Tasmania's journal of discovery

Steps to the scaffold

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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 …

The Death of a Drag Queen

imageThe Death of a Drag Queen and other stories
By Julian Halls
Published by Ginninderra Press
ISBN 1 74027 219 6

Not everyone within these pages is a drag queen. Not every one is gay, though the main characters in each short story definitely (or defiantly, or hesitatingly) are. Having said that, be prepared for a wide gamut of situations that really have very little to do with gayness (if there is such a distinction), but rather more with love, loving, fear of growing old and other emotions. Julian Halls is a very talented writer and his stories have both pace and pathos. He has mined many autobiographical memories, which gives an intensity to the stories themselves, but does so in ways that are witty, reflective, and above all, entertaining.

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 …

Soft Edges Unsafe Margins

imageSoft Edges Usafe Margins
Stories by Avril Caney
Published by Ginninderra Press
ISBN 1 74027 227 7

An impressive collection of finely crafted short stories by a Hobart-based writer, nearly every one winner or runner-up in short story competitions, and describing feelings, experiences and memories we can all relate to.

The cast of main characters is varied, as are the situations, but with telling brushstrokes of words Avril Caney evokes immediately recognisable portraits of people presented with those moments of life that take us like “a long, moving pedestrian ramp … from which, once committed to, there seems no escape”.

Their efforts to make an escape, to change the seeming inevitability of their lives, underscore these stories. The twist comes, as it does in all good short stories, at the very end, the words of “continued next week, next day, next moment …” unwritten, but vividly tangible. Most enjoyable.  PH

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

Shooting the Franklin

imageShooting the Franklin
Early canoeing on Tasmania’s wild rivers
By Johnson Dean
ISBN 0-9581744-0-7

If there is an impression that extreme sports are the product of today, this book alone will change that perception.

Just to read of the adventures (there’s no other word) of the young Tasmanian Johnson Dean and his various intrepid companions as they battled against the wild rivers of the island’s Southwest will have you debating whether they were lunatics or brave. Or both. 

Continued …

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