We woke this morning in Hobart, Tasmania, and scurried ashore without breakfast to avoid the large queues at immigration that actually didn’t eventuate. Never mind, it was nice to be back in Tassie again. Hobart has a pretty waterfront, with lots of historic buildings still in use, picturesque fishing boats ditto, and even some old sailing ships (don’t know).
I boarded a camouflaged catamaran and sat on a plaster sheep for a half-hour ride up the Derwent River – I was going to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, and they pride themselves there on being idiosyncratic, hence the boat. It’s a private collection, and isn’t included on the Azamara excursion options in case anyone is offended. Certainly there is some very rude stuff in there: large and obvious (I’m thinking of the gallery comprising a long line of plaster casts of women’s genitalia – which made me, and I’m sure every other women viewing it, wince at the thought of removing the plaster afterwards) and some of it sneaky.
These silver sardine tins, with their pretty botanical features, for example – it was only when I enlarged my photo of three of them that I noticed how indecent they are.
I wasn’t a big fan of Cloaca, which is four large glass containers hanging beneath pipes and tubes that feed them a faecal concoction that emits farts and periodically has to be excreted. Hard to imagine who would be. But there was plenty of lovely stuff there too, in all media, from all times and cultures, big and small, obscure and approachable; and all explained on a nifty cellphone-type guide. Hobart is lucky to have it.
The building messes with your head, though: it’s like the Tardis, and impossible to work out how all the galleries fit together. I've no idea how it looks from the outside.
“It’s not my cup of tea,” was the verdict of the pre-Baby Boomer woman sitting next to me as I waited afterwards for the ferry back to town. I think it pretty much goes without saying that if that expression trips comfortably off your tongue, MONA is not meant for you.
At the town’s Female Factory, the initial impression is that there’s nothing there: so it’s essential to pay for the Heritage Tour. Then you get someone like John showing you around the three yards that remain, empty spaces behind high sandstone walls. He told vivid stories about the lives of the inmates that brought the place to horrifying life – no dramatic exaggerations, just bare facts. Like, after 3 to 6 months being incarcerated in the hold of a transport ship on minimum provisions, having to walk at 4am (lest the sight of 100 women inflame the passions of the town’s sex-starved sailors) seven kilometres uphill to the gates of the prison, where any child aged three or above was taken from its mother, often never to be seen again.
It was a dreadful, dreadful place. Tasmania’s history is so very dark. I’ve previously been to Port Arthur (“A holiday camp in comparison,” said John, who has also guided there) and to Sarah Island, and Brickendon and Woolmer – and that’s only the convict side of the story. The Aboriginal people fared even worse. None of it should be forgotten.
But there was fun today too, in the person of Nick Nickolas, an English magician/comedian I’ve seen performing on the waterfront in Auckland many times. His act in the cabaret theatre after dinner was familiar but as funny as ever and, yet again, knowing the sleight-of-hand tricks he had (not literally) up his sleeve was of no use whatsoever in figuring out how he did them. Excellent!