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Tasmania, Australia

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Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, and is in fact off the mainland and an island in itself. It's shaped like a rough equilateral triangle - flat across the top with a point facing due south. As such, the island state looks to some like a stylised apple or, to others, a woman's pubic region. It used to be called Van Diemen's Land because Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer who found it, named it in honour of Anthony van Diemen1. The Dutch settled there, and grew apples for a while (so it's sometimes referred to as the Apple Isle), then other Europeans decided that it would be a great place for a penal colony2. Van Diemen's Land later became Tasmania in honour of Tasman, and the state was actually part of mainland Australia once. The landmass was separated from Victoria by Bass Strait only relatively recently, in the whole grand scheme of things. Now you can get to it by boat, car-ferry or aircraft. You could swim, but that's not really a good idea.

The capital of Tasmania is Hobart, although people from Launceston argue that their city should be the capital. And then those in Devonport (the ferry port in the north of the island) say that neither of them should be capital - and they should have the honour. People in the rest of Australia don't really care at all. Anyway, Hobart is a nice little place with some excellent pubs, clubs and bars - but also a relaxed way of life. Many Hobartians are consummate sailors too, and the Hobart marina is full of yachts most of the year - particularly during the time around the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which pits competitors against themselves and the sea.

Some mainland Australians look down upon their southerly neighbours across the water, believing they're the Australian equivalents of American hillbillies. The city folk are taught that Tasmanians have two-heads, forked tails, and interbreed with both their livestock and close family members. This can't be further from the truth as Tasmanians are, for the most part, polite, well-mannered and extremely sociable people. True, some of them make their own homebrew, but banjo playing is frowned upon.

Tasmania is probably most famous for being the home to the Tasmanian Tiger, but there is much more to see there (or not see, in the case of the more than likely extinct Thylacine). The inland area is pure bushland, but due to the fact that the state is a lot cooler than the rest of Oz, it is rich and lush and very green - not unlike Ireland. There are some wonderful natural rivers, streams and rocks to inspire the artist in you, or even just the rambler. For bikers, Superbike Championships are held in the state, but cricket and Aussie Rules are also popular there.

Tasmania has some sad history in that one of Australia's worst massacres was committed at the small tourist town of Port Arthur on 28 April, 1996 when gunman Martin Bryant shot and killed 35 people (and injured 37 others). However, that act pales in comparison to the decline of the native Tasmanians due to European intervention in the early 1800s - with a native population of around 5,000 being reduced to little more than 300 in the space of 20 years.

On the bright side though, Tasmania has some wonderful beer. Unlike many other Australian states, wine isn't as popular because grapes don't agree with the cooler climate. So Tassie beer is nurtured lovingly, and viewed by many Aussies as their best asset, some considering it the best in the world. Foodies will love the cottage-style cooking present all over the state, and many English tourists will find it a bit like home away from home - with a smattering of Australian panache chucked in for good measure. Apples still feature prominently in the diet of Tasmanians, and also clotted cream as dairy farming makes up a large part of the industry, along with logging - although there is often conflict in the state (and the rest of Australia) about Tasmania's natural resources.

It must also be said that Tasmania is not home to 'Taz' - the Looney Tunes character, and that real Tasmanian Devils are nasty little black and white creatures that yap like angry terriers.

1Tasman's boss at the Dutch East India Company.2Not a colony for penises, you smutty-minded individual, just because Tassie looks like a woman's private bits, it doesn't mean it was filled with willies. A penal colony is a prison.

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