Nativity Window in St.Matthew's Anglican Church, New Norfolk, Tasmania
No doubt you are familiar with the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. I’m very glad that there are twelve days of Christmas because that means my 2013 letter will arrive at your place still within the season of Christmas! The fact that the final weeks of the year were so busy with report writing, end-of-year functions, carol rehearsals, the purchase and decoration of the Christmas Tree and the like, together with school not finishing until December 20th, meant that I had no time to write my annual letter until now.
The year 2013 was a happy, settled and successful year for me and I was fortunate in very many ways.
The January holidays included an unplanned trip to Tasmania. Satoshi, Barbara and I enjoyed a little over a week on the “apple isle”. We visited the Tasmanian Transport Museum in Glenorchy and the historic town of Richmond (about 20kms from Hobart) and spent a couple of nights in a comfortable cabin just outside Mt Field National Park. Camping was prohibited in the park due to the bushfires still burning (but controlled) so we had the park almost to ourselves, particularly at night when we were able to see a multitude of pademelons and some glow worms.
Russell Falls within Mt Field National Park
There is a disused railway line near Mt Field National Park. At Maydena, it is possible to travel on a few kilometres of this line through the forest on what are called “Railtrack Riders”. These are purpose built vehicles which use pedal power as a means of locomotion. Those who get tired of pedalling are gently pushed along by a converted tractor. It was great fun!
A few minutes’ drive from Maydena is the Styx Forest where there are some very old and very tall trees. It is said that some of these were alive when Abel Tasman discovered Tasmania in 1642. Judging by the height and circumference of these giants, we thought it quite feasible!
A cruise down the Gordon River offered spectacular scenery and a chance to visit Sarah Island (a penal settlement predating the infamous Port Arthur). It was difficult to imagine what life must have been like on the island during that time because it was so peaceful and quiet. The boat stopped at a landing deep in the forest and we were invited to go for a walk in the forest along a short track. We were warned of the possibility that snakes could be on the track and, indeed, we saw one. Somehow, Satoshi and I became separated from Barbara. We looked for her but didn't find her until we were back on the landing. Barbara had heard about the possibility of snakes and had done the walk in record time (without even seeing a snake!!)
Ruins on Sarah Island
An ancient Huon Pine growing in the forest at the edge of the Gordon River
We spent a leisurely day travelling on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. This was originally built for the Mt Lyell Mining Company. Part of this line is very steep, too steep for a “normal” steam train. To overcome this problem, engineers used a rack and pinion system. The locomotive has additional wheels with a cog-like arrangement which engages with the special track thus giving the engine the required extra traction to get up (and down the hills).
As we had booked seats in the "premium" carriage, we were plied with food and drink almost continually during the trip!
Because of its location in the wilderness, the track needs a lot of maintenance. This photo shows the ruins of a previous bridge that was washed away during a flood.
A view under the engine, showing the cogs which engage with the track.
A cruise around Bruny Island included some rapid travel in a jet boat as well as the chance to view some of the highest cliffs in the southern hemisphere. The water became quite rough and I felt seasick but it was still a wonderful experience!
It's hard to appreciate the scale of this blowhole and the rock formation below. Both were huge!
We thought this looked like something from the set of the Lord of the Rings!
We got very close to these seals (too close in terms of smell!)
Another highlight of our Tasmanian adventure was a visit to Bonorong Sanctuary. We paid extra for a special guided tour after the general public had left. This gave us much closer access (even inside some of the enclosures) to the animals. Our guide was excellent and was able to answer almost all our questions. It was a memorable and highly-recommended experience.
Albino possums are rare because they are often attacked in the wild (not very good comouflage!)
Sugar Gliders are so tiny!
Watch out for your fingers, Satoshi!
I'm very proud of my "moon" photo - taken in Tasmania
A week later, I found myself back at school. After nine years of teaching Grade 2, I was very pleased to be moved to Grade 3. This meant moving into the main building - much closer to the toilets (a big advantage!!) and other facilities such as the photocopier and staff room. It also meant sharing an office with another teacher for the first time for a number of years. I was not too sure how this would go as the teacher concerned is a young lady less than half my age. Within the first few days, it became very apparent that my apprehension was groundless. Hannah (also teaching Grade 3) is the best colleague one could hope to work with. She is cheerful, easy-going, helpful, kind and generous. She has a great sense of humour and we have had innumerable laughs together. We were both delighted when we were told that we will be together again next year (2014). The third Grade 3 at Chatham is taught by Sue, the leading teacher of the team. Her classroom is on the floor above so I had less contact with her on a day-to-day basis. Sue is also an excellent colleague and the three of us have complementary skills, making a strong team. Thanks, Hannah and Sue!
Hannah and me during book week - the things you do as a teacher!
In March, I was privileged to be asked to conduct a performance of Stainer’s oratorio The Crucifixion at Ormond Uniting Church. A large number of enthusiastic singers assembled for the afternoon rehearsal and, after dinner provided by the church, we managed what I thought was a very creditable performance. Also in March, we spent the long weekend in Ballarat. The begonias in the Botanical Gardens were magnificent. We also enjoyed a ride on the historic tram.
The begonias were truly magnificent
I enjoy musicals and theatrical productions and 2013 gave me the opportunity to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (based on the classic 1968 film). It was an excellent production, especially the wonderful car! Another theatrical experience was the production of War Horse. This involved the use of puppets, each manipulated by several puppeteers. At first I thought they looked silly but, ten minutes into the show, I was totally hooked. It was amazing to see the skill with which the life-size puppets were made to move and behave in such a horse-like manner. It was a privilege (and quite an expense!) to see Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones on stage in Driving Miss Daisy. Both of these octogenarians are legends in their field and the quality of the acting in this play demonstrated the reason for this - they were both superb. King Kong arrived with much hype at the Regent Theatre. The technical aspects of this production were astounding but the acting and the music were not very memorable. I also enjoyed One Man “Lord of the Rings” and Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced.
Satoshi and I enjoyed a week away during July. We flew to Brisbane and then travelled by car along the coast. I had never been to this part of Australia and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Highlights were camel riding along the beach, several lighthouses, Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum, “The Big Banana” at Coffs Harbour (which included a toboggan ride), glimpses of whales and dolphins, watching a “bullocky” work a team of bullocks, and the opportunity to play the organ at Newcastle Cathedral. We packed a lot into the time we had but it was a great trip!
Norah Head Lighthouse (we went on a tour right up to the top!)
The bullocks are controlled by voice commands and the log they are pulling weighed over 7 tonnes.
A butterfly in the butterfly house at Coffs Harbour
The organ console and pipes at Newcastle Cathedral
In late September, I spent a little over a week at Cape Conran, near Orbost. Joan, Russell, Satoshi and I stayed in a cabin while Jenny and Darryl, some of their children, and all of their grandchildren stayed in the camping ground. This was a quiet holiday in which we spent time doing a 1000 piece jigsaw, having cups of tea, watching some DVDs, taking photos, dining at the only pub in Marlo and exploring the local area. The train line to Orbost closed in 1987 but there are still two enormous old trestle bridges to admire. We visited each and marvelled at how these structures were built more than a hundred years ago. An old weir near the Nowa Nowa bridge provided some lovely clear water to drink and the opportunity to photograph an obliging Eastern Water Dragon. We had a cruise on the PS Curlip - a steam driven paddleboat fired by diesel. The cruise began on the Brodribb River and took us near the mouth of the Snowy River. Some of the children had a turn at steering. Cups of tea and coffee were sipped as we made our way slowly along the river, admiring the scenery. We saw a number of water birds and a seal, asleep in the water. The AFL Grand Final took place during our stay. As there was no TV available to the campers (some of whom are footy fans) we invited everyone to come to our cabin to watch the match and have dinner afterwards. The great day arrived and everyone came to the cabin. Imagine the frustration when the TV would not work!! The Marlo Pub saved the day for the football fans and we still enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise together in our cabin and watched some Bugs Bunny cartoons later.
You can see the scale of this bridge by looking at the people
There's nothing like mountain water!
An Eastern Water Dragon (about 1.5 metres long)
The PS Curlip
A cheeky possum at the campsite
My special friends Joan, Rusell, Jenny, Darryl, Satoshi and I celebrate each other’s birthdays with a day out. For Satoshi’s birthday we visited Werribee Zoo, the State Rose Garden and Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre. This is the largest predator free ecosystem in Victoria. The 400 hectare property is surrounded by a predator-proof fence, allowing the animals to live as they would have done before the introduction of foxes and feral cats and dogs into their habitat. We participated in a night walk where we were able to see such endangered animals as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, Rufous Bettong and Brush Tailed Rock Wallaby in their natural environment. We thought that we would be lucky to see two or three animals during our walk so you can imagine how amazed we were when we saw about a hundred animals. Mt Rothwell has a breeding program for quolls (Satoshi’s favourite animal) and he was thrilled to be allowed to hold a baby for a short time.
A magic moment for Satoshi
The choir at St.Paul’s, East Kew, began practising for our twentieth carol service in October. I really can’t believe I have been at St.Paul’s that long! After nine Sunday night rehearsals, the Service took place on Sunday, 22nd December. The church was almost full and the choir sang beautifully. During the following supper, many members of the congregation spoke of how much they enjoyed the Service. The choir has been in good form during the year and this has allowed us to sing some more challenging and interesting music for the regular Sunday morning services. Church music continues to be a major interest for me. I remain the president of “The Friends of Anglican Music” (known as “FOAM”) and this involves the selection of music for the four Evensongs during the year and, often, the conducting of the rehearsal and Service. There are also regular music nights with friends (at which we sing hymns, read poetry and jokes, listen to individual performances, enjoy singing old songs from the Victorian era and eat pizza!)
When one has time to pause and consider what is really important in life, it is friends who come immediately to mind. I am so fortunate to have such a special group of friends and I hope you know how important you all are to me. I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and successful 2014. With love to each of you,
Read other Christmas Letters