Christo­pher Koch

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Philip Hey­ward

H OBART’S north­ern sub­urbs do not in­spire much lit­er­ary fic­tion but the lat­est novel by Christo­pher Koch paints an evoca­tive pic­ture of life in Glenorchy, Moonah and New Town in the 1940s.

Koch is one of Tas­ma­nia’s best- known writ­ers, twice win­ner of the Miles Franklin Award and au­thor of fa­mous books such as The Year of Liv­ing Dan­ger­ously, The Dou­ble­man, High­ways to a War and Out of Ire­land.

Yet he has re­ceived few lit­er­ary ac­co­lades in his home state, de­spite hav­ing a strong lo­cal read­er­ship, per­haps be­cause much of his life has been lived in Sydney and over­seas.

‘‘ I lived in Sydney far longer than in Tas­ma­nia,’’ he said. ‘‘ It is very stim­u­lat­ing and that’s where most of my friends are but I al­ways feel at home here.

‘‘ I love the Tas­ma­nian land­scape. If you are an is­lander, you do get drawn back.’’

Koch re­turned to Tas­ma­nia for a time in the early ’ 70s and ’ 90s, liv­ing in Launce­s­ton, then moved to the Rich­mond area eight years ago.

‘‘ I like Launce­s­ton,’’ he said. ‘‘ It is a charm­ing town and I love the coun­try­side around it.

‘‘ There is a much more brood­ing qual­ity in the south, be­cause of Mt Welling­ton, the sea and the sense of be­ing near Antarc­tica.’’

In his new book, Lost Voices, the 80- year- old re­turns to the streets of his youth, around New Town and be­yond.

‘‘ I think the whole re­gion is un­usu­ally beau­ti­ful, fac­ing east and north, look­ing to­wards the sun,’’ he said. ‘‘ I have an ob­ses­sion with Mt Di­rec­tion, as did the artist Edith Holmes.

‘‘ Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the sub­urbs in Aus­tralia and dis­miss them as bour­geois but that is where most peo­ple live.’’

While Lost Voices is not au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, it is full of mem­o­ries of a time Koch de­scribes as ‘‘ a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world’’.

The sec­ond part of the book takes read­ers back fur­ther, to the era of con­victs and bushrangers and across the wild land­scape to the Tas­man Penin­sula and the foothills and val­leys of the Welling­ton Range.

Koch is in­ter­ested in the way the past and present res­onate and he has a fas­ci­na­tion with dual­ity and con­nec­tions be­tween the con­scious and un­con­scious. He be­lieves mem­o­ries can be handed down to us from our fore­bears.

‘‘ Peo­ple go to their an­ces­tral home­lands and they get a sense that ‘ I’ve been here be­fore’,’’ he said.

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