No matter how enlightened and efficient the world might be, there will
always be those who cannot find a place for themselves. People are displaced
when borders move, regimes change, land dries up, industries close and
faiths become marginalised. For nature, the expanding demands of human
consumption mean there is less space to support non-essential organisms.
And for ideas, changing intellectual fashion and the spinning wheels of
consumption mean that certain ideal and cultural practices languish.
But we are blessed with a planet where variety of human society is still
possible. There must be somewhere in earth's far reaches where threatened
forms of life might find sanctuary. Such a location need not be the 'promised
land' sought by Moses, to be conquered and claimed for eternity. All that's
required is a piece of land far enough away from the centre to be safe,
and dense in nature to resist over-cultivation.
In the mythology of the 'new world', America opened its arms to the downtrodden
of old Europe. No matter how poor or humble, they were given the chance
of sharing the American dream of wealth and success. They came as Poles,
Irish, Germans, Swedish, Italians and Armenians, but all emerged as Americans,
part of the story of an energetic and forward-thinking country.
Nothing could be further from the USA than the island of the coast of
mainland Australia known as Tasmania. With virtually no role to play on
the official world stage, it has still managed to offer quiet sanctuary
for a remarkable range of peoples, natures and ideas. The island's most
prominent responsibility rests with the forests and river systems of south-west
Tasmania, which offer one of the world's most important wilderness areas.
Much of Tasmania's political muscle has been exercised around environmental
issues, principally through the leadership of Bob Brown, leader of the
While the 'Apple Isle' is readily perceived as Australia's concession
to bio-diversity, it has recently also begun to champion the human equivalent.
The Tasmanian support for Kosovar refugees and their Safe Havens continued
despite the turn of opinion elsewhere in Australia. And today, on the
stage of national politics, Tasmanian Federal representatives are outspoken
in support of humane treatment for asylum seekers. Greens Party leader
Bob Brown is most vocal in his criticism of the government approach. The
two candidates for the Hobart seat of Denison, Duncan Kerr and Greg Barns,
both express hesitation to follow the mainstream party's conformity to
The idea of Tasmania as a haven may seem to some a means of glossing
over the dark history of the island. The convict system of ruthless cruelty,
the attempted genocide of the Palawa nations and the trauma of the Port
Arthur massacre, all contribute to the sense of Tasmanian Gothic, which
has shrouded the island in a dramatic gloom.
For many, the island has been the 'end of the line'. The thylacine is
used as the main icon for tourists. In the past, the most famous Tasmanian
But times have changed. At the moment, Australia is experiencing a kind
of civil war of the heart, with a liberal class seemingly powerless to
'enlighten' the overwhelming majority of Australians who support the incarceration
of asylum seekers. There are various paths this could take us as a nation.
The liberal-minded could become comfortable in their rage, enjoying the
contrast against the more small-minded suburbanites. Or they could give
into political reality and concentrate on their own lives.
Australia has shown a greater capacity in the past to show compassion
to the world's homeless. As Malcolm Fraser has pointed out, the boat people
from Vietnam were given a radically different reception on the 1970s.
We need some part of Australia in which that other more compassionate
nation can find refuge.
There have been serious concerns in the past about the way people on
the mainland have perceived Tasmania. This concerns both lack of attention
to its achievements and over-attention of its ghoulish elements. I have
heard many sides of the argument during regular visits to Hobart and Launceston
over the years, as well as from the many Tasmanians living on the mainland.
Such conversations forewarn me to be hesitant in taking up a Tasmanian
point of view.
In this project, I come as a mainlander. In the middle of the nineteenth-century,
my great great grandfather was fortunate enough to spend some time in
Tasmania at his majesty's pleasure, but I'm not so interested in exploring
that past. I come as a mainlander seeking somewhere in my own country
where I can invest hope of a better society.
Australia needs an island now, more than ever.
Curator, Kevin Murray