“It goes 780 kilometres in the air. It nearly touches China,” he calmly says holding his little sister’s hand. She looks up, wide-eyed and nods in agreement saying, “I can see a Chinaman at the top. But only just.”
Light shines on both their chubby, over-awed faces as I overhear their dramatic conversation. It takes me back to the night my father took us outside to see Halley’s Comet. It was such a momentous occasion we stood for what seemed like forever with our necks craned in fascination.
I’m at Dark Mofo’s Spectra installation with my head tilted skyward alongside what feels like the population of Hobart. It’s some 4-degrees outside and yet swarms of coat-clad silhouettes are descending on this spectacle like moths to a flame. To be honest, I’ve never seen so many people out, in the cold, embracing Tasmania’s winter.
To say David Walsh has put Tasmania on the map is to understate. He may not have beamed a light straight to China, but in the imagination of two young Tasmanians, it makes no difference. For them, Dark Mofo will be etched in their memory and in their dreams and quite possibly the myth will be passed along to classmates.
But it’s not just the children that are captivated. Traffic literally rolled to a halt this morning on a main arterial when some type of whale with saggy bloody teats, floated above the city streets. Hobartians aren’t used to that.
Nor, as it turns out, are they used to lying down in the middle of a public building on a fur rug with a voluptuous woman. But this mate of David’s (perhaps?) had other ideas as part of MOFO Winter Feast, while hundreds milled around food stalls. She lured a nicely-dressed lady away from her counterparts, proceeded to pull her down to the floor, and asked that they snuggle together. Promptly, the lady obliged.
As for food choice, it’s a feast fit for Princess Mary. There’s Bruny Island cheese, Willie Smith’s delicious organic cider, grass-red Angus beef from Fat Pig Farm, Ruby’s Macarons, frothy Moo Brews, signs for sexy burgers; there’s such a flurry of Tassie goodness that I don’t know where to turn.
Suitably impressed, I turn on my heel and I’m nearly collected by a lyrca-lady on roller skates. Another mate of David’s I’m sure, along with some odd-ball who’s collecting people’s left overs and pouring them into a bucket like a science experiment. It’s time to move outside.
In my excitement to take a snap that captures the crazy fireballs shooting up outside Princess Wharf 1, I step up onto a trailer. No one seems to mind, the buzz of excited chatter reminds me of the atmosphere during our summer festival season.
The trailer happens to belong to a lovey fellow named Dan who’s brought along his wood fire on said trailer, and whips out the sizzling goodness to show me. “Take a look at this, we like to call it our drunken half lobster in whisky sauce,” he says proudly.
With that, a musician erupts into song, a local throws a log into one of the fire pits and I smile at having just been invited to Stanley for a three-course-feast with my new-found lobster chef.
Not long after, a light show begins and sends a little shower across those who have hurried across to the grassy strip beneath the action.
I join as children leap, dive and laugh around me, and grandparents gaze up with a smile that indicates they’ve been to a rave or two in their day. I realise that David Walsh has done something very special.
Is it the darkness? Is it the light? Or is it the life he has brought to our Tasmanian winter this year. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that in my three Tasmanian decades I’ve never felt a more communal cheer than I did tonight. There is a pride in the air, an electricity in the new sounds, and a glow in the campfire smiles.
If this is winter in Tasmania, it shines more brightly than the European summer I lived this time last year. And might I add, I’m blatantly proud of our little Tasmania tonight….shining more brightly than ever before.
While our beam may not be reaching China, this winter light has brought together an island of people like never before. And for the first time, we’ve all looked up in unison.
Words & images: Alice Hansen
A few more snaps....
Tap tap, goes his hand on the rail, followed by a very casual, “up you hop.” It is as relaxed as a Blackjack player tapping the table for another card but it signals something far more ominous.
I look down at the rain-spla"ered rail and wonder, again, why the hell I’d thought this was the answer. In the sideways misty rain of south-western Tasmania, my new-found mate – a Kiwi instructor with impenetrably dark sunglasses – is asking me to literally swing a leg over a near-shoulder- high guard rail at the Gordon Dam......click on the magazine cover to read full article.
Come fly with me
A plane with an anchor? I can't help but crack a grin. A plane on a beach, with a pilot in ray bans with his pilot-pants rolled up to his knees? Now that's the invention of a Tasmanian mirage.
We stand on an isolated beach on the tip of Bruny Island, having walked to delirious lengths, which is perhaps why I find this scene so amusing. A plane far from its airport runway, bobbing in the shallows, unashamedly is making me giggle.
As for trying to take the lifejacket demonstration with a straight face, with said pilot ankle-deep in water, this poses another challenge. I look down to compose, glance up, and realise the pilot is sharing an equally large smile. With that smile comes an unspoken permission to be stupidly thrilled about my first seaplane flight.
We are enjoying a quick 10-minute charter flight with Tasmanian Air Adventures, from Bruny direct to Hobart’s doorstep. But these folk can literally fly you anywhere, from the gentle curve of Wineglass Bay to the impenetrable South West wilderness.
"You'll just need to slip off your shoes and I'll help you aboard," Nick explains as he tucks the last of our luggage into the back aircraft hatch. Taking extra care with our nervous Sydney-sider, he reaches out a hand and promptly directs her to co-pilot position. Sneaky lady, I too should have cried 'petrified with fear' but my face told otherwise.
We each settle into plush chairs and dress ourselves in stylish headsets. It's time to taxi. A single push of a silver button and the unfortunate crew of six can now all hear my excited chuckles that tumble out each time we bounce over a wave; probably not their choice of inflight entertainment. But nothing on this seaplane is typical. Including the runway.
'Runway D'Entrecasteaux Channel' is in a fairly agreeable mood for take off, and just as we are all getting used to the gentle rhythm of waves beneath us, there is a sudden smoothness. We have lift off. I've never felt anything like it. From water to air is a transition for the senses; a surging lift, a quiet departure, wave ripples blurring with height as an entire sweeping view presents.
The northern tip of Bruny Island, Dennes Point begins to fade, along with the grand southern ocean behind us. Nick kindly veers to the right, showing how out behind us, next stop is Antarctica. From this viewpoint it's possible to sense Tasmania's connection to this far-flung continent. Today though, our destination is due north: the bustling waterfront of Hobart Town.
"For your comfort, I'll just open my window," alerts the voice we've come to trust so readily. My eyes suddenly dart from the craggy Tasman Peninsula, home to infamous Port Arthur.
"Open a window? On a plane..." My mind's voice trails off, "it's one thing to roll up your pilot-pants on a desolate beach, but to open a window mid-flight? It won't be the rush of air that wipes the grin off my face. It'll be terror." My, did I have a lot to learn about seaplanes. I needed to sit back and bloody relax.
As the light breeze fills our cockpit I realise there's nothing wrong with inviting some of the world's cleanest air into our cabin. It's all part of the experience as the sun sinks quietly behind Mt Wellington. Nick points out the bold Southern Ranges, a cute little dot known as Betsey Island, a shot tower with a protective past and a river-front school that Princess Mary of Denmark once attended.
But the surprises are not through for us spoilt passengers. Following a radio chat, we are told to look to our left. I know straight away that it's not a bird. My first instinct however, is not to assume it's a fighter jet. Coming our way. Rather fast.
"Here we have Jethro, our chief pilot, he's coming over to say hello," Nick calmly announces. Next thing, Captain Loop-The-Loop is turning upside down before our eyes then casually sits beside our right wing like we're buddies from way back. He's endearingly close, and I marvel (while praying) at both pilot's flying finesse.
As Jethro veers off like Tom Cruise, our eyes fasten on the view ahead. The Derwent River spills out before us, the bridge and world-renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) up ahead and a sunny eastern shore capturing the last rays (as any resident will always boast) glows to our right.
Time for a final treat, we career off to the right, flying directly over Battery Point with it's patchwork of historic houses hugging the shoreline. We hover above Hobart's city streets, and I smile at the joy of at least three cars patiently lined up one behind the other at her busiest intersection. The world could learn from these uncluttered streets on a sleepy Sunday.
Touching down on the Derwent River it's only fair that Sammy the Seal ensures we get our money's worth. As if on cue, he pops his head up beside King Street Pier just as we are coming into dock.
I'm not sure what's more amusing; that Nick knows the seal by name, or that the seal appears to be rushing over to greet him with some rigor. It's a fitting finale to what feels like a specially crafted voyage.
For almost half the price of an equivalent flight on the mainland, you can witness Hobart in a way not possible at ground level. And for a local it’s equally special.
Not only can I spot that I left my bedroom window open, but within 10 minutes I can be reminded how the wilds and Hobart are so incredibly close. The grand Southern Ocean laps up to a capital city. A desolate beach is just minutes from a world-class museum. And for $99 a person for a scenic city flight, it's not much more than parking on a yellow line in town like I did last week.
Go one, treat someone special.
To book a flight visit:
or call 1300 359 822
Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.