Monday, May 19, 2008

Sarah Island--Part 1

Here I always have new terrain, both physical and historical. For my 68th birthday and before her departure for 12 days in the Basque country of Spain, La Professora and two friends arranged a three day journey to the Macquarie Harbor region of Tasmania. We dropped Cello off the night before at Jane and Ann's where his skippergee family lives and at 5 the next morning were making our way to the airport for the hour flight to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, Australia's island state. Departures and arrivals always seem to happen in the dark of night or the softer darkness of early morning here, whether one is leaving for an hour or twenty-one hour flight. Adventure in mere movement marks this continent.

Tasmania or Van Diemens Land as it was known in the penal colony history of this land is a place of dark stories --violence marks its early days--whether the victims be Aboriginal peoples or the men, women and children of London's overcrowded ship prisons shipped as raw colonial material to the Southern hemisphere. Steal a handkerchief and Van Diemens Land becomes your prison. I knew this island was the best and worst of Australia's complex past--with the Mainlanders speaking of its inhabitants the way Manhattanites often spoke of New Jersey. If my 1999 journey to the center of Australia, to the red sacred monolith of Uluru, and the dry river bed of Alice Springs, had let me touch for a brief instant, the Aboriginal homelands of the interior desert, this journey through Hells Gates of Macquarie Harbor and our visit to the stone remnants of the penal colony of Sarah Island was to bring home to me the charged national stories of a country built on the lives of social outcasts, so harshly punished for small acts of thievery and in some instances, political resistances.

Unlike the mainland, Tasmania is a land marked by internal waterways. Our plane flies low over the mouth of the Derwent River into the bay where Hobart sits, with its pretty little bay side cottages and cleaned up fishing docks. Mitch and Rose drive us up and down the narrow streets that all seem to lead to a view of the harbor and I am reminded of small New England fishing towns, that I visited with other lovers in the 70s and 80s. Like for them, tourism now understands the appeal of the 19th century preserved housing and the need for small warm coffee shops and stores selling homegrown wool and watercolors of the Tasmanian river scapes. Then it is on our way, along the Derwent river valley highway, the sunlight beaming off the river, gold reflecting gold as the autumnal colors are mirrored in the parallel waterway. The coastal town of Strahan is our destination, but first, three hours later, we must pass through the mining moonscape of Queenstown. This is a place that scorned prettiness.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Hey Joan,

Hope you are well. You have been to where I grew up. I am from Tasmania and I hope you liked it!