June 30, 2012
Tim the Yowie Man ice fishing in Canada Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Chilling out at the capital's winter wonderland of icy delights
Taking pride of place on my office wall is a photo of your Akubra-clad columnist ice fishing on a frozen lake in the Yukon. Whenever Sarah, my four-year-old, says she's feeling a little cold I take her into my office and point out how her daddy braved minus 35 degree temperatures to lie on the ice and pose for that photo and that she shouldn't complain about the cold until she's endured frigid arctic-like weather.
After pestering me for the last year to let her experience such bitterly cold conditions (''just once daddy, so I know what it's like!'') during the week, I finally gave in, and while we didn't set off for an expedition to the Arctic, we did set off for Antarctica. Well, sort of.
To celebrate 100 years of Australian Antarctic expeditions a couple of my favourite national institutions are currently showing Antarctic-themed exhibitions. It's a suitably chilly morning (as all days seem to be this winter, or am I just getting older?) as we scurry into the Traversing Antarctica Exhibition at the National Archives of Australia.
While I try and point out examples of the hardships faced by early expeditioners to the great white south, Sarah makes a beeline for the penguins. Whether they're in photos or taxidermied as part of the collection she obsesses over every single one.
Meanwhile, I stand by one of the touch screens, mesmerised by footage of the aurora australis, a phenomena I've always wanted to see in person but never have. I show Sarah a stunning shot of the aurora over Mawson Base to which she responds with a disappointing tone in her voice, ''there's no penguin in that photo Daddy''.
It's actually a reasonably kid-friendly exhibition, lots of hands-on activities (like dressing up explorers from different eras in their kit) and sound stations where you can whack on some head phones and listen to recordings such as a gale howling across the ice fields. It really is enough to send shivers up your spine.
Suitably impressed by Traversing Antarctica (but not cold due to the Eskimo-type layers Mrs Yowie Man insisted she wear when she heard what I was up to), we head back into the fresh morning air.
Next stop is the National Film and Sound Archive's Extreme Sound and Film Exhibition. Sarah's obsession with penguins has now reached fever-pitch and she races through the corridors at a breakneck pace, pausing only to look at historic photos featuring penguins. We both stop at the same black and white photo - it features hundreds of penguins and sea elephants at Macquarie Island. What catches my eye, however, is that among the penguins is a man in a hat with a sign promoting Cascade beer. I guess expeditions had to be funded somehow.
All this running around has made Sarah hungry so we stop for a snack at the cafe. While everyone else is huddled inside (they've recently added an area for tables in the foyer), to test the effectiveness of Mrs Yowie Man's arctic-layering on Sarah we wander into the deserted courtyard for our morning tea where Sarah clutches her hot chocolate, while I sample an icy cold Cascade beer (see the not-so-subtle advertising did work after all).
After downing her second hot chocolate and attempting to imitate a penguin waddle to anyone who will humour her, Sarah laments that she still doesn't feel really cold. Not wanting to shed her layers and be subjected to the wrath of Mrs Yowie Man (who would somehow find out - I guarantee it), I have one last idea to try and make Sarah appreciate the extreme cold that her daddy endured for the ice fishing photo. I bundle her in the car and head to the Phillip Ice Skating Rink, where, on arrival and seeing the large expanse of ice, Sarah politely asks the attendant, ''is it all right if we cut a hole in the ice to look for daddy's fish?''
Somehow we are given a pair of skates and ushered into the rink where, while every other kid (and some dads for that matter!) attempts to stay upright, little Sarah spends almost the whole session lying on the ice trying to imitate my ice fishing pose. After about 40 minutes of lying on the ice, she in a matter of fact way, stands up and confesses, ''Daddy, I'm cold now.''
Come summer, I've got a feeling Mrs Yowie Man will be hiding the photo of me walking on hot coals.
TREE HOUSE MYSTERY
I have been absolutely besieged with correspondence about the elaborate tree house partially hidden among trees on the side of the Hume Highway near Menangle (''Tree House Mystery'', June 23). At the time of writing, I've received 137 emails from other travellers, who like me use the mystery wooden structure as a landmark on the drive from Sydney to Canberra. Incredibly, among this mountain of emails are almost as many different theories as to the origins of the elaborate tree house. To illustrate the variety of theories, I present them here, without judgment.
1. Internment Camp: ''While travelling past the structure a bus driver once told me that during World War II there was an internment camp on that site for enemy aliens and that it was a guard tower for that camp,'' writes Maurice Lynch, of Downer. ''It is my understanding the vegetables and maybe fruit were grown at the site for use in the camp and for sale in Sydney. From our vantage point on the bus you could identify where the market gardens had been laid out.'' Meredith Hinchcliffe, of O'Connor, agrees with Maurice's explanation and adds, that there is (or was) a similar tower on the other side of the highway.
2. Theme park: ''That tree house was part of an early theme park (with animals and hay rides) called 'Adventureland' or something similar,'' writes Michael Kirby, of Chisholm. ''Families (including mine) would spend the entire day there in the 1970s exploring and running around, then a picnic lunch and later play cowboys and indians with the tree house as the fort.''
3. Guard Tower: Kerry Burleigh, of Dickson, recalls that in the 1950s her family ''drove past this place on our yearly trip to Wollongong from Forbes and my father said that he used to go to the dentist near there during the war. It was on an army base set up in wartime for training. It may not have been the dentist's, but it does look like a guard house. My father was based there in the Light Horse (before it was disbanded) in 1940 or 1941. I often go past it now and think of my father talking about it as we made our way to Wollongong,'' says Kerry. In support of Kerry's theory is Jerry Bishop who ''was told that it was built for officers to observe, assess and control, field manoeuvres by troops.''
4. Leave it to Google: A number of readers turned to their trusty search engines in search of the truth. Jas Hugonnet stumbled upon www.redbubble.com, which claims that the timber structure was a sleeping quarters from the early days of working the land and was elevated in an attempt to ward of the mozzies. Meanwhile many, including Bill and Mary Crowle, who ''have driven past it for over 40 years and wondered about its origins'', pointed to another website which says it was ''a slaughterhouse on the old Gilbulla Estate''.
5. Tank stand: Sharon Loiterton, of Dunlop, believes it may have housed a water tank or was an old meat storage shed. ''Before refrigeration was common this type of construct was used to hang meat and keep it cool. The open area was covered with an open weave hessian and kept damp from a water container on the roof. This structure would have been built sometime before World War II.''
6. Storage shed: Fellow Canberra Times columnist Susan Parsons recalls sketching the structure for an article she penned in 1984 on tree houses. In 1989, at nearby Mount Annan Botanic Gardens, Susan met a member of the family who, at the time, owned the property on which the wooden structure is built and recalls being told it was a storage shed or fire tower.
7. Summerhouse: Claire Hinton's family has been wondering about the tree house since 1973 and recalls reading a book that claimed the structure was a summerhouse built for a French winemaker.
8. Survival hut: Being captivated by the structure after seeing it as a kid and thinking it would be ''the best cubby house ever'', Ben Roberts, of Hawker, asked Sydney Catchment Authority several years ago if they knew anything about it. ''They responded that they didn't have a definitive answer, but believe it may have been survival hut/campsite for surveyors trying to find the best route to gravity feed water from the dams in the area.''
The verdict? I am on the cusp of solving this mystery and will reveal all next week, but in the meantime, given the extraordinary interest in this over-sized cubby, I'm half considering approaching its owners with a proposal to restore it and turn it into a roadside cafe. I know at least 137 people who would stop just to get a close-up look.
Got a comment on today's stories or an unusual photo? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.