Good Reading : May 2004
54 goodreading ROWENA CSEH visits the charming, but sadly misused, reading room of the latest addition to Australia’s ferry fleet. The last ferry to sail between Sydney and Devonport was 30 years ago – until the Spirit ofTasmania made her inaugural journey earlier this year.As a Sydneyite, a ‘ferry’ is not something I equate with travelling across the Bass Strait in. So when we drove up the ramp into the gaping jaws of the Spirit my immediate reaction was one of awe at her immense size.This isn’t a ferry, it’s a ship! The Spirit ofTasmania heralds from Greece, where she sailed the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. (In fact as we walked around the ship we found many signs were in Greek and English.) Once the ship was purchased she was sailed back to Sydney, gutted, refitted to accommodate 500 pas- sengers and up to 400 cars, and made ready to sail to Tasmania and back three times a week.The mini-cruise takes in an afternoon, night and morning – just enough time to relax and enjoy your surroundings. As we climbed out of our minibus and travelled up the escalator we felt the excite - ment you get when you’re setting out on an adventure.The ship was an absolute hive of activity: it has to be unloaded, cleaned from prow to stern and reloaded in just over two hours. Seventy-six crew worked frenetically alongside the cleaners to make ready for welcoming the next passengers. Hopping over vacuum cleaner cords, we checked out the cyber room where you can keep in touch virtually, sat in the Errol Flynn Cinema where the latest mov- ies screen all night, glided through the restaurants, bars and lounges and peeked through the shutters at the shops.This ship unashamedly promotes Tasmania at every opportunity.All the food is Tasmanian: oysters, smoked salmon, cheeses, wine, chocolate and cakes.They even have an official Parks and Wildlife officer on board who introduces passengers to the flora and fauna of Tasmania.We took a tour of the accommodation and were pleasantly sur- prised to see that in many cabins double bunks had been replaced with double beds. The cabins – as with most cruise ships – are compact but very comfortable, and range from the plush to hostel-style accommodation. Finally we arrived at the room we’d come to see: the Louisa Anne Meredith Reading Room. Louisa Anne Meredith was a well known and respected poet, writer, botanist, painter and engraver who moved toVan Diemen’s Land in 1840 with her husband. She continued to write and paint, and eventually received a government pension of £100 a year in recogni- tion of her contribution to science, literature and art. Her sketches adorn the walls of the reading room. As you would expect, this room’s aim is comfort: sofas, arm- chairs and a large window looking out over the ocean give it a peace- ful atmosphere.At one end of the room is the library, but our hearts sank as we looked at the empty shelves. It was barely stocked! Then we were shocked to be told that the majority of the books had been stolen during the first series library afloat fully booked of cruises.The reading room had been fully stocked with a variety of novels and non-fiction books, including a particularly good range on Tasmania – sumptuous coffee table books to whet your appetite for the holiday to come, books on Louisa Anne Meredith and her works, novels set in Tasmania, and so on.And they had all but disappeared! It was very sad to think that people could treat the reading room that way.The Spirit’s operators were under- standably disappointed too, but they aim to restock – with the hope that this time, people will only borrow from the library. As we wound our way back down through the ship and drove back out through those gaping jaws, we passed the line of cars, luggage piled high on the roof racks, backpackers loaded up like clotheshorses, everyone excitedly waiting to board.We felt the urge to stow away, to take this mini-cruise experience our- selves. It’s just such an exciting, but relaxing, way to travel.