In addition to their two courts, they also had two bars, excellent viewing areas, changing rooms and even a pool. We were a little early, so Mum and Indy went out for a walk while I prepared for my match. I was playing against a local named Bob. I won the first set easily, 6-1, but he came back in the second which finished at 3-5 before we were called off the court with our time having expired. The court itself had faster walls, but not quite as bouncy floor to the ones in Cambridge, which made it harder to get to the shots.

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We left Richmond and drove back over to Port Melbourne. Before we went onto the boat, Indy and I went down the main street and found a pizza restaurant and ordered two takeaways for dinner. Though we arrived with plenty of time to spare, most of the other cars had already boarded, and so it was a speedy process for us to drive through the check in and on to the ferry. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry runs overnight between Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania, and has six decks of cargo and cars, and an upper four decks of cabins and amenities. In some ways, it feels like a small, budget cruise ship. We unpacked our essentials into our porthole cabin, and made our way up to the upper decks. There, we met my uncle Ray, his wife Belinda and their three young children Emma, Kalan and Lachlan. They too were joining us in Tasmania. We ate through our food, and caught up with our cousins before retiring to our cabins.

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The next morning, the ferry arrived in Devonport, so we packed up our things and made our way down to the car. We disembarked the ferry one by one, but soon enough, we were on our way to Forth, a small town a few kilometres from Devonport where my grandparents live. We arrived to be greeted by my grandparents and auntie Carol. After the usual welcoming and gossip, Mum and I kitted up in our cycling gear to ride down to Turners Beach. Here, Papa wanted us to go riding to Ulverstone with his usual Friday cycling crew. We met up with about a dozen old but keen cyclists, and rode along the bike track to the nearby town, stopping at the bakery on the main street for lunch. The relatives who weren’t cycling then joined us at the bakery to share in the nibbles. After riding back to Turners Beach, I went home via Geales Road, a short but steep climb behind the town.

After a little more chit-chatting in Forth, it was time for Mum and I to leave again. We were driving across the state to the capital, Hobart. I had a couple of activities planned, and so we intended to stay the night there. We arrived in the late afternoon. I got my bike ready, for it was time to climb Mount Wellington. The mountain rises out of the Hobart CBD, and stands prominently above the suburbs and surrounds at a height of 1271 metres. The 21 km climb winds around the face of the mountain, starting from the docks in the centre of the city. I left from the docks, while Mum drove halfway up to Fern Tree Gully, where the mountain road leaves the main road. She rode her mountain bike, I rode my road bike. The top half the climb was steep but steady, it was easy enough to get into a good rhythm, and there were decent views of the city and Derwent river. I caught up to Mum about a kilometre from the top. We stayed up there for a few minutes, enjoying the views, but the cold winds meant that we headed down for the long descent shortly afterwards.

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That night, we went to stay with my auntie Alison, her husband Craig and their young daughter Zoey. We grabbed some chicken and chips from the local chipper, and enjoyed each other’s company and Zoey’s indomitable enthusiasm as the night grew late.

The next morning, Mum and I headed back into the centre of Hobart, this time to the Hobart Real Tennis club for another two games of my Cambridge sport. This court was much older than Melbourne, or even Cambridge, and featured steep penthouses and a bright blue colour. My aunt and uncle came to watch for a bit, as I won my first game comfortable, though my second ended in a draw.

We left Hobart to head back to the north of the state, after a quick journey through the Salamanca markets to find some local food. On the way, we pulled off the highway near the small town of Cressy. There was another mountain pass I was particularly keen to cycle: Poatina Road. The road was built as part of the hydro electricity scheme, and links the power station at the base with the dams at the top. It winds its way up the side of the Central Plateau, to an elevation over 1100 m. However, I started about 10 km away from the climb itself, and had to navigate very strong headwinds to get to the base. Once on the climb, I found it very similar to Mount Wellington the previous day; excellent views over the landscape, and a very steady rhythm up the climb. Instead of joining me, mum drove her car up bit by bit, acting as a support vehicle.

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However, about 4 km from the top I heard the characteristic twang of a broken spoke. Suddenly, I felt a great amount of resistance to my pedalling and had to immediately stop. I checked out the back wheel and confirmed what I thought I heard. I tried to press the spoke out of the way and continue, but the wheel had buckled badly, and jammed when I tried to set off again, leading me to fall to the tarmac at a slow speed. I ended up having to take the rear brake pads off my bike in order to be able to continue to the top, which I managed to do. I rode mum’s bike down the mountain, my own bike would have been too unsafe. Finally, we drove back in to Forth, and grabbed a bit of dinner before heading to bed.

Sunday was Christmas Eve. Here, we would break from the usual family tradition of visiting church on the morning of the 25th and instead go on the morning of the 24th, the new pastor at the church wanting to spend Christmas Day with his family. We all drove up to the tiny little church on the hill, the pews barely fitting a congregation larger than 50. We went through the standard Christmas service, something which was now familiar having attended with family for many Christmases past.

After the service, we returned back to Nana’s for lunch, before heading down to the local playground with the young kids for a kick around of the soccer ball. However, when we returned, we found that Papa was being taken out to the Latrobe Hospital with a strong pain in his belly. Scans would later require a Christmas Day surgery, meaning that everybody was feeling a little tense, worried and uncertain on Christmas Eve.

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