AN ARTIST'S LIFE

AN ARTIST'S LIFE

Art, travel, Tasmanian history, events - whatever takes my fancy.
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31 December 2011

Exhibiting Myself


Now that Christmas is over we can all start to think about January, can't we?

Here's your chance to see a selection of my older paintings in a jolly splendid location; two-hour scenic drive from Hobart, lawns, Highland cattle, ducks and an excellent cafe. Oh, and power stations too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Tarraleah in 2012

Cottages at Tarraleah

The Village Green; Great Hall  and Hotel  (left),  Cafe, shop and gallery (right)

My studio (left) and Great Hall

I'm moving to Tarraleah for January to take up my new career as a Tourist Attraction, otherwise known as Artist in Residence. This involves painting industriously all day and being nice to any tourists who happen to stop by to watch or to look at the exhibition of paintings I delivered to their brand-new gallery this morning.

Come for a drive and drop in to see me - and my paintings. You can watch me working away at a brand-new picture, and find out all my little painting secrets.

I will still be back in Hobart on Mondays and Tuesdays to teach regular art classes, and to give private tuition.

Painting Classes

There are two places left for my Extra Five short course of five lessons at Nolan Art School, Salamanca Arts Centre, beginning 17 January. All levels, all mediums, drawing or painting; chaos guaranteed. Contact Betty Nolan to enrol. More information.

This is the church, which will be our painting studio for the Oil Painting workshop at Tarraleah.

The month ends with an oil painting weekend at Tarraleah, 28-29 January - two days of painting tuition in a jolly splendid location, with accommodation, meals and painting materials supplied.  There are only ten places in the class - contact Tarraleah Events to book. More information.


Art Deco porch decoration on one of the
cottages at Tarraleah
One for the duck-lovers



















So, until then - wishing you all a Happy New Year and hope tonight's festivities are just super.

03 November 2011

Working in the Wilderness

This summer I will be conducting two painting/drawing workshops at Tarraleah Village.

The course fee includes inspirational indoor and outdoor venues, 1-night share accommodation in a large classic Tarraleah art-deco cottage with breakfast supplies, morning and afternoon teas, lunches in Teez Café, 3-course dinner in Highlander Arms, guided morning waterfall walk and evening wildlife walk, cliff-top spa, sauna and gym, beautiful Highland scenery - and two days of drawing or painting lessons with all materials supplied!
And there are plenty of activities to amuse your Significant Other while you are busy at the easel.


dates:
Landscape oil painting - 28-29 January, 2012
more information
Drawing - 3-4 March, 2012
more information
more about Tarraleah
(above image from the Tarraleah website)

10 September 2011

Shipwrecks and Shopping

 It was a squally, blustery day, perfect for visiting the lighthouse and watching the breakers in Currie harbour.  
Currie foreshore is just as wild and rugged as anywhere else on the west coast; according to something I read, it is the only sheltered anchorage on the entire coast – and not too easy of access at that, with plenty of nasty sharp rocks lying in wait for the unwary sailor.  In fact, King Island must be one of the most deadly in the world – there were more than thirty ships wrecked around the island between 1862 and 1915. 




 Blencathra was on the way to Sydney from Glasgow when her captain mistook the Cape Wickham light for Cape Otway – a common, and deadly error. Everybody was rescued  with assistance  from a salvage crew working on the wreck of British Admiral, which hit the island a couple of miles further south the previous May.  Those on board the British Admiral had not been so lucky - of eighty eight people only nine survived, and cargo and bodies were strewn along twenty kilometres of beach.

The captain and crew from Blencathra hitched a lift to Melbourne with a load of cargo salvaged from the British Admiral, and the wreck of their ship was sold to another salvage company. Despite an armed guard, seventy five of eight hundred cases of whisky from  Blencathra vanished without trace the night after they were unloaded. A successful shopping trip for somebody.
These are the rocks that did for Blencathra on January 3, 1875. They are only just out of sight from where I am sitting typing this.



Nine years earlier and a few hundred metres further south  Netherby, carrying 452 passengers bound for Brisbane fetched up on the rocks after losing her bearings in bad weather.  Everybody managed to get ashore, and the second officer, Mr Parry, set out with eight men to look for habitation. Five days later he handed Mr W. Hickmott, the duty lighthouse keeper at Cape Wickham, a letter:

Send help and succour to 500 shipwrecked people from the ship NETHERBY – Owen Owens, Master.

They were tired, hungry and footsore, but after a brief rest Mr Parry and the four strongest of his men set out for Melbourne in the lighthouse whaleboat. Landing on the Victorian coast near Anglesea they were mistaken for bushrangers by the first person they encountered, but managed to convince him they were nice people, really. The old shepherd guided them to a nearby station where Mr Parry borrowed a horse. He rode fifty kilometres to Geelong and telegraphed his news to Melbourne. Then he probably slept for about a week.
Meanwhile, Mr Hickmott went down to the wreck site to collect the survivors, who now included a very new baby.  Small groups of people straggled up to the lighthouse all night. The lighthouse keepers’ wives housed and fed them until they were collected and taken to Melbourne where a good many of them decided they had had enough adventures and stayed. I’m impressed that the lighthouse women managed to cope with so many people –  they must have done some mega-serious grocery shopping. 



Cataraqui Probably the most famous wreck, one of Australia’s  worst peacetime  marine disasters, was in 1845 when Cataraqui, an emigrant ship with 369 passengers and a crew of 46, ran into horrible weather after about three months at sea. Captain Findlay could not get an accurate position, but believed he was about 50 miles southwest of Portland. He wasn’t. He was actually about sixty miles further south and the ship ran on to rocks in a heavy rain squall. 
Many of the passengers were trapped below decks and drowned immediately, but about two hundred clung desperately to the ship for more than ten hours until it broke in two. By the time the ship finally went to pieces late the following day only nine people managed to get ashore alive. They were discovered by a party of sealers and eventually taken to safety a month later.

I walked with some friendly King Island artists to the  monument marking where 342 bodies were  buried in five mass graves. It is a bleak and scary place. (above)


Having duly expressed our horror at the fate of Cataraqui we continued on our way along the shore until the rocks gave way to a windswept  beach where we all began hunting for bits and pieces washed ashore by the roaring forties. We soon had quite a collection of brightly-coloured sea-weathered rope, fragments of plastic, old brushes, a multi-branched sponge, bottle tops and similar treasures. “This is how we go shopping.” Alison said. Megan said “Tomorrow we’ll go to the tip”.


reference: Loney. Jack. Wrecks on King Island. Portarlington. Marine History. 1995

04 September 2011

Power, Flowers and Rocks


Yesterday I drove down to Naracoopa, where, in 1802,  Lt Robbins explained to Nicholas Baudin in no uncertain terms that the Island was British, and where several ships have been wrecked. I think it is more remarkable to find a stretch of King Island coastline where there hasn’t been a shipwreck. The west side of the island, in the path of the Roaring Forties, is rocky and rugged; sand washes away there, but it is deposited on the eastern side. I asked whether this means the island is gradually creeping east, but the rocks aren’t moving. Perhaps the sand sneaks overland back to the west when nobody is looking?  Anyway, even the eastern side has lots of nice, sharp rocks.
I found some interesting things to look at along the way.
KING ISLAND ADVANCED HYBRID POWER STATION





This is the Grassy power station in 1947, or thereabouts. It provided power for the King Island Scheelite mine, and for the township. Most people elsewhere on the island were still relying on kerosene lanterns and fuel stoves, although some had small electricity generators.  Towards the end of the 1940s Dad, with help from Bob Jordan, installed a 12v lighting system for the Church of England in Currie.




This is Hydro Tasmania’s Currie Power Station today. It has 9 turbines generating 8.55 megawatts. Four are Diesel, five wind, and there is a solar array.  Nearly half the island’s electricity is provided by the Huxley Hill Wind Farm.  The solar panels are self-tracking. So are the sheep.
There aren’t many sheep on the island; dairy and beef cattle are more usual. I have eaten a lot of cheese and yoghurt in the last couple of days; and more to come. Haven’t even visited the cheese factory yet!
FERAL FLOWERS
Other wonders are these paperbark melaleucas which grow so amazingly tall and straight; on the coast they are short and twisted, the shape I expect. But away from the coast they are pretending to be gum trees, replacing the huge eucalypt forests destroyed by the sealers and the early settlers. Just as surprising are the forget-me-nots in the grass by the roadside. Everything is so lush here!
 
RIVIERA ARCHITECTURE
The locals refer to Naracoopa as their Riviera. It is on Sea Elephant Bay, on the sheltered east side of the island, with a long, beautiful beach. It even sports a bit of super-kitsch:


I was trying to locate the spot where Dad photographed a picnic party, but the area has changed, and I’m not certain whether I was in quite the right spot. The King Island Harbour Authority has replaced the old sheds in the old photographs with new sheds which have become old and subsequently suffered an Art Attack. I do like the way the broken window becomes a dolphin.

Which building do YOU think is more interesting? 
Ref: http://www.hydro.com.au/energy/our-power-stations/bass-strait-islands/currie-power-station
Ref: http://www.dier.tas.gov.au/energy/renewable_energy

01 September 2011

To the Lighthouse



Had an extra splendid bonus today – there are big celebrations in November for the sesquicentenary of the Cape Wickham lighthouse, and the organisers were inspecting the site today as part of the planning process. So I went along with Sally. Beautiful warm, sunny weather, lots of wonderful rocks to draw. AND we all climbed up to the top of the lighthouse, which is usually closed to the public as it is still a serious working light. Great photos.

Here we are admiring the view from the top of the tallest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere.




Original plans for the lighthouse were drawn up in 1855. This was for a masonry structure, but there were suggestions a prefabricated cast iron tower would be simpler to erect. W.B. Falconer, an engineer from Launceston, estimated a building cost of 19,507 pounds for the masonry tower as opposed to 23,743 for the prefabricated building, and in the end he was proved correct – following his plan, the project was completed at a cost of 18,533 pounds. 

Granite for the walls, which are eleven feet thick at the base, was quarried locally and brought about a mile overland by tramway; all other materials had to be brought in through the surf and rocks – with great difficulty.


The first entry in the Cape Wickham log book reads:

“Friday November 1st 1861 a.m. to noon, moderate fine weather. Noon to Sunset, Fine. At sunset light exhibited for the first time from this Station. Bright fixed light. Elevation of tower 145 feet and elevated above the sea 280 feet. Wicks require trimming every five hours obscuring the light six and seven minutes. Watch relieved at 10 p.m. Midnight all well”

Ref: Walker, Donald. Beacons of Hope. Athelstone Trust. 1998.

Haven’t decided yet what to do tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be interesting.

First day on the job


Hard to believe I’ve only been here a day and a half – busy, busy, busy! So many new sights, sounds and people packed into such a short time.


Nice, uneventful flight, which is just the way we like them. I tried very hard to reproduce Dad’s photo of flying-in-to-the-island, but the clouds weren’t right, nor was our flight path and I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane, anyway. Oh well. But I did get a photo of the engine, and the rainbow was nice!



I am now comfortably ensconced in the King Island Cultural Centre, which was formerly the Marine Board Building, right on the harbour. Only a couple of hundred metres from the town centre, but feels as if it’s miles away. Isolation? I love it!


Here is the town centre – in 1947 (approx.) and today. The trees are still there, and some of the grass, and the building just to the right of the trees in the old photo. It’s now the local IGA supermarket. The double-storey building on the right was the pub; it burned down and has been replaced. The little building on the right has had a new roof and a coat of purple paint and is now an art and craft gallery. There doesn’t seem to be much else left.


After an hilarious evening dining with Sally and friends in Grassy last night I had no trouble at all getting to sleep, lulled by the waves on the beach and all that romantic stuff. This was what it looked like this evening.


Off to the Island


Woohoo! Bags are packed - oil paints: check. Sketchbooks: check. Pastels: check. Pencils: check. And so on, through various other items of artistic paraphernalia. SLR camera: check. All appropriate leads and lenses: check. Cheap digital camera: check. Ditto bits. Battery charger and spare batteries. Audio recorder. Emergency coffee ration. This took most of the day. Throw miscellaneous items of clothing into another bag. This took five minutes. Print out last-minute vital pieces of information. Check emails - oh no! Forgot to arrange transport from airport to Currie, which does not have any public transport, let alone a taxi service, and it's almost midnight and the plane leaves at 0700 and . . . 
So begins a two-week Arts Tasmania Cultural Residency on King Island. Keep watching this space.

13 August 2011

THINGS TO DO IN THE SPRING

Elizabeth Barsham's drawing and painting classes – term 3, 2011

Are you saying, in some amazement, goodness-it's-mid-August-where-has-the-year-gone? I have these moments several times a year. Anyway, the Winter term is almost over already, and plans are afoot for Spring classes.

Introducing: NOLAN ART
The most exciting news is that Foreshore Art School is moving to the Salamanca Arts Centre in September; the move will coincide with school holidays, so shouldn't inconvenience anyone too much. It's changing its name, too, and will now be known as Nolan Art.
I will continue my Tuesday evening art class. The new course of lessons begins next Tuesday, 16th August from 7 – 9 pm, and the first three lessons will be at the current location: Level 2, 6 Bayfield St., Rosny Park (above Eyelines).
This is a mixed level class, and the precise lesson content will depend on what students want to do. I usually find I have some beginners who want to draw, a couple who want to paint, and several people who have some experience and want to work on their own paintings. It works well, because everyone learns from each other. More information: contact betty.nolan@bigpond.com.

Whatever happened to Adult Education?
No doubt you have read dire accounts of the demise of Adult Education. It is true there have been some major changes, but it's still hanging in there, and I'm still offering classes. This term all my lessons will be held at the Church Street centre in North Hobart. I have a particular fondness for this building – my favourite great-aunt taught here in the very early twentieth century when it was the Trinity Hill Primary School, and it has a nice atmosphere.
Anyway, there is no longer Government funding for the LearnXpress (as it is now known) leisure programme. This means fees will be higher as they have to cover the cost of the class, but I assure you it is still worth every penny of your hard-earned . . .
The new Spring Course Guide will be in The Mercury as usual on 20th August, and you can enrol online at
You will find information about my classes with links to the relevant enrolment pages on my website
  
Colour Circle

Colour Circle are a very well-organised art group who have been meeting and exhibiting regularly for many years. They run several drawing and painting classes, which are open to non-members as well as regulars. My drawing class from 1000 - 1200 on Monday mornings is suitable for both beginners and continuing students. Term 3 begins on Monday 19th September.  

Address: Colour Circle studio
533 Nelson Road, Mount Nelson
Tasmania
postal address: P.O. Box 163, South Hobart 7004
To enrol in this class contact
Bernadette Trotter
phone: 6229 8938

Look forward to seeing you at one or another of these classes – or just round about town.

Keep painting!


30 June 2011

Tasmanian Gothic Stuff no. 4: Gothick Frivolity and a Tasmanian Farmer

FONTHILL AND FRANCIS TABART
By the early eighteenth century romantics were becoming bored by the Rule of Taste, the Palladian style introduced by Inigo Jones which dominated English architecture. Its formal proportions and strict lines left little room for expression of emotions, and the more poetically inclined began to explore other styles, among them the exuberant Decorated Gothic of the thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries. The two most notorious enthusiasts, wealthy literary gentlemen and art collectors born a generation apart, were Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and William Beckford (1760-1844).

Walpole is usually credited as the inventor of Gothic literature, publishing The Castle of Otranto in 1764, but William Beckford sought to rival him with Vathek (published 1786). Both built themselves magnificently imaginative “Gothic” mansions which they stuffed with priceless works of art. Otherwise, the two could not have been more different.
Walpole was sociable and gregarious, filling his house, Strawberry Hill, with huge dinner parties and grand occasions. He was so keen to show off his possessions that he sold tickets for the public to visit.

Beckford was quite the opposite - private and reclusive, he surrounded his entire 200 hectare estate with a huge wall several kilometres long, ostensibly to keep out poachers, and kept to himself. With architect James Wyatt he set to work constructing a monstrous folly - Fonthill Abbey. The entrance doors alone were ten metres tall; the frontage – and the main passage through the building – were a hundred metres long; and the central hall was surmounted by a massive 90 metre tall octagonal tower. With the exception of Beckford's few closest friends, visitors were strictly excluded.

Naturally rumours soon spread about what was going on behind that wall, and some of them were very salacious indeed. In fact, Beckford spent most of his time planning extensions and adornments to his residence, worrying about his annual £30,000 heating and running costs and rebuilding the tower, which had a distressing tendency to collapse. By the1820s he was no longer the richest man in England – his house was ruining him. He sold Fonthill Abbey to an eccentric arms dealer for £300,000 and retired to Bath. In 1825 the tower finally collapsed completely in most spectacular fashion, taking most of the west wing of the house with it. The ruins were sold off and subsequently most of the building was demolished.

To satisfy the huge interest Fonthill Abbey aroused, drawings, sketches and paintings – including a series of watercolours by J.W.M. Turner, were commissioned and circulated, and a range of engravings and guidebooks were published. Although it survived only thirty years, it quickly became the most notorious house in England.


View of the west and north fronts, Fonthill Abbey

Fonthill - Andover, Tasmania

In December 1830 an ex-Navy purser, Francis Tabart (1792 - 1856) and his family arrived in Van Diemen's Land. Tabart took up land near Andover, in the Tasmanian Midlands and built a log house as temporary residence while he built a substantial stone dwelling, completed by 1843, for his wife and six children. He named his property Fonthill. Although we can't prove a connection with Beckford's Folly, a comparison of these images suggests somebody who saw the pictures and wanted his own Gothick mansion – but somebody more pragmatic and without the budget.

gallery at Fonthill Abbey

dining room at Fonthill, Andover
side entrance at Fonthill, Andover
Fonthill house at Andover is still standing. So is the log cabin, now tastefully renovated as very superior backpacker accommodation. You can spend your holidays there, if you like. Or the rest of your life – at present the entire property is for sale.
Oh yes - Walpole's Strawberry Hill is now a museum.


References:
Robertson, E. Graham, Early Buildings of Southern Tasmania, Middle Park, Georgian House Pty Ltd, 1970.
Davis, Terence, The Gothick Taste, Newton Abbot, David and Charles Ltd, 1974.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fonthill_Abbey
http://www.hvtesla.com/fonthill/ More info about the original Fonthill and Beckford

30 May 2011

Come to the National Day of Climate Action

Sunday 5 June: Join Australians saying "yes" to a cleaner Australia:
11 am at Franklin Square, Hobart.
I can't believe I'm going to a demonstration IN SUPPORT of Government policy! We do live in a strange world.

Man From the City 56cm x 71cm


Another thing I'm doing is entering three paintings in this year's Weld Echo Exhibition, the annual fundraiser for the Huon Valley Environment Centre. You can see a photograph I took on the Weld River a month ago; it's planned to put a bridge across here for logging access.

Weld Echo 2011

1-12 June, Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart

A collaborative exhibition of works inspired by the wild Weld Valley of Southern Tasmania.
An important fundraiser for the campaign to protect the Weld Valley forests from industrial logging.

Opening Night Wednesday 1st June, from 6pm.

Drinks, nibbles, speakers, including special guests Peter Cundall and Greens MP Kim Booth





One of my paintings is above; here are the other two:

Eating the Trees - 50cm x 40cm

Great Weld Circus - 50cm x 40cm

24 May 2011

Tasmanian Gothic Stuff no. 3: On Not Believing Everything They Say

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF GOTHIC . . .



Gothic architecture was a German style invented in Northern Europe. Its pointed arches and the intertwined ribs of its vaults derive from the wild northern forests, where ignorant barbarians simply dragged branches together to form shelters instead of building themselves real houses.

It is a logical successor to the solid Romanesque buildings, recalling the caves and holes where their primitive ancestors huddled while the Romans were out spreading Civilisation.

The great Italian Renaissance art historian, Vasari, added that the 'Gothic' style, the embodiment of disorder and chaos, was an invention of the historical Goths who sacked Rome in the fifth century.

The entire theory above is nonsense invented in Italy, where they rejected the modern, foreign fashions and reclaimed imperial Rome as their true heritage.

In the sixteenth century Reformation Protestants denounced the elaborate mediaeval systems of religious orders, condemning painted and sculpted representations as idolatrous and the magnificently furnished churches and other ecclesiastical buildings with their elaborate spires and opulent stained glass as an ingenious but vainglorious waste of resources.

In England Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church, dissolved the monastic orders and sold off their properties. Northern Europe rejected Italian religiosity and stopped building big, spiky cathedrals, but the myth of the “natural” origin of Gothic architecture lingered on.



AND A TASMANIAN POSTSCRIPT

St John the Baptist Church in Buckland, Tasmania, has been the subject of speculation and myth-making for more than a century.

It's all because of the east window, a genuine Mediaeval window from the Battle Abbey at Hastings, which was rescued by a member of the Cecil family from destruction by Oliver Cromwell. After many years buried for safekeeping it was eventually given to Rev F.H. Cox by Lord Robert Cecil, Marquis of Salisbury, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was a family friend. Dean Cox brought it to Tasmania and had it installed in the little country church. There is a variant of the story that says it was presented to the church by the Earl of Salisbury, who walked through the district.

This is a good story, and a nice example of “general” knowledge used to supply extra details. Now we'll pull it to pieces.

Battle Abbey

Flashback to 1066, when William the Conqueror led the last army to invade England. Before the Battle of Hastings he vowed that if he won, he would build an abbey to the glory of God. It is also said that he was ordered by Pope Alexander II to perform an act of penance for killing so many people, so here's another little myth. One or both may be true (probably the latter), but in any case the Battle Abbey was built on the spot where Harold had fallen.

Thomas, not Oliver

The church at Battle Abbey was only one of hundreds of buildings to vanish from the face of the earth under Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister from 1532 to 1540. By the time Oliver Cromwell (Thomas' great-great-great nephew) came on the scene a century later most of the remaining buildings on the site had been demolished and the abbot's house was a private country mansion.

There is no way to prove or disprove Cox's friendship with the Cecil family, or their gift of the window, but it is well within the bounds of possibility. It was not such a strange thing to give a man who was going out to the colonies to build a church. However, it is highly unlikely the gift was given by Lord Robert Cecil himself.

Lord Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury

When Cox departed for the colonies Cecil was barely sixteen years old. By the time the young Earl visited Tasmania in 1852 (aged 22) Cox was no longer at Buckland. Cecil kept a journal of his travels, but as Secretary of State for India (1874-1878), Foreign Secretary (1878-1880) and Prime Minister of England (1885-92, 1895-1902) he never displayed any particular interest in Australia.

St John the Baptist, Buckland, Tasmania

The Window

In 1846 Reverend Frederick Holdship Cox emigrated from Sussex to Tasmania to become the Rector of St John the Baptist Church, Buckland. He brought with him, among other useful things, a stained glass window he had ordered from O'Connor, Berners St, London, and which he said was a gift from a friend. A little stone church was built for him in the district of Prosser, and the window was installed there.

Authorities who have examined the window date the glass in the central figure groups to the fourteenth century. The surrounding quarries are nineteenth century; apparently Cox did not order a completely new window, but had some antique pieces incorporated into a modern setting. They may well have come from the church at Battle Abbey, but there is no way to prove or disprove the connection.


But they are definitely old, definitely interesting, and any time you are passing through Buckland you can stop to admire some authentic Gothic stained glass.

References:
  1. The false and misleading “natural” theory of the origin of Gothic style was formalised in 1699 by J. Félibien in a dissertation on architecture. From Henderson, George. Gothic. Harmondsworth. Penguin Books. 1967.
  2. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/battle-abbey
  3. Australian Dictionary of Biography

06 April 2011

Tasmanian Gothic Stuff number 2: Why Port Arthur isn't Gothic

This is the second of a series of photographs of "Tasmanian Gothic" things I've found around the place.You don't have to agree with my opinion about what is, or is not, Tasmanian Gothic. If you really don't agree, start a discussion on my Tasmanian Gothic Facebook Page - and post your own photos.


Invalid Depot and Insane Asylum, Port Arthur in 1964

Tasmania was an unsatisfactory place to grow up for an aspiring Goth steeped in English novels. It was all farms and orchards and hydro-electricty, harmless marsupials, sunshine and beaches. Even The Mountain (Mt Wellington, for those not born in Hobart) was rounded and grey and over-familiar. There were no ruined abbeys, mediaeval dungeons or mysterious stone circles; no craggy alps and no melancholy winters with wolves howling in snow-deep forests. No romantic gloom at all. Just Port Arthur.

We spent the school holidays at Port Arthur, climbed on the ruins and learned to spell “penitentiary” from the prim signboards showing us what the buildings looked like a hundred years ago. In the 1920s it became a film set, buildings re-roofed and patched with canvas for the shooting of For the Term of His Natural Life. Dad bought us dixies of vanilla icecream from the kiosk and we looked at black-and-white stills from the movie, fading and crooked in a display window outside. The actors were as remote as the convicts that preceded them, but a lot prettier. It was a nice holiday, but it wasn't Gothic.

I went away, visited Europe's ruined abbeys, mediaeval dungeons and craggy alps and saw a wolf somewhere in a zoo. I read and studied and did things and eventually returned to Tasmania. Now I can recognise the strangeness and isolation of our mountains and lakes and forests, background to so many idiosyncratic and outlandish characters and events. It's Gothic all over!

Well – except for Port Arthur.

The trouble with Port Arthur is we know too much about it. Today it is beautifully maintained with tasteful restorations, tranquil gardens, informative educational displays and a fine restaurant. Diligent visitors can immerse themselves in the story of a convict-of-their-choice and read first-hand accounts of sea-voyages, hardships, punishments and all the rest. They can visit the high-tech genealogy centre in the former lunatic asylum (which later became the Council Chambers and is now a museum and coffee shop. Make of this what you will) to find out whether any of their ancestors appear on the lists. And there are lists – interminable lists of names and misdemeanours, punishments and appointments, lists of food allowances, stores, clothing, produce and anything else of administrative importance. This is bureaucracy. There is no room for imagination. It's magnificent, but it's not Gothic.


Remains of administration building at Saltwater River, on the Tasman Peninsula

For Gothic I recommend the old coalmines site at Saltwater River. Remote, less visited, its past has not disappeared under layers of subsequent cultural baggage.

13 March 2011

Tasmanian Gothic Stuff - Number One



1. Tales by Marcus Clarke and Price Warung about convict life in Tasmania are generally considered to be the earliest works of Tasmanian Gothic fiction.

Marcus Clarke visited Tasmania briefly in 1870 to research articles he was writing for the Argus and his serial, His Natural Life, began running in the Australasian Journal shortly thereafter. When it was published in book form in 1874 the name was changed to For the Term of His Natural Life. In the preface to his novel Clarke writes:

“no writer – so far as I am aware – has attempted to depict the dismal condition of a felon during his term of transportation.

“I have endeavoured in His Natural Life to set forth the working and results of an English system of transportation carefully considered and carried out under official supervision”.

He blames the practice of “allowing offenders against the law to be herded together in places remote from the wholesome influence of public opinion” for the “tragic and terrible [. . . ] events which have actually occurred” and are related in the novel. Still, the whole story is an imaginative and melodramatic tale of injustice and improbable co-incidences – and a jolly good read.


Price Warung (real name William Astley) was also a journalist, and four collections of his stories of convict life were published in The Bulletin between 1892 and 1898. He took great pains in researching his stories, interviewing “old lags” and former penal station officers, searching newspapers and documents, and his stories have been praised for their historical accuracy. However, they are fictions loosely based on fact, and, like Clarke, he accentuated sensational incidents and created some truly bizarre and macabre scenes and events.

Both Clarke and Astley depict convicts as victims, transported on some trivial pretext, brutalised and corrupted by a cruel system.

In fact, the majority of convicts were petty criminals with several prior convictions before being sentenced to transportation, and were relatively well treated. However, their grandchildren, embarrassed by the past, accepted and encouraged the myth of the Innocent Ancestor. Transportation to Tasmania ceased in 1854. By the time Clarke and Astley were writing, the convict legend was well established and, as Coultman Smith says of For the Term of His Natural Life, "lo and behold, his book was believed as truth, although it was never intended to be anything more than a good tale."


references:

Clarke, Marcus. For the Term of His Natural Life. Oldham, Beddome & Meredith Pty Ltd, Hobart. undated

Andrews, B.G. preface: Tales of the Convict System by Price Warung. University of Queensland Press. 1975

Smith, Coultman. Shadow Over Tasmania. J. Walsh and Sons, Hobart. 1941


***



This is the first of a series of photographs of "Tasmanian Gothic" things I've found around the place.

You don't have to agree with my opinion about what is, or is not, Tasmanian Gothic. If you really don't agree, start a discussion on my Tasmanian Gothic Facebook Page - and post your own photos.