Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged island

  • What They Hated

    What They Hated

    Many years ago, it was proposed to make a certain southern hemisphere island a prison colony for the wayward souls of gin-soaked London. It was an idea not without its complications. Ships would lug the new population over the waters of several oceans, before spilling out those grimy contents on the shores of the strange land. They would share the colony not only with horrible rambunctious birds and creatures with pockets in their bellies, but mobs of natives, who had inhabited the place for not a few years, had adapted a culture completely at-odds with those idealised by the Empire, and were not really satisfied about giving the land up to the visitors.

    In short, everyone loathed the new arrangement, save for a few observant folks in London alleyways. But what to do but make a go of it? In the crucible of conflict of every variety, something unique was forged. Half-castes, bushrangers, drunks, piners, explorers, whores, loners, poets and painters, fisherfolk, gardeners, apiarists, brewers and distillers all popped up like mushrooms in black soil. Eclectic and idiosyncratic governments ruled. Much was lost, too much. An eerie peace settled like a gel on the island, limned with absence, heavy with the echoes of 40,000 years of human history. All of it created a new culture, a new topos with new ideas and legends and slang words and ways of falling in love.

    I suppose that all happened a while ago, and these days it's easy to imagine it was always this way. But it wasn't. There was once a time when people arrived in Tasmania and didn't like the food, the songs, the romantic options, the scrubby trees, the ominous mountains, or the bloody fucking birds.

    There are dangerous waters on every side of the south-dwelling island I am writing about, and for most of the people who came here those many years ago, it was a treacherous journey to something about which they had few nice things to say. What they hated, I couldn't love more. And when I think about certain mornings when I have crossed those waters to return home, and seen the coast rise like the crest of a green-and-tan wave, I am pleased to come to what for me is home.

    When my ancestors saw it, their hearts sunk. Mine couldn't be more buoyant.

  • Life of an Hawaiian Wife

    Life of an Hawaiian Wife

    Maui was not a healthy child and his mother tossed him into the sea. But Maui didn’t die. He lived in the sea until he was a teenager, looked after by the creatures that lived there, and went back to the land as a young man to find his brothers and his mum. His folks were both gods, but his own baptism had been botched, and as a result, he was condemned to mortality. He wore it well, though; mortality seemed to be an added charm for Maui, and he became a beloved intermediary between gods and mortals. He brought fire to the people; he fought against the earthquake god; he slowed down the sun so as to make the days longer.

    He was a ladies’ man. He struck deals with the pretty young women, convincing them to spend the night with him. Maui had a number of lovers before he truly fell in love, with a Hawaiian girl named Hina, something of a goddess herself, moony and dreamy and wildly beautiful. It was almost of the death of him, of course. And his actual death was even more suitable. Maui had heard that if a man could pass through the goddess of the night, twice, he would gain immortality. So he climbed up the goddess’ thighs – and got stuck.

    Daniel Cowper came to the island of Maui, where I lived. He was a man of the sea; he was a ladies’ man too, and he took me away with him. He wooed me the way a bull seal tries to find a mate: fighting furiously with any other man around, while I watched on indifferently.

    We ended up on a rocky island in the middle of a strait thrashed with heavy winds. There, we found birds bigger than men. Kelp blackened the beaches. We were there for the seals. Demand was endless for the skins; the Chinese bought our big casks of seal oil. Our home was a rude hut of four bark walls, but it was enough. All day long I kept the fire going, chopped up the flesh of wombats and emus and roos, tossed them into the one indiscriminate stewpot.

    Maui, they say, made the islands of Hawai’i, by accident. His fishing line got snagged on the ocean floor and he ended up dragging up a big arc of land as he rowed away from it, trying to free himself of the snag. The land fell down with almighty crash in the end: chunks of it scattered everywhere across the Pacific Ocean. But who made this island that we made home? The English call it King Island, but I’ve heard about their Governor King. He’s a trickster like Maui, but he’s no god. Maybe the seals made this one: somehow used their big bulk to push together all the rocks at the bottom of the strait, and make this rough island. Or maybe it floated here by accident from South America.