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

Nowadays such a movie, if it was ever to be made again would probably be set in Hobart. Then a character could truly say that Hobart is the perfect place to make a movie about the end of the world. When I watch the giant trawlers berthed at Constitution Dock I have to agree – it feels as though Tasmania is the last stop before the Antarctic.

The big smoke 
Growing up looking northwards there was always the big smoke of Melbourne and the jumping off point for the Tasmanian diaspora. Just as over many different decades and for many different reasons Australia sent hundreds of its most talented overseas, so Tasmanians migrated to the island to the North where some stayed and some went on further.

At one point I worked in a section of the Commonwealth Public Service in Canberra that consisted almost exclusively of former Tasmanians. Perhaps it was one of the selection criteria for appointment there – maybe after years of questionable investment in the island Tasmanians just brought a lot of ICT skills.

Moving from Tasmania to the mainland was a form of island-hopping, to get you in practice for the long haul to the corresponding tiny island off the European coast on the other side of the world – hemisphere-hopping from one island and one era to another.

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 – turning the map upside down
‘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’, The island to the Northturning the map upside down.

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"’, The island to the Northa nearby foreign country.

© Stephen Cassidy 2012

See also

Holed up in the mountains 
‘In a time of pandemic, if you can't be on a small island off another island, then being holed up in the mountains might just be the next best thing. While there are some daily things I miss - coffee sitting down in cafes, a quite drink or meal out – in many ways life in lockdown is not all that different to how I lived before. Perhaps I need to take a closer look at what I really miss’, Holed up in the mountains.
Raiding the pantry 
‘A few weeks back I returned from a two and a half week regional road trip through Victoria to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. When we left, people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By the time we were on the way back everyone was being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. We had heard about hoarding and food shortages and we had seen the empty shelves, usually filled with toilet paper, everywhere we passed. As we headed home, I pondered exactly how long we could survive on what was already in our pantry – how many meals we were already sitting on as a result of routine shopping before that time of hoarding and excess,’ Raiding the pantry.

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.

Noise-cancelling the modern world 
‘For Christmas this year I received a novel present – a pair of some of the best noise-cancelling headphones in existence. They are extremely effective. Given the state of the world, I am happy not to hear any of the noise it produces’, Noise-cancelling the modern world.

Australia - 7-day weather forecast
‘A distraction from the heat, fire, and smoke that have become the new normal in Australia, Internet memes track the ongoing failure of our mediocre political masters. After a Christmas of bushfires, everything is black, particularly the humour’, Australia - 7-day weather forecast.

Feast of Stephen revisited
‘As Christmas seems to be speeding towards us once again – with all the hope it holds out for the survival of the embattled retail sector, it got me thinking. In ‘Good King Wencelaus’, that carol from my distant childhood, there is an intriguing line, ‘good King Wencelaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen’. I thought, what is this feast, which happens to bear my name? When exactly is it? Well…it is Boxing Day. Now I do realise it, I am determined to celebrate it in the style it deserves’, Feast of Stephen.

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 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.

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