Recently I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Tasmania with a bunch of guys to ride mountain bikes for a week or so. Yes, indeed, I do realise how privileged I am to be able to do so. It was an amazing week.
We rode in two places, Blue Derby (which I’ve ridden before and know and love) and Maydena Bike Park. If you like riding bicycles on dirt trails among rocks and trees, you should put both these incredible places on your list.
Now before the rest of this will make sense (if indeed it has any chance of that) you should know that when it comes to mountain biking, I’m relatively average. I ride regularly at local trails around my city and suburb, I have a nice bike, and I enjoy it – but I’m not particularly special. I’m not the kind of guy you’ll see on those YouTube videos hurtling down some vertical descent, or starring in World Cup or Enduro World Championship races all over the globe. I also don’t really do jumps…I like it when my tyres are in contact with the ground. Really I’m just a guy who goes riding with his mates and has a good time. If I don’t crash, I’m generally happy. I even made my own hashtag to describe my level of competence: #veryaveragetrailrider
So when preparing for Tasmania, it was with a certain degree of trepidation. This is “proper” mountain biking country.
Tasmania is without doubt one of the best places in Australia for family adventures. And on an island full of great places to explore, and great adventures to experience, the Overland Track stands out.
The six day walk from Mt Barney in the central highlands south to Lake St Clair is justly one of Australia’s best known and most walked routes. From the heights of Mt Barney to deep temperate rainforest, from spectacular waterfall views to glorious highland tarns, the Overland Track has something for everyone.
We set out with a bunch of friends to walk the Overland Track. In our group were kids aged from 10 years old and up, with a wide variety of walking experience together with their respective parents with a similar variety of outdoors experience. Our own kids are 13 and 15 and proved the ideal age for the walk. The 9 year old in our family opted for a solo holiday at Grandma’s…she didn’t feel quite ready for the walk and we didn’t want to push her into something like this too soon.
There’s a bit of logistical work to do on a walk like the Overland Track – with gear to be organised and transport at either end to be sorted. We won’t bore you with those details – head over to the official website to find lots of great information on preparing for the walk. You’ll also need to think about time of year. The peak season is the late summer – January and February – with less rain and snow falling at that time of year (less, but not none!). In winter it’s a truly difficult walk and you’d want a lot of winter (snow) walking experience before tackling it. We hit the trail early January in the summer school holidays.
There are a couple of ways to do the walk: self-organised or with a guided group. If you’re not an experienced walker, the guided groups offer a fantastic way to complete the walk – with all the challenges of gear, logistics, cooking and navigation taken care of for you, and experienced guides to show you all the highlights along the way. Even with guides it’s still a long walk though, so don’t be too complacent if you take this option.
Long distance walks in Tasmania are based around the choice of using simple bush huts, or camping in tents – and the Overland Track is no different. There are huts and camping areas at each night’s camp, and you can use either (but you must carry camping gear in case the huts are full). Staying in huts can be crowded and noisy, but it can also be a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to walk the Overland Track. They also enable respite from weather that can turn pretty nasty at short notice!
In our group there were enough people with bushwalking experience (and having walked the Overland Track before) that we could safely opt to be self-organised rather than take the guided option. Both Sheri and I had walked the track together a few years ago and were excited to share it with our kids before they get too much older.
Our kids were pretty committed to preparing for the Overland Track – and it’s not a preparation to take lightly. We did lots of day walks around south-east Queensland, an overnight test walk into Mt Barney Creek, and the kids made their own decision in the weeks leading up to the trip to walk to and from school regularly rather than the bus or bike options they’d usually choose (a distance of around 5km each way). By the time our walk rolled around, they were fit and ready to go…and excited!
I won’t go into too much gear detail except to say we carried two small tents, cooked using a Trangia fuel stove, and that the kids definitely carried their fair share of gear. The 15 year old daughter carried all her own gear, plus a share of family equipment, while the 13 year old carried his own equipment plus our family’s daily lunch supplies. Sheri and I carried a little more gear than the kids, but they definitely kicked in their share.
We kept a good lookout for value-for-money equipment in preparing to go, and apart from borrowing from generous friends chose to pick up some bits and pieces from Aldi, and an on-line discount supplier. I wouldn’t recommend Aldi gear if you’re going to be doing regular long distance walks, but for a one-off summer walk we found their down sleeping bags, boots, hiking socks and two-main tent fit for their purpose. A 55l pack for the 13 year old, gaiters (a definite for the Overland track!) and waterproof pants all came from on-line discounters. We didn’t skimp on rain jackets though, conscious they’d probably get a workout (and they did!) so opting for good quality rain gear.
We planned our menu together, and put together a tasty selection of recipes including home-made Bircher muesli we mixed up each night for the following morning, wraps and crackers with a variety of fillings for lunch, and a mix of stir fry meals for dinner. Other friends in our group used commercially available dehydrated meals for dinner and definitely had a quicker and easier meal prep time than we did, but there’s generally no rush. We let the kids go crazy on making up some trail mix (nuts, chocolate, lollies, dried fruit etc) to their own specification – you’re going to burn lots of calories on a walk like this so regular snacking is important, and we also carried as much fresh fruit as we thought we could.
The Overland Track is an incredible walk. It starts at the base of the majestic Cradle Mountain, and within a matter of minutes the steep, tough climb to Marion’s Lookout begins. This first couple of hours is the hardest of the week, but our kids bounced up the climb like they were out for an afternoon neighbourhood jaunt. The view from the top on a fine day (which we had) is incredible. From there, day one continued around behind Cradle Mountain and an optional side trip to the summit. Sheri took the 13 year old to the top in what turned out to be a quite difficult and at times exposed climb to an incredible summit, while the 15 year old and I stayed on the main track toward the night’s first campsite at Waterfall Valley. We were off to a great start.
What followed was another five days of fantastic walking, lovely campsites, glorious views, and the kind of family experience you’d dream about. Hours of walking with the kids, chatting about life, the universe and everything, were interspersed with periods where they were walking with other kids from our group so Sheri and I had plenty of time to walk and chat too.
It’s hard to pick highlights from a walk in which every day was unique and special, but there are a few that stand out:
A sunny afternoon enjoying the lovely grass campsites of Waterfall Valley and watching the sun set behind Barn Bluff
An optional side trip to the summit of Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s tallest) was rewarded with an astonishing summit area after a hard scrambling climb. I couldn’t make the walk (a little dodgy knee action), but Sheri and the kids joined some friends for the trip – and they haven’t stopped raving about it since.
We camped some nights, and stayed in the huts on others and enjoyed meeting walkers from around Australian and beyond – including a dad with his 7 and 9 year old kids who charged through the walk in remarkable style.
On our fifth day, from Kia Ora to Windy Ridge, the rain set in. We’d had great weather up until this point, but this day was bleak, cold and wet (even in summer time the weather on the Overland Track can turn nasty, with snow possible any time of year). Rather than bemoan the weather, we celebrated with the kids, telling them “embrace it, this is the real Tassie!” We buttoned up the waterproof gear, splashed our way along tracks that were more like creek beds than dry walking trails and explored a number of side trails to spectacular waterfalls along the Mersey River. It rained all day, the kids loved it, we coped well physically, and were rewarded with the big, modern, well equipped hut at Windy Ridge as a fine place to warm up, dry out and spend our last night on the track. While on other days we’d walked intermingled with our larger group of friends, on this day we spent most of the time just walking as a family unit…and that made it all the more special.
While it’s possible to walk right along the shoreline of Lake St Clair to the finishing point at its southern end, that day’s walk is rough, slow and not particularly scenic, so most people (us included) finish the walk at the northern end of the lake and organised a ferry across the lake to the official finishing position. That last day’s walk down to the lake edge is fast, flat, scenic and includes a spectacular swing bridge over the Narcissus River, before a (nearly compulsory) celebratory swim in the icy-cold waters of Lake St Clair….we were done!
The kids smashed this walk. We had zero complaining, zero whinging about no mobile phone or internet access. We had some blisters, sore shoulders, hips, feet as you would imagine, but the kids truly loved being immersed in this spectacular wilderness environment. We had one gear failure – my trusty boots gave up the ghost on day two and only survived by being taped together each morning with Elastoplast – but an otherwise trouble free walk. Our only regret was that the 9 year old wasn’t quite up to joining us (yours might be, but ours wasn’t)…the bonus to that being that we might have to make a repeat visit in a couple of years when she’s ready.
A walk like the Overland Track (either alone or with the family) isn’t easy. It takes preparation, training and a certain degree of skill and capability in the outdoors (particularly if the weather turns bad). That said, there are the guided options I mentioned earlier, or the option to walk with friends who do have the skills and experience necessary.
When all is said and done though, the memories of a trip like this will last a lifetime for kids, and set them on a path to pursue adventure, with the confidence that comes from having completed (and enjoyed) such a trip.
This story was originally written for a family adventures website, so it’s a little different to my normal writing. Its now published here to make sure I don’t lose it. Hope you enjoyed!
There’s lots to like about the clip, and the irrepressible Zander, but these lines struck me the most:
A conductor (of an orchestra) doesn’t make a sound.
A conductor depends for (his) power on the ability to make other people powerful.
My job (as a conductor) is to awaken possibility in other people.
You can tell when you are awakening possibility in someone because their eyes are shining.
It seems just about the most poetic and inspiring description of leadership that I’ve come across. The leaders task is to awaken possibility in another, to make them powerful, to make their eyes shine.
Zander goes on to talk about the ‘negative spiral’ language so common today, in which we manage to constantly talk everything down, in the process convincing ourselves that the world really is hopeless. This, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite to awakening possibility in someone (and that’s Zander’s point).
In the church, the institution in which I work, the negative spiral is verging on out of control. We are too old. Our properties are a noose around our neck. There aren’t enough of us anymore. On, and on (and on and on) it goes. We have all but removed any hope of awakening possibility in the people of the church.
Last night I was helping to host a mission planning conversation for a Uniting Church region (called a “presbytery” in our ever-so-helpful internal lingo) and we tried to identify the critical questions for the church to address. Quite a few of the questions that emerged were ‘negative spiral’ kinds of questions – but not all.
One of my favourites came from a group who simple asked, “how can we turn our negatives into blessings?” That, it seems to me, is a question that starts from a place of possibility, of hope that there can be a new way.
It reminds me that in class last week, we encountered Stanley Hauerwas, and some of his thoughts on leadership. I took five things from the encounter with Hauerwas (watch the video here):
The leader articulates a vision, or speaks for the community. The leader doesn’t speak to the community, but for it – recognising the vision, the image that is within and declaring it out loud
Innovation and creativity are critical in the art of leadership, and they can be habits formed intentionally – in an individual and an organisation (*)
The leader’s role is to recognise what is within – what giftedness can be found in the community – and empower it
It’s impossible to lead without community engagement – the leader cannot operate in a tower of isolation
The discipline of the ego (of the leader) is vital
Most of those lessons came to mind as I watched Benjamin Zander riff on possibility, on awakening, on seeing eyes shine.
And I was reminded of one experience from my own life that came closest to that kind of encounter.
I went to visit a group from a very small rural church in Tasmania. The group consisted of mostly elderly ladies (and as a result featured the most lavish country style afternoon tea!) and the purpose of our gathering was to think about the future of their church. The conversation didn’t start well, with the clear declaration that “we are too old, too few in number to have any kind of future”. I wanted more of that afternoon tea so didn’t want the conversation to end too soon, so we poked and prodded and explored and wondered for a couple of hours together. We asked questions like “what do we look like at our best?” and “what do we love about our community?” and gradually, bit-by-bit, a different story started to emerge. Not mindlessly optomisic, but an awakening of possibility, that this group (small and old as they might have described themselves) had a great many things to offer. The whole tone of the conversation shifted over those two devonshire-tea powered hours of talking and wondering.
I think maybe that’s what Zander is talking about, and Hauerwas too.
Leadership is awakening possibility.
NB: This is the sixth in a serious of posts reflecting on leadership, written during a Religious Leadership course with Trinity Theological College
(*) I have a habit of thinking about imagination and Hauerwas stoked the fire for me again. I think imagination is a most important aspect of leadership, and the most often under-developed. Here’s a few thoughts in case you’re interested:
Just recently we took our kids for their first visit to Port Arthur. It’s a place that represents a unique insight into the convict period of Tasmania’s recent history. Operating as a secondary prison, it was home to men and boys who had been shipped to the colonial convict prisons, and then re-offended in some way.
Part of the site at Port Arthur includes a restoration of what is known as the “Separate Prison”, a place of particular brutality and deprivation during its operation. Here men were essentially denied their humanity, forced to work in silence, deprived of inter-personal contact of any real sort, forced to wear masks when outside their cells. The idea was to confront the convict with their own broken-ness and force some kind of change to occur.
My kids, as we walked around the restored ruins of the separate prison, were incredulous. “How could they think this would work?” they would ask. “How could anybody be so cruel?”
We didn’t defend the choices made in those days, just observed that then, as now, people were working with what they new, what information was at hand. At that moment in time, taking away the individual humanity seemed to be an approach that might lead to restoration.
The prison has now been restored to tell a different story, the story of the men who were held there, broken there, lived and died there. Now, 150 years later, there is a sense in which humanity is being returned to this unspeakably inhumane place.
See these words for example, from a photographic installation telling the stories of the prisoners:
In this place, where their names were taken from them, we name them again.
Those are powerful words, and a powerful statement. They in some small way restore something to those who had everything taken away.
It’s a difficult time in our national story, the time of the convicts. It’s a time when so many had their names taken away.
And it parallels another difficult part of our story, when indigenous Australians likewise had their names taken, had their humanity denied, were cast as incomplete, inhuman, and unimportant.
And that is a story that generations on we still struggle to right.
In our day, in our communities, who are the others whose names are taken away?
Is it the poor, living below the poverty line, and powerless?
Is it the person living with disability, the essence of their humanity not seen by those around them?
It strikes me that part of the purpose of God for the church is to return names to those who have been stripped bare. At the same time as we have to acknowledge that at times we have been complicit, so we have to continue to honour, to name, to respect, to humanise.
The tulip is my favourite flower. I’m not all that big on flowers in general, but tulips are incredible. The shapes, the variety of colours I find astonishing.
And so last weekend, with a day to spare and not much time left to explore Tasmania, we loaded the troops and headed north-west to check out the glorious sights of Table Cape tulip farms. It’s a couple of weeks after the famed Wynyard Tulip Festival, but we guessed there would still be plenty of colour around.
There is no arguing that it’s a spectacular scene, row upon row, wild with colour, bright against the rich red soil.
The thing is, as we got up close with the tulips, we noticed all is not as it seems from a distance.
In the neat, uniform rows, gaps appear. In the blanket of tulips, we notice that the flowers are actually not spread evenly, and not every plant bears the bright petals.
And in this picture of health and vitality, some of the individual flowers are not quite so healthy, the petals damaged by wind and rain, flowers starting to break down as they pass their prime.
There are pockets, of course, where this isn’t the case, where row upon row of late-blooming varieties are perfect.
But for the most part, look closely, and the signs are there that the spring is nearly done, that the cycle of life continues, and the health that is obvious from a distance is in fact starting to fade.
The astute gardener (which I most definitely am not!) will know that there is no point in trying to prolong the life of the flower. Now is not the time for fertiliser to try and get the flower to bloom again. The tulip’s flower is best removed as soon as it starts to fade, allowing the tulip to put all its energy into the bulb, and ensure a healthy tulip in the next growing season.
There’s no avoiding the life-cycle of the tulip, only value in recognising which part of the cycle it is in, working with the seasons, caring for the plant, flower or bulb as fits.
Sometimes that means it’s time to remove the flower from the plant, at another time to remove the bulb from the ground altogether, and later still to replant, to fertilise and water in preparation for a new growing season.
As I wandered among the rows, entranced by the variety, the beauty, and noticing the life-stage of most of the plants, I couldn’t help wondering if sometimes the same is true for our communities and churches.
There are times when we are in our prime, when things look great (and they are), and there are times when we need to recognise the fading light, or the time for renewal, for storing energy, for putting down roots and for rebirth.
Where is your community in its life cycle? What care does it need right now?
I parked yesterday in a suburban street in West Launceston.
It could have been anywhere. Houses, footpaths, cars. Kids playing. People walking. A school at the top of the hill, a shop down the road.
It was so very normal. Suburbia.
And then I walked.
After two minutes I was in ‘First Basin’ where the South Esk River comes spilling out of the upper sections of Cataract Gorge, into a large open pool, before continuing down the Gorge to the waiting arms of the Tamar estuary. The water is surrounded by cliffs and hills, parkland and bushland, a 300m chairlift carrying excited school kids overhead. Peacocks fussing and preening.
It’s anything but suburbia.
And I walked again, following a trail upstream toward the delightfully named Duck Reach.
Not 10 minutes from setting out on foot from my car parked in the heartland of the suburbs I was a world away. The remnant of last week’s floodwaters tumbled down the rocky riverbed. The steep sides of the gorge deep with forest, the atmosphere still and heavy – the river and an occasional bird’s call the only sounds beyond my own footsteps.
It is a beautiful place, and all the more remarkable for being so close to the heart of the city.
At one moment I was in the normalcy of suburbia, and minutes later deep in tbe beauty of the gorge. It never ceases to amaze me that such a remarkable spot can be so close to ordinary life, literally just around the corner.
As I walked I thought a lot about that fact. I wondered how often we who are caught up in the ordinariness of daily life miss the spectacular, the remarkable, the astonishing that is just around the corner.
And I wondered about the church that I work among, so obsessed with worrying about our daily bread that we miss all the opportunities that lie just out of sight.
It seems an obvious connection. Lift our eyes from suburbia to find the remarkable that is literally on our doorstep.
But as I trod the riverside path on my way back home, something started to stir for me. I had parked my car in the middle of everything that I know, and gone off to find something better.
And how often, I wondered, is that the case? How often do we give up on all that is normal and around us to go searching for the something remarkable? How often do we leave suburbia to go hunting for Cataract Gorge?
The closer I got to my car the more I realised that suburbia is anything but ordinary. This is where I live. There are friends and family, there are stresses and tension, there is laughter of kids playing in the front yard, heartache as an amublance races to the scene of a domestic tragedy.
This, suburbia, is life. It’s not ordinary, it’s incredible. When I go looking for the amazing that I’m convinced is just around the corner I think perhaps I miss the remarkable that surrounds me right where I am.
The grass is always greener, or so we say. The salvation of my church, the restoration of my soul, the reclaiming of my world as a better place….these things are perpetually just around the corner.
Except they are not. They are right before my very eyes. They are my neighbours, my family, the shop at the end of my street. The best stuff isn’t around the corner, its right here.
Today i went to visit Hobart’s new MONA gallery. MONA is the private gallery of Tasmanian David Walsh. It’s only opened recently in a new purpose built venue at Walsh’s Moorilla vineyard/winery/entertainment precinct.
I went to visit with Cheryl (who reflects on her visits here and here), to encounter the gallery, and it’s opening exhibition “Monanism” (I think it’s basically a collection of Walsh’s favourite pieces).
Visiting MONA is an expedition into the unexpected. Almost from the moment you turn off a suburban street and suddenly find yourself in the midst of a riverside vineyard, everything is abnormal, and (in my limited experience) its distinctly un-gallery like.
The building itself is stunning. Carved from the ground, the gallery covers four main levels and is industrial in nature – steel, bare timbers, brushed concrete, and the sandstone that lies under the ground. It’s all angles, and rust and grunge. And it’s astonishing. (click through to read on…..) Continue reading →