Tasmania, a Lovesong: Part I

Ships Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, from the Nicolas Baudin expedition to Australia, c. 1800-1803
Ships Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, from the Nicolas Baudin expedition to Australia, c. 1800-1803

In September, we share four installments of this short story Tasmania, a Lovesong, by Australian author John Bryson, which journeys us along the eastern waters of Tasmania.

SNOW ON THE MOUNTAIN above, and awash with the tides are Waterman’s steps, where a pretty Gaff Trader lies forever in state, on show to the modern world, built one hundred and ten years back, so plying these Hobart wharves in 1912, in commission loading lumber, when a Norwegian anchored alongside, this the Fram, an adventurer, leaky and gouged from the ices South, lying back on her chain while a longboat ferried quiet Amundsen for the Dockside, he loosing his greatcoat for the walk to the telegraph, composing the words to be sent to his King.

Those times, northbound out of Hobart town meant first laying south by Opossum Bay and out of the estuary, past the Iron Pot, where such is the concentration of reef-bed ore that compasses swoon and chronometers pause, beyond the Bruny Isle and the last docile lees in Storm Bay, making East under Port Arthur and the Isle of the Dead, to slip behind Tasman Island, for a few minutes out of the South East swell, which breaks shore here for the first time since it left the Antarctic.

Only gunboats, merchants and race-fleets go that way any more. The rest of us save 60 sea-miles by heading for the isthmus on which the Dutch of the Heemskirk first landed, now the channel town Dunally, where the narrows have been dredged through to the Tasman Sea, and the woody peninsular below seems to be hinged there by the Swing Bridge. Most boats anchor on the inland side overnight, and navigators will tell you this is for safer passage, although when dusk falls every one wades to the wrinkled shallows, with torches and fire sticks, so it will strike you that skillful pilotage around here has to do with grilled Southern flounder and fried anchovies.

At the earliest light the bridge draws, and the way ahead is as placid as a flooded meadow, but the tussocks float aside on the bow’s wave, for these are awakening swan and preening duck, and the depth underfoot is plenty. The bridge-keeper walking the bank in pyjamas and oilskins, collects his toll with a long handled dip net, and the tradition here is that the fee be already hitched to bottle of Pilsner so to provide ballast in transit. From here on, the perspective is of tall ash and stringybark, the forest closes astern and parts ahead, and I have watched this from landward too, the vessel seems to be sailing the woods. Here comes a time now at which the treeline thins enough to release the astonishing sun, the waters flow like the mouth of a stream into a sandy and generous bay, where an inexplicable shade at the edge of the shiny current is, most likely, a spray of minnows or basking ray, and see how all these sunbeam shallows and channel blues speak of the Western Pacific, whatever the charts might say.

About the Author:

In 1985, the book Evil Angels by Australian author John Bryson was released. Its revelatory investigation into the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain shed new light on the controversial case and quickly became a career defining piece of work for Bryson. Other publications include the novel, To the Death, Amic (Viking/Penguin 1994) a collection of short fiction, Whoring Around (Penguin 1981) and a collection of reportage Backstage at the Revolution. Bryson lectures in law, literary journalism, and fiction, acts on advisory panels to government, NGOs, and universities, and on literary judging panels. At the end of the millennium, a Schools of Journalism panel included him in ‘The 100 Australian Journalists of the Century’. In 2014, he was awarded membership of the Order of Australia.