March 25, 2003
Melanie's Magical Mystery Tour
Need a Ride? Melanie's Magical Mystery Tour departs the Launceston Metro Backpackers on Tuesday morning, March 25 - GOING WEST and OFF THE BEATEN PATH! Highlights Include: Stanley and "The Nut", Sheffield's Murals, Cradle Mountain, The Walls of Jerusalem, Hobart's Salamanca Market and much more! No psycho's please. :)
Ok, so it wasn't much of a mystery, but the ad got rave reviews from the two other people in my dorm so I decided to go with it. I'd just rented a 1989 Ford Laser for a week's drive around Tasmania and thought I might as well offer up the other spaces in the car. Renting a car had not been my original plan and I was a little nervous about what I had gotten myself into - especially when I remembered that I didn't know how to change a flat tire.
My first week in Tasmania was over, and I had one more ahead of me. I'd just finished a four-day Island Escapes organized tour that started in the north and worked its way south via the eastern coast of the state. We'd seen some beautiful things but the last two days had been rainy so I decided to stop off in Hobart for the weekend and think about my options. I really wanted to do a tour of the Walls of Jerusalem Park but no one was going and to organize one required a minimum of two people. Everyone I'd been traveling with was on their way off the island so I didn't have many choices.
Tasmania is a very limitedly touristy part of Australia. This is 90% wonderful and 10% frustrating. Limited public transportation makes seeing Tasmania a challenge for those on a limited budget or with limited time. If you had a month you'd be fine with the bus system. But, with less than two weeks your options for maximum coverage are either an origanized tour or renting a car. I'd done the organized tour and decided to try my hand at fully independent travel.
I left this morning (without passengers) and began driving west. My destination was Stanley, a tiny little town on the western side of the north coast. According to the tourist brochure it was the inspiration for Lilliput in Johnathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." This was enough of a reason for me to visit so I set off. Two hundred and twenty-five kilometers later I was standing on the beach and staring at "The Nut." "The Nut" is Stanley's claim to fame - they call it the Ayer's Rock of Tasmania. Basically, it is a large rock formation on the end of a peninsula that juts out from Tasmania into the sea. The town is built at the foot of the Nut and tourists come to ride the chairlift to the top and look at the views.
But I was curious about the Gulliver's Travels connection. The town was quaint and quiet, and I could imagine that 100-150 years ago it would have made a good model for Lilliput. I asked around about the connection and no one seemed to know much about it. While having a coffee, I decided to ask again. The woman running the cafe said she wasn't sure either but why didn't I ask Ray Lotty. Who is Ray Lotty, I asked? Turns out he was the one who made the comparison - and he just happened to live three doors away.
Ray answered the door and ushered me inside. He was in his 60s with a mad professor mop of salt and pepper hair which he was constantly smoothing down with his hand. His "office" was a hodge podge of video equipment, old pictures and a random assortment of the types of things one collects after many years of living.
We chatted for about 15 minutes. I'd like to say that I left feeling like Swift had truely modeled Lilliput from Stanley - that Ray had somehow found evidence suggesting a link between the book and the town. That Swift had traveled here years ago, or that he'd seen a picture or heard a story of the town. But, in truth, it appears that Ray simply read the book and thought Swift's descriptions were very close to Stanley's reality.
I thanked him for his time and walked back to my car. While I was a little bit disappointed that there was no real "historical" proof connecting the town and the book, the truth was the drive out here was completely worth it and I was glad to have had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in this charming, unspoiled place.
Looking around one last time before I left, I decided I could easily see how someone could imagine this place to be straight out of Gulliver's Travels. And, who was I to say that it wasn't? The more I thought about it the more I decided that I agreed with Ray, historical proof or not. Besides, I rather like the idea of adding Lilliput to the list of places visited on Melanie's Magical Mystery tour. Talk about being off the beaten path...