A couple years back, photographer Pen Tayler and I were approached to choose twelve Tasmanian towns and approach them through our chosen media. This week, Towns of Tasmania: a journey through time will be foisted into the public domain.
I’m yet to physically handle a copy and, naturally, I have had nothing to do with the editing or design of the book. The publishers always do a tidy job of their editions – I’d not have taken on their project if they didn’t – but nevertheless, as the book’s development reaches its conclusion, I have my quiet concerns that I won’t be satisfied with what I have written.
Mostly, I worry that I won’t have done justice to the dozen towns we selected for the title, that the people who belong to them will feel I have missed the point of how they live.
What is most interesting, to me, is that I didn’t have a hometown for almost the entire duration of the genesis of this book on Tassie towns. Much of it was written whilst I was scooting around the island in my ’92 Laser (may the poor old rustbucket rest in peace), or indeed while I was elsewhere in the world. I vividly recall writing about Ross while I was in a Sarajevo café, about Queenstown in an Istanbul apartment, and about Derby on a balcony from which I looked upon a Balinese temple.
It is entirely coincidental that this peripatetic period has concluded concurrently with the release of the book. After two years, I’m renting a room again. My books are piled precariously in the northern-eastern corner of a house in Meander; spinebills and fairy-wrens come tapping on the windows as I type. The other day I was cooking with the kitchen doors wide open and a score of currawongs swept into the trees only a few metres into the yard, and began a five-minute chorus of their cackling call.
Meander isn’t featured in the book; we chose Deloraine as a representative of all the townships of the Great Western Tiers. But even after a few weeks in Meander, I feel I could write a lengthy tome on the town. After all, I have been eavesdropping on a great deal of gossip lately. And either way, it’s a town that is both deeply interconnected and fractious, with a rich and rippling history, and a close proximity to landscape.
Yesterday the Meander Town Hall hosted a community concert, a memorial for a music teacher who died here last year – a young woman who had inspired many in the Meander area. Various locals cobbled together the gig, from performers to impromptu set designers. It was a manifestation of a special community spirit out here, a will to contribute, to cultivate and create a space for people to belong.
Over the years, there are several Tassie towns that I have considered home. One is featured in the book: Beaconsfield, where I spent my first years. There is also Penguin, where those who bore my surname first set themselves up in the 1850s. The edges of Launceston have looked after me too, and I have spent so much time in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park that it may as well be home. I have no idea how long I will be able to stay in Meander, but I already know that it’s a place to which I will hopefully maintain a sense of belonging over the years.
When I arrived at the hall, Mother Cummings wore a scarf of rain; by the time we finished the bush dance, it was terrifically warm and the mountain was clear. There is nothing more important to Meander, I would dare assume to say, than this mountain peak. If there’s anything I hope to have said in the book that comes out this week, it’s that human communities are indebted to their landscapes, and that any township ought to have a strong relationship with its rocks and shrubs and rivers. If we all had deeper maps of the places where we lived, I’m quite convinced we would have healthier and happier communities.
For whatever reason, several years of frequent movement have developed in me a sense for uncovering the layers beneath a location. A more stationary season, especially in beautiful Meander, can only help me go deeper.
Towns of Tasmania will be launched in Hobart on Wednesday evening, and again in Launceston on Thursday night.