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.

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The Literary Lunch

The Literary Lunch
Selected stories
By Geoffrey Dean
Published by Roaring Forties Press
ISBN 0 9756797 0 8

Geoffrey Dean is a Tasmanian who has been in print for five decades — ever since his first short story ‘The Last Page’ won a short-story competition run by The Mercury and made Dean the richer by a couple of pounds.

He was overseas at the time, doing what was becoming a pilgrimage in post-WWII years for young Australians, working their way around Europe and Canada. His brother Graeme had found the story and entered it without Dean knowing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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River of Verse

River of Verse
A Tasmanian Journey 1800-2004
Edited by Helen Gee
Published by Back River Press
ISBN: 0 646 44182 5

Helen Gee, writer and poet, has edited a spectacular collection of verse written about Tasmania from the earliest days until early in the 21st century, the place, its people, history and culture.

It begins with two traditional Aboriginal songs and showcases the work of some 150 poets, some Tasmanian born, some comparitive newcomers, some who visited briefly. As Gee writes: ‘I followed a very simple rule: if the verse was essentially Tasmanian and I really liked it, I included it.’

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Beyond Organics

Beyond Organics: Gardening for the future
By Helen Cushing
Published by ABC Books
ISBN 0 73333 1575 5

This book is something every gardener should read.

It’s disturbing, inspirational, instructive, persuasive. It’s a clarion call for all who love the earth and love to garden.

It is not a how-to book — you can look for the appropriate how-to publications later.

Peter Cundall, one of the founders in Tasmania of the organics movement, wrote the foreword and also spoke at the launch in Hobart of Helen Cushing’s remarkable book. As he said at the time, echoing one of main themes of Helen’s text:

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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?

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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”.

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Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
Published by Wilderness Photo
ISBN 0-9579744-1-8

Freycinet Peninsula is a delicate finger of land 50 kilometres long, pointing at the southern ocean. At its tip is Schouten Island, the last hurrah of land before hitting Antarctica.

Freycinet evokes pictures of serenity. The pure, sweet curve of Wineglass Bay, rimmed with white sand, safely cradled within rocky headlands. The majestic granite boulders on steep slopes and along the coast, formed by water washing soil away, napped with vivid orange growths.

This is the rich glowing colour caught in many of Rob Blakers’ superb photographs.

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The Stockman


The Stockmen
By Rachael Treasure
Published by Viking
ISBN 0 670 04293 5

Here’s a fun book, a good airport novel and a rollicking read. The fact that the Women’s Weekly has chosen it for its book club will alert you to the fact that the story is more Mills and Boon than Maxim magazine, but blokes who relate (a) to the country and (b) to training working dogs will soon be absorbed in it.

Dogs, with their many and varied characters, are as important as the people in the pages.

Rachael Treasure is a Hobart girl who worked as a jillaroo before studying at Orange Agricultural College and Charles Sturt University, in New South Wales. Her first book, which was quite a hit, is titled Jillaroo

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The Heart of the World


The Heart of the World — Antarctica
By Coral Tulloch
Published by ABC Books
ISBN 0 7333 0912 7

This is supposed to be a book for children, and Coral Tulloch is well-known as an author and illustrator of children’s books. However, in this book — written after a round-trip voyage on the Aurora Australis and published by ABC Books as part of their admirable library of books for younger readers — she fulfills a role that means the reader’s number of years is immaterial.

For here is a wonderful introduction to Antarctica — a compendium of Antarctic exeriences that Coral, and others she quotes in its pages, helps bring the ice-bound continent to life — and age has nothing to do with it. Should you be so lucky as to be going into the deepest south on a tourist ship or maybe a tourist flight, or if you just want to know more about the world’s largest continent, then this is a book for you.

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