Modern Australian Magazine



A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place

  • Written by Cassandra Pybus, Adjunct Professor in History, University of Tasmania

Book Review: Island Story: Tasmania in Object and Text.

The island of Tasmania lies suspended beneath Australia like a heart-shaped pendant of sapphire, emerald and tourmaline. Here is where the world runs out, crumbling into the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean.

Island Story: Tasmania in Object and Text offers us a fresh perspective on this terrible and beautiful place. Editors Ralph Crane and Danielle Wood invite the reader to discover Tasmania anew with their inspired juxtaposition of objects from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery with texts as diverse as the objects. The pictures are arresting, the textual extracts are perfectly chosen and the design by Imogen Stubbs is gorgeous. Don’t be misled, this is no bland coffee table book.

As benefits such an ancient place, Island Story opens with the specimen of a hairy-legged cicada, an endemic species so ancient it was resident in the supercontinent of Pangea.

Read more: Friday essay: journey through the apocalypse

What follows is Thomas Bock’s 1837 portrait of Woureddy, cleverman and warrior of the original people of Tasmania, whose unbroken occupation of the island lasted 40,000 years until colonial invasion brought it to a dreadful end within the short span of Woureddy’s life.

A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place Thomas Bock, Woureddy, Native of Bruny Island, Van Diemen’s Land. Watercolour, 1837 Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Paired with the portrait is the befuddled interpretation of Woureddy’s narrative of the beginning of the world by George Augustus Robinson, the self-proclaimed evangelical missionary primarily responsible for the removal of all the original owners of the land to distant Flinders Island in the Bass Strait.

Robinson’s grand achievement in “conciliating” the original people of Tasmania was celebrated in an 1840 painting by Benjamin Duterrau, reproduced with a paired text by Greg Lehmann that puts in words an implicit theme of Island Story that “the spectre of genocide must be confronted and its consequences owned”.

The organising principle for the book is “the human desire to see, make and enjoy connections between seemingly disparate things”. A travelling case from the 1920s belonging to the silent move actress Louise Lovely, paired with an extract from Marie Bjelke Petersen’s novel Jewelled Nights that became a movie in 1925 starring Ms Lovely, seems unexceptional, but turn the page and there is a news photograph of arrests at the gay law reform protests in 1988.

The apparent disparity is resolved with the paired biographic extract by the gay rights activist Rodney Croome recalling his bizarre quest to shake the hand of the abhorrent Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson, favourite nephew of Marie, because his was the last hand to touch this writer Croome so admired.

Read more: Churning the mud: Tasmania's fertile ground for legal and social reform

In my desire to see and make connections I found the dominant trope of this book to be captivity: entirely apposite for a place that began its modern history as prison. Among the more mundane objects is a saw from the infamous prison at Macquarie Harbour paired with historian Hamish Maxwell Stewart’s account of the extreme misery that drove so many fatal escape attempts.

A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place John Douglas’s saw, c. 1830s. Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Most chilling is the simple cambric and cotton hood with narrow eye slit for prisoners in the dreadful separate prison at Port Arthur. They had to pull it over their heads whenever they left their cell.

A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place Convict Cowl, c. 1850. Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

In the paired extract from a travelogue by Anthony Trollope, a man who endured 40 years of frightful punishment at Port Arthur after being transported for mutiny, a boy tells Trollope: “I have tried to escape – always to escape – as a bird does out of a cage”.

A delicate watercolour of three young Hobart ladies by the gentleman painter and convicted forger Thomas Wainwright is paired with his 1844 petition begging he be released from “vice in her most revolting and sordid phase” that constituted his seven years in captivity.

A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place Thomas Bock, Mathinna, Watercolour, 1842. Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

The painter Thomas Bock also spent years as a convict. In addition to his portrait of Woureddy, the book reproduces his exquisite 1842 portrait of Mathinna, the young girl taken from captivity at Wybalenna on Flinders Island and sent to live at government house as a sort of household pet.

A recent photograph of the chapel at Wybalenna is paired with the 1846 petition to Queen Victoria from several young men protesting their unjust treatment at Wybalenna.

One year after the petition, four dozen survivors were transferred to another place of captivity at a disused convict station at Oyster Cove south of Hobart. All of those taken to Oyster Cove died, except for Fanny who had married an ex-convict named William Smith and went to live on land she was granted in the Huon Valley. She is represented here in the wax cylinders that captured her singing in her own language in 1899.

As one might expect, the extinct Tasmanian Tiger has several outings in this book: as a skeleton, a skin carriage rug and an exquisite jawbone pincushion that won second prize in the handicraft section of the Glamorgan Show in 1900. There is no still from the famous film of the last thylacine in his iron cage, but there is a poignant poem by Cliff Forshaw about the creature’s desolate pacing.

A fresh perspective on Tasmania, a terrible and beautiful place Thylacine Skin Buggy Rug, c. 1903, photographed by Robert David Stephenson. Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Read more: Friday essay: on the trail of the London thylacines

There are numerous other images from the Zoology section: a specimen drawer of impaled butterflies, stuffed wattlebirds imprisoned in a glass cabinet and a wombat taken from the wild around 1796 and kept in a cage at Government house in Sydney then preserved in spirits and sent to England where the taxidermist mistakenly set the animal standing upright.

Then there is John Burns, the fighting lion born in captivity in the Sydney Zoo and for many years displayed in a huge cage in a circus to be tamed by Captain Humphries and his whip.

Known for his morose moods and fits of rage, John Burns would thrill the audience with his fierce fight for supremacy over Humphries. His body was sent to the taxidermist and displayed in the museum diorama as a tableau with a lioness and two cubs in 1901.

The fighting lion was long gone by my childhood. What I remember of the diorama, which remained until quite recently, was a tableau of an Aboriginal warrior with his wife and two children sitting around a fire. This tableau was made of resin, you understand.

Authors: Cassandra Pybus, Adjunct Professor in History, University of Tasmania

Read more http://theconversation.com/a-fresh-perspective-on-tasmania-a-terrible-and-beautiful-place-104248

Australia Today

Keep Your Business Safe With These Cyber Security Tips

News Company

When you own a business, you want to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This includes not only the normal everyday operations, in general, but also keeping everything safe and secure. As everything is online now due to the digital world in which we currently live, it’s more important than eve...

Honest brokers. Why mortgage broker commissions aren't the problem

Mark Humphery-Jenner, Associate Professor of Finance, UNSW

Most mortgage brokers provide good service.ShutterstockThe Hayne Royal Commission began and ended with strident criticism of the mortgage broking industry. It recommended brokers be required to act in the “best interests” of intending borrowers, and that intending borrowers, rather than ...

As Australia's soft power in the Pacific fades, China's voice gets louder

Helen Vatsikopoulos, Lecturer in Journalism, University of Technology Sydney

China is broadcasting to more than 1 billion people in several different languages, while Australia sits on its soft power reviews.Screenshot/YouTubeThis week, Department of Communications and Arts secretary Mike Mrdak told a Senate hearing our Pacific neighbours will soon experience “the full...

how does a vasectomy work and can it be reversed?

James Dunn, Associate Lecturer in Anatomy and Cell Biology, Western Sydney University

Men who don't want any more kids will often choose to have a vasectomy.From shutterstock.comSome men may shudder at the thought of “the snip”. But vasectomies are a safe and effective form of contraception for men who have completed their family, or don’t wish to have children.Medi...

Super-recognisers accurately pick out a face in a crowd – but can this skill be taught?

Alice Towler, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, UNSW

One of these people is on a wanted list for theft. A super-recogniser may pick them at a glance. from www.shutterstock.comYenny is 26 years old, lives in Melbourne, and has a very specific talent. One day, she was driving her car when she recognised a man who had been several years below her at high...

Holidays & Travel

Important Considerations When Choosing Broome Accommodation

Broome is a fantastic place for visitors of all ages. Whether you want to lounge on the golden sands of Cable beach or take the kids to learn something new...

A tour guide to Melbourne

Welcome to the second most populous city in Australia with its beautiful sites and amazing scenery. Melbourne has been identified in so many spheres as one of the most livable...

Top 5 Places to Visit in Australia

The sheer, breathtaking expanse of the Australian continent is a thing of beauty. The vast landmass is actually packed with awe-inspiring landmarks to see and countless blood-pumping activities to partake...

Adhari Park: Why is it one of the must-visit sites in Bahrain?

Despite its small area that does not exceed the 1,000 square kilometers mark, the Kingdom of Bahrain is known for being rich of touristic sites and attractions. Bahrain comprises destinations...

Exciting Off Road Adventures In Western Australia

Western Australia has long been a top destination for off roading enthusiasts from all across the world. One look at some of the top off road destinations on offer in...

Things to Do and See in Ballina, Australia

The intricate coastline of New South Wales is renowned for its sumptuous, decadent beaches, hidden resorts and secret camping spots. A long and slow ride down the winding highway that...

Guide to Travel Necessities for 2018

Sure, it sounds like quite an adventure to hit an open road with nothing but a one-way ticket and an open mind, but the harsh reality is – you won’t...

Top Sightseeing Spots in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most fascinating locations for anyone to visit in the world. After all, it’s a place with a variety of unique landscapes, but it isn’t...

Must-Pack Items for a Travel Blogging Boss

As a travel blogger, you get to see and explore so many wonderful destinations and meet various interesting people, but before you embark on a new adventure you need to...

Fashion & Beauty

4 Signs it’s Time for a Facial Peel

If you love keeping your skin in the best possible condition but you’re not always sure when you should be scheduling a facial treatment such as a peel, this article...

The Reason Why You Were Rejected as a Hair Transplant Patient

There are a number of ways to address hair loss, with hair transplants being the most common. Taking the time to find an appropriate hair transplant clinic and the necessary funding...

Five Trends That Will Transform Beauty

Remember the Groucho brows, the palm tree hairstyle and the giant hair that were huge trends back in the ‘80s? Well, those times are behind us, fortunately, and with each...

Fashion Trends to Know in 2019

No matter if you’re a die-hard fashionista or just a girl who loves to keep up with the latest fashion trends from time to time – you’re definitely at the...

Five Fabulous Items Every Single Makeup Bag Must Have According to The Experts At Lime Crime

Most women find it necessary to bring a purse with them. A purse makes it easy to keep items around that they need during the day. One of the most...

The Best Eyelash Enhancers in the Market Today

The human obsession with beauty goes way back in our history as can be seen in antique paintings and sculpture and it is one that continues to persist today and...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Tips for remodeling your basement into pleasant living spaceThe Reason Why You Were Rejected as a Hair Transplant PatientLeconfield Wines: Four legged family members now part of many weddingsModern magnesium: the pharmaceutical-grade topical relief health productWhy you should hire equipment for your next party or eventLiving life without fearFive Trends That Will Transform Beauty Moving home is always complicated but even more challenging in SydneyWhy Chocolate Can Be Good For YouHow to Choose the Right Wedding SuitTop 5 Non-Surgical Cosmetic Procedures for Men in 20192019’s Unforgettable Valentine’s Day Ideas In SydneyFashion Trends to Know in 2019David Lennon:   Five reasons to get your car loan sorted before visiting a dealership5 Sleep-Friendly Bedroom Tips for Career Women