Tasmania's journal of discovery

Ferreting out the truth

imageCheeky: Confessions of a Ferret Salesman
By Bob Cheek
Published by Pipeclay Publishing
Paperback, 398pp, illustrated
ISBN 0 9758303 0 9
rrp $29.95

Your man with a thin skin, a vehement ambition, a scrupulous conscience, and a sanguine desire for rapid improvement, is never a happy, and seldom a fortunate politician.

Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister (1875)

When I decided to migrate from Sydney to Tasmania ten years ago, people questioned my sanity. “You’ll freeze,” they said. “They’re all throwbacks down there,” they warned. “But it’d be a nice place if it had an economy.”

Weary of big-city journalism and the pressures of living with four million go-getters, I wanted to be free of the clamour of the chattering classes and the endless knockabout of politics. I made the move anyway, and for the last decade I’ve paid little attention to what passes for political life on this self-absorbed island, being too preoccupied with doing the best I can, a very overcrowded profession in these parts.

Continued …

When we eat

When we eat
A seasonal guide to Tasmania’s fine food and drink
By Liz McLeod and Bernard Lloyd
Photography by Paul County
Published by The Culinary Historians of Tasmania 2004
ISBN 0-646-44132-9

Here we have the main course, so to speak, following the delicious and tantalising entree that was the first book by the Culinary Historians of Tasmania — Before we eat.

Where Before we eat talked about Tassie foodstuffs and the people who grow, prepare and serve them, When we eat presents recipe after recipe that will have the armchair chef salivating and the earnest cook out in the kitchen sharpening up the knives.

As the authors say “its 328 pages lay out the journey of food and drink in Tasmania, from the wild to the table, and from the remotest past to the present”. The high priestess of good Aussie tucker, Maggie Beer, wrote the foreword.

Continued …

Dancing on the Edge of the World

Dancing on the Edge of the World
Essays on Birds and the Lighter Side of Life
Donald Knowler
Published by Donald Knowler
ISBN 0 646 42882 9

Once a prominent literary form, the essay has declined in status as our collective attention span has been truncated by the quick, the slick and the superficial; the six-word sound-bite, the snarling shock-jock, the second-by-second editing that makes most television so enervating to watch and the near-universal rule, imposed by half-educated newspaper editors, that journalists should write for those with a reading age of twelve, have drowned out the quiet and the contemplative.

Continued …

Eloquent Objects

Eloquent Objects
The Wongs’ Collection of Chinese Antiquities and Artefacts
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
ISBN 0-9750545-4-6

In keeping with the munificence of the donation by Professor Shiu Hon and Mrs Nancy Wong of their lifetime collection of Chinese ceramics and other artefacts, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery has published a book to commemorate the event. 

That’s a simple explanation of what is a handsome volume, handsomely produced and illustrated, and a wonderful memento of this significant gift to the people of Tasmania.

Continued …

Claiming Ground

Claiming Ground:
twenty-five years of Tasmania’s Art for Public Buildings Scheme
Published by Quintus Publishing
ISBN 1 176832 35 5

“Tasmanians can be proud of the Art for Public Buildings Scheme. It began in 1979 and was the first scheme of its kind in Australia.”

So wrote the Hon Lara Giddings MHA, Minister for the Arts, in her Foreword to this softcover book, which is the result of a great deal of collaboration among a great many people.

Artists and designers for one. The scheme has now commissioned more than 800 artworks — with 80 of them chronicled in this book published in 2005, a rollcall of who’s doing interesting work in Tasmania and where to see the pieces themselves.

Continued …

Carnivorous Nights

Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger
By Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson
With artwork by Alexis Rockman
Published by The Text Publishing Company
ISBN 1 920885 94 3

Here is an entertaining and yet serious romp through Tasmania by two New York-based wildlife writers looking for the ever-elusive thylacine. They tell how they became “infatuated” in the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan with a taxiderm of a Tasmanian tiger — “positioned in such a lifelike manner, its mouth curved in a friendly canine smile, that we found ourselves feeling affection for it as if it were a long-lost pet.”

With friend and artist Alexis Rockman, Mittelbach and Crewdson came Down Under to see a live tiger for themselves.

Alas, the tiger remained ‘long-lost’ for them. But sightings and theories persist, as the writers record.

Continued …

The Founding of Hobart

The Founding of Hobart 1803-1804
By Frank Bolt
Published by Peregrine
ISBN 0 975 71660 3

If, like me, you were informed, sometimes entertained and occasionally surprised by Frank Bolt’s diary of the foundation of Hobart which appeared in The Mercury from September 2003 to August 2004, you probably wish you were one of those assiduous souls with an old-fashioned scrapbook habit.

I did indeed clip a few of the earlier entries, but when I came across them during a library clean-up they were dog-eared and already yellowing; newsprint ages just as quickly as it ever did.

But all that diligent work with scissors and Clag (remember Clag?) wasn’t necessary: Frank Bolt has now gathered the entire series into a substantial book.

Continued …

a little more

a little more: Celebrating a life of letters
By Margaret Scott and individual contributors
Published by Summerhill Publishing
ISBN 0-9757460-0-6

In essence — to commemorate the awarding of an Emeritus Award from the Australia Council’s Literature Board to Tasman Peninsula-based poet and author Margaret Scott, it was decided to publish an anthology of some of her works, encompassing poetry, prose, after-dinner speeches and magazine articles.

Friends and colleagues were invited to write of their association with Margaret and of how her works and life had affected them, and their responses in prose or poetry are scattered throughout the pages. So indirectly we see the thread of Margaret’s life; the book becomes a multi-layered portrait of not only the artist but also the woman herself.

That’s the bare bones. The only trouble with reviewing this spirited, warm and inviting anthology (no trouble in itself, of course, but a very great delight) is the care with which one must choose words.  Or, in other words, what can one say that doesn’t inevitably sound humdrum when faced with Margaret Scott’s lambent prose and famous wit?

Continued …

The Rock which makes Tasmania

imageThe Rock which makes Tasmania
By David Leaman
Published by Leaman Geophysics
ISBN 0 95811 990 2

David Leaman is a geologist, an experienced bushwalker and writer of books on the two foregoing subjects. He grew up in Glenorchy on the very rock he later agreed to research. For him this rock is no hard place but a lodestar for our island.

The rock is dolerite, which has both put Tasmania on the map and shaped its economy and future. Not so many years ago it was called “Tasmania’s curse”.

Continued …

Steps to the scaffold


Steps to the Scaffold
The untold story of Tasmania’s black bushrangers
By Robert Cox
Published by Cornhill Publishing
ISBN 0 9751977 0 3

A gripping tale, sometimes harrowing, but for most us, a surprising story of Tasmania’s early years of colonisation. Robert Cox tells the story of how some Aborigines tried to resist the alientation of their land, mainly within the period from the mid-1820s to the early 1830s.

When European settlers first arrived, Aborigines may have viewed them with some mystification but were not aggressive. However, when those same white interlopers took over their richest hunting grounds and traditional pathways, the local tribes became more unsettled. White man’s guns, at first viewed as insurmountable weapons, proved to be something that local tribespeople could capture and use themselves.

It is interesting reading the accounts of colonisation as written by early white historians how little of this has been taken into account. For example, Truganini (also know as Trucanini) is quoted in early histories as being “rescued” by white fishermen from two Aborigine men — a neat reversal of the facts and neglecting to mention that the former hacked off the hands of those men, one to whom Truganini was due to be married, when they tried to climb into the boat that held her so that they drowned in the waters off Bruny Island.

Cox is meticulous in his accounting of events in a clear and unbiased fashion, although his Conclusion leaves little doubt about his personal view. You can make up your own mind about the justice, or injustice, meted out to those concerned. This is not a “black armband view” of history, but an attempt to redress the balance. PH

Read extracts here from the book by Robert Cox.

Rail Trails of Tasmania

image Rail Trails of Tasmania
Published by Railtrails Australia
ISBN 0-9579759-1-0

For the uninitiated, rail trails are walking and cycling paths following now defunct railway lines. Tasmania, according to the authors [Fiona Colquhoun, Alexander McCooke, Vince Aitkin, Barry Holt and Tony Maddock], is particularly well-endowed with tantalising rail trails which traverse wineries, national parks, farmland, bushland, rainforest and even the seaside.

And, as they point out, rail trails are easy to cycle and walk. “Trains weren’t good at climbing steep hills, they usually tunneled through them or went around them.”

Continued …

Before we eat

image Before we eat:
A delicious slice of Tasmania’s culinary life
By Paul County and Bernard Lloyd
Published by The Culinary Historians of Tasmania
ISBN 0-646-42903-5

This is not a cookbook. Not a recipe in sight. Instead a glorious potage of what makes Tassie cuisine, the people who make it, and in slices of history, the people who helped make it — from the Aboriginal earliest inhabitants to the early settlers, determined to create an Antipodean England, to today when immigrants from all around the globe have put down roots here and added their touch of individuality.

Continued …

Shack Life

imageShack Life
By Matthew Newton
Published by Matthew Newton
ISBN 0 646 42878 0

Photographs are the key to this book, photographs almost unaccompanied by words because each one is the key to a thousand memories.

Shack life, unfettered and uncontrived, has been a part of the Tasmanian scene for many generations — but is now under threat, as Richard Flanagan poignantly says in his introduction.

Shacks are not, never were, edifices of grandeur, and usually not of much beauty either. Almost organically they took root and grew on rocky foreshores and lakesides simply as shelters for weekends and holidays.

Some remain so in remote places on the island. But where, not that long ago, they could still be found not far from the big smokes of Hobart and Launceston, today these are being gentrified at the rate of knots.

Once bartered for a comparative handful of dollars — “and we’ll leave the furniture” (such as it was, consisting of hand-me-downs from goodness knows where) — today these places nearer to big towns are changing hands for hundreds of thousands.

So Matt’s book is already an historical memento, as well as a book of beautifully composed, evocative photographs. See his portfolio here. PH

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