An account of six months on a wild remote deserted island 43o south

moody blues

By now, we have submitted over 300 reports of weather observations to the behemothic computers of the Bureau of Meteorology, complementing reports from the 20,000 other weather stations, most automated, a few manned, around Australia. We have considered the significance of our teeny contribution to the forecasts and weather models that so many people and livelihoods rely upon. Our station, the first after 15,000km of open Southern Ocean at 43o South is a unique meteorological site with wind and wave born so far off. In some small way, we have been a part of Tasmania’s $150M seafood export which includes crayfish and abalone from our pristine waters, not to mention part of the equation that formulates the forecasts for world regions to our distant east.

We have observed and measured, checked and cross-referenced forecast-figures and automatic readings against our analogue instruments, and where no technological aid exists, it has been our own eyes that have discerned the swell and mood of the sea, together with the types and layers of cloud. Three instruments have failed, calling for our report and remedy. The meteorological software coughed and spluttered once or twice, all justifying our human presence on this outpost island weather station.

We are now most familiar with the 100 types of weather, cataloguing at least a third of them. Our cloud identification is supremely improved on six months ago and our intrigue for cloud species, vertical and circular morphism and primarily west to east travel, is piqued. This sky is never static and I was previously blind to the hydrological drama between layers and the thirty thousand feet of vertical theatre.

By now, we must have seen five rainbows a week. Singles and doubles, full arches and quarters. Kaleidoscopic arches cast over sea and our massive rocky island outcrops, dressed in white foaming trails. My favourite of all seascapes, although I love the angry seas too, is the visual spectacular of pink, blue and mauve on a smooth-ish sea cast by afternoon pink light filtered through patchy low cloud. Opalescent, I call it, like the inner-side of a giant abalone shell. The complementing sky can bear a dozen distinct rain clouds, the type caricatured in a children’s picture book.

The lawn is mowed, the roads and tracks are cleared of fell, the edges brush-cut, the drains are running free, the buildings are mould-treated, minor repairs and structural improvements have been made, the animals and birds appear happy and we have defended the island from vandals and would-be souvenir collectors by our mere known presence. Nearing the end of our term, we are captivated by the Maatsuyker project, its conservation and care-taker experience.

If I had goals before coming to the island, they may have been something like these; to survive the elements and the mind, to read and think, to convert thoughts into words and write, mostly for personal record and intellectual artistic exercise, to live healthily and lighten the soul, to grow a winter vegetable garden into a bounty against the fierce local conditions to hand on to the next care-takers honouring a tradition of feed-forward gifting, all as if in a time before modern humanity and commerce usurped mother earth. And something about a relationship with my co-escapee. I think we have succeeded and flourished.

My nose and lungs are supremely clean, washed with pure ocean air. I have read a book a week; twelve fiction and sixteen non-fiction which have included two or three biographies, two books and three halves on weather, two or more on lighthouse history, three on anthropology and sociology, two on meditation, one on neurology, two on politics, one on economics and three on love. I must be wiser now. I have written weekly reports to our boss mixed with quirk and goings on. The odd blog and many emails, some instructional, some contemplative, many between past and future care-takers as we live and relive a common experience. We have written love-letters and short stories for our own private audience. I wrote a poem. It has rhythm and rhyme, humour, theme and progression, and a punch at the end.

Unchecked by propriety, we have taught ourselves to swear. One word in particular, applying all eight grammatical forms: as a transitive verb, intransitive verb, adjective, adverb, adverb enhancing adjective, noun, part of a word and as almost every word in a sentence. Releasing fifty years of civil obedience. Oops, got some unlearning to do. (warning: not for the delicate…..   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86zlSplwK2A)

Last week, Andrew followed me, perhaps foolishly, on a barefoot walk to the summit. One kilometre each way, the walk began on decades old rough concrete of rasping rubble shards, then cold dewy grass and mud to ooze between our toes giving poor slippy traction. Enter the tree-line which litters a carpet of small twigs. Our digits well numb by now, we’re unsure if the twigs hurt more than the cold. Climbing onwards there’s cute native grassy herbage, then relief across a denuded rookery, currently unoccupied, with bird-scratched soil. Forest humus, tiny leaves and fern tips. The ultimate relief, a footfall over moss! Fooled! Tree-roots and rough quartz in the bedrock, the winter run-off coursing down the track in a cold cold seepage. The final pass through the fernery and epiphytes whose soft leaves have fallen is more bearable. Sensory overload that morning left little interest to linger over the normally glorious summit view, the descent only more pleasant that warmth would conclude it. Yet I made the mistake to warm too quickly under the shower heat. Oh, the engorging yet ischaemic ache. Perhaps barefoot walking is better left for warm sandy beaches.

I’ve been practicing handstands and headstands, an off-shoot of the yoga videos I started to follow. In my second half century now, one of those books instructed trying new things, so I’m practicing my balance and improving my shoulder strength. I’m nearly good enough for a photo.

As photos have hinted, we’ve grown our hair long, not only in response to the practical absence of hairdressers, but another rebellion against our civil lives. I’m not sure which of us looks more silly – my fly-away super fine threads that part over a bald scone, or Andrew’s curly grey locks, the temples of which brush forwards and outwards like koala ears. I’ve had to learn how to roll over in bed without pulling the hair under my shoulder or eating a cheek full of hair on the pillow, and how to brush out knots twirled by 100kmph winds – oh, those poor young girls who suffer such brushing trauma every morning before school.

Our pantry has proved sublime in size, variety and durability. We’ve not missed much and have managed a large repertoire of tasty meals. We over-catered on just a few absurd items like 2.2kg of sesame seeds (granted, Andrew has made some great lavosh, but we must have 1.9kg left) and thirty-six 440g tetra pack tomatoes.  Our twenty dozen eggs have lasted with weekly turning. There are just 6 blocks of chocolate left for the remaining 3 or 4 weeks – yes, if we had more than 64 at the outset, we (I?) would have eaten more – got to keep up the calories for our higher basal metabolism in this cool climate.

In the meantime, half a million short-tailed shearwaters flew off in March from Maatsuyker Island to Siberia and Alaska, and are well on their way to return, 15 000km each way. We’ll probably miss the first to arrive, due 20th September. Apparently, some make the journey in just six weeks!

Returning? How will we return to the throng?

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I am here on a remote island. I am here with one other soul. The absence of other people changes my mind, changes me. The presence of one other soul co-existentially effects my experience. But how?

Solitude on a deserted remote island uncloaks ego, I think. Without rivals, competitors, contemporaries, superiors, subordinates, heroes, idols, spectators, disciples, fans, followers or foe, in solitude there can be no ego.

I am here on a remote island. I am here with one other human. I could reject that being, obliterate a potential annoyance, just as in all good movies of encounter with alien kind. Or, we could unify in our survival, share food, water, shelter and warmth, share the requisite toil of our existence, and amplify our pleasure by twosome.

What of that other soul? Do I have to like her? Could he be anyone, so long as there is mutual vision enough? Would that person simply be a curiosity amongst otherwise unsophisticated, insentient life around me, and my toil, and as the incessant wind and waves grow monotonous?

I had concluded, or so I thought, that the void of normal distraction and daily employ and momentum of modern societally-centred life fostered submission to pleasure with the equally curious other soul who is also faced with saturation of interest in his surroundings. Was it only me who was numbed by the demands and momentum of modern societally-centred life, with necessary armour against self-indulgence in love and affection. Too tired. Too spent. Or is he changed too?

I find myself on an island with one other human soul. What if that person is affected by a softened pursuit of ego – how would he be changed by the island, more appealing, more lovable? I think so. And what if our union held no interest or standing in the eyes of others? What if, without ego, there was no embarrassment that my chosen partner looked a particular way, did stupid things, wasn’t classy enough, nor credentialled, nor wealthy, was terrible at spelling, occasionally superior or overly self-righteous – who would care? What if there was no-one to see me be over-shadowed by my partner’s achievement or personality or earning-potential, likability, gregarious humour, assertiveness or forthrightness – would not I be more relaxed?

Yes. I think it is diminished ego that is an experiential gift of solitude.

But, hark! It is not so. We have not fully escaped a need for applause. We jest, but perhaps with only half-heart, that we intend to leave our mark as the best care-takers in twenty years. Ego! That our drains are the cleanest, our winter garden the most productive, our grass track the most manicured, the improvements to irrigation most functional, our two seats most convenient and of the finest craftmanship, our buildings the cleanest and most sweet devoid of mould. That our weather-observation hand-over training is the most salient, our spreadsheets and computer files the most logical. We want people to remember us as fine care-takers and speak our names in fond regard.

No ego here.

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One Hundred and Fifty Days

Orange skin smile

Here are a couple of videos from opposite corners of the island.

  1. The south west                              https://gopro.com/v/egRPRaL6gbRM
  2. The north east                               https://gopro.com/v/ggNeGMQMVQM0

The second video takes us down a 56% decline to the north-east seal colony. There is no track and the shrubbery can be head-high with horrible long horizontal vine-like branches around which my feet tangle making for very difficult walking. I am wearing a PolarTec long sleeved shirt, a $4 T-shirt, a thicker PolarTec long sleeved pullover and a Polar Fleece Vest – too much for climbing hills but not enough for sitting still outdoors.

We’ve past the 150 day-mark, each one special and treasured. Incidentally, my hero, Jessica Watson sailed solo around the world in 210 days in 2010, aged 3 days short of her 17th birthday.

Here are some Maat wind facts.

In 150 days we have had gale force wind on 102 days. Gale force is officially 33 knots, or 61kmph.

We’ve had 18 days where the wind was over 60 knots (111kmph), 5 days over 70 knots (129kmph) and 2 days over 80 knots (148kmph).

Our top wind speed endured was 88 knots, or 163kmph.

An interesting metric to conceptualise is wind-run. That’s how many kilometres the wind has blown in a day. If it was a steady wind blow of 100km per hour, the wind-run after 24 hours would be 2400km. We’ve had 4 days with a wind run over 2000km. That’s a lot. The daily average is near 1000km. The anemometer has slowed to ‘calm’ on less than 5 occasions.

The rainfall figures for Maat below are somewhat misleading as A LOT of rain simply blows over the top of the rain gauge. Nevertheless, July was pretty soggy. So far, the 5 days of August feel much drier and calmer, but wait….

We are also enjoying one hour extra day-length already on the winter-solstice minimum. Its amazing to watch the setting sun obviously creeping further south past the cape each day. It has a whopping 66o to travel to its summer position.

Weather Stats

Wind stats

Maatsuyker Power Station

Solar power w lighthouseby Andrew

I guess some of you have been wondering what we do for power, living remotely as we are on Maatsuyker Island. As it is one of the windiest places in Australia you must be thinking a wind generator. Right?

Mmm….Well….No.

Historically an oil lamp was used in the lighthouse and all the rooms in the three keeper’s quarters were built with large fireplaces. The kitchens would have had wood-burning range ovens, kept burning all day for cooking and baking bread etc. I imagine all of these fires would have used wood sourced from the island. Currently the island is predominantly covered in tea tree, banksia and a few Smithton Peppermint Gums, eucalyptus nitida, that form a stand at the top of the Island. We have seen photos of the vegetation around the houses and below the lighthouse from the 1950’s and there was an absence of standing trees or shrubs, just grassland. The lighthouse keepers kept a horse for hauling supplies, grazed cows, sheep and even pigs for fresh meat and would have tended some form of pasture for them.

In 1921, the 1891 oil lamps gave way to improvements in lighthouse technology – pressurised kerosene gas flames with mantles. These kept the light burning for 55 years until 1976 when electricity for the lighthouse came to the island in the form of three huge Lister diesel-powered generatorsl. These generators are still housed in the generator shed next to the lighthouse. I’m sure with a little tinkering these old beasts could easily be cranked over to purr once again. Prior to 1974, a small brick generator shed nestled against the hill on the road between the number 1 (Q1) and number 2 quarters (Q2) provided power for all the houses and workshop. It is now the Paint Shed.

As oil lamps gave way to pressurised kerosene, so too wood gave way to coal briquettes. Hundreds of tons of briquettes in hessian bags were shipped to the island, offloaded into a small tender, motored to the landing, winched from boat to the landing, stacked onto the small trolley of the haulage-way, hauled up along 400m to the winch-house (whim), loaded onto horse-drawn-cart (later, in the 1930’s, a Jeep with trailer,) for the 2km trip to the houses. When digging in and around the houses, as I have done over the past few months, I’ve uncovered some of these briquettes, very dark brown and still perfectly formed.

The Lister generators used diesel which, like the briquettes and all the islands supplies, made the expensive and arduous sea-trip from Hobart to Maatsuyker, then to a tank-farm (a series of 4 x 2,000lt tanks) near the generator shed. In 1968, the supply ship, Just David sunk en route. Helicopters were trialled to service the Island, making a gradual transition from sail over 15 years. The haulage-way was still in use up until 1982 when a series of landslides destroyed the landing stage. Parts of the old haulage-way have since been re-used to build a second tank-farm next to the helipad as the diesel was thence flown-in in large bladders and decanted to the new tanks before being allowed to flow down a 1km pipeline to supply the generators. The diesel for our six month stay was slung-in below the helicopter in three 200lt drums and carted in Dave (our Daihatsu Hijet 4×4 mini truck) down to the generator shed.

In 1996, the Lister engines, affectionately named Angus, Burt and Cecil (A, B and C) finally spluttered their last exhaust. The original lighthouse, then running electric light, was replaced with an unmanned, solar powered, fibreglass, battery-filled box with a tiny revolving light on top, colloquially referred to as ‘The Tupperware Light’. The need for lighthouse keepers on Maatsuyker died along with the three old generators. Management of the island and maintenance was handed from Australian Maritime Safety Authority to Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife and so started the volunteer caretaker program that is now in its twentieth year.

In the early days of the caretaker program which utilises the original head-lighthouse keeper’s quarters, a diesel generator with some battery storage provided power. In 2005 major works were undertaken with a new underground mains from the Generator Shed to Q1. Two thousand and six saw the installation of a then state-of-the-art 14 kVA, 4 cylinder Perkins generator, rated at 58 amps/240 volt, with a robust Selectronic PS1 inverter to maintain the 24x 2 volt batteries, together with 2kW of solar panels and ……. a wind generator.

Several months after the wind generator was installed, the island recorded a maximum wind gust of 94 knots (174km/hr). It was these sorts of winds that caused blades to break and failure of the hub to render it useless. This particular wind-generator worked best with a constant wind speed of about 30 knots. Our wind is rarely that consistent, with days of 10 knots and others, like today as I’m writing this piece, gusting to 73 knots. In high winds, this particular wind-generator automatically spills wind from its blades in an effort to protect the generator, thus reducing its ability to produce power.

So there we have it. The island currently runs a big Perkins Generator, whose name is Dudley Doolittle as we want him to do as little as possible and not use too much fuel, with a 2kW solar power system and a 48 volt battery storage bank. We use approximately 5kW of power each day in winter running a fridge, chest freezer, washing machine, numerous battery chargers for radios, computers, etc. and have a one light on at a time policy. On clear days, especially during the summer months, Dudley doesn’t do anything, but during the winter, if it is cloudy all day, he has to run for 1-2hrs/day to keep the batteries topped up. Our cooking and hot water is supplied with bottled gas. The large 45kg bottles are refilled back on the mainland when caretakers change every six months.

As for heating, the Parks and Wildlife Service have installed a new diesel heater in our lounge room, which we run for about three hours each night. It is more efficient then getting Dudley to burn diesel to generate electricity to then run a radiator or blow heater. We only heat the lounge room and the rest of the house stays at a chilly 9 degrees. Oh, and the electric blanket has the duel purpose of heating the bed as well as trying to dry out the Doona which tends to get damp in this maritime climate if we can’t air it out in the sun.

Thanks for reading this powerful blog. I must now go and plug this iPad back into the wall and use a bit more diesel.

 

Check out this video I made with the GoPro Quik app. If it doesn’t run in the GoPro link, click on the three dots at the bottom right of screen, download, then play from download.

https://gopro.com/v/R2yQGP4gy611

Dave’s Shed

Do you have a grandfather, cousin or uncle who lives in the bush or on a farm?

Chances are that he has a shed (workshop), not too dissimilar to Dave’s shed here on Maatsuyker. Dave’s shed is a large shed that sits on the high side of the road above the garden overlooking the distant outline of Southwest Cape, some 20 plus km away. It’s been added to over the years and I’m sure like grandfather’s axe, has been re-clad several times during its life and looks nothing like the original. It’s most likely not the first workshop constructed on the island when the lighthouse was built back in 1888 but it has served its purpose as the go-to place to find or make that spare part when something has broken on the island.

James Hardie must have had shares in or received a kickback from the builders to ensure its new, you-beaut, all-weather material was used extensively here. As all the buildings are clad, added to, or repaired with its long lasting, non rusting, strong, asbestos products. Don’t think I’m being alarmist. The asbestos cladding on the island gives the place its resilience and character. There is a shed on the saddle near the northern end of the island that would have also once been asbestos-clad but has relatively recently been replaced in “Manor Red” Colourbond. By the way, bet you can’t guess what it’s called. Yes, The Red Shed.

Just about everything here has got a name. And for good reason. We have three brush cutters hanging up in Dave’s shed, all of differing ages and models and three lawn mowers, again different sizes and styles depending on the areas to be mown. Stig (who is currently tagged-out awaiting a rainy day for me to strip down and find what wrong with him) and Stig11, both older brushcutters along with our newest, Daisy, a soft-start number who has been named by a previous caretaker as she is good at cutting daisies. There is Kenny and Jason and the Deutscher mower who I call Dar-run, because I’m always running after him in top gear as we mow the 2km of road every three weeks or so.

Who could forget Dave, for it is after him that the shed is named. Dave is our little, I mean little,  Daihatsu Hi Lift, 4wd traytop ute, all 550cc of grunt, who never gets the chance to be changed out of low range 2nd gear and carries our 45kg gas bottles, 200lt diesel drums and other supplies from the helipad down to the houses or generator shed. Dave is an eager machine and always takes us by surprise when he leaps forward as soon as any attempt has been made to slowly lift your foot from the clutch pedal. Dave was flown the 55km from the nearest mainland road to the island back in 2010, slung under a helicopter to replace another 4wd that had seen better days living in this salt laden air.

Back to the shed. When I arrived and with this being a government facility I kinda thought it would have new shelving and a few essential tools and spares for breakdowns when they occurred, but no. The moment you open the double doors and peer inside waiting for your eyes to adjust to the lower light levels you are overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, I mean things that have found there way to the Island over the past 130 years and live permanently in the shed. Every purlin, every rafter, every wall is stacked, covered, lent against and hung from. The shed is divided into three rooms. The first being where Dave, Jason, Kenny and Darren reside along with a long old timber workbench complete with 100 year old timber vice with turned wooden screw and handle, all the spades, picks, brooms and 20lb sledgehammers you could poke a crowbar at, together with a mid-sized blacksmith’s anvil and grinder.

If any piece of wood has ever been cut on Maatsuyker the offcut can be found stacked under and alongside the workbench, waste too expensive to fly-out. A doorless doorway leads you into the central workroom. This is fitted out with two narrow workbenches above which small tools hang on shadow boards. Cupboards hold a few prized power tools like a drill and soldering iron but alas no 9” angle-grinder or drop-saw for me to use, so all metal and timber needs to be cut the old fashion way with a handsaw. Shelves are stacked with half empty oil containers labeled for all the machines and a bank of draws holds a myriad of rusting nuts, Witworth, imperial and metric who don’t have matching bolts to go with, but make good weights if ever you need to make a plumb bob. Gas fittings for the hot water heaters, screws, rivets, and old stuff overflow from sliding boxes. Twenty litre jerry cans line the floor for all the petrol equipment, some mixed as 2stroke others straight unleaded. Two salt crusted windows throw a dappled light, enough to work by during the day as the power trips in wet weather due to an earth leakage somewhere in the line. Maybe it is from the leaking ridge cap that drips water onto Dave during gale force winds when the building takes the brunt of a westerly. A case of waiting till the weather moderates and the sun dries things out before the power holds up.

The back room is lined with benches, not that you can see them because they are precariously stacked with boxes full to overflowing with old rusty galv pipe fittings, copper water and gas line, lead flashing, coils of electrical cable left over from previous jobs, plastic sheeting from the garden poly houses plus bamboo garden stakes, nails, screws, springs and pulleys, shims and widgets. If you want a 7/16th x 3/8th bush for a splined drive shaft from a 1977 Lister diesel generator, this is where you would most likely find it. Daisy and the Stigs are silently hanging from the rafters back here, hungrily looking down on the rolls of whipper-sniper cord they will consume during their working lives.

And find it you can. This is Maatsuyker Bunnings. It took me the best part of two weeks to sit and be au-fait in Dave’s shed, take in its history, understand the order of the chaos and where previous caretakers would have logically placed like things.

Oh, and in the concrete floor of the central room is a small drain pipe, used I am reliably told by our boss, to clean the blood and stuff from the floor when a sheep was killed for meat rations of the lighthouse keepers. At home I just swill it out the shed door much to my dog’s pleasure and wife’s disgust.

Dave’s shed is history. A lifetime of collecting on Maatsuyker, stored under one slightly leaky roof. A place where caretakers are free to fix and create the projects that keep this island going.

Fear and Fury

Winch gear for Instagram

On Thursday 10th May, Hobart was lashed with unseasonal wind and rain. Around two hundred millimetres fell on Mount Wellington, gushing off the mountainside and down Hobart Rivulet in a hurry. Floods coursed through the University and CBD, floating cars and bathing the city with mud. The state’s wildest weather station, Maatsuyker Island, was out of sight and out of mind. Unlike earlier weeks, we received no calls for radio or television interviews. Hmm? Interesting – FOMO. Hobart suffered. The weather system for us was most peculiar with the strong counter-normative wind blasting the island’s eastern cliff face at 50 knots or more then shooting upwards. An imaginary interface right there 50 to 100m away from the house, the western side of the island became eerily calm and only 4mm dripped into the rain gauge. Nevertheless, the island struck some weather damage: much wind-snapped tip-pruning, twigs, boughs and whole trees, giving rise to our work for the week.

My drains were clogged with debris. The road and the foot tracks were impassable. There was a little roof damage to the old Whim Shed and some ridge capping dislodged from Quarters 2. We took to the broom and saw, and scooped, picked and tossed the tracks clear. However, down the Gulch Track, a significantly large tea-tree had fallen inconveniently along the track rather than the more easily bisect-able posture of across the track. Disarmed of his frequently relied upon tractor and chainsaw, Island MacGyver took stock of the known available tools, two double pulleys with heavy hooks and a long length of hemp rope.  My imagination attempts a journey of the fourth dimension to wonder how these items were employed previously and when in the island’s history – at the mooring and derrick, the lighthouse or simply in the workshop? That day, they were threaded between the offending horizontal trunk and a nearby strong upright tree, and easy work was made to pull the trunk aside revealing the pathway for free traverse once more.

Walking beneath the tea-tree canopy that covers half the island, the trunks are twisted and inclined, never sentinel, the tops windswept, the timber appears brittle and ironically intolerant to the gusty wind. We wonder if there were no caretakers for a year that the road and foot-tracks would simply become impassable with fallen trees and a mesh of wind-snapped branch-ends. It’s a wonder any stay upright.

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FOMO: a contemporary generation-me term aggravated by the immediacy and ubiquity of social media; Fear of Missing Out.

To live on this island your FOMO must be low, but OMG the internet is SO convenient and it’s been down now for 4 days! Who knows if we’re to go the next weeks or months without it. Unlike care-takers and light-keepers prior to 2017 we have the internet primarily to communicate with our boss, trouble-shoot problems as they arise, to provide pictures to plan work and repairs, but also to keep in touch with family and friends. There’s reference value, banking and paying bills at home, buying e-books, shopping on-line for tools and treats for re-supply and recipes to look up.  I thought our experiment in societal detachment would be fouled by the internet, so this enforced fracture in our dependence on it is educational. Huh?

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btw, I haven’t heard any Trump news for 11 weeks – ahh, bliss.

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Check out this video I made with the GoPro Quik app. Be patient. GoPro Quik videos sometimes take minutes to play, or, you can hit the three dots down in the bottom right and select the download option, which for me, hastens the play back.

https://gopro.com/v/5Qqra6rovJgO

 

I’m not crazy about lighhouses

Photo by Helicopter Resources, March 8th, when they left us.    Precipice.

Photo by Helicopter Resources

Not in the mood for introspective dribble? Skip to Part 2.

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To be honest, I’m not crazy about lighthouses. Contrary to the impression I may have embellished in order to win this job, I do not roam the country notching up lighthouse visitations nor keep a log of histories and construction details like a good buff might. What I do like is the often spectacular, remote and wild locations where lighthouses are built and the juxtaposition of peril and sanctuary.

For my fifteenth book in nine weeks I am reading Solitude. Seeking Wisdom in Extremes. A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness by Robert Kull. He makes a study of himself and his personal experience of solitude and recognises psychological, philosophical, sociological and spiritual aspects. There are parallels with our island escape, but big differences too. Fundamentally, he has gone alone, and we are two. He poses rules or conditions for solitude yet, like us, he has taken many objects from the societal world with him. Some conflict with his ideal, and others are simply necessary for safety and survival. We are well aware of the products of societal materialism we brought with us or that were constructed or imported to the island before we arrived.  Similarly, our societal disengagement may be fractured by communication technologies that keep us in touch with the people-world. Does this invalidate our experiment? Conditions are extreme here and we are grateful for our solid house. This is no place for the survival of a naked and tool-less human seeking the purest detachment from society and modernity.

Despite our ample material, there is opportunity to experience a quiet of mind and an intrigue of what, materially and emotionally, do we really need. Robert Kull explores how doing interrupts his being. He is questing for something more ephemeral than us. But we recognise the angst. Fundamentally, perhaps as in both the societal world and this, there is a base amount of doing that is necessary for being. But is the doing in modern society so loud and addictive that it’s hard to just be?

Perhaps we two are using the doing to forestall that day ahead somewhere in the next 120 when we are smacked with the futility of our pretence. The world is made of people.  Humans living together make things greater than what one person alone may do. They also make monumental messes.

It seems that many journals of solo off-grid adventurers ultimately pine for the presence of another human. Remember castaway Tom Hanks and his Wilson. Its possibly the ultimate romance to find that together as two there is physical safety and comfort and psycho-emotional calm. Any other person or the right other person? For now, the other person here is right enough. The wind can howl and the roof and foundations may rumble but together we are safe and warm.

I don’t think Robert Kull will find what he is looking for before the end of the book, or he will realise its been staring him in the face all along. Sometimes you have to leave in order to arrive.

Is it morally right to take more from society in product, service or friendship than one gives? Can societal contribution be banked, fed-forward, to be cashed in at a later date? What is the exchange rate? If you have the physical and emotional capacity for contribution, is it fair to opt out, even for a little while? On the pretext of service to conservation, we’re on a junket. We have been given a priceless opportunity for introspection at the cost of a dabble in care-taker duties.

There’s a lighthouse at the southern tip of continental Australia, and it presides over spectacular geography and weather. The prominence inspires and humbles.

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Doing

In week nine we did:

Sleeping, dreaming, waking, observing, recording, eating, walking, jogging, breathing, fixing, crafting, sawing, sanding, drilling, screwing, cooking, cleaning, hauling, sweeping, bending, tossing, digging, sowing, reaping, watering, reading, writing, drawing, photographing, videoing, sitting, watching, listening, bathing, baking, eating, snuggling, sleeping, dreaming ….

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Media star

 Hear Andrew on ABC Hobart Radio. Not sure how long this link will be viable. Fast forward to 1:57.          www.abc.net.au/hobart/programs/mornings/mornings/9717358

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Afterword

There is a recorded and admirable attempt of solitudinal escape with far less imported materialism on our northern neighbouring island of De Witt. In 1972 Jane Cooper fled Melbourne to immerse herself in isolation for a year, a little less wind-exposed, and ultimately with aide sympathetically deposited on the shore by worried passing fishermen. It is thought that aborigines visited Maatsuyker Island but did not inhabit the island. They probably paddled from Louisa Bay 10km away on the southern coast of Tasmania, where archaeological evidence reveals their habitation. How dumb are we modern humans to survival in the natural world where indigenous peoples and pioneers made do.

Excitement, adventure and really wild things

Zen Drain
ZAPHOD: Hey Marvin! Come on over we’ve got a job for you!
MARVIN: I won’t enjoy it.
ZAPHOD: Oh yes you will, there’s a whole new life stretching out in front of you!
MARVIN: Oh, not another one.
ZAPHOD: Will you shut up and listen? This time there’s gonna be excitement, and adventure, and really wild things!
MARVIN: Sounds awful.

Douglas Adams. Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

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I have lived with Andrew for more than 25 years. For him, like our fathers, a satisfying day is marked with achievement. If not undertaking work for wages, then something needs to be cleaned, fixed, dug, built or improved. It must involve physical labour and probably tools. This is all very honourable, of course. But sometimes its hard to live with, especially if you don’t want to toil as hard, or occupy equal time in dull domestic work. I suspect many couples find a difference between themselves about the necessary minimum of work for comfort, sustenance, home hygiene and asset maintenance.

Unusually pensive, Andrew asks, “Is this a holiday or work?”

Aside from a simple delineation of activity undertaken for livelihood or not, if it was work, paid or unpaid, then it should be laborious, tiring, mundane, repetitive and to serve some societal purpose – shouldn’t it? If work does not deplete of mental and physical energy then is not work actually done? There should be sacrifice and regress into the negative valences. Long hours, starting early, finishing late, taking work home, an extension project, working for free, getting ahead, professional self-improvement, skipping holidays, feeling righteous that no-one could replace this worker lest the unit catastrophically fail. Achievement, reward, status and ego.

Want to escape all that? An uninhabited island perhaps? Good bye deadlines, accountability, scrutiny and judgement. Roll over holiday – the freedom to choose how to occupy one’s time in pursuits of pleasure. Heck, there are no rules or laws if no-one’s here to enforce them – not exactly. Alas, we don’t have sovereignty here. Meanwhile, this maybe our utopian proxy, but there is a price – our altruistic labour for conservation.

I clean drains. I sweep them of twigs and leaves and silt. And they fill up again. The one-mile grass ‘road’ between the old haulage-way and the lighthouse was an essential supply-line. Engineered by pick and shovel to a rough square profile with a floor of bedrock, the drain is probably four times the volume of the modern city kerbside. Today the supply-line is the shorter half kilometre section between the helipad and the generator shed. The especially heavy freight is fuel, diesel and LPG, but also building materials for repairs, waste removal and of course our provisions. If the road fails, the island’s habitability fails. A road without drainage is destined for erosion and ruin. Thus, I clean drains.

How to clean drains. First, take two Arnott’s Bites inspired by Tim-Tam, filch them into a pocket of your waterproof over-pants and run away along the road before the chocolate-police arouses. Take a stiff straw broom from the work-shed and plod along the road to the sound of reciprocating gum-boot thwacks on the backs of your calves. Take in the view – sea and sky to your left, near-islands and opposing coast. To your right and the foreground, verdant Tasmanian herbage, the future windfall to my trough. There is continuous chirp and tweeting of happy wrens and robins. Arriving where you finished off last drain-sweeping shift, lower your broom into the drain with your back to the direction of toil. Brush downwards and backwards, angle inwards a little to scour the edge. Repeat. Move along. Repeat. Leaf, twig and silt agglomerated, lower on bended knee, one foot in the drain, scoop detritus with both gloved hands and toss to the lower side of the road. Repeat.

I like cleaning drains. It doesn’t involve a noisy machine. It’s meditative. Rhythmic. It must be like raking a Japanese zen garden. Temporary order is restored, the roadside recess pure with sleek brushed lines. My physical labour is restoratively healthy, and counters all that baking. My meditations circle around the meaning of life, and if it is not the same thing, my young adult children, family and you.