Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged north

  • Floods

    Floods

    As I returned home from a short trip to the mainland, the major river systems of northern Tasmania were in flood.

    After heavy rainfall a few days earlier, rising waters destroyed homes and property, swept away livestock, and
    brought about the end of at least one life, with several more people missing.

    Latrobe, on the Mersey River, looked almost entirely submerged in aerial photos; 19 houses have been rendered ‘uninhabitable’. I am about to move into the suburb of Invermay: it was evacuated as I returned to it. I tried not take this personally.

    Flying across Bass Strait, the aftermath of flooding in the Emu, Forth, Mersey, Meander, Macquarie, North Esk and South Esk Rivers was evident. I couldn’t see much from the aisle seat, of course, but I joined the neck-stretching gawkers trying to see what had occurred while we were north, on the big island.

    I went straight from the airport to the Cataract Gorge. Dozens of people were there, watching huge quantities of water barrel down beneath the suspension bridge, a turbulent, seething, brown-and-white mass. The flooding of the Gorge has long had this effect; it brings a crowd, at all hours, and suddenly we have something to talk about with our neighbours.

    It also reminds us that this town at a confluence of three rivers; the water in the Cataract Gorge, spilling over the blunt concrete of its dam walls, is identifiable as a genuine river, the longest one in Tasmania no less, whose headwaters at the base of Ben Lomond require several days to journey to the second-most populous town on the island. As our lives move away from practical geographical knowledge, the Gorge is treated like an island, as if it is its own ecosystem, isolated: many Launcestonians I know could not tell you which river runs between those dolerite cliffs, and I suspect many do not even recognise it as part of a river system.

    But we can understand it better, even if the way we talk about it is unscientific. “I’ve never seen it this high,” says everybody. “Do you reckon it’ll go over?” the residents of Invermay asked each other by the flood levy on Tuesday night, before the evacuation. “Nah, don’t reckon...”

    On the aeroplane, a husband is pointing out what he thinks are various roads, submerged farms, bridges that must be washed away. She looks up from her electronic book, and spits, “Oh, what would you know!”

    This flood follows a summer in which a lack of rainfall threatened us. Hydroelectric dams ran close to empty. Dry lightning struck dry vegetation, creating bushfires in the rainforest.

    Gaston Bachelard has written a
    Psychoanalysis of Fire; who will treat a psychoanalysis of floods? We so blithely use the river as a metaphor for steady movement, progress, providence, time. A flood ignores these interpretations. The river is usually an uninterrupted flow of hours; the flood interrupts, makes time’s rhythm seem less benign. It reminds us that there is no guarantee that we have an allotted amount of days, or that the hours will trundle by coolly and calmly. Years may pass in peace, but the arrival of a single violent moment can end it all. We are alerted to the fact that the same hand which feeds us might yet throttle us.

    And yet for modern witnesses, the spectacle of the sublime draws us to itself. Even as elsewhere lives and livelihoods are being washed away, we stand by the seething rivers, waves lifting out from the depths and pushing forcefully out to the mouth, into the sea, suddenly unnoticeable.

    My new housemate takes the record player off the top shelf; we were not flooded out. The levy held the waters back. They say this was a more severe flood than the one in 1929, which was a genuine disaster. But our infrastructure has reprieved us of much worse. In a poorer country, the death toll would stand at thousands. In rural Tasmania, the consequences are devastating: socially, economically, emotionally. But for those in town, we once again allow ourselves to believe we have mastered the ancient processes of our ecosystems.



    Two years ago I wrote 'A Short History of Shitty Weather', about the 1929 floods.
    More recent is this piece on pirates in southern Tasmania.

  • Jack Badcock's Moment of Glory

    Jack Badcock's Moment of Glory

    As a teenager, my best mate lived in the town of Westbury. In his paddock, in summer, we strung up a long white net to act as the wicketkeeper, and played one-on-one for hours on end. One morning I scored 249 from 252 balls. My poor mate was working hard.

    These giant stumps commemorate the rich history of cricket in the town of Westbury, although my exploits in the back paddock in Adelaide St. are not recorded. Instead, the honours go to Clayvel Lindsay Badcock – better known as ‘Jack’.

    Born in 1914 in the nearby hamlet of Exton, Jack Badcock was the descendant of Cornish free settlers who had come to Van Diemen’s Land almost a century earlier as agriculturalists. Jack began playing for his state at the age of just 15. The bushy-eyebrowed batsman flashed the blade for Tasmania for several seasons, before moving to South Australia, taking up a job as a furniture salesman.

    In 1936, Badcock was called up to the Test team to take on England. His first games were poor; dropped, he recovered his form in the domestic league, and was brought up to play against the old enemy once more.

    It was the Fifth and final Test of the Ashes series, February 1937. The series was levelled 2-2. Jack Badcock, despite his brilliant statistics in the national competition, had only failed at Test level. But in this decisive encounter, he rose to the occasion: scoring 118, he became the first Tasmanian to score a Test century.

    Australia won the match, and the series.

    It would be great to paint Badcock as an underdog hero who eked out a win for his country, but truth be told, Australia smashed England in that Fifth Test. When Badcock stepped onto the wicket, Don Bradman had Australia well and truly in front. Badcock was one of the three century-makers, and Australia’s bowlers made short work of the Poms.

    Badcock’s 1938 tour of England was equally insipid, and he never played again. While he averaged more than 50 in the domestic competition, in his seven Tests, he scored 160 runs, at an average of 14.54. 118 of his runs, had of course, come in one innings.

    Nevertheless, he got to bat with the Don, one of Australia’s greats. Bradman described Badcock as “a lovable and completely unspoiled personality.” Sciatica getting the best of him, Jack Badcock retired from the game and returned to his family’s farm in Exton, having gone a long way for a simple Tassie lad.


     

    Westbury has also had connections with the famous Nant rebels.