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Winter 2008 | Australia: Hobart, Romantic Getaway

Winter 2008 | Australia: Hobart, Romantic Getaway

Lined with Georgian houses, intimate Hobart's Tasmanian location includes some of Australia's most breath-taking natural beauty -- and a long history of same-sex romance!

Hobart's children learn that Mount Misery, southwest of the city, is so named because it's from over Misery's peak that the dark clouds of winter first tumble.

But Michael Higgins tells a different story about misery on the mountain, one full of romance and tragedy, about a young man caught in a snowstorm and killed on his way to visit his lover on the mountain's far side. "Who knows if it's true or not," Higgins concludes, "but it's still a powerful story because it says people are only one part of this world and not in charge of it."

Higgins and his life partner, Paul Dimmick, own and manage Huon Bush Retreats. The couple represent a growing number of gay Tasmanian eco retreat owners; they also pass on a long tradition of Tasmanian storytelling and a connection to the land that is centered on romantic love -- some of it same-sex.

The tradition began early in Tasmania. One of the first white explorers of its interior, Henry Hellyer, obviously had love on his mind when he named St. Valentine's Peak during a survey mission with a convict servant with whom he was later rumored to be having an affair.

At 19th-century convict stations like Hobart's Female Factory, loving unions between women were common. Indeed, some women assigned to distant farms as servants would deliberately reoffend so they could be returned to their lovers in prison.

Australia's oldest known photographs of same-sex lovers -- featuring young male couples wrapped in each other's arms -- were shot on the forested slopes of Hobart's Mount Wellington in the 1890s. The men in these pictures are so much a part of the forest they almost disappear against its background.

But there is no better example of the link between love and land than Hobart novelist Marie Bjelke Petersen. Writing in the early 20th century, she set many of her popular romances in the Tasmanian wilderness, letting its snow-capped peaks, wild rivers, and sunlit fields serve as metaphors for the passionate lifelong love she shared with her partner, Sylvia.

Contemporary Hobart continues to be a friend to lovers. It's a welcoming city, intimate in size and atmosphere, and although Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminalize same-sex relations, it was the first to enact a gender-neutral relationship registry and consider marriage equality.

Narrow streets lined with Georgian homes lead down to a waterfront upon which fishing boats unload the morning's catch. Small shops and even smaller caf?s bustle with customers in search of their favorite local products. Galleries brim with the strange and beautiful artifacts of Tasmanian art.

Gay-friendly nightspots like Kaos Caf? and its twin, Soak cocktail bar, reflect the city's warmth and closeness. Despite being one of the largest urban markets in Australia, Hobart's Salamanca Market is also a friendly affair, and for 20 years the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group has hosted a stall at the market.

But no matter how friendly a city may be, lovers need to retreat from view, and in this respect Hobart is ideal too.

Driving out of the city will take you through orchards and villages, into the Wilderness World Heritage Area, and to havens like Huon Bush Retreats.

For Higgins and Dimmick, "retreat" means more than "hideaway." Their retreat models environmental sustainability, is a wildlife sanctuary, and showcases indigenous and early European culture through interpreted walks on Mount Misery.

Topping all this is the jam Higgins makes from the same trees that supplied factories like Henry Jones over 100 years ago. "I'd like to think visitors leave Huon Bush Retreats not only rejuvenated but inspired by a vision of how the world could be if we respected what connects us to the past, to the land, and to each other," Higgins says. "For me and Paul, being part of this place gives us a stronger sense of who we are and deepens our bond with each other."

This then is why Hobart is a city for lovers: Beyond its charm, beauty, and friendliness, it is a place where history, people, and the land itself combine to declare that there is nothing greater than love.

WHERE TO STAY
The Henry Jones
25 Hunter St.; 011-61-3-6210-7700
Charming B&Bs sit hidden amid overgrown gardens. Boutique hotels like The Henry Jones, once a jam factory and now an art space, allow you to wander through inner worlds as fascinating as the one outside.

Huon Bush Retreats
300 Browns Rd., Ranelagh; 011-61-3- 6264-2233
This gay-owned eco lodge is nestled deep in the rain forest at the foot of Mount Misery and offers a range of top-grade accommodations: from camping to cabins to deluxe teepees. Workaholics beware: There are no TVs or phones in the units.

Click here to win a trip for two to Sydney or Melbourne on the new Quantas A380!

More Australia:
Sydney: City of Art
Melbourne: Food Lover's Paradise
Perth: The Great Escape
Getting to Australia

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