Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged lakes

  • Olegas and Instagram

    Olegas and Instagram

    It has recently come to my attention that (along with most Tasmanian things) a recent rise in the popularity of our bushwalking is linked to Instagram. There are more and more young adults venturing into our reserves, and taking pictures of a suitably impressive landscape seems to be part of their incentive to do so.

    I’m not the first to notice this; actually, I’m probably near to the last. Instagram is
    not a part of my life – I maintain an old Nokia telephone that doesn’t connect to the internet. I am somewhat circumspect and curmudgeonly about the whole affair with technology, but of course, it’s present everywhere and I am not yet such a crank that I’d make myself wilfully ignorant of it all.

    As with most things I’m ambivalent about it. Certainly if people go bushwalking, they’ll be more likely to fall in love with Tasmanian country, and that can only be a good thing.
    On the other hand, I don’t see much charm in going for a walk mostly to take a photo, with an audience in mind. I’ve had to do it once or twice on journalistic ventures; for me it wrecks the whole rhythmic experience of the walk.

    It’s also misleading: in Tassie’s high country, there are very many days in which it’s difficult to take photographs
    that will win the approval of peers on social media. Mountaintops are frequently misted over, giving a panorama of precisely nothing. I wonder if it’s not dangerous too – I’ve heard a few stories now of novice walkers going up to the mountains expecting the glistening sunshine of a brochure or digital photo album and instead getting belted by wild weather (which is rarely photographed or shared).

    I’m also suspicious that the aesthetics of Instagram have instilled a global and mostly mediocre standard of photography. This photograph of the Pedder dam, taken from a moving car on a blustery autumn afternoon, is not “instagram-worthy”. (This sort of language is another yucky bit of mediocrity – but I’m aware of sounding like some miserable Walden neo-primitivist when I mention these things.)

    But some of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever seen were taken in Pedder country. Olegas Truchanas was born in Lithuania, displaced by World War II, and came to Tassie to
    took work with the Hydro-Electric Commission. In his leisure time, he became familiar with Tasmania’s remote districts, particularly in the south-west. Truchanas quickly came to love both the solitude and the experience of ecological communion that some of us find, sometimes, in the bush.

    And he took exquisite photographs. This was the 1960s: he didn’t publish them immediately. He couldn’t even see them until he was well and truly back in
    his studio in Hobart. You can feel Olegas’s slowness and attentiveness in these pictures. You can tell there is no audience in his mind. He is aware of texture and form, and plays with both affinities and juxtapositions of colour, in a way that is so much more impressive than almost all of the millions of photographs we see every day.

    Almost anyone can talk a half-decent photograph. Even I, who have produced this grim composition of a beautiful landscape, can be occasionally handy with a camera. But few people are able to discipline their way of seeing, draw imagination from within themselves and apply it to the visible elements before them, and create a whole new way of envisioning a place. That is what Olegas Truchanas did.

    What also comes through in Olegas’s photography was his awareness that these landscapes had a time limit. “This vanishing world is beautiful beyond our dreams,” he once said in a lecture, as Lake Pedder was being drowned under a hydro-electric impoundment. That we still have much of the beauty of the south-west landscapes protected is partly thanks to Olegas Truchanas. His photographs connected many people to a foreign corner of this island, most of whom would never see it in person.

    Perhaps the photographers of Instagram do the same and it is only the prematurely old crackpot writing these words who has missed the boat. But for me the art of Olegas Truchanas does something that fleeting smart-phone snaps do not. Through his images, I am touched with a hint of the ephemeral and ethereal
    force of being in a bush landscape – whatever that is. Sometimes it is almost like I am running my fingers along the frost crystals on the dead conifer trunk, or breathing in a heady brew of boronia and pepperberry, or enjoying a long twilight on a bright olive-coloured moorland. There is a slow release of warm joy in my chest.

    Most of all I want everyone to know how lucky they are to be in these places. I can’t quell my gratitude, to live here and now; perhaps Olegas Truchanas had the same feeling, perhaps multiplied by his experience as a migrant. The places in which we walk are deep maps of stories. If we photograph it, let us not do so frivolously. And beware: bushwalking offers few instantaneous rewards. But what we find when we make habitual passages into that vanishing world is something that is far more enduring. There, somehow, is meaning and belonging.

    Most importantly, we must not turn country into a commodity. It warps the whole experience, spins it against us.

  • A Peep at the Wilderness

    A Peep at the Wilderness

    There are few more significant names in Tasmania’s landscape photography history than J.W. Beattie and Stephen Spurling III. But these two artists had a different view on an iconic region of Tasmania’s high country at the beginning of the 1900s.

    Born at the 57th parallel north, in the “Grey City” of Aberdeen, John Watt Beattie migrated to the Derwent Valley with his parents in his late teen years. Farming didn’t come instinctively to him, but he was drawn to the romantic aspects of Tasmanian landscape – the young Beattie was particularly influenced by landscape painter W.C. Piguenit, whose depictions of this island’s craggy peaks and lake districts, in oils, continues to shape the artistic temperament in Tassie.

    Beattie’s photographic excursions took him to many remote regions of the island, including the nascent mine towns of the west coast. A supporter of the mining projects, he was nevertheless an early and outspoken environmentalist – arguing against forestry activities on the Gordon River, for example, recognising its scenic and scientific values.

    Also an eager archivist, Beattie’s historical awareness, at the end of the 1800s, was quite a long way advanced; his work was moulded by his political and social opinions. His art was popular, and he was extremely well-liked as an individual.

    J.W. Beattie’s journey to the mountainous country around the Cradle Plateau in 1901 left him unimpressed. It may have been the torrid weather his party endured, as they ascended Pelion Plains and headed north; as Beattie wrote in his paper for the Royal Society, day after day brought “furious wind and rain...to be succeeded by heavy snowfalls, and thunder and lightning, making every living and dead thing around in such condition that it was, to say at the least, misery to walk outside the hut...”

    Beattie managed to muster up some positive memories of deep conversations, “yarns and songs” in front of the fireplaces of the high country huts – but generally felt that it was “somewhat of lunacy to come into this country in such weather”. His camera was playing up and the weather offered no respite. Few photographs were produced, although one significant romantic image was titled ‘A Peep at Barn Bluff from Lake Windermere’ (the latter landmark portrayed for this article, albeit taken by a lesser photographer).

    But Stephen Spurling III, who was the self-described “pioneer photographer” of this area in March 1898, was miffed by Beattie’s deprecation of this landscape. He likely did create “the earliest extensive record of the Cradle Mountain and Western Tiers area,” according to the Companion to Tasmanian History.

    A third generation photographer, whose would also include photographic forays around Ben Lomond and the Franklin and Gordon rivers, Spurling believed these landscapes “compare in scenic excellence with any part of Tasmania, and will amply repay the tourist for any hardships he may endure in getting there,” as he wrote in a letter to the 
    Examiner responding to Beattie’s report.

    Stephen Spurling III would certainly to this part of the world, taking images of the Western Tiers in heavy snow, and later producing motion pictures of the highlands of the upper Mersey. He photographed the magnificent Hartnett Falls days after it was first witnessed by a white visitor, and named Lake Lilla (near Cradle Mountain) after his sister. 

    And indeed most would say that Spurling was right in this debate with J.W. Beattie: the country that Beattie shrugged his shoulders over are part of the Overland Track, one of the world’s most famous multi-day bushwalks.

    Though they bickered over this area, their work complemented each other, and the two pioneering artists (as Richard Flanagan has written) “jointly produc[ed] a vision of the Tasmanian wilderness that was definitive and which has endured more or less intact to the present day.”

     

  • Petrarch's Poetry

    Petrarch's Poetry

    “Assuredly but dust and shade we are / Assuredly desire is blind and brief / Assuredly its hope but ends in death.”

    So wrote fourteenth-century Tuscan humanist and poet Francesco Petrarca, who is commemorated at this western Tasmanian lake under his Latinised name, Petrarch.

    It was the classically-inclined surveyor George Frankland who called Lake Petrarch so, although he generally preferred Greek nomenclature. He had seen the lake from the summit of Mount Olympus on February 12, 1829, and upon descent from the mountain, he and his party came to it. It was the first time in his life any of them had seen a certain conifer tree, athrotaxis cupressoides, “a remarkably handsome species of Fir” that he named “the pine of Olympus.” Nowadays it is commonly known as the pencil pine.

    Another explorer, the geologist Charles Gould, came to camp upon the sandy beach of Lake Petrarch in January 1860.  It was the beginning of a long expedition to the west, and Gould and his men looked at the silhouette of another literarily-named peak, Mount Byron, from across the still waters of the lake.

    Landscape painter W.C. Piguenit, born in Hobart in 1836; his father was a convict, and his mother, a teacher of French, music and drawing. From 1874 he devoted himself to his craft, travelling on foot with surveyors to remote areas of Tasmania. Piguenit depicted Tasmania’s wildernesses in a Romantic light, as Ruskin was the European Alps contemporaneously. In 1887, he travelled with chief surveyor Sprent to the west coast. He took advantage of this expedition to make an excursion to Lake St. Clair, and further north through the Cuvier Valley, to Lake Petrarch, which he painted in hazy pastels. A grebe sits on a clump of dark rocks; Mount Byron overlooks the glistening water in a rosy twilit hue.

    A century later, Peter Dombrovskis photographed Lake Petrarch. Born to Latvian parents in a World War II concentration camp in Germany, Dombrovskis was influenced by a fellow Baltic migrant, the unassuming yet influential Olegas Truchanas. Both became famous for involving their work in conservationist movements against the damming of wilderness rivers. Before his death by heart attack in the south-western mountains, Dombrovskis forged a reputation as one of the world’s great landscape photographers. In 1994, on a journey into the Cuvier Valley, Dombrovskis made a sensitive study of pencil pine boles near Lake Petrarch.

    The Cuvier Valley is largely made up of golden buttongrass plains; it may have been managed as an Aboriginal hunting ground before Europeans arrived to the island known previously as Trowenna. How they perceived Lake Petrarch we do not know. Likewise, unknown numbers of personal expeditions in recent times go unrecorded.

    In the Tasmanian Government’s current Draft Management Plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Lake Petrarch is rezoned so as to be permitted as a helicopter landing site – along with around a dozen other localities. “Men often despise what they despair of obtaining,” wrote Petrarch to a contemporary in the 1300s, and so they do today, still.

     

    Why was George Frankland so obsessed with Greek names?