Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wide brown landing – fear of empire

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 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. When it's finished it will be superb.

Wide brown land - detail with Black Mountain Tower behind
What I was really there to see though was the sculpture 'Wide brown land' which is installed atop a hill in the Arboretum adjacent to a copse of Himalayan cedars. I wasn't disappointed. There are views in all directions but the sculpture is best of all. I especially like the fact it is by a team of Tasmanian artists.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

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. Yet Tasmania has had an uneven history in the consciousness of its northern neighbours, both near and very far. There are no southern neighbours, just penguins and scientific observation posts.

The distant South land has often been seen as a place of refuge, far from the historical blunders, codified observances and ossified practices of ageing empires, where a prosperous, democratic land could thrive, free from these old ways. This was the case with Australia in the 19th Century but later became more so with Tasmania in the 20th, as a place even further South and even more distant from the centres of world power. This is expessed most recently in the view of Tasmania as a place of clean air and water, free from pollution – pristine and pure.

At the end of the 1950s, when On the Beach, a movie about the last days of the world following a nuclear disaster, was being filmed in Melbourne, one of the lead actors, Ava Gardner, purportedly commented that Melbourne was the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world. Even though this subsequently turned out the be journalistic invention – part of a grand and long-established Australian tradition even more prevalant today and, incidentally, a very practical way of dealing with a shortage of gripping news – it entered popular mythology. On the Beach was about a Northern hemisphere destroyed, with the South lingering on, as the last place to succumb. In that film it meant Melbourne, probably because Hobart didn’t figure. Melbourne was as South as it got then.

A sudden gust of wind stirs the evening air near Constitution Dock, Hobart