THE ROAR OF A THOUSAND ELEPHANTS

1-8 Apr, 2021

We found a quiet valley in Lilydale, away from the maddening crowds, to wait out the Easter holiday mayhem. 

Earth House is a rustic mud-brick cottage set on a farm, overlooking an orchard. A large hobby farm, ‘Cherry Topia’ has organic vegetables, apples, nashi pears and hazelnuts. Besides two holiday cottages, they also welcome campers. The farm had a friendly vibe with people around, and plenty of space for everyone. 

One crisp evening the Host, John, lit the communal fire pit located near the main farmhouse and we decided to go and join in. We chatted with John while we waited for the other couple staying here to join. We were interested to know a little about John and Leslie’s life here. They’ve been here for 20 years after travelling around a fair bit. He gave us a quick demonstration on his home-made didgeridoo and then played a few songs on the guitar. 

That night, there was only one campervan on the farm, a young couple living in Sydney on a two week Tasmanian holiday. He was from Yorkshire, and she was from Boston. We spent a few hours sitting around the fire on a freezing night, swapping travel adventure stories. It’s always inspiring meeting like minded people. 

A flock of boisterous geese live in the orchard under the hazelnut trees, to keep the grasses down.  Whenever they saw John going about his business, they would squabble and squawk demanding to be fed.

He would walk along the line of nashi trees running parallel to the orchard, collecting the fallen fruit and lobbing them over the fence to the gaggle.  Whenever they saw anyone, they’d repeat the performance. A jogger on the road, a camper in a field, David stepping onto the deck with a coffee. 

Each morning we received a visit from a plump brown chicken on her morning rounds. “We don’t have foxes in Tasmania,” John told us around the camp fire “so the chickens are free to roam.”  

On our first morning, we were sitting on the couch with the the door open enjoying the warm sunshine and cool farm-fresh breeze. When, let’s call her Henny-Penny, jumped up onto the deck and came over to the open door to introduce herself. Is it possible for a bird to look stupid, curious and friendly? 

Sometimes in the evening she would follow me around the garden, gently cooing. 

While we were chatting with friends on FaceTime, a little mouse screeched to a halt in the middle of the kitchen floor. He spotted us, at the same time that we spotted him. We were equally as surprised to see each other! He was a tiny round ball. A bush mouse. He was pretty cute actually. And we learnt to share the house with him, if not a little uneasily. We’ve never kept such a spotlessly clean kitchen and floor. Everything sealed in containers. 


On Good Friday, needing supplies for the week, we popped into Launceston, a 25 min drive away. Closed. Woollies? Closed. Dan Murphy’s? Closed. BWS? Open! Woohoo at least we have wine!  There is not much to the village of Lilydale, yet the tiny grocery store was open so there was no risk of staving over Easter. 

On Easter Sunday, instead of eating chocolate eggs, we took the bikes out for a ride. The local mountain bike park at Hollybank had an interesting 5k loop and a pump track. We came back a few days later, we enjoyed it so much.

In between riding days, we ran 6 or 7k through the country lanes, admiring farm houses, vineyards and disused railway lines, as we went. On more than one occasion I had to hold my breath while running past stinky road kill. Holding ones breath while running is not particularly, fun.

By Easter Monday, we were ready to get out and explore, so we packed our sketchbooks and drove out to Low Head Lighthouse, with plans to stop at the Bass and Flinders Museum in George Town, visit Beauty Point, and then loop back through Launceston for supplies. 

Low Head Lighthouse on the Tamar River, built in 1888, looks like a classic lighthouse with it’s bright red stripe and it’s still operational. 

We explored the grounds and spent time reading the information boards. 

“Did you see there’s a fog horn?” David said reading the board and then striding down to peer into the building housing the strange machine. 

The Hebe Reef, at the mouth of the river is a significant hazard, and because the area is prone to heavy sea and river fogs, a Fog Alarm was installed in 1929. It’s unique signal could be heard 32 km away! That’s loud. I tried to imagine how loud that would be. 

It was abandoned in the 1970’s as technology developed, but some volunteers have since restored it, with much time and effort. In 2001, it was brought back to life.

“…with a hammering heart and bated breath, the electric compressor was started up, the pressure vessels brought to operating pressure, control valves opened and the timing motor started. And several seconds later the magnificent roar of a thousand elephants echoed through the area.”

Bruce Findlay, 2001

Opening a gate in the pristine white picket fence, David walked around the Fog Alarm building to look at the horn. 

“It’s not that big.” 

“I know, it’s mad!” He said “if it had a bigger resonator, it would be even louder.”

We noticed a path leading down to a weather station and the rocks below, so followed it down. After a little rock hopping we settled on a spot and spent the afternoon sketching. 

The colours were vivid under the blue sky. Charcoal rocks, with brightly coloured moss against the sparkling sea. 


Because everything was closed over Easter, it gave us the peace of mind to focus on sketching and painting. There was plenty of light and space in this little cottage and it made a perfect art studio. 

I experimented with watercolour styles and wrestled with an oil painting, a scene from Arthur River.

I’m searching for my own language; to express the emotion or energy of a place, while simplifying and avoiding too much detail. Fast and loose but still recognisably figurative. A step in my development has been giving myself permission to move things around, rather than replicating the landscape exactly. I love to exaggerate the colour of the landscape.  Simplifying complex patterns is the current challenge. 

One day, we laid out a pile of David’s paintings and spent time with them.  A crit session: arranging his pieces into clusters and evaluating what’s worked. It was so interesting to see his style evolving. He paints with energy and reckless abandon. “Impatience” he says. 

“This is like a self-funded artist residency” I said looking around at the room strewn with our work.

We’ve enjoyed staying in this valley. I wonder what will the next place be like?

3 thoughts on “THE ROAR OF A THOUSAND ELEPHANTS

  1. Did you visit Seahorse World on the wharf at Beauty Point? The old wharf buildings have been converted by them to farm these interesting creatures. You can see them from tiny fingernail babies to large breeding adults. Upstairs is an awesome cafe serving beautiful meals.

    I love your mobile arts studio and I can see that you’ll have ample material back in Sydney to hold a decent art exhibition when you get back. We’ll come down and visit it.

    Liked by 1 person

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