Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The island to the North – turning the map upside down

I was at school in the era of the Vietnam War. Our geography teacher taught us about the Australian fear of the Yellow Peril, ready to pour down from Asia and inundate the almost empty island to the South. Of course we were in Tasmania so there was little chance they’d get anywhere near us. It wasn’t a case of the World War 2 Brisbane Line, the point short of which it was considered Australia could be abandoned to the Japanese invaders if they came. It was more like the Melbourne Line.

The Bay of Fires - these rocks were once part of the land bridge that connected Tasmania with the island to the North
Our teacher would turn the map upside down to make the point that we were conditioned to see Asia above Australia, implying that gravity was a factor in human migration patterns, sadly confusing our geography with our physics. It didn’t seem to provoke so much anxiety when it became a case of people pouring up from Asia.

Maybe we should try the same exercise to see if it would change our fear of maritime arrivals – instead of imagining people on boats coasting down towards land on an easy tide we might think of them rowing tediously uphill in creaking, rusting vessels.

I think turning the map on its head is well worth doing – it could give a whole new emphasis to the relationship between Tasmania and Australia. Instead of Tasmania being a remote afterthought hanging below Australia, it would sit above the island continent, an island of welcome presaging a larger island below it – the Great South Land.

When I recently went to see the exhibition of maps at the National Library of Australia in Canberra I was taken by how for centuries the Western, Southern and Northern coats of Australia were meticulously detailed. However until the Eastern coast was mapped by Cook, Australia seemed to hang off Papua New Guinea, like a dangling protruberance, just another part of the undercarriage of Asia.

Tasmania was once better mapped than the whole Eastern seaboard of Australia. The island to the North was merely a much larger offshoot of Papua New Guinea. Gadigal seafarers collected clams in the quiet bays of Sydney Harbour and the whole looming alien invasion was just a distant twist in a curving universe.

For a parallel perspective see the book review in the Sydney Morning Herald of Where song began by Tim Low, 'There is no compelling geographic reason why north should be at the top of a world map – nor Europe in the centre.' 

Other articles in the series ‘The island to the North’.

The island to the North – rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic
‘When Australia finally ceased to be a rabble of competing colonies and instead became a nation comprising a rabble of competing states and territories, it still seemed possible that New Zealand might join the new Federation. Both New Zealand and Tasmania have long been an afterthought for the island to the North. But lots of mountains, clean water, high quality untainted produce, dramatic landscapes and acres of ocean all mark Tasmania as suitable for New Zealandership. It’s a partnership waiting to happen. It’s clear that the future for Tasmania lies with New Zealand, the islands to the East rather than the island to the North. In a form of Federation in reverse, Tasmania should join its neighbouring islands to make New Zealand three islands instead of two – the North Island, the South Island and the West Island. New Tazealand forever’, The island to the North – rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The island to the North – the islands to the North East
‘The awkward relationship between Tasmania and the island to the North is not the only clumsy relationship between islands in this part of the world. The history of the ties between the island to the North and the islands of the Pacific is even more troubled’, The island to the North – the islands to the North East.

The island to the North – disappearing worlds
'Islands are easily overlooked – Tasmania is an island that periodically disappears off maps, sometimes there, sometimes not, at the edge of consciousness, at the end of space.' The island to the North – disappearing worlds.

The island to the North – a nearby foreign country
‘Sitting by a roaring fire in a wintry pub in Tarraleah I found Tasmanians liked to call Australia "the island to the North". We are neighbours but sometimes I wonder if I am behind enemy lines’, The island to the North – a nearby foreign country.

See also

Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts
‘It seems government allows just enough time to forget what it has done before it begins to repeat it. It would be easy to go along with popular prejudice and believe that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. Unfortunately both are efficient and also hopeless in their own way. At least we get to vote about the broad outline of what the public sector does – and laugh at it. With the private sector, all we get is to laugh at it. Or cry’, Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts.

Adjusting to reality #2 – modern times, modern crimes 
‘Modern times, modern crimes. The current dysfunctional world of Australian politics is beyond comprehension. It makes you wonder and probably drives you to drink. Unfortunately, unlike the far too many mediocre politicians, we’re not being chauffeur-driven there. It's beyond a joke, so a good way to talk about it is through the language of jokes. It's a world of short attention spans, media grabs and talking points, so I'm responding in kind’, Adjusting to Reality #2 – modern times, modern crimes.

Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe
‘Internet memes seem to appear and disappear on the web, digital visitors swirling around the virtual universe. Where they come from or who created them is hard to tell. There are no secrets or possessions on the Internet. Seeing some of these memes got me thinking. I thought perhaps I could produce my own memes and have some fun. Perhaps it’s the new future for the arts – social media postcards – but with humour and creativity’, Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe.

Bring back the Romans
‘Our political system is having a lot of problems and lately I’ve been thinking that we could do a lot worse than bring back the Romans. Since they were around no-one has managed to do a good job of empire. The Americans had their moment but they seem to be making a real mess of it nowadays. Politically the Senate wouldn’t be much different. The Emperor Caligula made his horse a Senator and we’ve done better than that. So, no change there. No, on reflection it would be a good move. I think we should bring it on and the sooner the better. Now all we need to do is find some Romans and get the ball rolling’, Bring back the Romans.

Wide brown landing
‘Some days you realise suddenly that Canberra was deliberately located in the mountains. Perhaps it was fear of Russian invasion - imperial rather than communist. Perhaps it was to avoid overlap with the two warring imperial powers of the time - NSW and Victoria. Whatever the reason, Canberra sits well up on the top of Australia, on the long road up to the Snowy Mountains, where Australia finally reaches its peak. I've made two unsuccessful attempts to see the National Arboretum, finding the gates locked and no way in. Yesterday on a cold Canberra day I finally found the it open, thanks to Canberra's annual festival of flowers, Floriade. I'd finally made a successful landing at the Arboretum. I was very impressed’, Wide brown landing.

Ignoring the neighbours - why our backyard matters
'My trip to Tahiti last year reminded me of the large issues swirling around the Pacific and of how uneven the relationship between Australia and the region has been. It threw up lots of issues about how local cultures adapt to the globalised economy. Producing artwork and performances for the tourist market is problematical. Yet it's also the fate of Australian culture generally. Is it swimming against the tide for all of us?' Ignoring the neighbours - why our backyard matters.

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