IMGP0299Way down on the west coast of Tasmania, the world’s steepest steam-train railway takes travellers through mountainous rainforest between Strahan and Queenstown.

The current issue of Australian Traveller magazine (Nov-Dec-Jan issue) features my feature on the historic West Coast Wilderness Railway. All aboard!

PS: For more Tasmanian adventures, my story about leatherwood honey (Aug-Sep-Oct 17 issue) can bee found on the world wide hive at the Australian Traveller site.

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Book review time again: here’s a round-up of impressions re H.G. Wells’ sci-fi Big Five:

THE TIME MACHINE (1895) untitledtmA not-so-cosy fireside tale to blow Victorian-era minds, with fiction’s first time machine (a term coined by Wells). The nameless Time Traveller enthrals his audience just as Wells enthrals us. Lobbing into a distant, dream-like future, he encounters the troubling consequence of deep-set societal divisions, with humanity devolved into childlike Eloi and monstrous Morlocks. The Eloi seem to enjoy a life of Edenic ease, but for all their apparent comfort lack knowledge and power. The subterranean Morlocks, it turns out, are in the opposite position.
I couldn’t help but think how social media makes Eloi of us all (albeit considerably unhappier Eloi), lost in vacuity and distraction while unseen tech-giant Morlocks harvest our data.

THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (1896) md21752596540A bleak gust of despair blows through this darkest of all mad scientist yarns. Wells traps his protagonist Prendick on a nightmarish island where a vivisectionist turns animals into sinister semi-humans for no good reason. It shocked many original reviewers; one called it ‘repulsive and purposeless’ – but Wells intended it to be. He’s riffing on a sentiment most famously expressed by Shakespeare: ‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport’. Moreau is the creator, or fate; the island our incomprehensible, pitiless universe. The cruelly mistreated (but hardly admirable) beast-men are us. Wells’ admiration for Swift is obvious here – just as Gulliver came home increasingly unable to tell his own kind from the Yahoos, so Prendick finds the distinction between himself and Moreau’s monsters ever murkier.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1897) TheInvisibleManMAPBACKFRONT565Everyday life receives the alarming jolt of a scientist who has rendered himself invisible. And he’s up to no good with it, even if his transparently evil plans have already gone awry. What sort of man would do this to himself? An angry, reckless, megalomaniacal misanthrope, Wells reckons. Even so, there’s a lot of comedy amidst the mounting terror. Wells’ affectionate parody of English shopkeepers and complacent village life (the ex-drapery apprentice knew both well) is sharply observed and largely avoids condescension. This humour is well-captured in the 1933 film starring Claude Rains, the best of many Wells adaptations. In Griffin (the Invisible Man, appropriately named after a beast no-one has seen), Wells sees more than a one-dimensional villain, making him, for all that callous contempt, simply too naïve and trusting for his own good.

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898)2843707C00000578-3066374-image-m-64_1430674650938 The first chapter may be the best single piece of science-fiction ever written – pure prose-poetry, conveying wonder, menace and a searing critique of imperialism. Britain may have painted the map red; well, now the red planet is ready to give this puny Empire more than a taste of its own medicine. And what can humanity do about it? Not much. The writing is cleverly economical, a deft sidestep of the dreaded info dump. We follow one man who survives a couple of close encounters with the invaders, which means not only a snapshot of the chaos on a personal level, but also more about the Martians than a more typical victim could credibly supply. (drawing by Henrique Alvim Corrêa, 1906 edition.)

THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1901) IMG_7173aOf all Wells’ scientific romances – his name for what came to be called science fiction – The First Men In The Moon is the most perfectly realised as a novel. The lunar explorers Cavor and Bedford are given more personality than other protagonists, and their interactions drive the story in a more integral, vital way. Wells is clearly enjoying character and plot as much for their own sake as for his ever-present social critique, and he mines a rich vein of humour and dramatic tension from both. Later works, though he denied it, tended to surrender these elements to didacticism.
His now-impossible Moon is wonderfully described and its rulers, the quasi-insect/crustacean Selenites, are convincingly, satisfyingly alien – and without marring their satirical purpose.
PS: Wells called this book a ‘burlesque on specialisation’, but this really only emerges near the story’s end, when Selenite society is sketched. He had no idea, of course, that he was also furnishing the basic template for Dr Who – eccentric otherworldly genius leads wide-eyed, younger offsider into alien adventure via deceptively ramshackle machine. There follows separation, capture, escape… hear the BBC Radiophonic Workshop theme yet?

 

October’s READER’S DIGEST is already hitting the newsstands. Inside, my Great Barrier Reef story outlines the impact climate change is having on the Reef.

RDAOct17coverLast year’s mass bleaching sparked a global deluge of contradictory coverage. Extreme opposites were reported, from the Reef’s ‘death’ to flat-out denials that it is in any real trouble. Hopefully this story might help to clear up the confusion by plainly describing the problem and what might be done about it.

The story is based on an interview with Dr David Wachenfeld, Director of Reef Recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and a visit to Heron Island Scientific Research Station on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

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The distillery at historic Nant Estate near Bothwell occupies an 1820s stone mill

What does Tasmania bring to mind? Devils, tigers, rainforest, convicts, MONA, Mures… You better add whisky to your list if it isn’t there already. The island state’s boutique distilling business is booming – I write about it in September’s Reader’s Digest.

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Robbie Gilligan of Redlands Distillery

Earlier this year I hit the Tasmanian whisky trail and met many a maker while wending my way from Hobart’s docks to Burnie’s hilly hinterland, via historic Kempton and the majestic highland lakes.

The whisky down here is not only first-class, it’s as good excuse as any for a ramble across some truly glorious landscape (not that you’d need one really: slainte!)

 

IMG_3384Leatherwood honey is not only unique to Tasmania, it’s ‘wild-caught’ – no agriculture involved. Leatherwood is the common name for two closely related species of tree only found growing wild in western Tasmania.

Every summer, the island’s beekeepers truck their hives into the wilderness, where the bees are let bee to do their amazing thing.

The result is the all-natural, all-organic, all-eco boxes-ticked and utterly delicious leatherwood honey.

See how it all works – amidst the photogenic wilderness of western Tasmania – in my feature in this month’s AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLER magazine.IMG_3369IMG_3325IMG_3336

IMG_6296Judy in disguise – not with glasses but with a tough covering layer of western Queensland blacksoil and 65 million years of geological change.

Judy is the latest sauropod unearthed by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs (AAOD) team. She was found on a remote sheep station this winter with a large section of cervical vertebrae (neck) pretty much in place.

Read all about AAOD’s fascinating work and how to go about joining them on a volunteer dig in my story in a recent Weekend Australian

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Sea turtles – they outlasted the dinosaurs, but how will they fare against us? Habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, overfishing… we’re giving them plenty of existential crises.

Readers-Digest-International-July-2017In this month’s Reader’s Digest (July 17), my cover story shows how Queensland-based scientists and volunteers have been working to give sea turtles a future.

Meet Bev and Nev McLachlan, who have been on tireless turtle patrol at Wreck Rock Beach since 1977.

Marvel at the amazing discoveries made by Dr Col Limpus, Australia’s leading turtle scientist, responsible for the longest and most thorough program of turtle study ever conducted.

And have a peek at Townsville’s terrific Turtle Hospital at Reef HQ Aquarium.

Read all about it!

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Nemo, Reef HQ Turtle Hospital

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Nev & Bev, Turtle Monitors