Christmas on Maria:
An Island of Many Faces
Diary and Photographs by Hanna Warff-Radhe, Göran, Ottil
Additional text and editing by Mary Jenkins
and multiple Father Christmases are something I try to
avoid, so when I heard the good news that a family of Swedes
- who have played an important part in my history - were
coming to Tasmania I asked them how they would feel about
a non-traditional Christmas - on an island off an island. How
would they take to an stay where everything has to be transported
and where they would sleep in Penitentiary rooms, once
part of a convict settlement, with bunk-beds, a wood-heater,
a table, benches and candle-light?
mother of two girls, Elsa and Ottil, had been introduced
to fire-cooking and billy tea on misty Swedish mornings
in the 70s, when I lived in Sweden. She was then
about the age of the daughters she was bringing to Tasmania. This
was a return visit for Hanna but a new experience for her
partner, Göran, and Ottil. I was glad they had
allowed enough time to see something of Tasmania before
the visit to Maria and delighted to read Hanna’s
diary, sent to me afterwards, with input from the rest
of the family.
21 December 2006
to Triabunna - about ninety minutes by car, then forty-five
minutes by ferry; the four of us with our good
friend Mary. She borrowed
a car big enough for all of us and our equipment: food,
pots, billies, sleeping bags, clothes, two bikes and a
gas-cooker, for five days on the island. Göran
patiently packed and repacked until all could be fitted
ferry took us from Triabunna, on the east coast of Tasmania,
to Darlington, where the convict settlement had been. We four were to sleep in two Penitentiary
bunkrooms where once sixty-six men had slept after their
days of hard labour.
Much of the island’s dramatic history was on plaques,
preserved convict built brick buildings, and in the ‘coffee
palace’, which is now a small museum - without coffee.
had been manufactured on the island and vineyards had flourished
but difficulties in transportation and the depression years
finished entrepreneurial activities.
What must have been a place of horror for the convicts
was like a fairyland for us as we walked along the many
tracks and beaches in the Maria Island National Park, which
includes a Marine Park Reserve. It was spectacular. What
we loved most were the wild animals, nowhere else in Tasmania
had we seen so much wildlife, even wombats who we were
told are shy and, mostly, nocturnal creatures.
We had the choice of luxury showers or a quick dip in the
still chilly sea. Ohups, we have to watch out,
a snake was seen close to the showers. We braved
and Elsa went off for the rough mountain walk up Bishop
and Clark and reached the top. Görans
feet needed some treatment after this effort. He
thought it was worth it with all the beautiful, changing
nature along the track. Will, the entertaining park
ranger, suggested a honey cure and quickly the blisters
that every little walk is a new adventure: the ground,
the plants, the trees and we are excited with the closeness
of so many wild animals. Every direction
tells a different story with its various wild flora and
We met as many people from other countries as Australians. A
couple told us they had seen Fairy penguins. So after
another of our delicious meals, we went out just before
dusk to seat ourselves close to the harbour. We had to
be quiet while waiting. Just as it became dark a
flock of sweet small penguins came from the sea to the
shore; they really seemed to care about keeping together
until they found their own nests on land where their babies
were calling. What a fantastic scene and special
experience for us! We were careful not to point torches
at them and kept very still, knowing we should not disturb
them as they waddled from the water.
Our room is decorated for Christmas Eve. Ottil has
made a great work by carving pieces of cuttlefish into
small figures around a nativity scene. The ranger,
Willy wears a red hat today. He is a busy man, one
out of four rangers who to do everything: guiding tourists
and looking after the whole area, toilets included.
Swedish girls discovered that other children have to wait
another day for gifts from Santa. They were
amused when they saw carrots – instead of porridge
- outside the Penitentiary doors to welcome him.
made a big fire in the mess room and invited people – from
Belgium, Israel, Sydney and Tasmania - to share their dinners
around a big table. Will joined us for a while. Another
beautiful evening - with red wine to celebrate. This
was also the night we felt our first earthquake ever. It
was about 24 hours before the Asian tzunami. disaster;
no-one seemed to be bothered so we rolled over and went
back to sleep after muttering a few words to each other
about the shaking.
Our last chance to make a long walk so went to French’s
Farm, near Chinamans Bay.
We were glad for the two bikes we had hired but still we
collapsed and dozed for a while when we got there.
had recently been stranded on one of the lovely beaches
we passed. And after the vibrations in the
night we felt there was something strange in the atmosphere.
our way back we revisited our favourite beach: Painted
Cliffs, where there are walls of layered sand forming the
most intriguing surface. The beach is whiter than
Packing and leaving a place we all want to return to.
Jenkins lives in Tasmania.
She is an ecologist and a writer of poetry and non-fiction which has been published
in Australia and overseas.