Conversations

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Robyn Mundy, 2017, at an old trapper’s hut, Hornsund, Spitsbergen.

 

For those who live in Australia, ABC Radio presenter Richard Fidler is a household name. His regular 50-minute programs Conversations with Richard Fidler have been an Aussie institution since 2006. As the blurb goes, Conversations with Richard Fidler draws you deeper into the life story of someone you may, or may not, have heard about – someone who has seen and done amazing things.

Last week I was Richard’s guest, which just goes to show that his selection of life stories really does include those someones you’ve never heard of. What impressed me—apart from Richard, who is as warm and vivacious in person as he sounds on radio—was the research and preparation that went into the interview. Leading up to the program I spent a couple of hefty phone sessions—two and a half hours—with Richard’s production assistant who eked out countless details of my life: highlights, difficult times, memories I rarely speak of. I nattered on while Nicola, with the occasional oh, wow, or grimace or, what year was this? tapped my history onto her computer.

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Auster Emperor Penguin Rookery, 2008

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MV Polar Pioneer in Keyser Franz Joseph Fjord, East Greenland, 2017

Thankfully, all that was winnowed down to a manageable interview. I think, at least I hope, those in my life know me as actively willing to let other people shine (one great reservation I have about the nature of social media is the relentless ME focus), so it felt decidedly weird and initially unnerving to have the focus redirected. Conversations aired live. We talked about Antarctica, about a year spent working with emperor penguins on the sea ice. We never got to speak about the guiding I do for Aurora Expeditions aboard the ice-strengthened ship Polar Pioneer, which takes me to the top and bottom of the world for several months of each year; or my ongoing pride in Aurora, the innovation of  two dynamic Australian adventurers Greg and Margaret Mortimer. I wish I could have shared a few gobsmacking, high-latitude moments, some of them life-shaping, that our shipboard adventurers take away with them.

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Maatsuyker Island off the south-west corner of Tasmania, 2017.

We spoke about living remotely on wild Maatsuyker Island but never delved into my recent novel set on Maatsuyker, and probably not by accident. I suspect Richard steers away from well-worn angles of conversation. But what has been so heartening in the days following Conversations, is the positive, heartfelt feedback I’ve received from those who regularly listen to the program, or caught our Conversation while in the car or sitting at an airport, who say they learned things they never imagined about my life—hard moments as well as shiny ones—that they found fascinating. Perhaps all down to the magic Richard Fidler consistently wields on his show. If you’re inclined to tune in to the podcast, or others in Conversations, click here.

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One Year in Tasmania

Videographer Simon Treweek. Photo: Robyn Mundy

In a recent blog about Maatsuyker Island, I spoke of an island visit from two shiny videographers Simon Treweek and his mate Nick ‘Noodle’ Nain-Smith. During their stay the boys experienced the full brunt of Tasmania’s Southern Ocean, with knock-down winds, lashings of rain and tantalising bursts of sunshine. I doubt anything could have dampened their enthusiasm, for in 24 hours the boys soaked up the island with their cameras to create the 3-minute video Maatsuyker.

Now, not one but two of Simon’s adventure-plus videos, The Edge of the Earth and Maatsuyker, are shortlisted in the One Year in Tasmania Adventure Film competition 2017, part of the Cradle Mountain Film Fest. I thoroughly recommend grabbing 3 minutes then another 3 minutes from your own crazy adventures to view them. Have your say in The People’s Choice Award, open now until May 2nd. To vote, simply like♥ your favourite(s). Links to my two faves below:

Photo courtesy of Simon Treweek


The Edge of the Earth: Surf photographer Stuart Gibson grabs inspiration from Shipstern Bluff, the heaviest wave on earth. Directed by Simon Treweek, this high-octane video won Simon an overnight stay at Maatsuyker Island, courtesy of Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

Photo: Simon Treweek

Maatsuyker: Visit a mysterious island that Tasmanians hear about every day in the weather forecast but that few have ever seen. Directed by Simon Treweek. 

 

Image of the Week

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In our final weeks at Maatsuyker Island, my partner Gary and I had the joy of sharing the island with the Friends of Maatsuyker Island (FOMI), a fun-filled volunteer group who visit the island each year for an intensive working bee. Amongst the hard workers was photographer James Stone. On the second morning of FOMI’s stay, I made my way down to the lighthouse at first light to carry out a routine daily check. Rounding the corner I did a double take at the sight of a camera and tripod standing untethered on the path, where it had stood overnight. With the relentless winds at Maatsuyker, snagging a time when you might find your camera and tripod in the same place as you left it is a noteworthy event in itself. But when I saw the results of James’ photography, the aurora shown above, and a second image below, I was the one blown away. I invited James to share the story behind his stellar images.

James Stone_IMG_9227As a night sky photographer and self-confessed aurora-addict I couldn’t believe my luck when an aurora was predicted for my first couple of nights on Maatsuyker Island, Australia’s southernmost lighthouse and maybe the best location from which to view the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights outside of spending a winter in the Antarctic. This was in conjunction with clear skies and no wind – conditions exceedingly rare on this exposed lump of rock in the Southern Ocean, renowned for being amongst the wettest and windiest places in Australia. Despite a very early start to get to Maatsuyker I knew I had to stay up and make the most of this incredible opportunity.

The lighthouse stood as a stoic sentinel as the lights danced high in the sky behind, the peace of night broken only by the cries and bellows of the seals on the rocks far below, and the occasional muttonbird swooping by. Being my first night on the island, and with restoration work going on in the lighthouse, I wasn’t sure if I should venture inside, but chanced sticking my head through the door to shine my headtorch up the stairwell, illuminating the windows and lantern room for effect. I would loved to have posed for a silhouette shot on the upper gantry but didn’t think I had better risk it without permission. Next time…

I watched the display long into the wee hours of the morning, in awe of not only the stunning night sky, but my spectacular good fortune to be able to be there, in that location, under those conditions, a unique and truly memorable experience.

Eventually tiredness overtook me and, placing my tripod in a sheltered spot out of the wind and flightpaths of birds, I left my camera clicking away shooting a time lapse until its battery ran out. Meanwhile I staggered back up the hill to bed.

For keen night-sky photographers, James shares his camera settings, and a second aurora image below: Camera: Nikon D750, Lens: Nikkor 16–35mm f/4, Exposure: 20seconds @ f/4.0, ISO: 5000. Be sure to check out James’ brilliant time lapse sequence on Vimeo.

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Beneath the rainbow

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Any title that includes Rainbow is bound to conjure images of crystals and incense sticks. Nope, there’s not a tinkle of glass nor a whiff of sandalwood to be found in this post, only photographic proof that it is possible to see the end of the rainbow, and live a serene life beneath it. We’re talking Maatsuyker Island, site of Australia’s southernmost lighthouse, the island where my novel Wildlight plays out, within cooee of the south-west corner of Tasmania.

Our six months of caretaking and weather observing at Maatsuyker Island has come to a close. Now, even more than our first few days of treading paved roads, it feels like crashing back to earth. The work on the island was hard, the living conditions cold, and the wind rarely stopped blowing, but perhaps all these challenges contributed to us having the time of our lives. And even though we turned into eating machines, we each left the island many kilograms lighter, and fitter, thanks to hauling lawnmowers up and down slopes, wielding brush cutters, digging drains and tending a large vegetable garden, plus all the walking. It’s a win-win formula that I’m naming The Maatsuyker Diet.

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Here is my partner Gary with ‘Helga’ the mower. There’s little scope for traditional gender roles on Maatsuyker Island. We divided the mowing and brush cutting work that tends a 2-kilometre-long grass road, 2 helicopter pads, 1 vegetable garden, the surrounds of 3 cottages and 1 lighthouse, 1 paddock, and brush cutting 7 bush tracks, paths and numerous slopes too tricky or hazardous to mow. One round took each of us 4–5 days on a 3-weekly cycle.

A corner of the Maatsuyker pantry at the start of our stay; strawberries from the veggie garden’s poly house; sushi rolls for dinner (my partner Gary’s speciality); during our stay we consumed 42 kgs flour transformed into sourdough loaves and baked goods.

During our first caretaking term in 2010–11 we barely saw another two-legged being, but on this stint we relished the company of several energetic visitors. Long-time friends Katherine and Kevin from Western Australia arrived on a crayfishing boat and stayed for five days. The permits and arrangements took them months, and even then it was nail biting times as the ocean swell and weather was against them both on their arrival and throughout their stay. Katherine and Kev were thankful for the handrails in the howling gales; they very quickly found their footing, embraced nature, and contributed to Maatsuyker with all manner of island work.

The wonderful Friends of Maatsuyker stayed over for two intensive working bees. This volunteer group contributes to almost every aspect of the island. Amongst the hard workers was Mark, who has turned his passion for lighthouses into restoring those around Australia that require serious TLC. Mark made his own way down to Tasmania and donated time and skills to continue work on restoring Maatsuyker’s lighthouse. During his days on the island we would regularly cross paths at first light as he headed down the hill to begin his day, working until late into the nights. He made impressive progress by removing damaging paint from a big section of the inside walls, and repainting top parts of the tower.

An unexpected visitation came from Dutch presenter-producer Floortje Dessing and her camerawoman Renée, who flew all the way from the Netherlands at short notice to produce a documentary about life as caretakers on Maatsuyker Island. Floortje To the End of the World (Floortje Naar Het Einde Van De Wereld) is a popular Dutch TV series which focusses as much on the people who choose to live in remote corners of the world as it does on the the natural wonders of wild places. While they were on Maatsuyker the girls got to experience the brunt of the Roaring Forties latitudes with 6-metre ocean swells and a record wind gust for January. Maatsuyker claims plenty of ‘personal bests’ when it comes to record winds: still to be beaten is its August 1991 squall of 112 knots (207.4 kms per hour), the country’s highest non-cyclonic wind gust. Floortje and Renée embraced every moment of the weather and were fun to be with. I only learned later how big a celebrity Floortje is in her home country, while to us they were simply two sparkling, energetic women who joined us each evening for dinner, washed up afterwards, brought a whopping great round of Edam cheese in their suitcase and followed us here and there on our daily routines.

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Lastly we welcomed Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife video competition winner Simon whose prize was a visit to Maatsuyker Island. Simon and his mate Noodle lobbed in for an overnight stay via helicopter, though with under-par weather conditions it was touch and go whether they could even make it to the island. Thanks to the skilled pilots at HeliRes they arrived safely after a short delay. Without losing another minute, the boys donned wet weather gear and bounded from one end of the island to the other with cameras in tow. In the evening, between ducking outdoors to watch a brilliant sunset, they joined us at Quarters 1 for curry and a pint of home brew beer. Next morning at 0400 they were up and at ’em to watch Maatsuyker’s thousands of short-tailed shearwaters launch off the island. In 24 hours Simon and Noodle succeeded in filming and later producing a professional 3-minute video which showcases the island. I will have that clip available to share in a week or so, along with an interview with Simon.

I could go on about Maatsuyker, but will close with the info below and a selection of photos which I hope express the magic of the island.

The nitty gritty of caretaking at Maatsuyker Island

The volunteer caretaker program is coordinated and managed by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service who currently advertise the position through Wildcare Inc. every two years. Each applicant must demonstrate a range of skills and an adequate level of physical fitness, and will be responsible for purchasing their own provisions for the six-month term. Part of the Maatsuyker caretaker duties is to conduct daily weather observations for the Bureau of Meteorology Hobart. Many short-term volunteer caretaking opportunities across Tasmania are advertised through Wildcare Inc., the incorporated community partner organisation that provides management and support for volunteers working in natural and cultural heritage conservation and reserve management. Friends of Maatsuyker Island (Wildcare Inc.) is a volunteer group who contribute time and skills to the island, raise funds towards maintenance and improvements on Maatsuyker, run day trips to the island via boat, and conduct annual working bees.