I am on Elizabeth St. Pier, in Hobart, Tasmania, at 3 o’clock on an ordinary Thursday afternoon.
Just above me on the pier is a hotel room in which my Favourite Wife and I stayed eight years ago, when we came here for her 50th birthday. Being here again makes my heart soar with gratitude, with satisfaction, with joy. I feel victorious; a rugged, physical, robust sense of triumph that is, perhaps, slightly at odds with circumstance.
Our first trip here, in 2008, was an elaborately concocted surprise that began with a large picture of the Somerset Hotel in the Saturday travel lift-out of a Sydney Morning Herald. The idea of a hotel on a pier on the southern edge of Tasmania, the place of famous Antarctic expedition departures, imediatley caught my imagination.
My daughters, then in high school, quickly collaborated with me to plan a surprise birthday that would end after a week’s holiday with a still bigger surprise. The birthday party was a truly great success, due to the creative talents of my girls, and it was that rarest of all surprise parties: an actual, complete surprise right to the very last second. Driving into the carpark of a favourite cafe a little way out of town Favourite Wife was just a little perturbed, telling me we would never get a table with so many cars there! But the surprise to follow the first surprise was better yet. After the party we went away for a few days to our favourite beach (Balmoral beach, on Sydney Harbour, where we both played as children, but being boys and girls we naturally stayed at opposite ends of the beach). We had with us carefully forged air tickets for our homeward flight on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday evening we were in the Art Gallery of NSW, waiting for a lecture which was to be followed by a meal with live music in the cafeteria below, and I gave my Favourite Wife the actual air tickets, with the destination Hobart, Tasmania; rather than Wagga Wagga NSW. Quite a difference, and for more than half an hour she was quiet; in fact utterly silent. I was on shaky ground not knowing if it was the silence of delight, or of disbelief, or of ….. well, you know that other silence……
A fortnight ago, when Hobart’s weather first appeared on the iPad, today was pegged as a single rainy day surrounded by pleasant, sunny days. We kept our fretful eyes glued to the Hobart forecast every morning thereafter, without much encouragement, but in the event it has been the opposite: a spectacular blue day with cool, clear air and warm sunshine. Perfect weather for a day exploring the history of Hobart, and for retracing our 2008 steps along the waterfront to Salamanca. Our ship leaves in a couple of hours, and I have only a few more minutes on this pier to savour our astonishing conquest. Favourite Wife has gone aboard already, warning me of the sternest reprisals imaginable, should I fail to board before the ship leaves.
Arriving in Hobart in 2008 we hired a car and drove to the snowy top of Mt. Wellington, then made our way along the waterfront into the city, and then turned left at Elizabeth Street, right onto the pier. Another surprise! Waiting in our hotel room was a large bowl full of 50th Birthday postcards which I had been posting to the hotel for several weeks from Central Australia and from small towns in several states as I had journeyed out and back. I think there were forty odd. So many surprises, what a blissful week we spent together.
On that first evening in Hobart we ate fish and chips and drank wine right here on the pier, so as soon as we were permitted to disembark last night we headed for this same spot. Once again we bought fish and chips (what beautiful fish you eat in Hobart!), remembered the past and toasted the future. Beside us was a tall ship – a smallish tall ship – on which we had sailed up the Derwent river for the princely sum of $15.00. The price has doubled since, but the Lady Nelson looks exactly as we left her.
That moment last night, side by side on a bench on the pier, eight years later, was the stuff of dreams.
With all that has come into our life since 2008, the very idea that we could repeat our great journey would have seemed a faint hope, even a false hope, had we thought to look this far forward; and yet here we are. I recall that on the following morning on our previous visit I awoke with the physical sense that something was wrong, as I had on numerous mornings around that time. Within a few weeks I would begin to struggle with my work at our church, and within six months of that morning in Hobart we had lost our employment and our home after a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. This day, eight years on, might not have been; indeed I myself might not have been by now, but I am, and we are, and it is!
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