Sorell, Tasmania: Sheila Goes Under The Knife

We headed south from Friendly Beach to the famous Wineglass Bay, near the small town of Coles Bay. Wineglass Bay is one of the top photo stops in any tour of Tasmania, and the area looks magnificent in the right weather. Of course, as the meterologist in Launceston (“Launie”, as the locals call it) had warned us, storms were coming into the island and the sky was overcast and saturated with rain. We hiked up to the lookout and took some shots of the bay. There was a longer walk down to the beach itself, but the weather had made the decision for us to simply head back.

A wallaby was lying on the ground just to the side of the viewing platform.

Since the coastal area of Tassie between Coles Bay and the Tasman Peninsula didn’t offer much in the way of sights and parks, we decided to check out the inland towns on the way to Port Arthur. Ben had read about a famous convict-built bridge in the town of Ross, so we headed west towards Campbell Town to grab some lunch before heading south to see the bridge.

It turned out that in his previous life, Ben had been a mechanic for 11 years in Leicestershire (say “Lester-sheer”, like “Worcestershire”), an immensely useful skill when driving a decades old secondhand stationwagon for two weeks. When we had our small gas leak problem at Ben Lomond, he noticed the exhaust pipe had rusted out and was detaching from the muffler. By the time we hit Coles Bay, it had gotten much worse, so Steffen decided to get a mechanic to weld it back on in Campbell Town. The only mechanic in town was busy working on a pickup that was on the hydraulic lift, and since it didn’t have any wheels he couldn’t take it down for at least a couple hours. But he told us that there was a guy that might do it for us just down the road. He rang ahead but no one picked up. Still, he told us to try our luck and gave us directions.

We drove up the hill towards a large shed near some houses. There were some old cars in the front yard and the garage door was open. There was no sign, this shop had no name, and had we not been told by the mechanic in town that it was a garage, no one would’ve guessed it was a place of business at all. Steffen and I got out and approached the workers, who were sitting around the front of a car that was just inside the garage doors. There were about 5 of them, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers. Steffen asked who the boss was and an old gentleman who looked about 30 years older than he actually was, with a heavily accented, gruff voice spoke up. Steffen said he needed his exhaust welded back on the car, while muttering curses under his breath, the owner very slowly got up and the group started shuffling around, clearing the place up. They took so long, I had to ask Steffen if they even said they’d do it. He told me the owner mentioned something about taking a look before launching into the swears.

The exhaust pipe was a mess, nearly falling off the bottom of the car. They started welding it, and just like all mechanics from Campbell Town to Cambridge, they noticed the joint connecting the drive shaft to the rear axel drive system was loose and needed immediate replacement (unless, as they joked, we wanted to let it detach, blow the drive shaft and pay thousands to get it fixed later). They didn’t have a joint available in the shop, so they had to “order” one — meaning they called the other mechanic in town, who said he’d send someone over with it. ETA? A couple hours. Perfect. It was about 3 PM and we gave them a cell number they could call if they finished early. Ben wanted to check out the cricket match, so we walked back into town, stopping at the Red Bridge, the oldest convict-built bridge in Tassie still used as a part of a “major” highway.

After a few rounds of Boag’s and a game of pool at the pub, we decided to walk back to the shop to see if the guys had made any progress. On the way, we passed the Convict Walk, bricks laid into the sidewalk that contained information about the convicts that had passed through the town. Each brick had a name, age, the boat that brought them to Tassie along with the year, the crime and punishment and a couple extra words as notes.

Some of our favorites:

“John Prestage, Age 39, Calcutta 1803, Sheep Theft – 14 Years, Pittwater Area”

“Samuel Knowles, Age 19, Moffatt 1838, Stole Lamb – Life, Absconded to Victoria”

“Ann Livingsten, Age 27, Henry 1825, Prostitution – 14 Years, Very Bad Prisoner”

And probably the best one,

“George Munday, Age 35, Calcutta 1804, Stealing Liquor – Life, Speared By Aborigines”

Punishment back then was tough! Fourteen years for stealing a sheep? Life for a lamb?! No wonder they had the numbers to found an entire continent with prisoners. Though George Munday got what he deserved, there’s no crime worse than stealing another man’s alcohol. I’d like to know what he did to get speared by the Aborigines.

We arrived at the shop to see all the guys sitting around, swigging beers and chatting. The part hadn’t arrived yet, and it was around 4:30. Of course, it was supposed to be here soon. We stood around chatting with the guys about our impressions of Australia, the best places to go in Tassie to find Tasmanian Devils and good-looking girls, and general events. Of course, we covered George Bush and the war.

Jake noticed something odd about the owner’s shoes. The owner, so proud of his accomplishment and that someone noticed, lifted one foot up to show us the bottom of his moccasins. He had glued a 10-inch section of a car tire’s tread onto the sole of his shoes for comfort and to ease the pain of bad knees. Let me repeat that, he glued a piece of a tire to the bottom of his shoe because he felt it’s more comfortable. Whoa. Take that, Jeff Foxworthy.

Everyone was really friendly and the shop itself was almost a meeting place for the town. Even though only one guy was doing work, the small group would follow him around and offer opinions. One guy’s sole job was to raise and lower the car on the lift. The head mechanic, son of the owner, had to small dirt bike-style mini bikes and would occasionally take them out and tear around the street in front of the shop doing wheelies. Some kids wandered through, including one girl who didn’t look a day over 14, but biked up smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

Our part deliveryman finally pulled up and handed over a package. The lead mechanic, a young guy probably in his late twenties, headed to the back to take a look at it. A few minutes later he asked the driver where “the other” package was. “What other package?”, the deliveryman replied. Uh oh. The mechanic held up two small boxes, “we needed a unie (universal joint), 16 spark plugs ain’t gonna fix it.” It just kept getting better.

Ben, Jake, Steffen and I looked at each other and talked about looking for campsites, since we figured we wouldn’t make it out of CT anytime soon. Suddenly, the mechanic decided to take one of the bikes for another spin. What the?! I thought he was supposed to be fixing the car? The shop guys were talking about how the car was the same chassis as a Holden Commodore, and whether or not they had a wreck lying about the shop from which they could steal a part. Suddenly, the lead mechanic — back from doing wheelies — shouted from the back, “Wait!” And the six of them ran out of the garage into a larger shed next door. There was some clanging and rumblings coming from that area for about 10 minutes, before they emerged carrying a drive shaft. They banged out the joint and checked the fit for Sheila. It was a match, we were saved.

About 45 minutes later the car was down from the lift and Steffen tried to start it. It wouldn’t start. I started thinking about Murphy’s Law, and how it conservative it could be. The shop guys fiddled around under the hood for a minute and Steffen was able to start the car.

We were chatting with the owner when Steffen came back in to the shop carrying the remaining six-pack of Carlton Cold from the night before. He tossed it in the fridge for the boys and said, “For a late-Friday afternoon’s work”. We finally came to that question the three of us had debated over earlier: the price. Each of us had a guess: The other three said it wouldn’t be under $150, but I guessed $115. The owner scratched his head and thought for a minute, “Sixty bucks should do you right.” Jackpot! We chatted with him a bit longer about how so many mechanics rip people off, thanked him and left town.

The next stop was Ross, population 260. By the time we pulled into town, it resembled an abandoned village. There was only one road that had the usual cafes, bakeries and hotel. Even with such a small population, we passed 4 churches. If you walked behind the last one at the bottom of the hill was the bridge. Though not particularly impressive, we took some shots of it and headed out of town.

One of Ross’ many churches. And I’m sure it was the tallest church in the southern hemisphere, or some garbage like that.

The mission now was to find a supermarket to purchase supplies for dinner. It was getting later and later and, in central Tasmania, towns had started shutting down.

In Oatlads is something called the Callington Mill, a nineteenth century windmill that drove machines in a granary. We stopped to get some pictures and see if there was an open grocery store in town. No dice.

Every small town we passed along the way either didn’t have a grocery store, or the only one was closed for the day. The sun had set and we had neither found dinner nor a campsite. This was getting bad. Steffen chose that time to tell us that he gets very grumpy when he hasn’t eaten, and it was starting to show.

Finally, a little outside Hobart, we found a supermarket that was still open. It was 9 PM and they were just getting ready to shut down. We abandoned any plans to cook and just bought whatever was available at the deli. As we ate out of the back of the wagon, we decided to push through towards Port Arthur and bed down at the nearest campsite.

The map indicated there were campsites before Hobart in Glenorchy, but we didn’t find them. Then we considered just getting a hostel. Unfortunately, most hostels closed their receptions by about 9 or 9:30, but Steffen found one in his guidebook that was open until 10:30. We drove around Glenorchy for 20 minutes trying to find the street, not even the locals new where it was. Just before we gave up, I spotted the street and we pulled up to the hostel. I ducked inside to see if they had beds available, and one of the backpackers inside told me the reception closed at 9:30, not 10:30. The book was wrong. Great.

We passed Hobart and drove towards Sorell, the next biggest town before Port Arthur. We saw a caravan park sign and drove into a large showground field. A sign said that they town had designated it for campervans and it was for general use, so we guessed we were safe. I joked that we’d probably wake up with a three-ring circus around our tents, but since no one was willing to wait any longer, we set up.

That night it rained, and Steffen’s tent wasn’t waterproof. Puddles of water started collecting around the floor of the tent, and Jake, who was sharing the tent with Steffen that night, had to move into the car with Ben.

Stay tuned for Port Arthur, a penal colony that occupied nearly an entire peninsula, and the first shower any of us had in 5 days.



  1. after you dad put me onto your blog ive finally caught up on all that youve been up to since that weekend in boston. looks like its been a great time…keep the posts rollin.

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