The day started with a walking tour of downtown Hobart with a local guide. This capital of 226,000 people is located twelve miles inland from the sea on the Derwent River. Even though it is so far inland, it is considered a sea port and and has container facilities. All the golden brown sandstone buildings were built by convicts in the 1800’s. Because there was never any heavy industry here, the stone has never had to be cleaned. The original dock and warehouse areas have been reclaimed from the river, filled in by the bricks brought to build some of the less important buildings. Many of the bricks were the worse for wear after their long journey here from England and couldn’t be used in construction. A bit further inland a park covers the graves of many of the convicts who were worked to death and/or hung. A few of their headstones form a wall on one side of the park. Today the waterfront buzzes with activity of the tourist sort. Many restaurants and brew pubs line the water, interspersed with artisan shops. A charming spot. There are still many buildings from the bad old days. You can tour the gaol (jail) or visit the Women’s Factory where female convicts were housed separately and put to work.
Then we drove out of town to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary to have an up close and personal encounter with some of Australia’s unique marsupials. The wombat, which looks like a ninety pound rat was especially affectionate with the guide. The treats she brought were probably a factor. When they were gone the wombat was too, disappearing in her underground den. These animals are easy to repatriate once they are healed of injury and fully grown. They natural instinct is to kick their mom out of the burrow and take charge of their own lives. Next we saw some Tasmanian Devils, so called because their ears have no fur and glow red from the blood vessels just below the surface. Their name could also come from their blood curdling cries as they compete for food and fight with each other. This animal is almost extinct, because they pass a sort of facial cancer to one another with their saliva. The animals in the sanctuary are part of a breeding program and will not be released. They generally start with a brood of forty babies each the size of a grain of rice in their pouches. Since they only have four teats, only the strongest make it out of the pouch. And then of course we all fell in love with the koala. This lazy creature sleeps twenty hours a day and eats eucalyptus leaves for four. Because the leaves they live babieske are not very nutritious, they don’t have much energy to do more and because they are so cute, they don’t have to. They oonly like a few of the 700 species of eucalyptus. Eucalypts to protect themselves from herbivores and very high in toxicity. To handle the toxins, the babies eat their mother's feces, which contain microbes they need to digest the foliage. Yuck! The kangaroos were lazy, too. We were given foot to hand feed them and most of them couldn't be bothered to get up to eat it. Life is good at the sanctuary. When a kangaroo gives birth the tiny fetus climbs into her abdomen and latches on to a teat. The mother immediately becomes fertile again and males with the mob (the collective word for kangaroos) quickly notice by the smell of her urine and she mates again. Fertilized eggs remain dormant until the baby in the pouch is ready to leave. Occasionally, two babies of varying ages are suckled at once and the mother provides different qualities of milk to each of them according to their needs. Kangaroos generally produce female when they are young and males when they are older. Females need more support to learn the skills of mothering, while males are more independent and devote their lives to fighting.
We had the afternoon free and decided to take a ferry to MONA, a new art museum first opened in 2011. We read that people come to Hobart from all over the world specially to see this museum. Anyone who knows us knows that we are art nitwits, even though we give it a try every so often. MONA was financed by David Walsh, a math savant who made his fortune gambling in casinos. Over the years he was banned in local casinos, from casinos in Australia and from casinos in the US. These days he continues to make his fortune gambling online. Gambling wins are not taxed in Australia. He built his museum underground in multiple levels carved into a sheer rock face. Initially the museum cost $75 million to build and he is still adding and embellishing. The museum is impossible to describe. Here are a few of the things we saw: A wall full of plaster casts of 76 women’s vaginas. A heavily tattooed man sitting with his back to us absolutely still in a yoga position. After he dies his tattooed skin will become a new exhibit in the museum. An exhibit called Cloaca, which duplicated human digestion. Normal food was fed into a glass container, mixed with stomach acid and moved from one container to another as it was digested. The final product was excrement. Needless to say, this exhibit stunk in more ways than one. Spurts of water were released in a three-story waterfall. As the water fell, random words were projected on the water, so quickly you hardly had time to read them. A male and female skeleton were animatedly having sex with each other. A room which looked like a normal library was filled with totally white books with white pages from floor to ceiling. A room of concrete squares was filled halfway with oil and you could not tell where the squares stopped and the old started. We’re glad we got the chance to see this highly praised museum, but it will receive no praise from us!