Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged love

  • The Lawless Loveliness of the Landscape

    The Lawless Loveliness of the Landscape

    I recently wrote of Denmark: at last, I hinted, we may have held up our end of the bargain in an intercontinental exchange. In the 1820s a colourful Dansker came to Tasmania; in the year 2000, a love affair between a Tasmanian and the Crown Prince of Denmark began. Where we once received Jørgen Jørgensen, we gave away our Mary Donaldson.

    But actually, Tasmanians are still one-up over the Danes. Because in 1891, another Danish migrant would arrive to Hobart and also make a significant mark on our island’s culture. This was the novelist Marie Bjelke Petersen.

    She had been brought up in the outskirts of Copenhagen, but moved with her whole family when she was a teenager. They arrived in the spring. In her reminiscences at least, the scenery was instantly affecting: it was “a paradise of untouched beauty”, she said. “When I saw all these mountains in Tasmania, I embraced it on the spot.”

    Certainly the mountains would have been impressive. She’d have seen a number of them whilst still at sea, and Mount Wellington must have have struck her as imposing. Denmark, after all, is rather flat; its highest point is 170 metres above sea level.

    At first she tried to transmute her feeling for the Tasmanian landscape into painting, but she soon converted to writing. Her first three publications were religious works, but in 1917 she wrote
    The Captive Singer. The plot featured a guide who took tourists into the caves around Mole Creek, and sang well, and charmed a woman. It sold 150,000 copies in Australia – and 40,000 in a Danish translation.

    It kicked off a steady stream of words, and sales. In
    Dusk she wrote of a love affair in the mining town of Queenstown; in Jewelled Nights she narrated a close friendship (which became a love affair) at a prospectors’ camp on the Savage River. In total Bjelke Petersen sold more than a quarter of a million books in English and many more in the six languages into which they were translated. For an Australian author of her era, this was an enormous success.

    The novels don’t necessarily age well. Their
    plots are sometimes frivolous, and Bjelke Petersen’s religious didactism doesn’t read well today. Today, her prose comes across as overly romantic, breathless and out-of-control. But one thing is certain: Marie Bjelke Petersen’s writing about Tasmania (and mainland Australia, in which she set a couple of novels) showed an original view of the landscape. Where other authors painted Tasmania as “bleak and cheerless”, Bjelke Petersen raved about the “lawless loveliness of the landscape.”

    Perhaps for Bjelke Petersen, excursions into the bush gave her liberty. She travelled far and wide into western Tasmania researching her plots. Her other career was as a teacher of physical education; she strongly believed in its virtues. She went places that few women of European background had been.

    You may be familiar with her nephew, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who would later become a Queensland politician. His aunt was also religiously conservative, but Marie was nevertheless a forward thinker in society. I’m not sure if she ever thought of herself as a feminist, but she certainly wasn’t willing to be constrained by expectations of gender roles. The novelist refused to be married, and instead lived with her close friend Sylvia Mills. (Plenty of tongues have wagged about what their relationship might have been, but I have little gossip to contribute.)

    Marie Bjelke Petersen was also an environmental conservationist. “It is really a matter that brings tears to my eyes to see the way our beautiful forests are being wantonly burnt off,” she declared in one public address. Her enthusiasm for the bush wasn’t confined to her literature. (“The jungle was a riotous confusion of strong growing things, which clung savagely together and almost strangled each other in their fierce passionate embraces!”)

    This is a recurring theme in Tasmania: so many of the activists who have spoken in praise and in defence of our landscapes have originally come from places like Denmark, Austria, Germany, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia. Although today I think some Tasmanian-born individuals have at last begun to understand and respect their surrounds, for many years we relied on those who had come from the outside to point out just how special it all was.

    Likewise, Marie Bjelke Petersen was a special character in Tasmanian cultural history – another Dane for whom we can be grateful. She died as an old lady in October 1969.



    Another fascinating literary figure from Tasmania was the Glenorchy-born author Christopher Koch.

  • Dad in the Bush, or, King of the West Coast Explorers

    Dad in the Bush, or, King of the West Coast Explorers

    Tasmania’s west is notoriously difficult. Visitors today will still swoon over the tangle of greenery, the rivers running black and cold, and the tortured quartzite mountains that rise in irrepressible ranges throughout this quadrant of the island.

    Two handsome highways sweep towards the west coast: the Murchison from the north, and the Lyell from the south. These roads are wonders, bending and careering, crossing major rivers, combating mountainsides and gorges, and squeezing between stands of those infamous rainforest species with their roots and branches ready to ensnare.

    So these days, to go west from Launceston or from Hobart is to drive for a bit over three hours, on well-sealed and well-engineered roads. A traveller can stop in Tullah or Tarraleah for a coffee. They need only wonder, as I can find easily on the webpage of an online travel agency, “Strahan: Is it worth the drive and what to see…?”

    She wasn’t always so easy. The west was hard to access for more than a century after the British made their permanent camps here, with journeys by sea the most common way to get there – upon a rough sea, naturally, along hazardous coastline. But there was timber there, and later, mineral colour. There were economic motivations to make access to the western regions easier.

    Enter a man named Thomas Bather Moore, born in the village of New Norfolk, west of Hobart, in 1850. Whilst in his 20s, he began investigating mining possibilities in areas around Mount Bischoff, Mount Heemskirk, and the Linda Valley – in short, all the mineral hotspots of Tasmania in the late 1800s. He would explore the South Coast track and blazed the Linda Track, which the Lyell Highway essentially follows today. In fact, many locals were miffed that this highway never bore the name of Moore.

    A bushman must be skilled in multiple fields, and to become known as King of the West Coast explorers, you’d probably have to be good at quite a lot. T.B. Moore was different to a lot of other bushmen in that he was educated, and at a British school no less. He observed the effects of glaciation on west coast ranges and obtained fossil samples for further study. He was also a skilled amateur botanist, collecting specimens of mosses, liverworts, ferns and other plants for foremost scientists. Two species are named in his honour: Actinotus moorei and Coprosma moorei.

    Tom Moore was hardy. He humped a heavy pack, often for more than 30 kilometres in a day, whilst contending with rough terrain and tough conditions. Regularly he went hungry, and sometimes found himself in dire straits. Once, Moore had to crushed clay and smoke it as a placebo to alleviate his tobacco addiction. Although he travelled with his brother James for a while, he often went alone – although he always travelled with dogs. Three canine companions appear in his biography: Wanderer, Spero, and Spiro. Each of these has a river named after it in western Tasmania.

    His relationships with others is harder to assess. To those who worked under him in on government track-cutting expeditions, T.B. Moore was a harsh authoritarian. It is said that his solitary manner adversely affected some members of his family, and, when his bushing days were over, that he resorted to hard drink. Moore kept a diary, in which he “rarely mentioned loneliness”, even when he went months at a time away from others; yet when he did stumble back into towns, such as when he shocked the proprietor of the Picnic Hotel in Huonville after five months in the bush, he was considered good company.

    We must spare a thought for his wife, Mary (born Jane Mary Solly: there is a Solly River in the southwest too), for whom months passed without knowing her husband’s whereabouts or fate. In 1901, after having not heard from Tom for nearly six months, she wrote to his supervisor. “I am afraid you will think me a nuisance but I cannot help writing,” she signed off.

    He was simply behind schedule. Meanwhile, Mary was in Strahan, hoping he had not perished like so many others in a dark corner of the contiguous forest.

    The Moores had chosen to settle at this west coast port, shortly after its first stores and hotels had gone up. Tom would exchange postcards with his children whilst the work in the bush was progressing. “My dear dad How are you getting on in the bush,” wrote school-age son Cliffe, who would later be seriously wounded in the Great War. To his daughters Molly and Grace, Tom sent photographs of a hut and a river, “so you can picture Dad in the bush now that he is leaving all that is dear & delightful.”

    T.B. Moore would wind up in Strahan for his final years, working in the mine office at nearby Queenstown. He was laid to rest here by the waters of Macquarie Harbour, as were his wishes. “His reward in money was scanty,” an obituary reads, “but in the deepest sense of life he was eminently successful.”


     
    Meet another Thomas from the same era: Thomas Hinton, a master of the photographic self-portrait.
    Enjoy some more royal bush hospitality with the Prince of Rasselas.

  • The Dog That Saved the Tasmanian Economy

    The Dog That Saved the Tasmanian Economy

    James Smith was known for his stolid, austere way of life, which in Tasmania was enough to earn him the splendid nickname ‘Philosopher’. I cannot remember ever hearing him laugh,” his son recalled, “but occasionally he would smile at something amusing or pleasing.”

    Spartan and Stoic in style, Philosopher Smith was actually a teetotalling Christian, with a strong faith that matched his sagacious beard. The son of convicts, Smith was an early settler in the lower reaches of the beautiful Forth River in north-western Tasmania, in the middle decades of the 1800s. After a stint on the Victorian gold fields as a younger man, he began prospecting in Tasmania.

    This was no insignificant endeavour, as Tasmanians were desperately keen to uncover the colour of mineral wealth. With convict transportation recently halted, the island needed new economic stimuli; colonies elsewhere were gaining riches from gold, and the Tasmanian workforce was depleted by emigration to these fields.
    A forced amalgamation with the state of Victoria was not out of the question.

    Philosopher Smith found small patches of minerals in the north-west, such as rutile, copper, iron and silver. But when he came upon a sample of tin-
    bearing cassiterite on the slopes of Mount Bischoff in 1871, the Tasmanian economy was to enter a period of optimism for the first time in many years. The following year, the prospecting Philosopher found a massive body of tin ore on the mountain: underground workings would go on to extract more than five million tonnes from Bischoff, and at a time it was the richest tin mine on the planet.

    The man himself was hardy and undemanding, but some credit needs to be given to Philosopher Smith’s dog. On a previous venture, Smith had nearly been killed by a dog who, scrambling up the bank of a creek, dislodged a large stone which went “whizzing close past” his head. But the Philosopher continued to take dogs on his prospecting journey, and in 1871, he was with his “sort of Collie-Spaniel”, named Bravo.

    It was towards the end of the expedition and Philosopher had run out of almost all of his supplies, when Bravo killed an echidna – provisions enough to keep the prospector out for another day to
    revisit the potential lode. The last of his tea-leaves went into the billy, and a morsel of bread (half-eaten by a native animal) went with the echidna meat. Philosopher Smith returned to the complex geological structure of Mount Bischoff and confirmed that there was tin in that hill.

    Good many blokes got their pockets well lined at that show,” says one character in a 1920s novel set in the area, as he nods back to Mount Bischoff. And so it was, but one man who did not make much from the mining of Bischoff was Philosopher Smith himself, who parted ways with the Mount Bischoff before the first dividend was paid. You get the feeling it didn’t bother him so much. He was still prospecting in the difficult country of north-western Tasmania a dozen years later.

    He would eventually return to Launceston, where he had passed some time in his youth. Launceston was economically buoyant, largely thanks to Mount Bischoff – the wealth from its tin was being gleaned by Tasmania’s northern settlement as it was smelted and exported. Philosopher Smith found fortune of another kind: there, he married a widow named Mary Jane Love - “by all accounts a caring loving wife and quite attractive to boot,” according to folklore. He was approaching fifty years of age at this time.

    Philosopher Smith would pass away two decades, and is buried in a cemetery in the township of Forth. Bravo’s fate, and the whereabouts of his remains, are unknown.

  • The Embedded Town

    The Embedded Town

    So many years, so many eyes, so much terrain: the search for Tasmania’s mineral wealth was an odyssey that spanned much of the 1800s. In the latter decades of that century, ragtag crews of raggedy men were measuring and pegging claims, and scratching for riches in the surface of the earth.

    When the wealth finally appeared on the island’s west coast, it wasn’t as expected.

    Traces of gold appeared at an alluvial claim on a mountain above the Queen River, and optimism rose to unprecedented levels. “Everyone who saw the ironstone, matted with fine gold that glistened after showers of rain, was impressed with the mine,” notes historian Geoffrey Blainey. The government geologist Gustav Thureau – who was not always right – rattled off his theory on the mine, describing it as eroding volcanic mud at last shedding its gold and sharing it with men. “Begorrah!” the soon-to-be-famous Irish miner James Crotty is said to have exclaimed, “It’s all gold, I tell you!”

    But it wasn’t. It was mostly something else, in fact, and the Mount Lyell mine became the richest copper mine in its day. The mine managers recruited an American metallurgist from the fields of Colorado and employed him to erect his innovative system of smelting to extract as much copper from Lyell to sell to the world.

    Among the handful of towns which appeared in a cluster around the generous geology of Mount Lyell, none compared to Queenstown. “No Tasmanian town had grown so rapidly,” according to Blainey, who was later commissioned to write a history of Mount Lyell. There were pubs galore; vibrant displays of entertainment visited the area frequently; unforgettable characters spilled out onto the streets.

    In Queenstown today, the brilliantly eccentric Galley Museum gives anecdotes on the experiences of those glory days. A snapshot of the neighbouring miners’ town of Gormanston in 1910 is accompanied by this caption: “Miners and their lovers were having a hell of a good time. Young married miners and their wife battling to get a home together and flat out producing babys.”

    But the humour of this note hints at the tremendous tragedy that was just around the corner for the Lyell community in 1912, when an entire shift of miners was trapped in the depths of a shaft. While many escaped, 42 men perished. Beyond the fatalities, the community was distraught. While bodies were trapped in the shaft, so too were families stuck in a state of unknowing.

    A photograph in the Galley shows a large crowd milling around the newsagency of A.A. Mylan, on Orr Street, trying to discover the latest news. “Women showed bravery,” a newspaper article reported during this distressing period, “but there were many sobbing...How long must we wait to know the worst was a pathetic question asked by many.”

    It was eight whole months before the last bodies could be retrieved from the mine.

    Most of these women would indeed discover their beloved was among the deceased. Louisa Scott, for example, would soon face the reality of having lost her young husband Leonard, the father of their six-week-old daughter Violet.

    Eugene Felix McCasland, whose family was back in New South Wales, had become engaged to a young lass in the Linda Valley; for the funeral of her betrothed, she made a shroud of brown material, with a white cross over the chest.

    Other men had only their mates to mourn them – like the Austrian-born Valentine Bianchini, who had time to write a will in his notebook before dying.

    Henry Dawson was one of the survivors, but had been trapped for five days: he didn’t return to mining, but instead moved to Melbourne and married a city girl. Unfortunately only a couple of years later, he was killed on a Flanders battlefield.

    Mount Lyell’s longevity is comparable to few other mines in Australia. Only a handful of years ago, two more young men died in a collapse there, however, once more leaving the local community shattered. The Mount Lyell mine is currently closed.

    “Mining towns are ephemeral by nature – as elusive as the minerals they pursue,” writes Tasmanian novelist Brett Martin. “There is no continuity, no history, no real confidence in the future...Nothing is embedded, nothing is certain.”

    But this impressive community has yet to give up its resolve; here in the wet and misty west, Queenstown remains where so many other towns have gone to ruin. Attached to a part of the world that is like no other, the people of Queenstown are adapting again to varying conditions, each of which is far from easy.

  • Stolen Spoons

    Stolen Spoons

    That was all it took to change the course of Felix Myers’s life: a handful of spoons, perhaps silver, or perhaps merely of foreign provenance. Some table spoons and some tea spoons.

    Felix Myers, also known as Carl Kernetzki, and also known as Peter Sinclair, was born in Prussia – who knows precisely where – but ended up in Leicester with a sweetheart he’d met at the charmingly-named landmark of Gallowtree Gate. This was in Leicester, where Myers worked as a
    surveyor, musician, and German teacher – but he was evidently interested in supplementing his income in the trade of goods stolen from his mistress’s abode.

    A bunch of spoons.

    He was sentenced, at a court session in the dog days of 1837, to seven years’ transportation. He would be exiled along with an accomplice, Joseph Brant. Myers was 27 and Brant was 21.

    The Leicester Chronicle, which never failed to describe Myers as ‘a German Jew’, and reported the messy details of the case (although quickly forgot the fate of the mistress), also records a ‘pathetic appeal’ Felix Myers made to the jury, in which he described himself as ‘an unfortunate foreigner’. He would become even more foreign still, a German Jew shipped off to Van Diemen’s Land.

    But his behaviour was generally good, and he was assigned as a ‘sub-overseer’ on the road gangs completing works in the Southern Midlands of the island. Occasionally he would make a transgression of the harsh rules of convict life: this would earn him a bit of time on the treadwheel, one of the classic devices of punishment that the penal regime had invented.

    Felix Myers worked on building the highway through Bagdad and Green Ponds – now Kempton, and pictured here with the historic Wilmot Arms hotel on the left, erected some four years after Myers left the region.

    Mary Hickson (or Hixon) had been born in Hobart in 1821, one of the first of a generation of colonial children – the currency lads and lasses – who grew up as Vandemonian kids. Probably the child of a convict, she was acquainted early with the fresh Southern Ocean air and the antipodean birdsong, which had been such an affront to many of the first generation of colonial settlers, prisoner or otherwise.

    She was not yet 20 when she met Felix Myers, the bilingual Prussian who had previously charmed the young dame of Gallowstree Gate on the other side of the world. Mary too was sufficiently taken to be swayed into taking the spoon thief’s red hand in marriage.

    It is regrettable that for so many lovers in our local history, we don’t know what it is that drew them to one another. Was Felix Myers dashing, with dark features and a glint in his eyes? Did Mary Hickson have a eucalypt twang in her voice, already freckly and confident on horseback? Was there some pragmatic reason that brought them together? Did Felix have a ready smile? Would Mary sing? Did they share some dream that hovered cloud-like above them in Van Diemen’s Land?

    The records, muddled as they are, seem to suggest they had two children shortly after their Hobart wedding in 1840. It also looks like they moved to Launceston. The name ‘Myers’ – already probably fictitious – became morphed to ‘Meyer’ or ‘Meyers’.

    Perhaps the tale of this family’s lives exists somewhere buried in some record I’ve not laid eyes on. Probably not the narrative of their love. There is no field guide for this. Unless it exists in unseen ripples, through the subtle realms of ancestors’ minds, woven through their interactions down the line, across history, around the island.

  • Love Letter from the Pieman River

    Love Letter from the Pieman River

    To the same tangled forests, tenebrous rivers and towering mountains, two Sprents were sent, three decades apart.

    James Sprent was perhaps an unlikely candidate for bush exploration. The son of a Glaswegian publisher, he arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1830 with an exorbitant quantity of books, engravings and stationery. His first endeavours on the island were in education, and they were very ambitious: he opened schools and ran classes on everything from philosophy to astronomy. He wasn’t even 25 years old yet.

    But he was soon employed as a surveyor and began venturing into the rough Tasmanian terrain. A decade into his career, as one of only two permanent surveyors employed by the Colonial Office, he would be sent on a major project marking out roads in the north-west. Around the same time, in 1842, James Sprent would launch himself into another serious enterprise: love. He married a currency lass from mainland Australia named Susannah Hassall
    Oakes, the daughter of Parramatta’s chief constable.

    So this well-read, industrious man cut and burnt his way into the treacherous environs of north-western Tasmania. Aboriginal Tasmanians had inhabited that quarter, of course, but even they had little practical use for the dense wet sclerophyll, rainforests, and mountains, exposed to buffeting westerlies and fecund with harsh horizontal and bauera scrub.

    No doubt he often thought of Susannah, as he hacked his way into leagues of trackless country, his canvas clothes shredding in the constant press of spiky plants and coarse rocks. Even with a party of other explorers, this was lonely work. His betrothed, he worried, was left in the hands of “drunken ruffians” at Circular Head, near the north-western tip of Van Diemen’s Land. Broad dark rivers of doubt criss-crossed his mind as it did this land, so far from where he had been born.

    James Sprent would erect a trig point on the summit of nearby Mount Bischoff. He did not realise that within the jagged quartzite and dolomite beneath his feet, mineral dykes had lay waiting to be discovered.

    But his only surviving son, Charles Percy Sprent – born in 1849 – would become well aware of this. In 1871, two years after his father’s death, Charles became the District Surveyor of north-western Tasmania. In that same year, Mount Bischoff’s immense wealth of tin was revealed by the pick of a hardy prospector. For a time, it was said to be the world’s richest tin mine.

    Charles Sprent also went on pioneering exploratory journeys to western Tasmania. He too opened up unused tracts of land, with blaze and axe, devising maps that would be crucial for further prospecting and settling throughout the next decades.

    C
    harles Sprent also made himself familiar with that Tasmanian vegetation, which so vigorously resists human passage; and the boisterous weather, which threatens to billow into squalls and storms at every moment of the day, rising to violence after its long traverse of the ocean, all the way from Patagonia. Whatever his motivations, he accepted the conditions of hunger, exhaustion, dampness, soreness and solitude. Of wet boots and leeches.

    In 1878, Charles Sprent was on
    the banks of the Pieman River, this tremendous broad waterway which tours 100 kilometres of western forest, from pre-Cambrian high country to the Southern Ocean. From its mouth at Hardwicke Bay, on a January afternoon, he thought of his own fiancée. Her name was Elizabeth Jane Rudge. Charles looked upon the tumult as the dark river pushed its way into the churning grey surf, and in its background, the romantic beauty of the aeons-old forest had mountains folded sharply in their midst. Some had been the basis of his father’s calculations. Tasmania had been mapped by him, using them. Current maps bear the surname of these men on townships, roads, rivers and mountains.

    Th
    e scene at Pieman Heads impressed itself upon Charles Sprent. He was moved to write to Elizabeth:

    This is a wild, desolate looking coast; the sea has a hungry rattle about it as it roars on the beach. Savage rocks stick up in all directions and the surf goes flying over them. The vegetation is stunted and low. Coming down the river we had some lovely sights; trees down to the water’s edge every shade of green, and immense clusters of flowers.”

    He added of the Pieman, “It is a noble river.”


    I visited the banks of another noble river with an old friend.
    The fascinating Charles Gould was Tasmania's first geological surveyor.

  • Comedy and Anthropology

    Comedy and Anthropology

    On an October morning in 1800 Captain Nicolas Baudin led his expedition out of the port at Le Havre, aiming for the southern seas.

    Their journey would be harrowing and arduous, and Baudin’s wish, expressed in a toast before setting out, that all his crew would return to France to someday be in the same room together again, would certainly not come true: even Baudin himself would die on the way home.

    His reputation would be somewhat disgraced the expedition’s return, despite the fact that it was one of the most successful voyages in the history of European science. Knowledge of marsupials and eucalypts would arrive in France to be disseminated throughout the continent.

    And here on Maria Island, Nicolas Baudin would
    ask his anthropologist to prepare a report on the Tyereddeme, the Tasmanians who seasonally lived on the island. This man was François Auguste Péron. He was the son of a tailor who had given up his plan to join the priesthood fighting during the Revolution. Péron applied for the Baudin expedition after the demise of an unhappy romantic liaison. For an succinct idea of his character, see a description of him as “ambitious and bumptious”.

    Péron was actually employed as a junior zoologist, but had aspirations to be an anthropologist. And with the other savants and scientists perishing throughout their time in the southern hemisphere, Péron received a series of promotions. With the other naturalists, he collected 100,000 specimens, but he did so in between stints of anthropological observation on the Aboriginal people of Tasmania.

    The burgeoning science of anthropology was gathering momentum back in France, and these interactions between Europeans and Tasmanians were significant occasions. Under Baudin’s commission, Péron had eight days to make his observations, at the end of that year’s summer, which he would then turn into a paper for the Société des Observateurs de l’Homme. Péron was among the first scientists to do some research

    Back in eighteenth-century France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau – driven by cynicism about events in ‘civilisation’ (i.e., urban Europe) – had developed the theory that primitive societies were less corrupted, simpler and more egalitarian. Péron arrived in Australian waters with this view on the Aboriginal populace; this perspective would be metamorphosed throughout the journey, as across Europe, where the ‘noble savage’ would be “demystified” and become a scientific specimen itself.

    The Frenchmen joined a dozen or so Tasmanians on the beach. Rapport was established, wrote Péron, by having two Frenchmen showing off their juggling. Péron began trying to construct a lexicon of the language spoken by the Tyereddeme. Given how little we know of this tongue, his comments are frustrating and tantalising. “I
    t is impossible...to distinguish their pronunciation with any degree of precision: it is a sort of rolling sound, for which our European languages do not furnish any expression of comparison or analogy.”

    Péron found the Tasmanians intelligent and good-natured. “Intermingled around the remains of their fire, we all seemed equally pleased with one another,” he reported.

    The Tasmanians had often wanted to inspect the private parts of the Frenchmen, confused that they had no beards and seemingly no women with them. The youngest and most baby-faced of the sailors, one Citizen Michel, was persuaded to strip for the Tyereddeme. They were convinced. Michel “suddenly exhibited striking proof of his virility”.

    In a poignant moment that may seem to us the only imaginable event of this incredible cross-cultural encounter, the ill-timed erection made everyone, black and white, fall to hysterical laughing there on that white-shored beach.

    But Péron interpreted this with a hefty dose of ethnocentricism: he chose to believe that the Tyereddeme were impressed by the virility of the Frenchman, not in a condition to experience this as often as the French were. Likewise, based on his brief lexicographical survey, Péron reckoned the Tyereddeme had no words for kissing or caressing.

    But everywhere in Tasmania the French had this bias, and one suspects the interest was not strictly scientific.

    For example, Péron spent a spontaneous afternoon with a party of twenty female swimmers on Bruny Island. One young lady was particularly referenced in Péron’s journal: “
    Fifteen or sixteen years of age...pleasant features, with a round well formed bosom, though the nipples were rather too large and long.”

    And the sailor Jacques Hamelin thought that two Tasmanian women he had met made “
    suggestive signs which in Paris would not be ambigious.”

    But ambiguity was everywhere in these encounters, with both sides superstitious and bewildered by the other; thousands of years of cultural heritage separated Maria Island from Paris. Aboriginal flirtations surely looked somewhat different to those of the French. There was no field guide to any such interactions for either party. No wonder seemingly peaceful scenarios suddenly blew up into violence. There was no shared language or technology. All that these two cultures had in common was what they could see – but even these things, the ocean and the stars, wallabies and wattle trees, had different meanings.

    We only European accounts of these early meetings between Tasmanian and European communities. Events were certainly perceived very differently. I truly hope, though, that the diarists are telling things accurately when they say that when a French sailor’s member stiffened in the sea breeze at Maria Island one February day in 1802, it provided a moment of unanimous intercultural comedy.

    We can see clearly now that François Péron’s science was flawed by prejudice and ignorance. Two centuries from now, a future historian will likely look back on our views and scoff at how outdated we were. All we can do is to aim to be among the most curious and humble thinkers of our own age.

  • Roege A Coraggree Loggeener

    Roege A Coraggree Loggeener

    They are dead.

    One of the first stories George Robinson recorded in his diary while working as a storekeeper on Bruny Island is that of the death of a wife of an Aboriginal known as Joe. This is, for us, her life story: that she was one of Joe's two wives, that she had been previously sick, and that she was now dead in April. And that her last words were: 'ROEGE A CORAGGREE LOGGEENER.'

    Joe's other wife, Morley, died shortly after. Mangana had a story of his wife being abducted and his son dead. Joe and Mangana would die too. Mannalargenna died at the Flinders Island settlement that Robinson had co-ordinated, like many others.

    Robinson records the names of five women who were kidnapped in one of the many raids by sealers: Troepowerhear, Niepeekar, Moondapder, Larpeennopuric, Reetarnithbar. Just names, and a traumatic event of their lives. Nothing more to be said.

    While Robinson was bush-bashing his way through the Vandemonian forests, he received a letter from his wife, saying she was ill, and that their abode had become 'a house of morning' for their youngest child, Alfred, 'departed this life 21 February'.

    Mrs. Robinson - born Maria Amelia Evans - also died, in September 1848, near Melbourne.

    George Robinson died in England two decades later.

    But even for George Augustus Robinson, we cannot say we know him, even though he wrote so freely and frequently about himself and left a narrative of his life for us. We can know that he did this or that, that he experienced much 'mizzling rain', that he was profoundly here at a profound time. But the vast majority of his thoughts and deeds are lost, and we must read between the lines to understand his various motivations. Needless to say, his life has been interpreted a hundred different ways, each reader or researcher coming up with their own evaluation.

    Trugernanna outlived Robinson. She is even more enigmatic, suffers more gossip, elicits more various reactions.

    For many more - for most people throughout most of history - we don't even have their names. Their sentences were not overheard and marked down. Their rituals went unobserved. Their body parts were not measured. Their languages murmured off into extinction, idiosyncratic expressions lost for all time.

    In Tasmania these topics - names like Trugernanna and George Robinson, phrases like 'the friendly mission' or 'the black war' or 'genocide' - excite a lot of emotion. The study of the history of that island has become a matter of conflict. 'The History Wars'. As if we haven't had enough of that.

    I am no historian. I am just a bloke who has his brow wrinkled, trying to remember. But it's not easy when I wasn't there and when every human being from the past seems as inscrutable as the phrase ROEGE A CORAGGREE LOGGEENER.

    Maybe if we were a different mob, we would employ the ancient forests and mountains of Tasmania to bridge the historical abyss. Because they were there - dolerite and granite, pencil pine and huon pine. It would not be methodical history, but it would be a gauze of memory over the gaps, a patch of story. I am not trying to say that this would be better than the rationalism and empiricism of moderns, but that I suspect many different cultures would have done this. Yet when I go bush, and I try to hear the stories from the forests, the old stoics remain dumb. Or I remain unable to hear.

    'To my mind,' W.G. Sebald once said, 'it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives.' But I keep trying to remember.


     
    This is the last piece in a series on George Robinson and Trugernanna, beginning with Trugernanna's death, looking at their curious relationship, and heading to the site of Robinson's final years.

  • Their Story

    Their Story

    He was nothing more than a tradesman, really, when he showed up on the island. A man with an aquiline nose, a small pouty mouth, and wavy hair that was well-kept – maybe too well-kept. Another visitor from far away.

    Another one, but not the same as all the rest.

    The young lady on the island had seen boats coming up and down the channel all her life now. At first, they were tourists, arriving for a quick look and then moving on. But then the white folks started settling, clearing land, building hamlets, growing crops, and taking over. Loggers and whalers had started to settle on the island; they were often monstrously violent, and they brought strange sicknesses to the local population. Her sister died of some unknown disease. Her mother and her uncle were killed. Then, her husband-to-be was murdered too.

    But later – much, much later, when the history of the Aboriginal Tasmanians had reached its tragic nadir – Trugernanna told a biographer that when she first laid eyes on the man who would call himself the Conciliator, she could see that he wasn’t like the other white men. “Mr. Robinson was a good man and could speak our language,” she said.

    And even later still, when Trugernanna was long since dead, historians would slur her name, calling her a ‘moll’, ‘a white man’s doxy’, and the ‘betrayer of her own people’. Other historians say that she perhaps wasn’t this ‘mindless black bimbo’. They suggest that perhaps she was an insightful diplomat, a negotiator who believed that her race would come to its end if they didn’t get away from the invading European settlers and their muskets and diseases.
     
    She joined Mr. Robinson and his campaign to end the frontier conflicts between white and black on Van Diemen’s Land. Her role as emissary was invaluable; without her and other Aboriginal negotiators, Robinson could not have succeeded. Instead, the Friendly Mission led the Tasmanians to their exile on an offshore island. It was not the end of the story, but it still brought suffering for Trugernanna and her people.

    Were Trugernanna and George Augustus Robinson lovers? Did they, indeed, ‘share a blanket’? The historians may never agree, on this and on a number of matters. Incredible, really, how the lives of these two individuals have touched so many others – how they have aggravated and aggrieved and sparked academic stoushes and bar-counter blues, camp-fire confessions as well as wintry silences.

    When all the ink is spilt and our teeth will gnash no more, we still cannot comprehend fully the eclectic and complex motivations of either Trugernanna or Robinson. Yet their story remains perhaps the most significant in all of Tasmania. For what happened through them changed the island for everyone.



    Last week, we looked ahead to Trugernanna's last days.


  • The 29th Annual World Ploughing Championships

    The 29th Annual World Ploughing Championships

    Where were you on June 14 and 15, 1982?

    If your answer is not the Christ Church on Illawarra Road, just outside of Longford, Tasmania, then I can assure you were wasting your time.

    For on that winter weekend, the 29th Annual World Ploughing Championship was taking place there.

    A lovely bluestone church surrounded by golden paddocks and poppy fields, the Christ Church is a site of pilgrimage for art aficionados. Australian painting innovator Tom Roberts is buried there next to his second wife, and some of the altar decorations were designed by contemporary artist Arthur Boyd.

    Edward Dumaresq was born in Wales in 1802, and followed a standard upper-crust military educational trajectory, via the Royal Military College in Sandhurst and a cadetship with the East India Company. After serving on several continents, Dumaresq was relocated to the Antipodes, his sister having married the Governor of New South Wales.

    In 1825 he was made the Surveyor-General of Van Diemen’s Land; after that, he worked as a revenue collector, and a police magistrate. He obtained property outside of the settlement of Longford in 1842, named Mt. Ireh, and on it he built the Christ Church, with thick walls and Baltic pine rafters.

    Dumaresq moved to Kew, Victoria; travelled back to England; and had his wife, Frances, pass away. A Mrs. Charlotte Fogg was briefly the partner of what Dumaresq himself described as ‘the fatal act of a second marriage’. He returned to Longford and lived out the rest of his years – a quite substantial amount of time, his obituary declaring him dead ‘at the extraordinary age of 104’. He was claimed to be the oldest justice of the peace in the world.

    Which is quite an achievement.

    But the church remained standing. Architect Alexander North added the tower and the asp in 1910, four years after Dumaresq died. And of course, the farm went on to host farmers from twenty countries and they ‘steered their tractors straight and true up and down Mt. Ireh’s flat-as-a-pancake paddocks’. Longford joined the esteemed company of locales such as Peebles, Ohio and Wexford, Ireland and Kaunas, Lithuania as one of the hosts of the World Ploughing Championships.

    For those keeping score, Ian Miller was the Conventional Champion of that year, the second New Zealander in a row to get up (Alan J. Wallace had triumphed in Wexford). A Kiwi took second place as well.

    They reckon 40,000 people braved the wind and rain to watch the action that weekend. But were you there?

     

    Tom Roberts, the great Australian painter, was buried here at Longford.
    Last week, we wondered about the fate of the Tasmanian tiger.

  • A Long Week at Waldheim

    A Long Week at Waldheim

    Born in Austria in February 1874, Gustav Weindorfer came to Australia in search of work. After stints with the Austro-Hungarian Consulate in Melbourne and the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria, it was love that brought him to Tasmania. Gustav had met botanist Kate Cowle, of the north-west of the island, and married her in a simple Methodist ceremony on February 1, 1906.

    Travelling to Cradle Mountain together in 1909, they were awed by the unique alpine environment. They began to promote it as a place worth visiting and protecting, and built a lodge from the native conifer known as king billy pine, Athrotaxis selaginoides. The lodge was called Waldheim, meaning ‘forest home’ in Gustav’s native tongue. It was opened at Christmas in 1912.

    Kate died in 1916, and Gustav’s heart was broken by the loss. However, he continued to offer hospitality at Waldheim. His wombat stew was famous, and following it was home-ground coffee and rum-laced puddings. Vienna waltz records played on the gramophone, and Gustav was wont to sing along. Gustav Weindorfer was no doubt seen as a romantic figure in the fastness of that wild place, and it is said with the widower at the helm of the chalet, eligible young women came to the mountains in search of romance.

    One such lass was a Rhodesian visitor Maude van der Reit. Climbing up to the nearby heights of Marions Lookout – surveying both Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake – she was overcome with dread and had to be physically restrained.

    But her unrestrained emotion wasn’t exhausted on the mountains; her journals reveal a florid stream of admiration for her host, known as ‘the Dorfer’. She described him as “like a young cedar tree, with a moustache turned skywards the colour Titian raved about in all his pictures; mountain air complexion, eyes, what eyes! They flashed like for lightning on pointed swords…”

    Perhaps her prose might have impressed him; her behaviour, however, did not. Maude and her girlfriends were snowed in at Waldheim; they drank all the whisky and let Gustav’s much-loved dogs loose.

    Gustav’s own journals reveal his feelings. Day by day, the Carpathian host felt his sentiment of Gastfreundschaft dwindling. He wrote: “Just the same – mad!”


     
    Gustav and Kate had their honeymoon on Mt. Roland.

  • Fool's Gold

    Fool's Gold

    Hundreds of Tasmanians up and left when gold was first struck in the Victorian goldfields in 1851 – men of every stripe and occupation, suddenly making an exodus from the island, crossing the strait to try their luck in looking for colour.

    It was yet another economic setback for Tassie, although some on the north-west coast made good selling shingles and laths for the booming populations to shelter themselves in ramshackle accommodations all across the goldfields.

    In February 1852 a pioneer farmer from the north-west named James Fenton left his family and took off for Melbourne on the Sea Witch. Some of his fellow-passengers, he noted, were successful diggers who had come back to Tasmania in order to make purchases or retrieve possessions, such as horses, to bring back to the goldfields. Fenton, a Congregationalist and teetotaller, frowned upon their roughness and the lack of class with which they were employing their newfound wealth. Their conversations were lubricated with rum, and they argued the merits or otherwise of prospective gold sites in Victoria. Tempers flared without warning. One ruffian started a fistfight with another fellow after taking offence to the style of his hat.

    Some had come back to Tasmania to reunite with lovers and bring them to the diggings. Fenton recorded one such mistress, “one of the most hideous-looking women that ever escaped strangulation in those days of the hempen noose”. She had been draped in expensive fabrics and laden with jewellery. Her cheeks, too, glowed red with the influence of an intoxicant.

    Good luck to that blessèd couple, perhaps. A more miserable story of ill-fated romance emerged from the Sea Witch, however. One digger had secreted his paramour in the hold of the ship; she was a convict, and not able to freely transport herself off the island, so her plucky lover was smuggling her in a crate. It was nailed shut, but the fellow had left enough holes in the box for her to breathe, as well as a supply of food and water to last the journey’s duration. Sadly, as further cargo was thrown onto the ship, the case that carried this young prisoner of the Crown was covered with a large quantity of hay. She suffocated, and her body was discovered dead when the ship arrived at Melbourne.

    Of course, for every bastard that got lucky and was able to doll up their women and use £5 notes to light those biddies’ cigarettes, there were dozens that stood around up their ’nads in freezing water, sluicing and panning to no avail. A better career path was selling booze to the hordes, or exporting shingles across Bass Strait. James Fenton himself returned after a short while, and went back to the farm.

     
    The story of how a Hawaiian woman ended up living on King Island, in Bass Strait.

  • Flirting With the Frosty-Faces

    Flirting With the Frosty-Faces

    Even prior to becoming the first chief of Tasmania’s tourist bureau, Evelyn Temple Emmett spent much time walking around the island, and occasionally headed interstate to give talks about it, or received international delegations to the state. He was a fine ballroom-dancer and skiier. In 1931, aged 60, Mr. Emmett was a leader of the inaugural party to ever complete the now-famous Overland Track. On his way there, he passed through the town of Deloraine – arriving in his favourite mode of transport, on hoof.

    Mr. Emmett was very fond of Deloraine. He thought it was high on the list of the prettiest towns he’d ever come upon, and marvelled at the Old World trees along the river and the church spires reaching into the sky, streets and roads stretching up hills and around bends. Above the town, the Great Western Tiers stood majestically. Mr. Emmett would later summit the nearby peak of Quambys Bluff.

    “The only criticism I can make of Deloraine is that it is cold in winter and knows what frosts are,” Mr. Emmett said, strolling into town early one morning and feeling the sting of the cold on his face. But even of that grim cloud he found a silver lining. For there, on the banks of the Meander River, was a sight perhaps even better than that of the quaint town or the view from the Tiers: three charming lasses.

    “Stop!” Mr. Emmett cried to the young women. “Please; for I want to pay Deloraine a compliment through you.” And so they came to him, and Mr. Emmett explained how wonderful their complexions were, no doubt thanks to the cool air of Deloraine; and how, somewhere like Sydney, young women would pay £5 per square inch of whatever stuff might give them such a fine appearance as these locals of the Meander Valley had.

    Mr. Emmett finished his flattering speech with a flourish and a broad smile; and finally, letting the lasses have their chance to respond, he found them giggling hysterically.

    “Thank-you sir,” one of them finally said, “but we only arrived yesterday to this hole of a place, from Sydney, and we bought our complexions with us.”

    “The Deloraine frosts have nothing on our George Street chemist!” another chimed in.

    Nevertheless, good humour was retained amongst the group. Mr. Emmett took the young women out for breakfast. And they all went out to the races together, for which purpose the girls had come down from Sydney. It was a splendid day out, and after the morning’s events, laughter was easy to come by.

    The girls went back to Sydney and Mr. Emmett never saw them again. But returning home from his Overland Track adventures, he found a package at his house, bearing a postmark from Sydney. It was a little packet of powder. “For your wife if you have one,” the typewritten message read. “From the Three Frosty-Faces.”


     

    Another great journeyman on foot was Henry Reading, who made an almighty stroll from Hobart to Launceston.

  • It Began Here with John and Jemima

    It Began Here with John and Jemima

    In Bodney, England, in 1828, William and Judith gave birth to their son John.

    In 1845 John himself got married, to a lovely lass named Jemima King. They were both still teenagers. He was a farm labourer.

    After John and Jemima had been married for a decade or so, they were approached by the Launceston Immigration Aid Society, and recruited to move to Tasmania. They arrived on the Southern Eagle in 1857, and relocated their lives to the coastal hamlet of Penguin. With them, they brought their infant daughter, Caroline. In 1860, they had a son, Charles.

    Upon arrival, John armed himself with an axe and a cross-cut saw, and with no capital, cleared the dense wet sclerophyll forest of scrub and trees. For the bigger trees, the method of ring-barking was used. As the land was cleared, he began to build a home. Floorboards were adzed; furniture was home-made; candles of tallow were made for artificial light, and they had a fishy reek when extinguished. It was hard work, and a life with few comforts.

    Flour shortages were common. It was delivered on occasion by sailing craft from north coast towns, but once as it was being put ashore, the boat overturned and spoiled the product. Normally a draught horse brought it in from Forth, through the labyrinthine forest. If the flour supplies ran short, what remained was shared among the whole community to the last pound. Housewives made the bread in camp ovens; bachelors made damper, cooked in ashes.

    The new settlers grew oats and potatoes. As soon as the cleared land had enough grass covering, a cow was purchased. Gradually berry bushes and fruit trees gave produce. Meat was mostly wallaby and parrots; those on the coast fished. When they needed something they couldn’t grow, and once the Leven River was bridged, the women would walk to a store at Forth, a few miles away.

    The daughter Caroline met a young man with the fine name of James Sushames, originally of Caston, England, who arrived to Tasmania on the Whirlwind. They got married and had a son.

    Charles fell in love too, with a girl named Rachel Ling. They had eight children and raised them in Penguin. Six were sons. As these children grew up, a flour mill was built at nearby Sulphur Creek. The first churches were built, and a teacher arrived, Miss Neligan. By the mid-1870s, there was a general store.

    The youngest of these eight children, Leslie, preferred to go by his middle name, which was Herbert. He was born in 1899. In his late teens, he got a job delivering bread and milk; he would go around town in a horse and dray. His son, Vivian, would remember being taken to school in this vehicle. Herbert played footy at the local club, for the Penguin Two-Blues. He was also a bass baritone singer and sung at the Methodist church sometimes.

    Herbert Spinks and family moved to Launceston for a job at a wool factory. Herbert’s son Vivian fought in World War II. Vivian’s son Martin matriculated and built a white collar career. Martin’s son is the author of this article. I went up to Penguin the other week. These days, there is little clearing left to be done; flour comes from the local supermarket, along with a variety of pre-prepared products made from it; the parrots are largely left uneaten, although they exist in much smaller quantities. Coffee drinkers can satisfy their urges at several cafeterias, and an afternoon beer is available at the Neptune Hotel.

    Once this was pretty coastal town was covered in dense bush. Now, there's a grubby backpackers' hostel on its main road. We do not well understand the hardships and labours of the people who came before us. “With a low standard of living, few amenities, and little security, to win a bare living they worked from daylight to dark,” wrote local historian A.O. Barker. “For little return they toiled and we are reaping – as future generations will reap – the profit of their toil.”

     
    There are more stories about Herbert Spinks and the Penguin Two-Blues here.

  • The Nant Rebels: Part II

    The Nant Rebels: Part II

    Last week, this column followed the story of Irish rebel John Mitchel, who escaped from Bothwell in Van Diemen’s Land, with the assistance of a man nicknamed ‘Nicaragua’.

    Mitchel had lived at Nant Estate, alongside a fellow Irish political prisoner, John Martin. Today, the estate is the home of an exceptional whisky distillery. It was John Mitchel who noted in his Jail Journals that “Tasmanian honey is the best in the world”. This reporter agrees – but Mitchel would no doubt be shocked to discover that nowadays, Tasmanian whisky is highly-esteemed too, one single-malt batch earning the official epithet “World’s Best” in 2014.

    While Mitchel high-tailed it, he had left his own wife, Jane, and their children high and dry. In the end, they made it back to Ireland.

    Mitchel’s roomie at the Nant cottage, “Honest” John Martin, remained at the estate. No doubt the other Young Irelanders were under heavy suspicion after Mitchel’s brazen escape, but they did not make attempts at escape. And in 1854, they each received a conditional pardon – they were allowed to leave the island, and go wherever they wanted, so long as it wasn’t Ireland.

    John Martin went to Paris, albeit through an incredible overland journey, beginning in Ceylon. And two years later, along with the other Young Irelanders, the British Empire bestowed unconditional pardons upon the rebels. They were free to go back to their home.

    The roommates Martin and Mitchel reunited in Paris in 1859. It had been over six years since Mitchel’s sudden departure. Stories were no doubt bandied around, perhaps flowing more freely with the aid of some liquid lubrication. Reminiscences of their days together at Nant, with its “vast view of endless mountains, covered with wood” may have brought tears to the eyes. Martin would have borne news of the other revolutionaries, all of whom had made it back to the motherland; Mitchel was privy to the political turbulence of America, where he was still a political agitator. Mitchel would fight for the Confederates in the American Civil War, claiming that slavery was “good in itself” and that blacks were inherently inferior to whites.

    They kept in touch, but didn’t meet again until seven years later, in 1866. Perhaps by then, the stories had gotten grander. Their lives were becoming more settled. They were, after all, getting older. And perhaps, amid all the laughter and bluster and exaggeration of their reunion in ’66, there was a serious word, too. For shortly after that rendezvous, John Martin finally became engaged – to wed his old roommate’s sister, sweet Henrietta Mitchel.

    He was 56. The next year, John and Henrietta went to New York, for a magnificent Mitchel-Martin family reunion. Corks popped, and their captivity in beautiful Van Diemen’s Land must have seemed a million lifetimes ago.

    Oddly, the New York Irishman known as “Nicaragua” – journalist P.J. Smyth – had remained in V.D.L. too. In the most unlikely of circumstances, he had fallen in love. It was the New York Irish Directory who had sent him on the mission to free the Young Irelanders, under the guise of employment with the New York Tribune; Nicaragua never went back to New York, though. He met a lass in Hobart by the name of Jeannie Regan, and they got married in the lovely sandstone confines of St Josephs Church, on Macquarie Street.

    Nicaragua and Jeannie returned to Ireland to live out their days.

    And John Martin died aged 62. His honoured widow lived far longer; even longer lived a mysterious lady by the name of Miss Thompson, to whom “Honest John” wrote politically-themed letters over his lifetime. Perhaps the story of Miss Thompson is one even more fascinating – if we only knew it.

  • The Nant Rebels: Part I

    The Nant Rebels: Part I

    Nant Estate, in Bothwell, in Tasmania’s southern highlands, was settled by Welsh agriculturists in 1821. Today it is famous for its whisky. World-renowned, Nant whisky is Australia’s only highland single malt distiller of the beverage known as the ‘water of life’. At one stage in history, it housed Irish revolutionaries.      

    A man known as ‘Nicaragua’ had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land with a mission: gaolbreak. Of the six Young Irelanders sent to V.D.L. for treason, William Smith O’Brien was the only one holed up on an island goal. The oldest and most respected of the Irish convicts (having just turned 46 when he arrived), he had refused a better deal on a matter of principle. The others hadn’t. They had accepted a ticket-of-leave, which gave them a good – if restricted – life.

    John Mitchel was the first Young Irelander to be sentenced, if the last to arrive after a short stay in Bermuda. He’d been a solicitor, but threw it in to start his own newspaper, the United Irishman, which supported a forced dissolution of the union with England. For his work, he copped a fourteen year sentence of transportation.

    While Smith O’Brien suffered, though, Mitchel and the others rather enjoyed their exile. Their only rule was to not to leave their police district. However, John Mitchel was allowed to share a cottage on the Nant estate at Bothwell with another rebel, John Martin; and they managed to arrange meetings at Lake Sorell with two more, O’Doherty and Meagher, where two more districts fortuitously met.

    In June 1851, John Mitchel’s wife Jane and their children arrived at Bothwell. Mitchel moved out of the Nant cottage. Martin remained. William Smith O’Brien was still in gaol.

    Enter Nicaragua – real name, P.J. Smyth – an Irishman in the U.S.A., working as a New York Tribune correspondent. A body of Irish sympathisers arranged for him to come to Van Diemen’s Land with the idea of retrieving one or more of the Young Irelanders captive there. John Mitchel’s eyes went wide as saucers when he saw Nicaragua.

    John Mitchel kept a diary that he called the Jail Journals. His phrases are full of Romantic ornamentation, poetic in their praise of the island’s beauty. And why not? He was free to ride his horse, exploring and hunting throughout the Bothwell region's sublime landscapes. Thus it was Smith O’Brien, not Mitchel, for whom the gaolbreak plan existed. He was the one with the raw deal. But the plan to get him out of the island prison failed; he was double-crossed by the captain of a schooner who’d been employed for the purpose.

    And so it was Mitchel who was freed. Boldly, he went with his gun into the Bothwell police station, and gave up his ticket-of-leave. Nicaragua had arranged everything: Mitchel escaped on horseback, got on a vessel at Hobart, and went – via Sydney, Batavia, and San Francisco – to New York, arriving at last in November 1853, to a hero’s welcome.

    William Smith O’Brien was eventually pardoned, reuniting with his wife and seven children in Brussels in 1854. He returned to Ireland two years later.

     

    Another Irish convict was Thomas Meagher. Thomas, his wife, and his child all died on separate continents.

  • The Witness of Many Weddings

    The Witness of Many Weddings

    For four years, Lt.-Gov. Collins had upheld the prohibition of alcohol in Van Diemen’s Land, but in 1808 he accepted the inevitable. By this time, there were already a few public houses serving alcohol; the Sign of the Whale Fishery was the first pub to open in the colony, in July 1807. Soon after, Francis Barnes became the licensee of the Hope Inn.

    Francis was a rare case in the penal colony. A literate and worldly man, he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land on the Calcutta for the theft of £172 during a play at the Drury Lane Theatre. He claimed that he found the banknotes, but his story wasn’t convincing; he arrived with the first settlers of Hobart Town in 1804.

    Because of his skill with letters, Francis took up an important clerical role in the colony – he assisted the rambunctious chaplain Rev. Robert Knopwood, giving his signature as witness as many of the early weddings in the colony. He also became a printer, sporadically publishing newspapers to be disseminated around Hobart Town.

    As publican, Francis Barnes didn’t have great luck. His alehouse was forced to move several times, as the government enacted urban planning rearrangements to accommodate a growing settlement; ever the optimist, Barnes reopened the pub in different locations, finally settling under the name Hope and Anchor on Macquarie Street. Good food and reading material accompanied the printer’s service of spirits and beer. He also, famously, had an albino dog named Lady.

    But he didn’t have a real lady. Not until 1823, when he met Elizabeth Ann Macklin; finally, the man who had witnessed so many weddings was able to summon the minister, and Rev. Knopwood married them. Curiously, Francis lied about his age, claiming himself to be ten years more youthful than the 52 years his records suggest; Elizabeth was 39. A special day. But the marriage lasted only four years. In 1827, Elizabeth died. Francis Barnes gave up the pub, and moved into farming. He married again in 1833, to a spinster named Mary Anne Pritchard, and they settled on the 600 acres he had accumulated at Ralphs Bay. This time, his death annulled the matrimony, in 1842.

    The Hope and Anchor survived for close to 200 years, closed for six years, and was then bought for $1.5 million by a Chinese developer late last year.


    The chaplain, Bobby Knopwood, was an interesting character in his own right.

  • 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.

  • Melaleuca Backyard

    Melaleuca Backyard

    This was the backyard of Mary and Janet King when they grew up. Their father, Charles Denison King, moved to this part of the world in 1936. He was 27 years old, and following his father. Together they built a house and mined tin.

    Deny King, as he was better known, lived for 55 years in this wild land in the south-west of Tasmania; on the edge of the dangerous Port Davey, he named their rugged estate Melaleuca after the tea-tree growing there, and lived a life that was as astonishing for its variety as it was for the distance from normal society with which he did it.

    Deny became a naturalist and an ornithologist, as well as a painter, on top of his small-scale alluvial tin mining. He discovered an extinct banksia shrub, and became a leading expert on the severely endangered orange-bellied parrots who still come to Melaleuca every February.

    Serving in Papua New Guinea in World War II, Deny met a nurse named Margaret Cadell, whom he attempted to woo through a series of love letters after both had returned from service. It probably wasn't easy to convince her to embark on a life shared with him in one of the wildest places on Earth, but she eventually acquiesced; the Kings' household became famous for its self-sufficient hospitality. Bushwalkers from all around the world would stop in at Melaleuca en route to the south-west coast, the black waters of Port Davey opening up onto a stretch of ocean that expands uninhibited all the way to Patagonia. Even the famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary made a visit.

    And so their Deny and Margaret's two daughters, Mary and Janet, grew up in the buttongrass plains that surround Melaleuca, barraged by the wind of the Southern Ocean so thoroughly that the hills only bear trees on the sheltered eastern slopes. Along the dark harbour, reedy scrubs and banksias grow. What a world in which to be a child; with their parents' art, and the parades of strange and roguish and playful visitors coming through to drink tea and eat bread from a wood-fired oven. With wrens and wombats and snakes, and the ever-changing weather blowing in from South America or Antarctica or, occasionally, somewhere more mild.

    They say that a Tasmanian tiger was seen in this stand of trees in the 1950s, a couple of decades after the last known example died in captivity. But that, I'm afraid, is another story, for another time.

  • The Chaplain

    The Chaplain

    I don't pretend to know what a chaplain does or is supposed to do. Nevertheless, it is probably surprising that the old bar in the photograph above is named after the first man to perform a religious service in Tasmania, Bobby Knopwood.

    Bobby didn't have an easy start in life (his father died, and left enormous debts) but the spirited young man managed to gain an education and train for the ministry. He was also a well-known hunter and horseman. Rising through the ecclesiastical ranks, Bobby served in the West Indies, and then was employed as the first chaplain to the colonies in Victoria and Van Diemen's Land.

    Luckily for us, Bobby was a keen diarist, and so we know a lot about his life and his passions: my favourite excerpt from his journals is a delightful rant about the beauty of a young nun he met in Brazil, whose dark and secretive looks he couldn't dismiss from his mind. We also know a bit about him from his bills, and from these we can tell that Bobby Knopwood ate, drank and lived a very merry life in Van Diemen's Land. He became good mates with the Lieutenant-Governor of the colony, and became famous for his parties - as well as for the parties he went to, of which he said, 'Where I dine, I sleep.'

    And when he woke up, he was sometimes unfit to perform his duties as chaplain. Not a few Sunday services were skipped due to Bobby's intemperance. Probably the devout of Hobart Town didn't mind.

    Towards the end of his tenure, Bobby Knopwood took in an orphan girl named Betty Mack, whose marine father abandoned her. From all accounts, he committed himself to her, put himself in debt to pay her way, and 

    Maybe a man like Bobby Knopwood believed that there was something spiritual in drunkenness and admiring beautiful women. Or perhaps, in the end, we can believe that it matters little what a person eats or drinks, where their eyes rove or even where their spirits stray, if they are still able to be so moved as to take upon themselves a burden such as love for another - for any other - creature in this world.

    I apologise if that sounds somewhat like a paraphrase of something someone else once said, in the middle of the world, a couple thousand years ago. As I said, I have no idea what a chaplain is supposed to be all about.

  • Love in Winter

    Love in Winter

    As author of the only authoritative guide on how to fall in love in Tasmania, I'm asked a lot of questions. 'What's the best Tassie wine for a first date picnic?', 'Is there a nudist beach in Tasmania?' and 'How do I meet a hunky farmer from Bruny Island?' have all come my way.

    One writer recently asked me: 'Is it possible to fall in love in Tasmania in winter?'

    Good question, Chet from Adelaide. Around Australia, Tasmanian winters are considered brutal. Rain, cold, wind, and even rumours of snow: how do they survive, the mainlanders wonder. There is some truth to it - I mean, if you've ever lived in the northern hemisphere, you'll find Tasmanian winters fairly mild, but still, if a sou'westerly brings the Antarctic air over the island, it'll raise some goosebumps.

    Then there's the darkness. How strange it is when Daylight Savings ends, and all of a sudden, you're cooking dinner in pitch darkness? (Or with the light on, if you're one of those fancy people with electricity.) One of Tasmania's charms is that it is indeed a land of seasons; the rhythm of changing weather creates an effect of nostalgia, a sense of longing or loss kneaded into memory. Which brave soul, when the night clamps down on them at 4:30p.m., can imagine a long late summer evening swimming in the river, or even believe that it truly happened? The winter seems neverending, and that day when you next strip down to your knickers or less and plunge into the inky water will never return.

    Duly, then, the romantic mood is there. Imagine waking up next to a new flame, looking out at a town covered in fog, deciduous trees stripped bare, grass green and unwieldy, the roads lacquered with dew; perhaps there can be nothing better for a day like this than a companion to go walking with. Or, rushing home one rain-belted afternoon, you will think of what to cook your date for dinner - a soup or a curry, no doubt - as the woodfires puff out their scent of citrus and clove over the rooftops. Or better yet, take your beloved to one of the old fishing huts in the mountains; stay there for a week, living off trout and port, etching your names into the walls of pencil pine, reading to each other lines of Irish poetry and forgetting all else in the world.

    But the main thing to be aware of when it comes to falling in love in Tasmania in winter is that it may last longer than you ever imagined. Sure, everyone can and will and cannot avoid having the odd summer fling, when the day stretches like a banner over you and the beaches shine and even the rugged natives spit out little fruits. But when you fall in love in winter, you might discover that the lass or bloke you woke up next to me this morning is still with you in two decades' time; that as you look at that same view, the montigenous fog hulking over the skyline, your children are out in the street, smashing the frozen over puddles and birdbaths, kicking a footy with their bare knees gone pink from the cold, well on their way to becoming sentient men and women who will someday probably fall in love themselves - perhaps against their will, or at least their better judgement.

    Keep the questions coming, I guess.

  • Blow My Skull

    Blow My Skull

    At one point, the biggest drunk in the colony was also the man in the highest position of authority.

    
Thomas Davey was appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land in 1812. When he got the job, he tried to leave England without telling his wife; she found out, and Davey became so furious that he ‘threw his wig at the wall in temper’. It was a strange appointment. Davey was in a Gentleman’s Prison for Debtors at the time, and wouldn’t have the means to pay off his debts until after he returned from Van Diemen’s Land.
 Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of Australia – after whom so many landmarks are named – instantly took a disliking to Tom Davey when the latter arrived in Sydney. Davey had suffered the misfortune of losing his luggage, somehow, on the voyage from London. (Long after he left the antipodes he would be claiming he was owed thousands of pounds for the loss.) Macquarie would later describe Davey as a drunk who showed “an incredible degree of frivolity and buffoonery in his manners.”


    Was this fair?

    Definitely. In February 1813, when Davey arrived in Hobart Town, he lurched across the ship’s gangway, surveyed his new dominion, took off his jacket and said, “It’s hot as Hades here!” He then opened a bottle of port and poured the entirety of its contents all over his wife’s hat, in some kind of unexplained personal ritual.
 (The poor lady: her name, in a shameful coincidence, was Temperance.)

    Davey wasn’t an overly competent administrator. His policies ended up allowing the art of bushranging to flourish – even two of his own officials ended up becoming part of a gang. At one point, Davey declared martial law, an act deemed illegal by London and stupid by Macquarie. In fairness, Lt.-Gov. Davey also made Hobart a free port, and encouraged the proper treatment of the Aboriginal population. But the fact is that his legacy is largely to do with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.


    On royal birthdays, Tom Davey gave out free rum, doling it out from a keg in front of the Governor’s House. It was not uncommon to find him in the pubs, drinking with the lower classes, especially at a bar called Stocker’s; he would explode out of Parliament House in a fit of frustration - sick of his job, or his long-suffering wife, I suppose. Many of Van Diemen’s Land elite thought he was responsible for the dissipation of morals and etiquette. So they started calling him Mad Tom.


    He also invented a cocktail, named ‘Blow My Skull’. Simply dissolve 165g (¾ cup) of brown cane sugar into a litre of water, then add the juice of six limes (about 180ml), and 500ml each of porter and navy-style rum (57% alcohol content), and 250ml of strong brandy. It’s not bad!

  • George and Mannalargenna

    George and Mannalargenna

    There’s no way either could have imagined their meeting at the beginning of their lives.

    George Augustus Robinson had come to Van Diemen’s Land as an ambitious labourer, and turned himself into the superstar of a desperate tour of the island, a missionary-conciliator trying to bring an end to the war between natives and settlers. Mannalargenna was the chief or ‘clever-man’ of one of the clans of the north-east, centred around what is now called Ben Lomond. He was a revered warrior, with thick dreadlocks smeared with ochre, a scarified body, and a matted beard.

    He was capable of fearful courage, and violence. When a European landowner had four of his clan’s women and a child captive in his home, it was Mannalargenna who raided the house to restore them. But George Robinson had no desire to fight anyone. His task was to persuade the Aborigines that their best bet was to let themselves be removed from their traditional lands, and make their lives elsewhere. He had already convinced a number of chiefs. It was not without trepidation, though, that he approached Mannalargenna.

    But Mannalargenna knew that the situation was dire anyway. The war had been going on for too long. There was too much misunderstanding. Never before had two peoples less alike ever met. The Aborigines were technologically and numerically outmatched.

    It must have been quite a sight, to see them wandering through the bush together, a band of soldiers, convicts and blacks in tow. They had made a deal, although both would swerve the other on it. Mannalargenna was a fickle guide, and led Robinson on wild goose chases. And Robinson didn’t honour his end of the treaty: Mannalargenna never came back to his home.

    Another commonality: both George and Mannalargenna had a wife and five kids.

    But by the end of his life, everything Mannalargenna had ever cared for had been lost. Sealers had enslaved his sisters and three of his daughters. He saw one of these daughters, one last time, on Preservation Island, unexpectedly. Both father and daughter, Robinson said, were “suffused in tears.” Mannalargenna begged Robinson to get his daughter back for him. Robinson’s hands were tied.

    It is said that Mannalargenna sat on the back of the boat as it headed for the Tasmanians’ place of exile, and cut his dreadlocks off. Ben Lomond – or whatever the mountain was known to his people as – disappeared in the thinning sky. He died within a month of reaching the settlement. George Robinson presided over his funeral. He couldn’t have spoken more highly of Mannalargenna.

    Strange what can happen in a lifetime.

  • Love Life of an Irish Rebel

    Love Life of an Irish Rebel

    Thomas O’Meagher (born as simply Thomas Meagher) was an Irish rebel. He was the leader of the Young Irelanders during the infamous Rebellion of 1848. He had been to France as a student of revolutionary movements, and returned with the new flag of Ireland – the tricolour of green, white and orange. At the Battle of Ballingarry, he and his cohorts were captured by the English. Public outcry saved the necks of a few of them. They received clemency, and were sentenced to transportation. Off to Van Diemen’s Land.

    As political prisoners, they had a strange deal. For convicts, the Irish rebels were comparatively free, but were forbidden from meeting. They also had to give their word that they would not attempt to escape without first informing the authorities. O’Meagher was sent to Campbell Town, then Ross, in the Midlands of the island; it was decent farming land, but O’Meagher was not impressed. He did, however, fall in love. On February 22, 1851, the Irish revolutionary married the daughter of a highwayman, Katherine ‘Bennie’ Bennett.

    The other Irishmen disapproved. They had been secretly meeting on occasion, at a special lakeside retreat. Almost immediately after their wedding, Katherine fell ill. Before a year of their marriage was completed, Thomas O’Meagher sent a letter to the authorities, informing them that within twenty-four hours, he would consider himself a free man. Katherine was pregnant. O’Meagher escaped to New York City.

    The infant son was buried here at St. John’s Catholic Church in Richmond. It is the oldest Catholic Church in Australia.

    In the U.S., Thomas O’Meagher became a citizen, studied law and journalism, and joined the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Incredibly, Katherine was able to reunite with them – albeit only briefly. She returned to Ireland pregnant with another child, a son who would bear his father’s name. It was a name that was to become famous, but Thomas jnr. would never meet his father. O’Meagher became the Governor of Montana, and married a Protestant girl. At the age of 43, he died, falling into the Missouri River and being swept away, his body never recovered.

  • Windsor Castle

    Windsor Castle

    It was hard not to fall in love with him. To say that he had red hair and blue eyes doesn’t say enough about what a devilish face he had; and with that bowler’s hat on his head, Paddy was a handsome rogue.

    So soon enough Lucy Hanson fell for him and became Lucy Hartnett. She had heard all the stories about him – how he and his brother had kept a Maori paramour in the mountains for a time – but she knew he was strong, literate, and hard-working, and that’s what was important to a girl from Waratah in those days. They were married with Catholic rites and then headed up to Pelion Plains. That’s where they would make their money, Paddy had said.

    He knew what he was talking about: possum furs were suddenly selling big in Europe. The work was hellishly hard, though. They’d go up in winter, when the furs were thickest, and live in the huts Paddy pulled together from king billy. This one they called ‘Windsor Castle’. Skins would dry along the inner walls. If they’d left them outside, the ‘hyenas’ – thylacines, Tasmanian tigers – would come to get them.

    Sometimes Paddy got lost in the snow; if so, he’d make a fire and sleep on the coals. He used his bowler hat – not the nice one he’d been wearing when he met Lucy in the town, but the battered old thing he wore in the bush – to scoop water out of the rivers from. Lucy and her son would make bread and boil potatoes and help beeswax his clothes for waterproofing.

    Back in the town, Paddy would drink something shocking. Occasionally he’d barter a fur for a glass of cheap whiskey. Lucy didn’t put up with that for long; she set the boys down at the hotel straight, and started taking charge of the mercantile operations in the family. Paddy didn’t like it, but he couldn’t argue – he was a pisspot, and Lucy had her head on straight.

    Seasons changed; trapping didn’t earn so much anymore. Paddy moved onto the osmiridium fields, and he took a daughter with him too, dressed up as a bloke. The booze had buggered him though. He lost an eye one drunken night; then he had a stroke. Finally, delirium tremens, and death.

    Lucy, two sons, and five daughters survived him.

     

    Another bloke who lived in highland huts was WWII veteran Boy Miles.

  • Wauba, known as Wauba Debar

    Wauba, known as Wauba Debar

    In those days, it was common for the sealers and whalers to kidnap a few ‘gins’ to take with them – the black women weren’t only kidnapped to be used as paramours, but they were hunters and fishers and divers too. But late at night, they could escape from beneath the blankets they shared with the seafaring drunks who had taken them, and they could steal the kangaroo-dogs too. It was said that the Aborigines had a singular power to win the loyalty of the dogs: no small advantage in those days.

    Wauba had been taken, I suppose, in the same way – not by her own volition, and not without violence. What possesses a slave to save the life of her master, then? Is it love when a native girl is married against her will, and then goes and rescues him?

    There were three of them on that sealing vessel when the squall appeared on the east coast waters. The boat went under; the two men were poor swimmers, and looked set to drown beneath the mountainous grey waves. Wauba could have left them to drown, and swam ashore on her own. But she didn’t. First, she pulled her husband under her arm – the man who had first captured her – and dragged him back to shore, more than a kilometre away. Wauba next swam back out to the other man, and brought him in as well. The two sealers coughed and spluttered on the Bicheno beach, but they did not die. Wauba had saved them.

    Only a couple of years later, in 1832, Wauba died in another storm near Flinders Island. In 1855, ‘a few of her White friends’ erected a gravestone for Wauba Debar at Bicheno (pictured above), in memoriam of her heroic deeds. The surname is of the man she saved: her husband. Wauba’s bones are not beneath the gravestone, though. Her skeleton was taken for science, like those of many Aborigines, and is now probably lost.

    This is all that is known of Wauba Debar’s forty years of life.

  • Come and Enjoy the Tasmanian Honeymoon Experience!

    Come and Enjoy the Tasmanian Honeymoon Experience!

    I’m no expert on honeymoons, but Tasmania is probably a pretty good place one. There are beautiful beaches, good wine, and, if you arrived this week, plenty of sunshine. Perhaps you could stay for a week in a chalet at Cradle Mountain, or have some time at an eco-resort by Wineglass Bay.

    Or you could spend five weeks on Mount Roland collecting plant specimens.

    That’s what the Weindorfers did. Born in Spittel an der Drau, Austria, Gustav, also known as Dorfer, came to Australia looking for work, but with his dashing moustache and expertise with the Viennese waltz, it is little wonder he found love more easily. He met Kate, a botanist ten years his senior, in rural Victoria in 1902, and she brought him back to her home in the north-west of Tasmania to marry. They erected a leaky tent at the summit and brought all sorts of mosses, lichens and flowers under their microscopes for five weeks. It was here that Gustav mastered one of his famous culinary dishes: kangaroo-tail soup.

    For a reasonable rate, I am willing to offer my services as a guide for such a honeymoon experience. For a much less reasonable rate, I would even consider finding the partner for you.

    How did it end for the Weindorfers? The couple later became enamoured with Cradle Mountain and made their home there part-time, in a hut called 'Waldheim'. But duringt the World War I years, Dorfer suffered from anti-German sentiments, and then, Kate died from illness. Dorfer moved to Waldheim alone after that, and championed the idea of Cradle Mountain National Park. He invited guests to his home to share the beauty of the Cradle Valley with them. His hospitality was renowned.

    As well as roo-tail soup, he made a hell of a wombat stew.

  • Life of an Hawaiian Wife

    Life of an Hawaiian Wife

    MAUI
    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
    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.

  • Tom Roberts Fell in Love

    Tom Roberts Fell in Love

    In summer, Tom Roberts’ gravesite is the kind of setting familiar to his paintings. Roberts’ works were maligned by critics for not being ‘high art’. Instead, he famously portrayed sheep stations and wood splitters, often displaying his works on 9 x 5 inch cigar boxes. Where he now rests, the dry midlands heat has parched the grass. The gravestone faces out to a field of poppies, recently harvested. Behind the nearly-abandoned church (the lawns are nowadays decorated with an idol to ploughing), the bitumen road shimmers and glistens, and trucks scream down it.

    Roberts was born in Dorset, England, in March 1856, and migrated to Australia as an eleven-year-old. As a young man, he lived in Collingwood and studied art while working as a photographer’s assistant. He lived for most of his life in Victoria, but he married a Tasmanian woman, Jean Boyes, with whom he had made a number of visits to the island; when he died, he chose to be buried at the Christ Church just outside of Longford, Tasmania.

    She was an old family friend, and he was a 72-year-old widower. His friends called him Bulldog.

  • French Explorers Observe A Family of Tasmanian Aborigines Having Dinner

    At the beginning of the 19th century, Captain Nicolas Baudin led two ships of scientists, sailors and
    explorers to
    Terres Australes. This crew included the impetuous zoologist François Péron, and the Freycinet brothers, Henri and Louis, who gave Baudin great trouble even unto his death by tuberculosis in the Indian Ocean, and later rewrote the account of his expedition with complete injustice.

    The French voyage returned with one of the most outstanding collections in the history of natural science. They also had made observations of the Australian Aborigines that were more detailed than what their enemies, the English, had compiled at the time. This including Péron's account of meeting an attractive young native woman (whom they believed was named Ouré-Ouré) on the shores of Bruny Island.


    FRENCH EXPLORERS OBSERVE A FAMILY OF TASMANIAN ABORIGINES HAVING DINNER
    We brave Frenchmen came upon the beach, Ouré-Ouré:
    Me, François, and he, Henri.
    A family was baking fish on an open flame, on the shore, Ouré-Ouré:
    They were native Diemenese.

    A young femme came and joined her clan, Ouré-Ouré:
    she was dark as coal.
    The shellfish swelled in the heat and smelled of salt, Ouré-Ouré:
    but we explorers watched the girl.

    She was as naked as a blackbird on a branch, Ouré-Ouré:
    and without a single care.
    Her nipples were long and shaped like cones, Ouré-Ouré:
    her backside shapely and bare.

    She peered and prodded and tried to start a conversation, Ouré-Ouré:
    In our manners, she was truly curious.
    It was clear to see that she was mystified, Ouré-Ouré:
    the girl had never seen people like us.

    Oh, they marked our faces with charcoal, Ouré-Ouré:
    to make us seem as them.
    To them our whiteness was a disfigurement, Ouré-Ouré:
    our clothes as well, a shame.

    For her body shone with grease and ochre, Ouré-Ouré:
    Smooth and limber and light.
    Young enough that she’d not yet been married off, Ouré-Ouré:
    But soon she’d be a bride.

    Oh, we’d yield the palm of beauty to you any day!, Ouré-Ouré:
    What more could we say?
    If only I could have been your lover, Ouré-Ouré:
    We’d have spawned a whole new race.

    And the fate of the natives would have been different, Ouré-Ouré:
    so too the future of the world.
    Long live the savages of Terre de van Diemen, we cried, Ouré-Ouré:
    long live the beautiful girls.