VI­SIONS FOR OUR IS­LAND

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - BETWEEN THE LINES - PHILIP HEY­WARD

NON­FIC­TION

Duck and Green Peas For Ever: Find­ing Utopia in Tas­ma­nia Ali­son Alexan­der Fullers Pub­lish­ing, $45

Tas­ma­nian his­tory of­ten con­jures im­ages of vi­o­lence and de­s­pair — the bru­tal jus­tice of the con­vict sys­tem, the wild and cor­rupt years of early set­tle­ment, the mas­sacres and dis­pos­ses­sion of Abo­rig­ines, their fron­tier war and cruel ex­ile on Flin­ders Is­land, bushrangers, can­ni­bal es­capees, seal­ers, whalers and the ex­tinc­tion of the thy­lacine. Many writ­ers and vis­i­tors dwell on this dread­ful past, but it is not the whole story. For all the gloom, Tas­ma­nia in­spires plenty of love, even ado­ra­tion. Pro­lific his­to­rian Ali­son Alexan­der ex­plores this per­spec­tive in her lat­est book, the en­gag­ing Duck and Green Peas For Ever: Find­ing Utopia in Tas­ma­nia. It is an in­trigu­ing take on our past, packed with il­lus­tra­tions, quirky sto­ries and un­ex­pected in­sights.

Alexan­der has un­earthed an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of dream­ers and their sto­ries. It is sur­pris­ing how many vi­sions of utopia have been pro­jected on Tas­ma­nia. From evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians to com­mu­nists, in­dus­tri­al­ists to her­mits, hip­pies es­cap­ing the rat race to those fear­ing nu­clear catas­tro­phe and pre­par­ing for Ar­maged­don, the list goes on and on.

There is some­thing about is­lands that at­tracts vi­sion­ar­ies. Per­haps it is the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing an ideal so­ci­ety far from the crowded, trou­bled world. Heart-shaped Tas­ma­nia, one of the more iso­lated large is­lands, with a mod­er­ate cli­mate and good arable land, lends it­self to such hope.

Vi­sion­ar­ies came to Tas­ma­nia with the French ex­plor­ers in the 18th cen­tury. Fired by ideals of the En­light­en­ment, they imag­ined a re­mote Ar­ca­dia pop­u­lated by the “noble sav­age”, liv­ing an un­com­pli­cated life, un­cor­rupted by the so-called civilised world. The French were cu­ri­ous and re­spect­ful when they en­coun­tered Abo­rig­ines the first time, de­pict­ing them in beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions. Af­ter a while the French be­gan to re­alise that life for the Abo­rig­ines was hard, and many of the ex­plor­ers’ ro­man­tic ideals were shat­tered.

There was lit­tle thought of Ar­ca­dia when the first con­vict ships ar­rived, but in time even some con­victs imag­ined a promis­ing fu­ture in the colony. Alexan­der starts her book with the de­light­ful story of a con­vict woman, “rather drunk and very chatty”, rid­ing home in a cart driven by her master and telling him that free set­tlers should go to hell and the colony should be­long to the con­victs. “It was their coun­try, and their coun­try it should be ‘Duck and green peas! For ever! Hur­rah!’”

Some con­victs, through en­ter­prise, hard work and luck, made them­selves rich.

Free set­tlers ar­rived in the ear­li­est days of the con­vict colony, and never stopped ar­riv­ing. In the 1830s and 1840s, Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the gov­er­nor Sir John Franklin, tried to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity of sober, in­dus­tri­ous free set­tlers on the Huon River. She pre­ferred de­vout Angli­cans and Methodists, un­tainted by a con­vict past. The town­ship of Franklin was named in her hon­our.

Lady Jane was far from the last to dream of a pas­toral utopia. Artists such as John Glover painted ide­alised pic­tures of the colony, and pioneer set­tlers came up with place names such as Par­adise and Promised Land. Some of these pas­toral dreams were to end in fail­ure. The idea of a home­land for re­tired Bri­tish army of­fi­cers from In­dia and later sol­dier set­tler schemes of­ten foundered on the farm­ing in­ex­pe­ri­ence of the set­tlers.

One sad failed dreamer was Frank Critch­ley Parker, who hoped to es­tab­lish a home­land for Europe’s per­se­cuted Jews near Port Davey and who died alone in the bush sur­vey­ing the area.

Much more suc­cess­ful was Aus­trian mi­grant and moun­taineer Gus­tav Wein­dor­fer, a pioneer of Tas­ma­nia’s en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment. Alexan­der de­scribes him as “per­haps the man who more than any­one else cre­ated a long-last­ing im­age of utopia in Tas­ma­nia”. In 1910, he de­clared that the Cra­dle Moun­tain area “must be a na­tional park for the peo­ple for all time”. He built a chalet, Wald­heim, and en­cour­aged peo­ple to visit, stay and ex­plore. Cra­dle Moun­tain be­came one of Tas­ma­nia’s favourite at­trac­tions.

Some­times ri­val vi­sions of a Tas­ma­nian utopia clashed, par­tic­u­larly when the dream of a pros­per­ous state with a dy­namic man­u­fac­tur­ing base driven by cheap hy­dro­elec­tric­ity came up against the grow­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment. Alexan­der shows how the con­tested vi­sions of de­vel­op­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists con­tinue to this day.

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