Of cartoonists, Walkleys, electric bikes and Tasmanian whisky »
As told in Kudelka and First Dog's Spiritual Journey
By Kerry Scambler
Cartoonists and sometimes friends Jon Kudelka and First Dog on the Moon came up with the preposterous idea of touring Tasmania and taking in (literally) all the whisky distilleries they could find then writing a book about it.
But this adventure was going to cost a bit so they were keen on not paying themselves. And who would be when you discover the big wide internet out there full of people keen on giving you money for just such an indulgent idea.
These gentlemen, or rather this gentleman and Dog, have both won Walkley Awards (actually Kudelka has won two but that never gets mentioned) but I’m sure this Tasmanian journey was far more spiritually rewarding than any such acclamation.
After asking for $8,000 through crowd-funding, they raised somewhere between $13,000 and $20,000 (depending on which media you read) and finally set off on their adventure in early autumn. It's usually a beautiful time in Tasmania and apart from some misty moments on the road, the weather and whisky gods beamed down on them.
So why Tasmania? Possibly because first off Kudelka lives here and secondly because there are around nine whisky distillers and at least one whiskey distiller in this one small (but glorious) state. (And yes the spelling does matter in this case, as is explained in the book.)
Probably thirdly is the quality of said whisky/ey which is brightly reflected in the international awards being greedily gathered by local distillers, Sullivans Cove and Lark.
Besides, it sounded like a great idea which, as it happens, has turned into a rather good book of cartoons and illustrations with hilarious tales of bikes and drawing pins, goat prejudices and much whisky imbibing. There might be the odd social commentary as well but what else would you expect from Walkley Award cartoonists?
But it’s not all about the beautiful whisky, the peat from the bog, the stills and wee dram or twenty. It is after all a tale of Tasmanian travel which would hardly be complete without mention of food and other beverages and all the people they meet. Cheese with Nick on Bruny Island, craft beer with Willie at Seven Sheds, fruit wine with Bob and Elaine at Sorell Fruit Farm, Fred on the Port Arthur Ghost Tour and many others.
But back to the whisky book and one of my favourite images is “The Epiphany on the Lake”, an image of Bill Lark by Kudelka. For those who aren’t familiar with Bill, (aka Jack’s Dad as in Jack Lark from Junior MasterChef), he’s referred to as the Godfather of Tasmania whisky. The cartoon captures the person and the moment perfectly.
The two adventurers overcome flat tyres, low batteries, mountainous terrain, rough waters and for Dog, an abject lack of animal life (Kudelka claims he just wasn’t looking in the right direction*). They also overcame the occasional morning feeling rather fuzzy after some serious tasting the evening prior including an event called Cask Strength Carnage and a bottle of Nant of the shores of Great Lake.
Apart from our trailblazing heroes on the bikes, the other heroes in this tome are the whisky makers themselves and it’s refreshing to read their stories in a totally different style to the usual article about passionate producers with photos of beaming folk leaning on barrels with a wee dram in hand. These are of course informative and interesting in their own right but just sometimes it's revitalising to see things from a completely different perspective.
And speaking of perspective, the use of illustrations to explain possibly complex concepts is excellent. For example, Tim Duckett is in an independent bottler of Heartwood whiskey and he describes his ideal dram as per the Ann Elk theory of the brontosaurus (reference to Monty Python sketch). Simply and beautifully drawn in the book, it's thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle with a long tail and thin again at the other end. Perhaps not such a complex concept but it's amazing how easily I will now remember what to look for when I'm next tasting whisky.
The verdict on Kudelka and First Dog's Spiritual Journey
I truly love it. It makes me laugh and think and I haven’t even read it from cover to cover yet. It’s witty, clever, hilarious and at the same time very informative. I’ve actually learnt a lot about whisky and Tasmania in just my first scan through and that’s not something you’d imagine saying about a book from two cartoonists. Or perhaps you would - after all, they’ve both won Walkleys* (although First Dog has only won one).
Very highly recommended for those who like:
- A good laugh
- Clever observations
* to understand some of the comments in the above review, you will simply have to purchase your own copy of the book as relating the full stories would take too long and obviate your (perhaps as yet unknown) need to read it for yourself. If you do, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it – perhaps even write your own review for us?
A sequel may well be on the cards as there are new distilleries just about to open or in the serious planning stages. These include a distillery at the fabulous historic Shene property at Pontville, one at the Penny Royal Gunpowder Mill in Launceston (under development by Josef Chromy) and in the state's north east at Bridport. Perhaps a tasting tour by the VisitVineyards team should be contemplated?
About the authors:
First Dog on the Moon is the editorial cartoonist for The Guardian and appears occasionally on the Talking Pictures segment of the ABC's Insiders program.
Jon Kudelka is a scientist turned cartoonist whose work appears in The Mercury (Hobart) and The Australian.
Kudelka and First Dog's Spiritual Journey: in which two intrepid cartoonists bravely tour the dangerous* Tasmanian whisky trail by Jon Kudelka and First Dog on the Moon is self-published (2014, hb, 198pp, RRP A$40.00). It is available from good bookshops and direct from the authors/publishers here »
* Not actually dangerous
Tasmania's whisky distilleries
- Lark Distillery »
- Sullivans Cove (Tasmania Distillery) »
- Hellyers Road Distillery »
- McHenry Distillery »
- Nant »
- Redlands Estate »
- Belgrove »
- Old Hobart Distillery »
To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.
To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >