Our columnist on flash flooding and festivals
Our first summer in Tasmania – at the start of 2014 - was an absolute belter. My son spent his days running through the sprinklers in our garden, before sitting on the deck in the late afternoon sun and shelling fresh green peas into a bowl. We spent our weekends wandering around markets eating ice cream, or stretching out on picnic blankets at the park. There is a small, sandy beach just five minutes from our house, and we walked down there so often we were on first name terms with the seagulls.
This year has been a little less idyllic.
The weather is doing strange things in Tasmania. Back in September there was a hot, dry spell that led to the earliest bush fire warning the state has ever had. But then a few weeks later we got pelted by hailstones the size of pebbles. The stonefruit farmers on the island ended up selling much of their battered produce as smoothies, jams and chutney.
There have been more thunderstorms in the last two months than we saw in our entire first year here. We have friends who had their roof blown off. A river surged down Kelly’s Steps and, just to prove that no one is immune to the changing climate, the rain flooded the library at Parliament House.
Around New Year, at the end of the Sydney to Hobart race, there was astonishing footage of yachts getting within metres of the finish line, only to be forced far back down the Derwent by high winds. Other boats – big boats – suffered broken masts and ripped sails. The yachties surely earned their post-race pints at The Shipwright’s Arms this year.
But whatever the weather, summer here is a time of festivals, and organisers have done their very best to keep things going.
The Taste is an annual, weeklong event, timed to coincide with the end of the yacht race. The dock area is turned into an enormous outdoor dining area, with tables and chairs, live music, and over a hundred food stalls and vans. We made it down there three times this year, for tasty pork tacos and Bruny Island oysters, for Willie Smith’s cider and Peddle Pop ice creams.
The site had to be cleared once or twice for strong gusts and heavy rain, but for most of the week the grills kept on sizzling.
January also saw the city fill up with visitors for MOFO – the contemporary art and music festival curated by Violent Femmes bass player Brian Ritchie. Being in Hobart during MOFO is a little like being in Edinburgh during the Fringe. As bearded performers and Guardian arts journos step off the plane from Sydney, the city rapidly reaches peak hipster.
But even if jam jar cocktails and lumberjack shirts are not your thing, MOFO has a lot to offer. We spent a happy half hour lost in the colourful tunnels of Exxopolis, an inflatable walk-in art installation, created by Architects of Air. When we made it through to the largest space, there was a musical performance by Jim Moginie of Midnight Oil.
Later that day, high winds closed the exhibit. We had made it in there – and out again – just in time.
We wandered among the cling film and sound art of Johannes Sistermanns’ Intuition Room. We saw Neil Gaiman at the Theatre Royal – the oldest continually operating theatre in Australia. He read from The Sleeper and the Spindle, accompanied by animation, shadow puppets and an electric string quarter. We saw Amanda Palmer with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and had our hearts cracked so far open that we had to stop on the way home to drink whisky, to clutch each other’s hands and cry.
We did all that, and yet barely scratched the surface of MOFO’s four-day programme. Next year we are determined to do more.
Early February saw an altogether different, slightly slower crowd in the city for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. There was finally some sunshine, and people took full advantage. They perched on benches to eat their punt-bought fish and chips, before ambling off to stroke the smooth, curved hulls of nearby vessels.
Throughout the summer there were markets; everywhere you turned, a market. There was the bustle of Salamanca on Saturdays, the fresh produce of Farm Gate on Sundays. There were pizzas and pâtés at the Twilight Market; face paints and poetry at Lazy May Beachside; beanbags and espresso martinis at MoMa.
But even that was not it. For sports fans there was the Regatta, the Big Bash and the Hobart Cup. There was Festivale for the foodies of Launceston. There was folk music in Cygnet. There was even the Koonya Garlic Festival, a joyful celebration of all things allium.
It is late summer here now. Schools have gone back, days are getting shorter, and the festival season is slowing. Ten Days on the Island is next month. The Spiegeltent will set up in central Hobart, and dozens of events will be held across the state. The Taste of the Huon will draw people out of the cities and down the valley to enjoy food, wine, arts and entertainment. A few weeks later it’s the sheep dog trials, equine expo and tractor displays of AgFest.
Tasmania truly has a festival to suit every interest.
But then we are through. We have a month or two of quiet. Time to repair our roofs, to clear out our gutters and cleanse our livers, before the whole cycle starts again.
When does it start?
Midwinter. DARK MOFO. Dress warmly. See you there.
Ruth Dawkins is a writer, editor and campaigner, originally from Scotland but now living in Tasmania with her husband and son.
She is a columnist for The Island Review, and will be contributing to the site regularly.
You can find her blog here.