TASSIE- Australia’s island state
Commuter flight across the Bass Strait, Melbourne to Devonport

I had the opportunity do do a six day locums stint at an ED in rural NW Tasmania over Easter. They were desperate for coverage, and I needed an adventure, so why not?! It was about work, and kind of stressful to start and end a new job over less than a week, but was a great adventure indeed! I managed to get out and about some between shifts as well.

Entrance to Port Phillip Bay and the Mornington Peninsula

Fertile, well-tended fields of Tasmania

Tassie is Australia’s Island state. It has a dark history as the repository of the worst of the recidivists during the British penal colony years, 1803-1853, when around 75 K convicts were transported here. It also has a very complex topography with jagged, glaciated peaks over 5000 ft, numerous rivers, and some of the largest and wildest temperate rainforest remaining in the Southern Hemisphere. I hadn’t been since around 2013, and was keen to see the rural NW part of the state.

Nice house and car provided

Sunset over Burnie and Table Cape

Concrete penguin nesting boxes.

Burnie,  a town of 30K, is transitioning from a paper mill and industrial past into an arts and ecotourist center for the NW. They are famous for being a rookery for little Tasmanian penguins, which nest nightly right in town.

Moulting Little Penquin

April (Fall here) is moulting season, and the numbers aren’t as high as in mid-summer. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of some as they troop ashore at dusk, after a day of feeding out at sea. Very cute little creatures, about seagull-sized.

An unfortunate close-up, he’s dead…

Tassie, called The Apple Isle, has been vigorously marketing itself as an adventure and eco-tourist destination world-wide. It also has a very deep and pristine local food and wine culture; being esp. highly-regarded for cool climate whites, pinot noir and champagne. Being an island in the middle of nowhere, the seafood is abundant, fresh and world class. Lying in the direct path of the southern “Roaring 40’s”, it was also in the direct path for sailing ships on the way to Sydney and the Australian East coast from Europe. Thus, it was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia, beginning in 1803. Hobart, the capital on the southern coast, is actually the second oldest Aussie city, after Sydney; and the state as a whole boasts the largest collection of intact heritage buildings in Australia. It’s really an island that’s full of surprises, and well worth a visit; even if it is pretty out of the way!

A live one, about to nest for the night

North West Regional Hospital

NWRH is the third largest hospital in Tassie, covering the entire NW quadrant of the state, as well as King (and other) islands in Bass Strait. It’s a vital resource in this wild and sparsely populated region. Given it’s isolation, it has a surprisingly robust sub-specialty base, and is new and modern.

What am I doing in Burnie, TAS??!

Burnie, overlooking Bass Strait


 One afternoon I was able to visit Guide Falls, about 10 km inland from the coast. It gets rural and then wild, very quickly out there! Not a huge falls, but a very charming one. A unique feature is the extensive crenelated stone, actually Dolerite, that are ancient extrusions of lava magma.

Water-worn Dolerite

Per Wikipedia, Tasmania has the world’s largest deposits of Dolerite- so you heard it here first… It’s like walking on neatly arranged pavers. Pretty cool really, for a bunch of old rocks….!

Guide Falls, around 30 ft high, ends in a blind Dolerite canyon
Dolerite wall of octagonal shafts all fused together

Even the trees feel wild and wind-twisted
Tassie landscapes, well-tended yet also wild

Burnie Port- a large wood chip producer

I had most of a day off between finishing at 1500 and having to be back for the evening shift at 1400 the following day. The weather was perfect for a drive. My destination, the heritage village of Stanley and “The Nut” a local coastal landmark, 70 km west.

The Nut, a curious coastal mesa on Bass Strait

Heritage Building, Stanley

A Citroen rally, below The Nut
You can ride…

or hike…short and steep…I hiked…

The Nut is really unique and a major draw in these parts. A sheer, flat-topped, stone mesa sitting out at the end of a large, flat, crescentic spit of land. The views on a day like I had are 360 degrees and stunning. The tiny Heritage hamlet of Stanley sits right at it’s base. The cemetery dates from 1824- pretty ancient by Aussie standards. What was once an isolated fishing village has been beautifully restored with nice shops and cafes. Quite a lively little place on the day I visited.

“Highfield”, a heritage country estate at world’s end….

Windblown summit of the Nut, it’s a 2 km walk around the perimeter

DDU feeling on top o’ the world…

Tiny chairlift at summit

Still warm enough for palms!

Heritage graveyard of the early settlers

For reference, Tassie is about twice the size of Switzerland (pop 8 million) and has about 500k residents; so 1/16 as populated as Switzerland!
Approx. 65% of the residents can trace direct lineage to the original 10K settlers, the “founding families”. Until pretty recently, it was an isolated existence at the bottom of the world.
Around 45% of the entire island is protected parkland, including the vast World Heritage designated SW mountains and forests.

Not a sign you see everyday!

Taking some local advice, I detoured down a side road and ended up on Boat Harbor Beach- said to be one of the finest beaches in Tasmania. It really was stunning, with the clear Caribbean blue waters backed up by treeless grassy hills reminiscent of central coast/ Big Sur California. I was told it was also some of the coldest water you will ever swim in, but didn’t test that theory out….!

So after two more late ED shifts that included some pretty serious rural-style trauma (involving Quad bikes, table saws and farm machinery…) It was time to wing it back home to Brisbane. The trip was great, the staff at NWRH skilled and really fun to work with. Thanks to them for making me fell welcome.
Say, this itinerant doc life seems to work out for me…Maybe I’ll make a career out of it…!

Devonport airport, where the cows watch you taxi…seriously!
North coast of Tassie, and  Devonport

Mainland Australia, Victoria coastline

Melbourne CBD in the rain

Gold Coast, Queensland in evening light

Wellington Point, Queensland, right near home…
Brisbane International, home!

So, a new sort of adventure…Locums ED doc. I really enjoyed the experience, and might be scheduling some more soon. I’ve always liked my Emergency Med a bit on the wild and raw side…And there’s plenty of that Down Under. Stay tuned as we explore the scruffy corners of this amazing continent together!  Best, DDU

The newest Aussies- The Nolan Gang!

Mother’s Day breakfast on the veranda

 It’s now April 2017, I’ve got a block of time off and I’m trying to catch up on some past news. The biggest by far is that way back in June 2016 we crossed a major milestone by becoming dual citizens of the USA and Australia. This is the end result of along road that ended in an outcome I had never expected or anticipated in my life. How did THAT happen?!

 It’s a long story full of surprising twists and turns. None more surprised at the outcome than me….except maybe Stephanie!
Basically, we came to Australia for a few year’s sabbatical in 2012 on a 457 long stay (4 year) work visa; offered due to my advanced training in Emergency Medicine. After a year or so, the hospital came to me and surprised me by offering to sponsor us for Permanent Residency (PR) in exchange for 2 more year’s commitment to them. I was happy to say yes, as I didn’t want to move on yet anyway. PR turned out to be quite the hassle to obtain, including health checks with Xrays and lab work for all seven of us, fingerprinting and FBI background checks from back in the States for me and Stephanie, and around $3000 in fees.

“Peter Pan”  school play, Luke and Claire as the Lost Boys

True Blue Aussie, mates…
 What I didn’t realize is that #1 Permanent Residency isn’t really permanent (long story…)and #2 PR completes the really hard yakka towards Citizenship, so…..

Anticipation on becoming a little Aussie

Once you have PR, stay in Australia two more years and keep a clean record and you are eligible to apply for Citizenship, at nominal cost- though a lot of paperwork ensues. Adults then need to sit for a written 50 question exam, and on passing, be scheduled for a swearing-in ceremony. They’re always held on Australia Day in 26 January, and then various other times and locations depending on demand. You generally attend in your home electorate, the Redland Shire in our case. In June, as our big day approached, excitement mixed with mild apprehension. It’s a major commitment to swear allegiance to another country; many people have to surrender their native birthright to attain Aussie Citizenship. Luckily both Australia and the USA allow for dual citizenship, but there are some voting, tax and residency complications that might arise. That said, Australia is a wonderful, clean, progressive country with a bright future. Citizenship confers full rights to us and all the kids for life, without limitation. Also, a trans-Tasman agreement allows Aussies and Kiwis the right to live, work and retire in either country; thereby opening up opportunities to live and work in New Zealand with little limit as well. All in all, a no-brainer to say yes to.

Citizenship turns out to being a major, if unexpected, corollary benefit of our spending some years down under and simply growing to love the lifestyle and opportunities available in Australia. Stephanie had more misgivings, and even a touch of melancholy to be honest, but as I said to her, “We’re not losing our American heritage, just gaining some Australian. All additive, nothing taken away…”
The Big Night…

At least that’s how I felt. I’m sure it’s a bit different for everyone, depending on life circumstances. Around 24% of the Australian population of 24 million people was born in a foreign country, which is higher than the USA. And historically, until very recently with the advent of cheap jet travel,, a move to Australia was invariably one way and permanent.

The ceremony itself was really touching and classy. 128 new residents with families and supportive friends almost filling the performance center auditorium. Dignitary speeches, a few local choirs, patriotic singalongs; it was a full evening, an event even… Very moving to become a full part of the dynamic historical flow that is the Australian nation. It’s remarkable to consider what this country has been able to achieve; going from impoverished prisoners scratching out a wilderness living from crude bark huts in Botany Bay to the modern skyscrapers of Sydney Harbor in just over 200 years. A federated Commonwealth only since 1901. Truly incredible, and a lasting testament to the British genius for engineering and governance. I hope that the Nolan family can make some small contribution to the ongoing success of this venture!

The Nolan Clan- Australia’s gain!!

Australian, Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Island flags

Proud new citizens of Australia, with the Mayor

In turn, we all got up to receive the handshake and official parchment document from the Redland Shire mayor, and also each got a potted palm to plant as a welcome to our new country. Very nice touch. We then went into town for a giant Chinese food banquet at the kid’s request- The Happy Garden…indeed….

New citizens, and very lucky kids…
Cate getting giddy…

The official document-suitable for framing

Proud Aussie-American. True (red, white and) Blue!

So, it was a night to remember. A defining moment in our adventure down under. Who knows how this trip, these paths taken, will impact and reverberate in our lives and the lives of our kids and grandkids for generations to come. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but like many things- the final repercussions and outcomes are simply unknowable. Good? Bad? It’s uncertain, and I’m comfortable with that. For right now, we are dual, and that’s very cool. So, be careful when taking your next step- you never know where you’ll end up; but may your ride be interesting indeed!

Best to you all from our other home in the Southern Hemisphere.

DDU and the Nolan clan 🙂