Living in a Marsupial World
 
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An Indian Motorcyle Club visited on our last days at the Village
By the time we turned onto the main drag toward Margate and our new WWOOFing hosts, we were already breathing heavy sighs of relief. It felt good to finally get out. The Village had had some very good aspects, but after 6 weeks, all we could feel was an overwhelming stagnation of our spirits. We needed a change of scenery bad, and we were on our way to just that. It was obvious from the host’s description that this experience was going to be a lot different from Village life. We were headed for some hard work, but it would be work that put us outside, and would not feature scrubbing toilets and whiffing cleaning product fumes 5 hours a day.


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Rest in peace little mate.
We were a little dismayed, however, when we were confronted with a potentially bad omen. As we zoomed along Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow, sandy isthmus tethering the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of Tasmania, we smacked right into an unwary seagull as it made a futile, flapping attempt to get off the road. Traveling at about 70 kph on slick asphalt in about a metric ton of car, there was little we could do but watch the inevitable unfold. There was no way the car could have missed the little guy, but we couldn’t see any evidence of bird carnage on the road behind us. Mar was horrified but hopeful that by some miracle of Top Gun-esque avionics the seagull had escaped harm. I was less optimistic, and had a sneaking suspicion that we hadn’t yet parted with the bird, that Alby and seagull were still one. I pulled over to check the damage, finding a scene straight out of a Warner Bros cartoon. The poor bird had met the same fate as countless bugs before, squished and lodged in Alby’s grill. After some careful dislodging, Mr. Seagull was (as respectfully as possible) interred in the nearby tall grasses. I couldn’t help but feel a little like a hit-and-run offender as we sheepishly drove away.


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All ominous feelings were dashed aside, however, when we first pulled into Leanne and Martyn’s property – 20 beautiful, forested acres spread across a steep hillside, and surrounded by enormous, swaying eucalypts. We drove up their impossibly steep driveway, passing an incredibly lush, terraced garden and were immediately greeted by Leanne, who showed us to our new digs. Over the last 20 years, Leanne and her partner Marty had constructed several beautiful timber buildings, which included their home, an art studio, workshop, and a two-storey cabin soon to become our residence. 


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Our abode.
During our travels in Australia, we’ve enjoyed a wide spectrum of accommodation – a leaky, duct-taped tent, a bug-infested WWOOFer bunk shack, a retro motel room, and even a cozy guest room in a host’s house. Now we found ourselves settling into a lovely little wood stove-heated mountain retreat with stunning views across the hills, and what was more: we had it all to ourselves! We couldn’t have been more excited to be in this drastically different atmosphere. Though we weren’t far from our previous WWOOFing spot by the sea, we found ourselves completely surrounded by a gloriously different, mountainous landscape, nestled cozily into a sloping valley. The lay of the land acted like a mental security blanket, tucking us in and silently whispering to us “don’t you worry now, those motel toilets and pube-covered shower stalls won’t find you here.” 

Oh yeah, and there was a wood fire-heated hot tub. You haven’t known Jacuzzi-induced, skin-melting satisfaction until you slip into the steaming hot goodness of a hot tub you’ve heated from a pile of wood you’ve split yourself. Just sayin’.


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Our upstairs kitchen/dining area
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Our heat source: wood-burning stove!
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Our view in the morning
Our workdays were the other dramatic change in our lifestyle. Rather than rolling out of bed at 9 or 10, we were up with the sun and out the door by 8. Mornings tended to be quite chilly, but the whole drafty wood cabin, up at dawn experience made Mar nostalgic for her summers in the Rockies as a wrangler. She certainly got her mountain fix in Margate.

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We immediately came to realize that Leanne was an unstoppable, green-thumbed machine. Up before dawn and productively speeding around until dark, she could make tri-athletes look lazy. Every morning, while we stretched and yawned, Leanne was hopped-up on life and energy. It was all we could do just to keep up. Despite the fast pace of the work and my occasional bumbling, Leanne remained amazingly patient and kind. Raised in the countryside of Tasmania, she had a classic, rough-hewn Aussie way about her that showed through in her brand of politeness and tact when confronted with my ineptitude. 

Leanne never showed impatience; instead she just knew the best way to do things, and there were way too many things still to do to wait for me to figure it out on my own. “Yeah, naw, Ben, that’s looking really good what you’ve done there, but if you keep weeding like that you’ll be here ‘til next week!”  Or, “Alright, that looks fine Ben, I think we’re done with that for now, let’s just find something else for you to do.”


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Leanne’s husband Marty was a different story. He was just as kind as Leanne, but he showed it in his own special Kiwi way. As Marty put it, he loved ‘stirring people up’ and ‘taking the piss out’ of people, especially WWOOFers. In case you’re not familiar with the finer points of Australian/Kiwi dialects, ‘taking the piss’ doesn’t involve micturition of any kind, but instead means to basically razz and make fun. As soon as he caught on that we were American, it was downhill from there. It was easy to tell that the man had more than a word to say about the States, and most were less than congratulatory. 

Marty’s comments and cynical observations were altogether in good fun, but after a few obviously playful jabs, his rhetoric turned a bit sour. Most of his lectures were directed at our government, or at our overabundance of religious fanaticism, which we could only agree with most of the time. We were, however, a little pained to be involved in these discussions – we had flown halfway across the world in part to get as far away as possible from the merry-go-round of lunacy that is our country’s political/religious climate.

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Carrots in the garden bed
All political grievances aside, Marty was good people, and he and Leanne were one of the best matches I’ve ever witnessed. Marty was good at taking the piss, but combined with Leanne’s prodigious comedic timing, they were unstoppable. Marty would usually start the process by dropping a few less-than-subtle hints that he had you in his sights, then when you least expected it, Leanne would come out of nowhere with a haymaker that just floored you with embarrassment and laughter. You knew it was a good one when the two of them were bent over laughing – cackling and hooting like hyena-esque teenagers. Their 19-year-old daughter, Clara, got caught in the crosshairs fairly often, but growing up in this environment had made her pretty good at the comebacks. It was a solid, no-holds-barred family dynamic that made dinner time pretty entertaining.


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Ben's po' widdle hands after two long days of wood splitting
Martyn also shared Leanne’s love of hard work. Growing up on a farm in the backcountry of New Zealand, he was practically carved out of wood. I knew from the beginning that if I wanted to gain Marty’s trust and respect, I was going to have to work my ass off. It came as little surprise when Marty took me up the hill to a monstrous pile of chainsawed tree trunks he wanted split. I knew the score as soon as he handed me the axe – this was a test. He wanted to see if I could follow directions, and whether or not I would start complaining when my back started to ache and my hands began to bleed. Well, I certainly felt the pain, but I wasn’t going to whine about it! I had to represent the non-wussies of Amurrica. Marty reminded me that splitting wood was his favorite pastime, and that I should feel honored to have merited an invitation to join him in the activity. “You bet,” I replied as I grunted my axe through another hunk of rock-hard eucalypt and winced as I felt another blister peel off my hand.

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After a good long day sans leeches
Mar’s trials and tribulations, on the other hand, came in the form of slimy, gross leeches. We had heard there were leeches in Tassie, but until Leanne and Marty’s, they had just been the stuff of legend. Mar saw the first one while she weeded the driveway. It was drizzling, which provided prime conditions for the leechies, and as Mar was pulling up some invasive plants, she noticed what she originally thought was a tiny stick inching toward her in a slithering fashion. It was eerie watching it move around, especially when it stood up and elongated like a periscope, as if it was sniffing the breeze. It could somehow detect Mar’s warm-blooded presence - super creepy. Apparently that leech was some kind of scout, and must have notified the other leeches that there was tasty Mar blood around, because soon after this encounter, Mar experienced no less than four leech attacks, of which two were successful. 


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The barbeque area behind Leanne and Marty's: where leeches go to die
The most traumatic experience by far happened when Mar was clearing some bracken from a walking track. As she shook dirt from a bunch of pulled baby ferns, a tiny black leech attached to the root ball flew through the air and landed on her cheek. Mar didn’t notice until she saw the curious-yet-disturbed expression on my face. As we walked to the house to grab some salt from the kitchen, I could hear a slight panic in her voice as she exclaimed, “Oh god, I can feel it’s tiny teeth biting my face! I can feel it wriggling - this is so frickin’ gross!” Luckily, after a liberal dusting of salt, the leech fell off, writhing in leechie pain as it met its salt-encrusted doom.


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Where the food magic happened.
No matter what physically or mentally demanding things happened during our work day, we always knew that we were going to eat like kings when mealtime came around. Leanne was a wonder in the kitchen. Working as efficiently as she did in the garden, she made all manner of delicious and exceedingly healthy vegetarian fare. The really amazing part, though, was that 80-100% of anything on the table at lunch or dinner came from the garden: Herbs, leafy greens, carrots, beets, parsnips, cucumbers, pumpkin, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini…etcetera etc. There is definitely something sublimely satisfying, on a basal, primitive level that comes from eating food fresh from the ground, especially when it comes from the front yard.


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Part of our hillside supermarket
Leanne was also very creative with how she used healthy ingredients. For instance, instead of topping a casserole or pasta bake with the usual pound of cheese, she would use thin slices of sweet potato or pumpkin as a top layer, and then lightly sprinkle cheese on top. The end result was a sweet, semi-crunchy crust that delivered the cheesy flavor you craved without the heavy dose of fat. She also often replaced unhealthy dairy products like sour cream and ricotta with Greek style yogurt. By the end of our stay, we were so addicted to yogurt that we were eating it breakfast lunch and dinner. Pizza nights were particularly epic, with Leanne making wholegrain crusts from scratch, followed by a layering ceremony of every available vegetable from the garden. By the time baking commenced, each pizza was heavy with two inches of goodness.


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Marty and his glorious spread
Mar and I would fill our meat quota on the weekends, when Marty would fire up his homemade brick barbeque and cook up devastating proportions of protein in all shapes and species. Thick slabs of bacon sizzled alongside bubbling eggs, hearty sausages, and hefty filets of Aussie beef. Onions, potatoes and the occasional zucchini were included as well to provide the illusion of a balanced meal. 

It didn’t matter what or how much you wanted, you were getting what Marty deemed suitable, which was usually about enough food to feed a small horse. Feelings of ecstasy and agony were what followed as we each tackled our food piles until we were bursting at the seams. Marty, in his usual fashion, poked fun at me, saying that he wasn’t sure if I deserved so much food, given the fact that the wood pile wasn’t finished yet.


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The Bruny Island House
One special weekend, we had the privilege of spending a day at our hosts’ ocean retreat on Bruny Island: a fantastic, loft style cabin with everything you needed for enjoying yourself by the ocean, including walking tracks to the beach. The main reason for the occasion was the return of Falko, a previous WWOOFer from Germany, who had spent several weeks with Marty and Leanne ten years prior. He was visiting with his wife Saskia and their little boy Felix, retracing his steps as a young backpacker through Tasmania and the rest of Australia. Since Falko’s return was cause for celebration, Mar and I only had a few small tasks around the cabin before kicking back with the rest of the crew. 


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On the ferry to Bruny
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View from the house
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As is customary on such occasions, Marty fired up the BBQ and prepared a beachside feast for his guests. In the meantime, we explored parts of the island again, this time with Falko and his family. Even though we had seen these parts of Bruny Island before, it was a completely different experience. When we were there last, with Nancy and Charlie, the weather had been dull and gray, and a bit chilly for the beach. This time the sun shone gloriously between intermittent, puffy clouds. It was also a blast watching little Felix going nuts on the beach, chasing seagulls and inspecting penguin tracks in the sand.


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Using fresh penguin tracks as a guide, Mar demonstrates proper penguin beach technique
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Falko and Felix = Adorable
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Chance sighting of the elusive beach sasquatch on Bruny Island
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Leanne, Ben, Mar, Felix, Saskia, and Falko
A few days later we said goodbye to Falko and his family, and left Margate for a weeklong adventure around Tasmania with Matt who was flying all the way from Vancouver to see us. More on that story in the next post.

Afterwards, we returned to Margate for one final week of WWOOFing and one last attempt to sell our car in Tasmania. While hiking up Mt. Wellington with Matt, I received a call from a young woman who was interested in buying Alby. With high hopes that she remained interested a week later, I called her as soon as we arrived back at Leanne and Marty’s. By this time in our car selling experience, Mar and I had become significantly more realistic in our expectations. It was obvious now that we weren’t going to get all our money back, and that was fine; considering the 25,000 kms or so we had put on the car, it was sensible to expect a bit of a loss on the sale. The objective now was simple – if we could get more than half back, we’ve done our jobs and not let Devin and Emily down.


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This is actually a mushroom, not a post-nuclear blast soup can
Luckily for us, the woman was still very interested, and wished to see it that day! After a bum rush car wash using a bucket and a teakettle, we set off for downtown Margate. There we met Jess and Dave, a young married couple with a little boy and a very new baby girl, who were looking for a car larger than their sedan with which to shuttle the kids. Mar and I tried our best to keep our excitement down. We’d been disappointed several times already by waffling buyers and shifty-eyed used car dealers, but we couldn’t help but feel like these two were different. Dave wasn’t a waffler, he knew what the car needed to have, he knew what malfunctions to look for, and his wife Jess remained pleased with the car’s features. We crossed our fingers until the next day when I received the call we’d been waiting so long to get. They wanted the car, and they were settled on the price we had discussed. As soon as I hung up, I couldn’t help but let out a resounding WOOOOO!! across the hills of Margate and helped myself to an invigorating victory dance. If there were a football, I would have spiked it right there on the garden bed I was weeding.


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Dave takes Alby's reins as Ben takes his money - fair trade.
The next few days were a blur – getting paperwork together from the Dept of Transport, getting rid of camping gear and mailing stuff home that wouldn’t fit in our packs. The following Friday we met up with Dave and Jess at the local library to make the exchange. Dave lovingly bounced his son on his hip while Jess signed paperwork, and then we were done. Alby was ours no longer. He was going to a good home, and he was going to be great for this new family. Mar and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia as Dave drove Alby away. That car had gotten us around Australia, around a continent! Aside from a few minor malfunctions and a rather harrowing tire explosion, Alby had done right by us, and in a really bizarre way, we loved him for it.


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It also dawned on us as we walked into the sunset, with a sweet chunk of change stuffed in my pocket, that we were no longer wayward gypsies. We were dirty, good-for-nothing backpackers again. It felt good. Owning a car blows. Hard. We were in solid agreement that another car was not in our future for a good while. We had serious carbon footprint guilt after burning all those gallons of petrol, so riding a bike for the next decade or so sounded pretty desirable.


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By this time Mar and I were pretty much done with Tasmania for the time being. We had spent almost three months there, had some great adventures and seen some beautiful country, but it was time for a change of scenery and climate. It had rained for a significant portion of our time in Tassie, and we craved sunshine and warmth. We also wanted to finally get some quality time in with Gareth before we left for the States in May, so we were Melbourne-bound once more. Before we left, however, we made one final impression in Margate – a long rock wall for Leanne and Marty’s permaculture garden. We hope the Great Wall of AmeriTasica will stand the test of time. Thanks again to Leanne, Marty, and their lovely daughter Clara for a wonderful conclusion to our Tassie residency!


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Leanne, Clara, and Mar on our last day

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