Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged names

  • A Colony of Fish

    A Colony of Fish

    This is the slender-spined porcupine fish, or southern porcupine fish, or the globefish, Diodon nicthemerus, first described to European science by Cuvier in 1818. You’ll find it in the southern waters of Australia, from Geraldton to Port Jackson, but it’s most common in Port Phillip Bay or the coastal waters of Tasmania. (This specimen was found near Beaumaris, on the east coast.)

    This is one of a number of fish illustrations done by William Buelow Gould during the Vandemonian convict era. The artist would later gain international fame after being fictionalised by Richard Flanagan in the well-reviewed Gould’s Book of Fish. His fish are made handsome in watercolour; the porcupine fish looks lonely and unloved, and it’s easy to sympathise with it. Perhaps Gould identified with it himself.

    William Buelow Gould was a chosen name. It seems he was born as William Holland on November 8, 1803; his father was a boatman on the Thames. He was literate and as a young man moved to London where he took up an apprenticeship with lithographer Rudolph Ackermann. His artistic skills were being developed and he married.

    But William fell in with a crowd of boozers and gamblers – always easy to stumble upon in London. In his twentieth year, one of his drinking mates was murdered, perhaps in shady circumstances; William fled to Staffordshire with his wife and their new child.

    But before too long he departed from there too, this time abandoning wife and child. And he ditched the name with which he was born as well.

    The name ‘Gould’ was a good association to make – John and Elizabeth Gould were gaining esteem as artists of natural history. So the runaway artist declared himself William Buelow Gould, “Portrait Painter and Drawing Master”, when he arrived in Northampton.

    But although he had left so many things in his wake, William Buelow Gould was not prepared to dispose of his bad habits. Drinking, gambling, and stealing marred his new career with a painter and glazier by the name of Thomas Smith. Within weeks he was charged with stealing his employer’s materials and suffered three months in prison, as well as a public flogging. And in November 1826, he stole someone’s coat, hankie and gloves; he was found guilty, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation in Van Diemen’s Land.

    On the Asia, the vessel that brought him to Van Diemen’s Land, he painted his first portrait of a ship’s officer. It was pretty ordinary, but Gould seemed to have been able to talk himself up. He was given convict employment as a potter – but was transferred to the chain gang for drunkenness. Then, he put his artistic ability to use in attempted to forge a banknote. He was to be sent to Macquarie Harbour, but after a storm forced the ship to pause en route, many of the convict passengers mutinied; Gould didn’t, and was rewarded for his good behaviour with an assignment to Dr James Scott. Here, he was put to work drawing specimens.

    Coincidentally, the inspirations for his pseudonym arrived in Tasmania during this convict apprenticeship: John and Elizabeth Gould were friends of the Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin and his wife. One wonders whether they were shown the work of the convict Gould, and what they made of his impressive images, which would later be credited by UNESCO as valuable enough to enter their historical registers.

    Gould’s work throughout the rest of his convict career would include still-life images of fruit, flowers, game and fish. Finally a free man, he was given a job painting coaches in Launceston, although he almost sabotaged that immediately; given tools and material to do his work, Gould absconded, only to return shortly enough afterwards to not lose his job.

    “His last years were spent in some comfort,” writes a biographer, but no doubt his life was shortened by the years of hard living. He died in his home in December 1853, joining the great ocean of dead things that surrounds us all.

    Yet he was later resurrected, and reimagined, by Flanagan; in it, he belongs to “a colony of fish masquerading as men”; and the surgeon to whom Gould is assigned turns into Diodon nicthemerus.

     

    Previously on Field Guide, a German baron goes into the Tasmanian mountains.
    On another east coast beach, a French captain takes a convict lover.

  • Petrarch's Poetry

    Petrarch's Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Why was George Frankland so obsessed with Greek names?

  • Encountering Barnie

    Encountering Barnie

    The Overland Track is one of the world’s great multi-day walks. A couple of hours into the first day of the walk, as you clamber up onto a plateau strewn with cushion plants and quartzite schist, Barn Bluff rises before you. This impressive edifice of dolerite is formed by glacial action and erosion with seams of bituminous coal, which were never able to be economically exploited. Its human value today is mostly immaterial. At 1559 metres above sea level, it is the fourth highest mountain in Tasmania. Local walkers playfully know it as 'Barnie'.

    It was Joseph Fossey who first compared this mountain’s shape to that of a barn. The son of a maltster from Hertfordshire in England, he came out as one of the members of a party of six representing the Van Diemen’s Land Company. Their harrowing five-month journey ended in Hobart in March 1826.

    The Company had been allotted large tracts of land in the island’s north-west for the purpose of raising sheep for high quality wool. However, the best land was reserved for farmers expanding their settlements. The Chief Agent of the Van Diemen’s Land Company butted heads with the Lieutenant-Governor over the issue, but the latter would not budge.

    So began a tireless series of exploratory campaigns by the Company’s three surveyors in search of better land. Van Diemen’s Land had been settled by Europeans only 23 years earlier, and most of the mountainous south-west was unknown to the new arrivals. Contemporary maps leave the quarter almost entirely blank and marked with the title TRANSYLVANIA. The exploration of this area, by men such as Fossey, his colleague Clement Lorymer, and the lead surveyor Henry Hellyer. Over several years, their journeys brought them into torrid weather, through tormenting scrub, and over tumultuous terrain. Working with a retinue of convict servants, they carried meagre rations and had simple equipment.

    It was on one of Fossey’s expeditions in autumn 1827, in search of a stock route, that he named Barn Bluff, seeing it first from a mountain peak to its north. He also named nearby Cradle Mountain at the same time, although it retained an alternative name – Ribbed Rock – for some time as well.

    Fossey did not stay in his rôle as surveyor, explorer and road-builder for too many years. When his contract ended in 1832, he returned to England, but only very briefly. He returned to land in northern Tasmania and married Eliza Wood at St. John’s Church in Launceston. He was, at this time, aged 47. He then moved to Victoria, and he and his wife ran an inn on Lonsdale Street and a general store in St. Kilda.

    His lot was better than that of his colleagues: both Lorymer and Hellyer died in separate tragic circumstances while employed by the Van Diemen’s Land Company.

    Their Chief Agent gave a fascinating reference for Joseph Fossey. He described Fossey as ‘a compound of many discordant qualities’, a peculiar man preoccupied with details and not possessing much natural talent, but yet a ‘conscientious servant of the Company’. The explorations by the Company’s surveying parties yielded few results but provided new knowledge of Tasmania’s western mountains, an incredible and unique part of the world.


     
    Another V.D.L. Co. explorer was the larger-than-life Danish convict, Jorgen Jorgenson.

  • The Ancient Grief

    The Ancient Grief

    Mt. Olympus was the home of the Dodekatheon, the twelve gods – the principle deities, such as Zeus and Athena, lived there. At the foot of the mountain’s north sat the nine Muses, Zeus’ daughters with Mnemosyne and patrons of the Fine Arts.

    Olympus is the second highest mountain in Greece, standing between what are now Thessaly and Macedonia. At its peak, it is just less than 10,000 feet in elevation. But this isn’t Mt. Olympus in Greece. This is Mt. Olympus in central Tasmania, overlooking Lake St. Clair, Australia’s deepest natural lake.

    It was named so by George Frankland, who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1827 as an assistant surveyor after some years in Pune, India. Within a year he became the Surveyor-General of the island.

    The Lieutenant-Governor assigned him to begin a ‘general trigonometrical survey’, but Frankland believed that an important aspect of his role was exploration. His boss wished he’d stay in the office more frequently. He was particularly bent on finding a lead mine somewhere, and over the coming years he would make significant journeys in the wildernesses around the upper Derwent, the upper Huon, and the central highlands of Lake St. Clair.

    Frankland was a proud man. He loftily believed the duty of his office was ‘to observe and record every remarkable fact connected with the Natural history of the island whose surface and native production have, in a manner, been placed so peculiarly in his custody.’ That being said, he was never very popular in the colony. It wasn’t only his squabbles with the Lieutenant-Governor over the time he took to do his work. Frankland seemed to have never felt quite at home in Van Diemen’s Land.

    He planned to leave, in 1835, and then again attempted to sell his Battery Point home in 1838. But it didn’t sell, and on the second-last day of that year, George Frankland died. He was survived by his wife Anne, two daughters, and a son.

    Frankland also named Mt. Ida, Mt. Pelion, and Mt. Rufus in his mythical mood; his precedent spawned a series of Greek names in the area. Today, around Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair, you’ll find dozens of names honouring the gods and heroes of Greek myth.

    Although it doesn’t seem that these areas were frequently inhabited by Aboriginal populations, there is no doubt that over the millennia these features – like everywhere in Tasmania – had other names. They were not the names of personae from the epics of a continent on the other side of the world, but we don’t now know what indigenous stories sprung from these mountains. Unlike our scholastic understanding of Greek literature, there is no philosophy that we can comprehend from our Mt. Olympus.

    Yet perhaps – as we burst through the sclerophyll and onto a buttongrass plain just metres from Lake St. Clair, with spiny Olympus now protruding into the sky – the name of this mountain can clue us into something common, something that unites Tasmania and Greece. In ancient Greece, they called it palaiòn pénthos, ‘ancient grief’, and it “persists undiminished across time and demands that men take some liberating action… For we live surrounded, in the invisible air, by wandering avengers who never forget…”1

    The strange spirits of memory.

    1  Calasso, Roberto, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, p315.

  • Toponyms

    Toponyms

    We were only a little bit too late; the lake already had a name.

    I had walked in with four mates: Pafi, Bug, Quacker and Gilly. We tramped across the buttongrass plains, swung through a patch of rainforest, and scaled the steep hill to find tremendous mountains overlooking a glistening blue lake, lined with a beach made of crushed quartzite. It was a spectacular view.

    We told Pafi, a Greek, that there were crocs in the lake, and then vowed to swim across it nevertheless. Later on, he was almost bitten by a tiger snake, and it excited him to no end. We pitched our tent, had a stout, and cooked up a sandy curry. Someone climbed a pencil pine; someone else wandered about with no clothes on.

    Climbing up Reed's Peak, we could see chains of mountains, for countless kilometres, in every direction.

    In my glee, I wanted to commemorate the occasion by naming the features for my friends. Quacker's Peak, Bug Flats, the Gilly River and Greek Lake might all have come up for the consideration of the Nomenclature Board, if everything hadn't already been named.

    We were only a little bit too late. Lake Rhona is named after Rhona Warren, a hardy Irish lass with a bulbous nose and determined eyes, a member of the Hobart Walking Club and a pioneer of female bushwalking in the early part of the 20th Century. The lake was named for her in 1935.

    Had we been there earlier, the bushwalking maps of Tasmania would hint at the story of our couple of days around Lake Rhona. But the names that people attach to features on the earth are written in pencil anyway; like all memories, they fade away, the features change, and the characters whose lives have centred around such places die and new people arrive.

    Still, the urge to commemorate my stories in these places remains. At the very least, I want to know where the names come from. Places, after all, bear the burden of our memories. It's good to know the stories that came before.

    So next time you cross the Gordon River and head towards the Denison River, take a dip in Greek Lake. Don't worry, there aren't too many crocs.