Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged friendship

  • Bouquets for a Back Road

    Bouquets for a Back Road

    You read the headline. It speaks of the death of someone about your age, from a neighbourhood you know well. Your heart sinks. There’s a good chance it’s one of your extended mob. Someone you used to run into at the pub or at a gig every now and again – if not someone you know even more closely. This is the reality of growing up in a place like Launceston.

    I’m still 4000 kilometres from home, and to find out that Theressa
    Roberts died on a back road in Longford, on a Monday night, in the dark, her body struck by a big machine...it brings a grim type of grief, one that is cold and empty and aloof. I am almost without feelings.

    It’s like this. Today I am in a tropical place, warm and bright green and noisy with birds; I cannot conceive of the Tasmanian winter, I cannot picture damp and foggy Longford. There is a thick curtain between the season I’m in, and the one
    passing in Tasmania right now. Likewise, I am alive, and I can’t imagine any of my friends no longer in this same arena. But it is so: Theressa Roberts has died, and the barrier that is cast between the seasons of life and of death is a heavy one indeed. Theressa is irretrievable.

    I went to high-school with Tress. When,
    as a teenager, I was taking unimaginative portraits of friends for my photography class, I asked her to lie down on a grassy knoll in South Launnie and scattered my mum’s cassette tapes around her head like a wonky halo.

    I am embarrassed by
    how juvenile and unoriginal an artist I was, but perhaps it’s for the best. As C.S. Lewis wrote in an essay on grief, “A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.” Photographs can serve as markers for our memories, but too many of them, or the act of making an icon of one image, can cause us to forget the intricate presence beyond the frame. A death reminds us that a photograph is awfully insufficient.

    I
    knew a young woman who was bursting with music, and earnest spirituality. She was also a bit loopy, and I think she’d grin at the thought of me saying this. Her speech was quick and went in directions I did not expect. She was very candid with me, more so than I ever am with anyone. She was warmer than me. She worried about her body’s form, but I believe that she had a keener sense of the innate strength and beauty of women, including herself. She was proud to be Filipina.

    I know that in many traditions, the names of the dead are ritually unspoken. In the anglo-antipodean culture, we grow to speak of those who’ve died in a mumble, a whisper, apologetically stammered. Follow whichever tradition you like, but for me, it is useful to speak about those who’ve wandered off beyond our reach. This way, their complex personalities continue to exist, and are kneaded into our lives.

    The site of her death,
    the verge of that narrow country road, is probably already marked with bouquets of flowers. We can count this as traditional practice – it is recent, but nevertheless it is now a tradition and an event in the ritual of road deaths. But bouquets wither, and those who feel immediate searing pain of loss will notice it lengthen and change texture as the years go by. How do we absorb this grief? It is mysterious, but it is so, and it must be.

    My bias is place, and my memory is geographical. In years from now, I will recall the points in which Theressa’s life intersected with my own: the canteen porch at Kings Meadows High School, a scratched table in the Gunners Arms,
    her home in Evandale, that lawn in South Launceston.

    The tragic patch of Woolmers Lane in Longford will also become a point of reference for me too. I will drive through it from time to time, the smell of hay and animals on the air, clouds bunching up in the western mountains. It will remind me to sing, to invent, to consider the existence of the spirit, to be a bit loopy, to be proud, to be warm, to love. To use my car with caution.
    To be aware of the brevity of our days in these beautiful landscapes, to cherish every human body as awfully beautiful and vulnerable.

  • The Last Days of the Old Woman

    The Last Days of the Old Woman

    As her old friends died around her – King Billy, Mary-Ann – the grief of Trugernanna was terrible. And with her bereavement came the fear of what would happen to her body when she was gone. One day, she asked the reverend to sew her up in a bag with a rock inside it and have it thrown into the deepest part of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel when she was gone. Just to make sure.

    Mr. and Mrs. Dandridge had become friends with Trugernanna at Oyster Bay and when the Aboriginal settlement closed there, they took her in. The year was 1869. Trugernanna suffered from chronic bronchitis, although she still smoked about a solid amount of tobacco. The Dandridges served her two pounds of meat per day, along with bread and vegetables. She drank the occasional ale, particularly savouring hot ginger beer in the evenings before bed.

    Trugernanna had some degree of celebrity thrust upon her in these days. She met the Governor of the day, Charles Du Cane, who described her as ‘a very quaint looking little old lady’ who was shorter than four feet high ‘and much the same measure in breadth’. Trugernanna had a laugh at the expense of Governor Du Cane’s girth too, though. One day she laughed gleefully at him and announced to anyone listening, “This fellow, he too much jacket!” 

    Folks later remembered her from these last days sitting on the steps of the Dandridges’ house, turning the pages of illustrated London newspapers, or simply smoking her pipe and watching the world go by. But what Trugernanna’s true pleasure was to make excursions across the channel to her country, the north of Bruny Island, where she grew up. The childhood gambols on the beach – occasionally interrupted by the auspicious occasions of white sails drifting across the water – must have seemed like a dream, perhaps in another life; but Trugernanna was transported back to those times as she walked in the sand, collecting shells and seaweed on the isthmus or around Adventure Bay, camping in the bush there. 

    The physical transportation was the responsibility of John Strange Dandridge, who learned how to row in order to get the little old lady to her country. Mr. Dandridge had been the empathetic superintendent of the mission – a rare breed. Rowing was not his usual vocation. He was the son of an Oxford minister, who had married Matilda Prout, the daughter of one of Tasmania’s most significant artists. 

    It was Mrs. Dandridge who was with Trugernanna when she died. On May 3 1876, Trugernanna told Mrs. Dandridge that her family had appeared to her in a dream and that this meant she would soon die. The old woman had been crook for a while; for a few days she slipped in and out of consciousness, but on the evening of May 8, she cried out, “Rowra catch me!” Rowra was one of the powerful spirits of Trugernanna’s country. The end was near.

    But on that day, she regained consciousness again for an hour or two; and in that final conversation with Mrs. Dandridge and her doctor, Trugernanna made one more plea for her body to be treated respectfully once she had died. “Don’t let them cut me, but bury me behind the mountains,” she begged.

    She was instead buried in Hobart, and her body was exhumed after two years and placed on display at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. 

    It was only a century after her death that her ashes were at last scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which she had looked upon as a girl, too many years ago.


    One writer remembers a night with Trugernanna by the river.
    Last week we recounted 1982's famous World Ploughing Championships.

  • Dense Connections

    Dense Connections

    Ten million years ago, this valley was formed by volcanic and glacial forces.

    A long time after that, humans came to the island. They were largely nomadic societies, and certainly passed through the Tamar Valley, although the evidence of what they did for their thousands of years here – what they witnessed of climatic change, how their beliefs adapted to the world changing around them – is sadly missing.

    English explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders came through the Bass Strait in 1798, and in 1805, the recently-created British settlements of George Town and York Town were moved down the river to Launceston. One of the island’s chief surveyors, George Prideaux Harris, reckoned it was “the finest country in the world, as beautiful a country in appearance as I ever saw.”

    Two hundred years later, there are plenty of people in the town of Launceston who would agree. Like every settlement in Tasmania, it hasn’t had an easy run. After a boom in 1850, the economy here has endured prolonged depressions. And with that comes crime, or lack of educational opportunities, or political corruption. Not a few people who live in Launceston today think it’s buggered, as if the emptying of shopfronts is a new thing for us.

    But you don’t have to look very far to find reasons to feel lucky. Many of us do.

    Some of our community go further. There are a rare few who put in hard yards to make this place even better, to fill our town with energy and optimism, to wake us up to the beauty around us.

    Summer’s coming, and I’ll be spending much of it in a house at the end of a street next to the bushland around the Cataract Gorge, where black cockatoos revel in the clear light, above the milky gums and blossoming wattles; at a lower level, fairy-wrens and bandicoots and snakes sneak between twigs and bushes.

    There was a bloke who used to live in the same neighbourhood who won’t be any more. The whole town will miss him dearly. One of our historians writes that here on the island we are “part of dense networks of kinship and friendship” and that means you sorely notice when someone disappears. Things are deeply connected here, from the forces of 10 million years ago to the miserable news of Monday night.

    It could be that the bloke we lost understood this better than most of us.

    It might take a while, but I hope one day a local play or a bike ride or a walk in the bush will remind us each that we are nearer to the things we miss than we often realise, that all the memories of all the losses in all our lives are still with us, and they are in the cockatoos’ screeching and the snake’s quick shadow and the dark water in the river basin and the laughter at the end of a shaggy-dog story told by an old mate. It’s not the same. But it’s something.

    Yes, these are dense networks indeed; yes, this place is as beautiful as I ever saw.


     
    Another memoriam, on a cliff looking over the Cataract Gorge.