Cultural Artefact: Place
Peter Porter in 'On First Looking into Chapman's Hesiod' captures the extremes of attachment to or identification with place. For many however ambivalence is more dominant. Among the myriad meanings of place, many refer to a particular terrestrial space whether city, town, tract of land, area, region or island. It may also mean where a person belongs and is sometimes synonymous with home. Place may be physical or symbolic, individual or communal, is dynamic rather than static varying according to location, the individual and his/her circumstances , class, gender, ethnicity or religion. Islands, because of their physical isolation, accentuate normal feelings about place, Debate about place has a significance far beyond intellectual speculation. It has become central to recent conflict over land use in urban and rural settings and salient to a community's identity through its interpretation of the past.
Until the first generation of colonial born attained adulthood, many European inhabitants felt no real attachment. Acclimatisation and adaptation, physical and mental, had to occur before there was any fusing with the land. Many free settlers, often merchants or pastoralists, regarded themselves as temporary sojourners whose stay was directly related to ability to exploit resources to enrich themselves. Military men foresaw a limited stay before transferral to the next Imperial outpost. A smaller number, sons of Neptune, had a colonial orientation as they harvested maritime resources such as whales and seals. With limited economic and legal opportunities to return home, probably convicts were the first to identify with the island, whatever the location.
Preconceptions often did not match reality. On the Caroline's arrival at Circular Head in 1828, Rosalie Hare, the captain's wife, encapsulated this initial disappointment:
Their minds, like the minds of most settlers, had been painting fancy visions, and, instead of comfortable houses as they had been used to in England, here there were tents, bark huts and huge mountains … all were displeased. Thus ended the voyage of hopes. Young men mechanics were stamping with passion, wishing themselves with their mothers, and all wishing themselves at home.
At times identification only occurs when 'the other' is discovered either through travel overseas or encounters with non-Tasmanians. Otherwise insularity is revealed in attitudes towards place. Edward Curr, Van Diemen's Land Company agent, and surveyor and historian James Calder, noted this ignorant chauvinism, a combination of official propaganda, word of mouth and individual capacity for self-delusion. The latter believed Tasmanians were disinclined to 'hear with patience one word , even of truth , against the somewhat unprepossessing island of their birth'. Perhaps they were not all to blame, for:
The press of the country and the writings of idly complimentary or ignorant strangers have deluded them into the preposterous notion that no soil is so productive, no climate so salubrious, no atmosphere so pure, no skies so blue and beautiful as their own.
From early maritime explorers to the present, ambivalence to place has been prevalent. Sailing along the South Coast in 1798, Flinders marvelled that the mountains were 'amongst the most stupendous works of Nature I ever beheld, and, at the same time, are the most dismal and barren that can be imagined'. These feelings have continued till the present.
When visiting Somerset in 1841, Scottish-born, Van Demonian child and widow in India, Mrs Jane Williams, evoked the idealised England. Her 'happy England' was winding roads, fringed by hawthorn hedges, leading to villages of churches and thatched cottages with latticed windows where churches dominated the skyline. For nearly a century and a half, Tasmanians attempted to recreate their version of antipodean Little England. In an attempt to assuage homesickness, many constructed estates with nomenclature, architectural styles, trees, shrubs and flowers, birds and fish and animals imported from the Home Country. Acclimatisation societies aided and abetted individuals whose introductions of those exemplars of cultural imperialism , rabbits, trout, blackberry, gorse and thistle , produced unforeseen consequences. Some settlers adapted quickly and never left the island; others made their fortune before retiring to Britain, while yet others, torn between the land of their birth and their adopted country, made several homecomings but were never at home.
While nostalgia flourished in the homesick, memories of 'old England' in the colonial-born often were either chimerical or non-existent. In 1831 GTWB Boyes, commissariat officer, observed of the rising generation of Tasmanians that, 'As they grow up they think nothing of England and can't bear the idea of going there. It is extraordinary the passionate love they have for the country of their birth', and then surmised that, 'it is remarked that the natives of a Mountain Land feel stronger attachment for their birth place than the Natives of the Plain'. By the mid-nineteenth century, an increasing number knew only of their island home, or, more precisely of their own district. James Calder commented on the ignorance 'of their own country beyond the limited districts they belong to, and to which they appear as ineradicably attached as their own beautiful mimosas are to the soil'.
Nostalgia for mother country also has been salient for non-British immigrants. While verdant landscapes were often an initial trigger for identification, there were limits to its appeal. In the late 1940s an Estonian, Ilmar Kala, en route to a public works department camp near Zeehan, queried Tasmania's reputation as being 'more like Europe than any other place in Australia … [What] we had seen around Launceston had certainly looked friendly and welcoming and, yes, European, but this , this was quite different. … The country was green, after the bare hills of Queenstown positively lush, but it seemed to be quite uninhabited and desolate, even forbidding'. Like other migrant groups, the Balts' reaction to place depended on education level and marital status, with single men adjusting better than the well-educated.
Attachment to place in remote areas may be economic and/or a physical-spiritual identification and vary in duration. For those who existence depends upon 'wilderness', the environment is stripped of its romanticism. Variations to individual's response to a particular place are illustrated by the following. Bill Steers, a snarer, claimed that as the open season for game was so short, six to eight weeks, there was no time for considering the beauty of the Pelion Plains. In contrast, aestheticism is often paramount for favoured locations by walkers, the peripatetic pedestrians of the wild. Their appreciation is founded in the nineteenth-century Romantic tradition which celebrates wildness of landscape with almost religious fervour. Evocative is TB Moore, explorer-surveyor, who enthusing about the natural beauty of the irregular, wild landforms around Frenchman's Cap, exclaimed that 'If there be an Elysium on earth it is this'.
While swimming in the Franklin River, wilderness activist Bob Brown
felt a deep-down belonging to this place. It engulfed my consciousness. It opened my mind to a natural history and beauty and timelessness which the structure and schedule of urban existence denied.
In contrast, for Liberal premier, Robin Gray, the Franklin was for 'eleven months of the year … nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden and unattractive to the majority of people'. Huon piners portrayed other views of the Franklin-Gordon wild rivers. Charles 'Chut' Abel, son of the legendary piner, Barnes Abel, supposed that 'if anybody had reason to hate those rivers, it was us fellas that worked in those places, but I never had any hate for the river. I could always see beauty in the river , always see it there'. In contrast was Horace Nielsen's view that if 'there was ever a place worse than that in the whole of the world, I've yet to see it or hear about it'. To him the wilderness was all leeches, tiger snakes and rain, often three hundred days a year. 'Most piners will admit at times they hated the place. I never hated a place in the whole of my life as much as I hated that place down there.' While liking the river as a boy, Ron Penney, vehemently stated that 'once I got away , you'd never get me back in that bloody hole, that's for sure!'
In commenting upon the original Lake Pedder, prominent artist Max Angus asserted that a communication gap arose between visitors and non-visitors because of the inadequacy of representations such as words and maps. Ambience of place aroused emotions beyond language. However, thanks to photos, many armchair travellers express pride in and affection for remote places, even if the experience is sanitised. To some this spiritual affinity is a post-Second World War phenomenon due to affluence, increased leisure and technological sophistication. In reality, the importance of visual imagery in creating fusion with place began with nineteenth-century colonial artists such as Lycett, Glover, Forrest and Piguenit. Around the 1900s JW Beattie, S Spurling and F Styant Browne established a landscape photographic tradition. Subsequently HW King in the 1920s and in recent decades Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis were exemplars. The latter's Rock Island Bend was emblematic of the conservationists campaign to 'save' the Franklin River.
Some who 'in one generation fuse with the land' evolved a semi-Robinson Crusoe existence whereby the individual or group attempts to fashion an existence largely independent of society. Notable was Austrian-born Gustav Weindorfer, instrumental in the creation of the Cradle Mountain National Park. His was a communion with Nature, using natural resources to tide him over lean times until tourist numbers increased. In more recent times, the Alliston family on Three Hummock Island, evolved a similar lifestyle. In a sense both idylls were pre-Lapsarian, with man and animals mixing in harmony. Both welcomed visitors to their Paradise yet craved independence and solitude. Both were dependent ultimately on the very outside world they tried to keep at bay. F Critchley Parker, proprietor of the Australian Mining Standard, claimed that there was always 'a certain percentage of restless humanity who prefer a life of freedom in the bush to the trammels of society, even in its rudimentary phase … [even] if the life they led had the effect of rendering them monomaniacs of a harmless type'. While the Allistons and Weindorfer escaped this fate, escaped convict Philip Markham had not. After seven years of freedom in a hut near Fenton Forest, he surrendered in September 1843, claiming that several women were bothering him. During this time of solitude, Markham almost completely excluded the outside world, avoiding conversation and only once sighting another human at a distance. His was a Crusoe existence, keeping pigs and poultry, growing wheat and potatoes, making clothes from kangaroo skins and occasionally thieving from his neighbours, the Fentons, to supply deficiencies.
Identification of place with subjugation of nature and potential for economic largesse has been a recurring feature of Tasmanian history. Initially this involved comments on the park-like appearance of settled districts. Apposite is Lieutenant Bowen's remark in 1803 that at Herdsman's Cove, 'The banks are more like a noblemen's park in England than an uncultivated country. Every part is beautiful green and very little trouble might clear every valley I have seen in a month'. When Nature's bounty was absent, disparaging comments arose. Thus surveyor Wedge commented that westward of the Great Lake was 'totally unfit for any purpose, unless the Rocks should become an article of export for mending roads in England, or the Lake Waters should be discovered to possess some restorative qualities for the shattered and debilitated Nerves of our Indian neighbours'. Later that century in the north-west and north-east, the transformation of forest into productive farm land was evidence of the imposition of order on an unruly Nature. Suburbia is rarely identified as a battleground with Nature. Others celebrated nature's subjugation by mechanical means. Peter Conrad expressed affection for the Zinc Works and hydro-electricity works while on the west coast Critchley Parker senior insisted that, 'The throb of the steam engine, the shrill whistle marking the lapse of time, the Cyclopean thunder of the battery, and, above all, the hum betokening the presence of humanity' replaced the sounds of Nature.
Nostalgia of childhood, a return to those days of yore when innocence and roseate lens kept at bay pressures and conflicting forces of the outside world, is a key indicator of place. Trevor Byard described his childhood days at Western Creek, in the shadow of the Western Tiers. His happiest memories included clambering 'over rocks and logs in the stream's bed on an early dew-drenched morning of blossoms and bird song,' to cast a line. But surpassing all else was Mother Cummins peak, which he personified: 'no one could spend time in the area, or like my father's family be born and brought up under her beneficent shadow, long after time and circumstance has removed them to less beauteous surrounds, without the mind recalling those well-remembered lines of her beauty and majesty, … “Good morning, Mother Cummins”'. However, some reminiscences were negative. In The Doubleman, Christopher Koch's Robert Miller recalls his school days:
The bruise-coloured steeple of St Augustine's was visible for miles around on the hill of South Hobart: a watch-tower over a camp of fear. When I go back to my native town and look up Harrigan Street to that tower, I still feel the old nausea, the old dread.
Fostering 'fusion with the land' are the artists, literary and visual, although photographers have been mentioned. Attachment to region or neighbourhood infuses the narrative of many writers, native born and immigrants, with depth and nuances. Prominent litterateurs who have 'colonised regions of the place, as well as its past' are Bernard Cronin, Christopher Koch, Roy Bridges, Kathleen Graves, Marie Pitt, James McQueen and more recently Richard Flanagan whose work encompasses both city and country. Amanda Lohrey, Helen Hodgman and Carmel Bird together with Peter Conrad, Koch and Vivian Smith have colonised the cities.
Attraction of towns and suburbia, employment, leisure and sense of identity, communal and individual, have been less frequently noted. Here the ambivalences of nature were kept at a distance. A country upbringing induced in historian Marilyn Lake a sense of abandonment and destitution. Reassurance occurred only when a return to the city is imminent. Conrad suggested that the move from vegetables to flowers at the front of parental home in Hobart's northern suburbs was the completion of a conquest which began with construction of home on virgin land. However, while nature may have been conquered, domestication of society was not complete. Bourgeois distaste for working class slums like Wapping produced physical avoidance. In contrast was Amy Rowntree's assertion that 'Few cities can boast of a more beautiful suburb than Sandy Bay … [which] is a study for the brush of an artist', with its views to the harbour or to Mount Wellington.
Place and recreation have been inextricably intertwined. Some anglers travelled from Britain and interstate annually to fish their mecca, the Shannon Rise, which experts characterised as 'the finest dry fly fishing in the Southern Hemisphere'. For others the attractions were sporting carnivals , cricket and football contests, north-west athletic carnivals, or Cup days , agricultural shows and regattas. Sports days followed by dances at Interlaken and the Steppes were examples of regional attachment. Somewhat unusual was attachment for the temporary camp, Greenie Acres, for Franklin River campaigners.
Towards the end of the negative reaction to place is detachment, with escape being the most extreme expression. While motives for escape are manifold, detestation and abhorrence for society and place are potent. Literary figures often feel restlessness in a society where sport is king and pragmatism is elevated into an ideology. Conrad encapsulated this: 'mentally I left very early, although the body had to wait much longer before it could follow'. Reading permitted him to 'colonise the hostile world … [and he] became unassuagably homesick for a place I have never seen, which existed only in writing'. Thus the author created a mental fantasy whereas earlier generations created a material fantasy of antipodean England.
Place, attachment and society have been inextricably interlinked and help mould each other. Most graphically this was illustrated in the anti-transportation campaign of the 1850s when the Rev John West exemplified this attitude by describing Hells Gates at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour as 'not less appropriate to the place, than to the character and torment of the inhabitants'. This moral stain, emanating from felons threatened to contaminate the respectability of a colony, now more attuned to the physical landscape. Place had moulded an agent of change, convicts, who in turn had assisted in the transformation of 'wildness' into a composite antipodean England.
Personal identity and psychological well-being is frequently associated with place. It provides a sense of rootedness and connexion and a framework within which individuals and communities give meaning to life. The interpretation and representation of the mental and physical palimpsest of landscape to discern individual and societal stages of development is replete with dissonance. Expected diversity of responses has manifested itself throughout the state's history. High country snarer Basil Steers comments that the mountains were a drug of addiction underpin 'fusing with the land'. The salience of Britishness to notions of place has been the consequence of demography, institutions of government and education derived from the Mother Country. In particular, the nineteenth-century Romantic view of place has been potent in expressions of 'fusion'. From early maritime explorers to the present, ambivalence to place has been prevalent. Marie Pitt's observations in 1913 that the Western Highlands were 'superb in their silence, appalling in its melancholy grandeur' exemplified this. This enthrallment and encapsulation of fears of the unknown continue to the present. Rejection of place can be discerned in Premier Gray's comments. Piner Jim White's views that 'The bloody rainforest's only a picture of misery, water runnin' out the arse of your trousers all day long. Leech infested bloody place. Up to ya guts in mud!' are at odds with mainstream view of the beauty of wilderness rain forests They highlight differences between temporary and mental sojourners and those seeking their livelihood in a particular locality. They also highlight differences in landscape appreciation: the aesthetic which elevates the scenic, and the materialistic view which notes resources. Thus difference has and will be central to individual and communal attitudes to place.