Noth­ing plain about Nor­folk

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - Clyde Selby


By Nic Hay­garth RRP $ 59.95

Pub­lished by the North­ern Mid­lands Coun­cil Pre­pared for pub­li­ca­tion by Forty South Pub­lish­ing

AUS­TRALIA’S bi- cen­ten­nial of Cap­tain Arthur Phillip’s ar­rival with the 11 ships of the First Fleet in Syd­ney Har­bour was cel­e­brated in 1988.

There was an out­break of com­mem­o­ra­tive tree plant­ing which was for­tu­itous, as many more be­gan to be chopped down to make the nec­es­sary vol­ume of pa­per for the as­so­ci­ated pro­lif­er­a­tion of lo­cal his­to­ries.

Most of th­ese parochial ac­counts have only been of in­ter­est to res­i­dents, es­pe­cially if they or their an­ces­tors re­ceived a men­tion, and con­se­quently have tended to lan­guish on the shelves of pub­lic li­braries.

Nic Hay­garth’s ac­count comes into a su­pe­rior cat­e­gory of this genre and even those with no con­nec­tion to this part of north­ern Tas­ma­nia would find much to sus­tain in­ter­est.

Ev­i­dence of painstak­ing re­search ac­com­pa­nied by in­sight­ful com­men­tary is con­tained in this hand­somely pro­duced book, with in­nu­mer­able re­pro­duc­tions of draw­ings, etch­ings and es­pe­cially pho­to­graphs to sup­port the text.

Nor­folk Plains, as it was for­merly known, echoes the 1813 ini­tia­tive of Gover­nor Mac­quarie to aban­don the no­to­ri­ous pe­nal is­land in the Pa­cific Ocean and re­set­tle the in­hab­i­tants near Ho­bart, in what is now part of the North­ern Mid­lands mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The “golden tri­an­gle” of this lush agri­cul­tural area, wrested from the Pan­nin­her Abo­rig­ines, man­i­fested in sub­stan­tial, con­vict- built, Ge­or­gian- style man­sions fol­lowed by the towns of Perth, Long­ford, Cressy and Bish­ops­bourne, with their spir­i­tual, com­mer­cial, in­dus­trial and ed­u­ca­tional build­ings of the Vic­to­rian era.

Hay­gath gives de­tailed de­scrip­tions of the progress caused by good farm­ing prac­tice, the advent of the rail­ways and the ben­e­fits of in­creased mech­a­ni­sa­tion ranged against such vi­cis­si­tudes as poor com­mod­ity prices, eco­nomic de­pres­sion and a fall­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The ebb and flow of pros­per­ity over two cen­turies can be likened to the South Esk River, which has usu­ally been a life- giv­ing force but has oc­ca­sion­ally burst its banks and wreaked havoc.

This river that ro­man­ti­cally winds its way through lush pas­tures could also be seen to be car­ry­ing along an un­der­cur­rent of sad­ness.

Al­though the book takes us up to the present, it is es­sen­tially back­ward look­ing to the hey­day of the 19th and first half of the 20th Cen­tury.

Such a his­tory in­vari­ably pro­vokes nos­tal­gia for peo­ple and places, and the spirit of en­deav­our and “brave new world” ethos, much of which has gone, never to seep back.

Nev­er­the­less, for all the pho­to­graphic charm of the seem­ingly hal­cyon yes­ter­year, as­suredly we could never re­turn to those slow and silent days un­punc­tu­ated by ra­dio or the sound of a mo­tor­car.

World War II brought about many tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions that ul­ti­mately ben­e­fited farm­ing while the ar­rival of state elec­tric­ity with its in­stant heat­ing, cook­ing de­vices and il­lu­mi­na­tion greatly re­duced the tedium and toil of daily agrar­ian and do­mes­tic life.

With their English names and their touris­to­ri­ented im­age of laven­der and Devon­shire teas, it re­mains to be seen how the Nor­folk Plains com­mu­ni­ties will re­spond to the re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change and the need for re­new­able en­er­gies eco­log­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally.

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