Dear friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends, foreigners, readers far and wide. Having spent two decades evading the destiny of staying in Tasmania ‘for the term of my natural life’, (like the 18th and 19th century balled and chained convicts), I am now spending it seems an eternity getting my book on that subject published. Having almost signed up with a major London publisher last year, it is now again in the hands of the literary Gods and Goddesses, in Australia.
Meantime I have decided to publish some excerpts here … to test the market … to test your interest! To engage with you.
Part travel literature, part memoir, a non-fiction narrative, Planet Ends: Beyond Temptation in Tasmania is full of history, humour, ‘islomania’ observations, a weird but wonderful love story, and most of all tells the tale of my struggle with my restless soul and isolation id, (alongside clearly my take on Tasmania).
Born on an island at the end of the world, I left ‘Tassie’ for France in 1996 and have been coming and going constantly since, in a life of global orbiting.
Most of that time I was writing this book sporadically, struggling to find that real voice in there trying irrepressibly to get out, though in a rather clumsy way. Ah the writer’s lot. You’re darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
Finally I put the book to bed a year ago, and now want it published.
The title Planet Ends comes as you can see from my mock up cover, from a graffitied street sign I saw in Hobart in 1995. It summed everything I was feeling at the time of the need to escape Tasmania … even if I was rather crazily also yearning my return (a paradox which endures today).
The book examines my relationship with my ‘island prison’ in a totally whimsical and no doubt whacky way, as well as many universal themes … island life, travel as an itch and an education, nostalgia, nature conservation, natural history, European and Aboriginal history, aviation history. (Yes it takes a bit of the provincial piss but all in good jest, as much as Bill Bryson decried Des Moines yet never stops returning … besides the provinces exist everywhere here too in Paris).
It also implodes with fascinating historical anecdotes and literary allusions – from explorers and writers who ventured Tasmania’s way – and delves endlessly into the magnetic attraction of wanderlust, and the life-changing power of travel.
Like all my writing it is an invitation to roam, whether you were born in the Big Apple or the little one … on my heart-shaped ‘Apple Isle’.
That which it is most reverent about is Tasmania’s ever-menaced nature. In my travels I have seen some incredibly beautiful places. Tasmania is way up there among the biodiversity gems, but nothing has changed in the 18 years since I first did my tour of Tasmania with the aim of writing this book … short-sighted natural destruction continues. Which is why Bloomsbury seriously considered it for their natural history list.
Meanwhile Tassie has become the arty isle too … there is so much positive and so much beauty in the place.
My book ends “on an island off and island of an island” (guess? being?) … just a couple of years back, still pondering all these island themes, and thanking my lucky stars for my travelling freedom.
What I might do is start with just one or two preliminary chunks, from early chapters, to set the scene without giving too much away … Then I’ll follow up with a few more (I hope you can hang in there!), as the main characters develop (moi TT and the mystery until published unless you’re clever enough to guess other half of the travel writing duo VV) … and the Tassie tripping takes off.
Please if you so wish ‘sit’ my little poll. At whatever stage … after snippet 1, 2, 3 etc. depending on how compelling I may or may not be. I realise there may be not enough writing here for you to decide, but I’ll work on you in time … if I don’t win you over instantly.
Clearly you have to love more than hate your end of the world home to spend half your life writing about it … even from afar. Yes distance makes the heart grow stronger, and sooner than later like all good Tasmanians (and others) dispersed over the globe, I will return. The lucky exile. And a privileged travelling life.
Please do share my posts on Facebook and other social media if you feel you have friends who would enjoy this read. I so hope to muster up the publishing might to go forth and get it into print … or digitally alive, if I’m not signed up soon with a traditional publisher.
Thank you all.
(From the Preface)
Geography pretty much sealed Tasmania’s fate as the underdog. Though immense in terms of most islands, bigger than Sri Lanka, much the same size as Ireland and almost twice that of Switzerland (which is a kind of island isn’t it?), it represents a mere one percent of the Australian land mass.
When Europeans first sighted its shores in 1642, they presumed it belonged to either continental Australia or to Antarctica, for they couldn’t imagine anything more isolated than that existed. All early documentary mentions of it classified it as part of the polar frontiers. In later maritime charts, based on those of Captain Cook, it appeared as a long protuberance from the mainland, “shaped like a pig’s snout”.
It was Cook’s countrymen, explorers Matthew Flinders and George Bass, who categorically proved Tasmania was an island by circumnavigating it in 1798. It’s debatable whether they actually helped put Tasmania’ on the map or take it off, by starting a long trend of alienating observations.
“Judging from appearances, the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land is as dreary, and as inhospitable a shore, as has yet been discovered,” Flinder”s wrote in his journal.
(From Ch.1 Ticket of Leave)
Nemo sibi nascitur, “No man is born unto himself an island”, we were told ad nauseam at The Friends’ School in Hobart. But the motto seemed totally out of touch with the reality into which we were born.
8,500 kilometres west of Tasmania is Patagonia, the Antarctic Shelf lies 5,500 kilometres south. Our nearest neighbour is the biggest island in the world, yet smallest and most isolated continent. All this provides one with sufficient reason to feel out on a limb.
In his Voyage autour du monde in 1868, the Marquis Ludovic de Beauvoir announced Hobart Town as “the nearest to the South Pole after Patagonia and Te Waipounamu”, the latter being the Maori expression for New Zealand’s South Island.
Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace judged the account “a gossiping journal”, “often amusing and spirited, but of little permanent value (… due to) the usual exaggerations of a novice in the tropics”.
The young Frenchman did not for a second however overstate Tasmania’s isolation.
In my teens, friends and I would sit for hours with our legs dangling over the docks, eyes glued to the horizon, wondering what lay beyond. This undoubtedly sharpened my incorrigible need to escape, in a similar manner that staring from a grocers’ window over the English port of Staithes drove Captain Cook to sea.
As was the case for the 18th century explorer, staying at home seemed to offer me as much liberty as a coffin, and as little living experience.
(From Ch.3 Flotsam & Jetsam)
These persons are the travelling species. The pleasures of travel need no reiteration. But when the impulse is so imperious that it amounts to a spiritual necessity, then travel must rank with the more serious forms of endeavour.
Robert Byron, First Russia, Then Tibet: Travels through a Changing World, 1933
Hobart’s nautical environs titillate the travel itch. Tucked within a swirling mass of clouds and marble black mountain silhouette, the city lies deep in the Derwent River like Jonah in the whale’s belly. Along the riverbanks suburbs slippery slide down part-forested hills to its eastern and western shores.
The 19 kilometres between the port and the Tasman Sea does little to dull the raw maritime feel. Life here is at times like that on the deck of a ship – windy, thalassic and unruly. I can hear Heave away! Haul a-way and other farewell shanties echoing around the masted wharves.
Several months before my planned tour of Tasmania, I attend a readers and writers festival at the Arts Centre on Salamanca Place. The salty sandstone strip of Georgian warehouses is awash with seafaring history.
In the 1840s the air was thick with the pungent smell of whale blubber oil and clanks of rolling barrels and leg-irons. Dozens of foreign ships stopped over here while hunting Southern Right Whales. They were so populous one colonial governor apparently complained that their moans and belching kept him awake at night, while small vessels were advised to stick to the shores to avoid being scuttled by the 12 to 15 meter long creatures.
The theme of the festival ‘Border Crossings’ is unbelievably close to home. Assailed by signposts to the world, I sit through the weeklong event on the edge of my chair, my traveller’s erogenous zone tickled beyond bearable limits by allusions to far-off places.
Even rather horrid places sounded alluring, simply because they were foreign.
It could have been deeply unsettling to hear about other writer’s intrepid ventures into warzones, and intriguing cities such as Bucharest and Belgrade, when I was about to head off to Devonport on Tasmania’s northwest coast.
Yet how can one sense the wonders of the outside world without having a mundane yardstick at hand with which to compare them? Perhaps overseas travel even makes residents of Devonport acutely aware of the wonders back home.
“After Rome, everything seems wonderful,” enthused French writer André Gide. For otjhers the effect is precisely the reverse. I belieuve hit was Jan Morris who wrote that in the footsteps of Rome everything else appeared ugly.