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Swedish Christmas on Maria:
An Island of Many Faces

Diary and Photographs by Hanna Warff-Radhe, Göran, Ottil and Elsa;
Additional text and editing by Mary Jenkins


Jingle-bells 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?

Hanna, 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
Hobart 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 in.

A small 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.

Concrete 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.

kangaroo in Tasmania

22 December
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 the sea.

Göran 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 healed.

We find 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 fauna.

23 December
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.

24 December
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.

Our 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. 

Mary 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.

25 December
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.

A whale 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. 

On 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 anywhere else.

26 December
Packing and leaving a place we all want to return to.


Mary Jenkins lives in Tasmania.  
She is an ecologist and a writer of poetry and non-fiction which has been published in Australia and overseas.

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