Finding Lothlorien

This is Part 3 of the story about our Wildflower Spirit Journey at the end of 2016 through NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory. In Part 1, we began in Sydney, driving up through the Blue Mountains, and then down the coast to Eden and Merimbula. Part 2 took us into and through Victoria, from the beaches of Mallacoota to the alpine flowers on Mount Hotham, then down out of the mountains and back to family. Here begins the Tasmanian leg of our trek…

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Kingston

Our first night in Tassie was spent in Kingstown, with a good friend and her two boys, looking over the water from her gorgeous mountain-side view. The next day we drove into the south. As our friend had warned us, some of the tourism treks were run by Tasmanian Forestry, and you didn’t have to dig deep to find the cleared land hidden behind thin strips of rainforest designed to enchant some dollars away from the tourists.

I know we need paper and wood, I just feel a bit more comfortable when it’s recycled or from plantation forest, rather than old-growth forest. My love affair with trees stretches back into my early childhood when I lived in an isolated rainforest in Tassie. There were no other children to play with, and aside from an invisible dog, my best friends were the trees. In spite of this childhood connection, Tasmania was the place I felt most resistant about when my husband first began talking about living somewhere else.

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In the South of Tassie

“It’s too cold and isolated and they cut down all their trees!” I complained.

Perfect!” He replied. “I can hide away from the craziness of the world, be cold, and become an activist!”

I groaned. For weeks after this conversation, I was haunted by eerie dreams seen and heard through a two-year olds eyes and ears, of arguments between my mother and my father. My father wanted to chain himself to the trees to protect them from loggers and my mother just wanted a quiet life at the spinning wheel. Memories perhaps, or just my fears masquerading as memories. Not long after the dreams began, my mother and I found an old newspaper article written in 1974, about the life we had once lived in the Tassie wilderness. We couldn’t help but laugh when reading it aloud to each other, in mock David Attenborough voices.

“Time means nothing to these gentle people. They have no watches, clocks, radios or televisions. They rarely see a newspaper. And the sun is their guide for things like getting up and putting the community’s child Omanisa (2 and a half) to bed at night. Omanisa, quiet and watchful, lives in a big tent with her parents… And with Ken’s nimble fingers on the African kalimba, the community’s not without the gay sounds of music.”

It wasn’t that romantic,” Mum said with a wry smile. “My hands were constantly red raw from washing nappies in an icy creek!”

There were eight shares, the article explained,  each shareholder being entitled to five acres, plus an extra two solely for growing things. There was only one real rule- that the forest remain untouched, unless on a majority decision. The rainforest covered 160 acres of the 200 the “gentle people” bought from an old woman who lived in the area. The plan was that everyone would go out into the world to work for two months a year in winter, so they could support themselves for the other 10 months “back in their remote hideaway.”

“Everyone at Lothlorien is a vegetarian, but come winter, they’ll have to leave their prolific gardens. With the heavy rainfall of the area, the road into the settlement will be impassable. But with the summer, there could be as many as 20 people living in the community. Some of the shareholders are still globe-trotting, and one of them hasn’t even seen what he’s bought into!”

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Platypus Creek

A few years ago I tried to find Lothlorien on the map, thinking I’d like to go back for a visit one day, but I couldn’t find it. My mother killed herself laughing when I complained to her about this. “That’s just the name we gave it, silly! You won’t find it on a map.” Lothlorien is the fairy realm of the Elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. It provided the elves with a space ‘out of time’, a hidden refuge that could be protected from destruction.

All Mum could tell me was that Lothlorien was 16 miles south of Ulverstone, and by the time we were ready to set off on our 2016 journey through the southern part of Australia, I still didn’t know exactly where my childhood home was, or how to get there. Aunty Maggie had suggested I contact Phil, one of the original share-holders, so I tracked him down on her facebook page and sent him a private message a few weeks before we left, but I don’t think he ever saw it, because he never replied. When we arrived in Tassie, I decided to try someone else. “Who else can I try?” I asked Maggie.

“Try Mary Brown,” she replied. In the meantime, while waiting for Mary’s reply, Stephen and I were exploring Geevestown. My Grandmother had come here when she was 9 years old, to stay with family, and remembered ‘flinging apples’ with her cousin:

“My Aunty Jo married a man down south in Geevestown, where they grew a lot of fruit. His name was Geeves, the same name as the town, so the family must have been there from the start. My cousin, their son, was only about 5 when I went to visit them. I was 9 years old and he taught me all sorts of wicked tricks! They had just pruned the apple trees, leaving only the larger apples to flourish. The ground was covered in tiny round apples, as hard as a rock. My cousin showed me, out of sight of his parents, how to put the little apples on the end of long canes that were about 1 and a half meters long and fling them. You never knew quite how far they might go (perhaps 2 or 3 farms across), and whose head you might hit, and it was so much fun because of that! Nobody knew where these raining apples were coming from. I doubt we did any damage but we felt very good and wicked about it. When he grew up my cousin settled on the edge of the great Tasmanian wilderness, towards the east and south. I saw a picture of him in a Woman’s Weekly magazine many years ago. He leads one-day tours into the mountains, tours around the south coast of Tasmania. I thought “That sounds just like our family: bush!”

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Geevestown Library

We found a Geeves family history book in the local library and it didn’t take long to find my great great Aunt’s name within. Afterwards, we went searching for platypuses in the local creek while we discussed where to go next. I really wanted to visit my grandmother’s second cousin’s granddaughter, Katie Woo, who lived in Hobart. Stephen agreed. On the way back from the platypus creek we found a plaque explaining some of the local history, and learned that Geevestown had originally been a Congregationalist settlement, a ‘temperance’ or dry town. No wonder we couldn’t find a pub!

I really enjoyed the conversations with Katie,  remembering Grandma. “She was one of the first flying doctors,” Katie smiled. “I remember her telling me that the first time she flew over the country of central Australia, she felt like she had been there before and she recognised the patterns in the land. She knew she had come home.” Katie and I realised we had met once before, when I was a teenager and she was in her early 20’s. Central Australia and the experiences she had while visiting us, made a lasting impression: Katie’s vibrant and earthy abstract art definitely makes you feel like you are hovering over the red desert of central Australia.

To my delight, Katie had heard of my father, who had been the manager of the Tasmanian Ballet Company for a while. “It’s a small place,” she smiled. “In the arts community, most of us know someone who knows someone.” The next day we rose early and headed up towards what I think of as the central highlands of Tassie, in the great lakes area. The weather got colder and the wind stronger, the higher we got. We spent a magic hour exploring and I was again in sheer bliss, as wildflower heaven unravelled into being around me. I loved the pin-cushions but the crowning moment was the discovery of a Tasmanian Warratah. I’m sure I must have melted into a delirious puddle of bliss when I realised what it was!

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Tassie Warratah

I meditated with the Warratah and it seemed as though we ‘drummed’ together, the flower spirit and I. Drummed into a new rhythm, life thrummed through me and my heart shifted gears. I ‘saw’ the inside of a piano as it was being played, an epic symphony inside my chest. Strength flowed through me, and for a moment I forgot the cold wind and the scarf I’d left behind. Tasmanian Warratah brings strength back into the heart and anchors this strength through us and into the earth. It also draws strength from the earth into the heart.

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Great Lakes

Back on the road again we stopped an hour later for more exploring, deep in conversation about whether to turn left or right when we got to Liffey. Mary had gotten back to me saying that she thought perhaps Lothlorien was a place called Jacky’s Marsh, and to contact her friend Kim, who lived there. I’d sent a message to Kim and he’d replied saying “No, this isn’t Lothlorien, but I have a muso friend who lives near Lothlorien. Here’s her number.” Unsure if we were on some crazy wild goosechase or actually getting closer with each new contact, I called the number and left a voice message, explaining who I was. Something like “Hi, you don’t know me, but I used to live in a place called Lothlorien when I was a child and I heard you might be able to help me track it down…”

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The ever-elusive, mythical Lothlorien. “We still don’t know where it is,” I said to my husband with a sigh. “And we’re running out of time. I think we need to cut our losses and head towards the east coast so we can get to our property inspection on time.” Stephen agreed. Five minutes later, we stepped into one of those rare reception pockets that come and go like the wind when you are travelling through remote Tassie highlands. I had a missed call and someone had left a voice message. A man’s voice introduced himself as Tony, saying he was Teresa’s husband and we were more than welcome to visit them in Ulverston and spend a night out at the block. “We would love to have you visit!”

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Lothlorian was suddenly on the table again! Tony and Teresa were angels, sweeping in to rescue the mission at the ninth hour. I called Tony back to let him know we were only a few hours away. We got slightly lost on the way there, with google maps leading us astray, not for the first time. It’s truly amazing how “Take the second exit at the round-a-bout” can be interpreted in at least three different ways, especially when the round-a-bout is being road-worked into a new shape. But we only lost about 20 minutes and before we knew it we were snuggled into Tony’s couch, with me madly scribbling away on scrap paper, taking notes while Tony told us who was on the land what had been happening there. Tony was one of the few original owners.

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Page 3 of Tony’s mud map

“We’ve been trying to track down a few owners who have never even seen what they purchased. They’re in America somewhere but we can’t find them.” He showed us the title deed with all the owners names on it and drew a map that stretched out over three pages, showing us how to get there. “One rule: if you see anyone, stop and say hello. Do you want to go tonight?” It was getting late, we were running out of light, and we were exhausted. It sounded as though the track in wound along mountainsides with steep drops and we were feeling a bit anxious about whether our vehicle could make it up there. “Just keep your eyes on the road,” Tony advised. “And you’ll be fine. The views can get a little distracting. We had someone die up there recently. Took his eyes off the road for a second and drove off the edge. And there was a section of road that corroded away but it’s been shored up now.”

We decided to leave the next morning. Teresa came home from work and we had a lovely time talking music and walking the dog with her. She cooked up an incredible vegan meal full of bursting flavour from her massive vegetable garden, with effortless flair. “My son’s ex-girlfriend was vegan,” she said with a smile. While I helped Teresa with the food gathering and cooking, Tony showed Stephen models of the many geodesic dome-houses he had designed and built, for himself and friends. They were octagonal, hexagonal and some other more complicated geometric shapes I can’t remember the names of. It felt eerie, seeing his passion and the models, almost as though the spirit of my father was in the room with us. “I heard your father had planned to build an octagonal house at Lothlorian?” Tony asked. He had indeed.

When Teresa showed us her saxophone collection and played for us after dinner, after handing us a car sticker she’d designed that read “There is no planet B“, I really did feel like I was with family. Tony sent a message to Scott, the American man who had originally found and established Lothlorien, to let him know we were here. Scott passed a “hello” message along to us, with a request for a photo. “Thanks,” he replied when I sent it through. “Funny, I think I recognise you… I last met you about 35 years ago. Say hi to your mom when you see her.”

The next morning Steve and I tried to get hold of a 4WD, because Tony’s stories about the road were making us uneasy. But we had no luck. When Teresa realised what was happening, she picked up the phone and called Jamie who lives on Lothlorien, arranging for him to meet us near the letterboxes and the fire-shed not far from the block, so he could give us a lift. Jamie agreed, and we coordinated our departure times because there was no phone reception at the meeting place.

Quite naturally, we got lost again, but by the time we’d come to that conclusion and turned around, we were on the wrong mountain on a narrow, eroded dirt track, facing a truck full of gravel and a grader, with a dead end behind us and no way to get out. “We are mad,” I groaned. “What on earth are we doing?!” Lothlorian was starting to feel elusive and mythical again, like it didn’t want to be found. There was nothing we could do except wait for the truck to finish tipping out yet another pile of gravel. Then we watched while the grader spread it out and packed it down hard enough for us to safely get back over it without bottoming out. Meanwhile, our agreed meeting time with Jamie had long come and gone, and we had no phone reception.

img_9303We retraced our steps and eventually found Jamie, waiting in the fire-shed, playing cards with his 13 year old daughter Emily. We were almost two hours late and he was on his third beer… which was probably our saving grace, because he wasn’t as cross as you’d think! I’m still amazed (and very grateful) that he waited for us. The road up wasn’t as bad as we’d thought, but I still breathed a sigh of relief when we made it to the block without slipping off the edge.

Luckily, Tony had warned us to brace ourselves. “The area beside us has just been logged. It isn’t pretty,” he’d grimaced in apology. “All the land-holders around us have gradually sold off to forestry over the years, one by one.” The joy I felt in finally finding Lothlorien warred with my dismay at the destruction I could see around me. But we were here!

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img_9208Jamie took us on a whirlwind tour, pointing out pathways and buildings as we went. “That’s Tony-Town,” he said, nodding towards a series of very unusual buildings we could see in the distance. “If you go further down that road you’ll find a few places owned by other people. None of them are here at the moment, except Mike. He’s the only other one who lives here fairly permanently, like me. After his place is the gingerbread house. My place is down here.” Jamie had brought his share from Phil, who’d built a robust-looking brick house on the highest point near the upper boundary, the only house on the block with council approval. Through a thin strip of trees on the border of the block, we could see recently logged land, clear-felled.

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Jamie drove his car over the muddy pot-holed roads like a teenager on a trail bike. It was as though it had never occurred to him he might get bogged or blow his old Subaru up. Mind you, I reckon he could drive those roads blindfolded, even with his throw-yourself-headlong-into-it pace. “This where I’m going plant my garlic crop,” he said as we smashed through the half-tilled field, our heads making contact with the roof of the car more often than our bums stayed put on the seats. I would have been happy to walk, but he wasn’t having it. img_8791

Just as the clutch started to smoke up, he stopped. We climbed out and I could hear the sound of a chainsaw. Jamie called out and the sound stopped. A man walked out from the trees and we were introduced. Tony had told us there were absent owners who contributed nothing, and other people who contributed plenty to things like rates and care of the block, even though they weren’t owners. I got the impression this guy was one of the latter. Jamie pointed out the shallow dam at the bottom of his soon-to-be garlic field and I suddenly realised I was probably standing quite close to the area where my parents had set up their tent, all those years ago.

I could see a road leading down to a gate and asked what was down there. There was silence for a moment and then the chainsaw bloke said “My burned out bus. You’re welcome to go down there. Just watch out for the hole I’m digging to bury it in.” I was sorry to hear about his bus, and said so. He laughed. “The bus burning was the good bit. Long story. It’s complicated.” I could hear from the silence that followed and the eye-contact between Jamie and chainsaw guy that the story was probably one I didn’t want to hear, so I changed the subject. “Do you know where the tree house is?”

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Going down to the river

They explained that they’d both seen it once, on separate occasions, stumbling across it by accident, and neither of them knew how to find it again. “I wouldn’t climb into it if you do find it though,” warned Jamie. “It’s seen better days.” The tree house was the home built by Scott, the man who had rounded up the first 8 owners in his quest to out-bid forestry so they could protect 200 acres. It made my heart sing to know the original vision was being kept alive by the new shareholders. We then asked if they knew how to get down to the river, and again, both of them said they had tried it once, and made it, but it was a hard trek.

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Tony Town

Later, Stephen and I had a go at getting down to the river ourselves. We had to climb over massive logs covered in moss, and navigate streams, but the worst part was the steepness of the terrain and the thickness of the forest. We doubled back a few times and tried different routes but eventually decided we were in danger of getting lost, stuck or injured if we kept going, so we surrendered gracefully and came back to our camp at Tony Town.

Before we’d left on our ‘find the river’ mission, Stephen had come across a man with a whipper snipper and a bright yellow fluoro X on his overalls. “Who are you looking for? Are you lost” the man asked with a frown. “We’ve got family here,” Stephen replied. “Who are you?” Only moments before Stephen had redirected a lost forestry worker who had wandered onto the block uninvited, so he was feeling a bit wary. I walked up as they were talking and realised this must have been Mike. Tony had described one of the owners as a New Zealander who always gets around in safety gear. Once we knew we all belonged, we had a great rave. Mike explained that he was cutting down the beautiful but very poisonous foxgloves, a local pest, and invited us to drop in at his place later in the day, so we did exactly that, on our way back from our failed quest to reach the river.

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Foxglove

Mike’s place was unbelievably cool. He had a brilliant set up, with a caravan inside a very large shed, that led through into a well lit lounge, dining and kitchen area. This opened out onto a big covered deck, with his home-made compost-loo in one corner. Everything was neat and tidy, with a very good fire-management system in place. He took us on a tour of his foxglove-free garden and introduced us to the native plants he loved, like the myrtles, sassafras and native peppers. Then he handed me a container of mountain pepper berries he’d gathered from the block. I popped one into my mouth, bit down and lost myself in the layers of flavour that exploded through my mouth!

A little seed was planted in that moment. It wasn’t just the self-sufficiency of Mike’s set up, it was the reigniting of a passion from earlier in my life: growing and using native food and medicine plants. I wanted to find my own Lothlorien, a Lothlorien Take 2. That night I lay awake for a while, my old tree-friends whispering in the wind around me, and I wondered what my life might have been like if my parents hadn’t divorced and I’d grown up in my father’s 8-sided house.

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