Tasmania - The Tipping Point?The hardcopy sold out in Hobart, apparently.  Tasmania – The Tipping Point? an entire Griffith Review devoted to discussing the past and present character, and the consequential future of Australia’s small state.  My home state.

This Review edition is a mixture of academic essays, memoirs, historical narrative, and some fictional pieces.  They are of inconsistent quality and relevance but mostly good.

Jonathan West’s essay Obstacles to Progress: What’s wrong with Tasmania, really?  has been held up as the shiniest gem in this particular conglomerate.  I read it with interest.  It certainly has some value, but I did not come across any novel thought.  Tasmanians have an ingrained underachievement, West intones, and somehow we need to get over that.  The analysis has merit – the prevalence and power of interest groups for instance.  The topic that has gained most interest, however, is our so-called “bogan problem” – the significantly large welfare-dependent populace.  West wants to turn off welfare resource provision, to induce a starvation-induced productivity that will change the culture.  It might be an effective idea.  I don’t know if it’s a good one though.

If you are an outsider wanting an insight into the ills of Tasmania  just read Danielle Wood’s Hotel Royale on Liverpool, a personal account of her battles with the public health system.  I too know what this is like, having spent much time in the Royal Hobart Hospital (The “Hotel Royale”) sitting next to my wife’s bed.  Wood’s description is no exaggeration

At the Royal there is not enough of anything to go around: not enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough supplies, not enough elective surgeries, not enough energy, not enough hours in the day

Wood wrote her piece before the 2011 health cuts and acknowledges this fact, wondering how it could get worse.  In 2012 my wife spent six months waiting for category one surgery.  Wood’s fears were founded.

There is a huge amount of reading in this Review.  I enjoyed the historical accounts and the anecdotal snippets of places with which I am familiar.  It made me feel, well, at home. In the more esoteric sense, however, it was the words of Rodney Croome who best distilled the Tasmania I know and love.

Tasmania is a fracture and polarised society with a weak middle ground.  It moves forward by the grinding of fault lines against each other.  Unfortunately this sometimes produces great heat and instability, but it offers far more to the world as a result.  Tasmania is neither entirely conservative nor predictably progressive.  If it were, it could not have made its great and original contribution to the nation and the world.  Tasmania is both the abominable Fatal Shore and the felicitous Apple Isle, together at the same time.  The fact that such a paradox can exist in the heart of a single people and place is not easy to grasp. But without at least attempting to grapple with Tasmania’s contradictions, the island remains impossible to explain.

Not that I agree with his definition of marriage, but then that’s a fault line, isn’t it?

The enigmatic, microcosmic, necessarily familial nature of Tasmanian society is alluded to throughout.  In Tasmania, when it comes to the principled things in life – politics, economics, and applied philosophy – there is no room to retreat to comfortable ground for the occasional sortie; Tasmania is where “opponents” meet at the shops and nod to each other in the mall.  Tasmanian society operates like one big awkward family dinner, in which disagreements find truces in awkward silences, after flurries of “you just don’t understand!”

As in The West Wing‘s New Hampshire, politics, and everything else in Tasmania is “retail.”  Weasel words don’t work down here in the long term because in Tasmania you can’t avert your gaze; you eventually have to look everyone in the eye.  Relationships matter more than ideas and the idealist who forgets that will find Tasmania a place of loneliness, rejection, and even injustice.

But all in all Tasmania – The Tipping Point? frustrated me.  Yes, I’m a bit proud of having had a whole edition devoted to Tasmania.  In reflection, however, it’s the sort of pride that’s akin to child delighting in a MacDonald’s happy meal toy.

Above all I was frustrated because this Review is a one sided thing.  It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel very Tasmanian in the end.  All I get is a whiff of Salamanca wine-sipping holier-than-thou lefty pontification.  This isn’t the Tasmania that I know.  This is wordy wordsmiths, artisans wrapping themselves up in a Peter Dombrovski picture, tying it with a rainbow ribbon and dousing it with the perfume of Huon Pine trinkets.  I can almost hear the whistling toy birds of the Saturday market.  As I read I had flashes of  some oh-so-earnest sparkled eye’d gaze of the rebel-with-yet-another-cause ancient baby boomer at some bland tarkine-land-rights-climate-changing-equal-rights-for-gay-whales-saving-the-forests stall.  Sometimes I agreed with her.

I don’t see the Tasmania in which Fords and Holdens are things of utmost importance.  Where’s the miner, the farmer, the (former) pulp worker?  Where’s the story of the kids in Triabunna, or Scottsdale, or Smithton who don’t see their dad because the only trucking job is on the mainland?  Where’s the bloke who does his best to drain the oil in his own car because he can’t afford the service?  Where’s the kids excited about going 4WDing in the bush block, the girl who has spent more days in a jeans and ugg-boots than tye-die and dreds?  The boy who learns to skin a rabbit but isn’t allowed to learn to shoot the gun any more?  Where’s the Tasmania of Phil Maney pies, Boags beer on tap?  Where’s the single mum scraping vegemite onto a cracker for school lunch?  Or the kid who does it because the parents are stoned in bed?  Or the dad with his kids doing brekky at Maccas on “his” Saturday morning?

Even the half-normal David Walsh is only in there because he started MONA. D*mn bl**dy MONA! On every other page was some rambling ode to this wonderful MONA as if Tasmania has at last come into its own.  The Tasmanians I grew up with would appreciate MONA; but only because it was some punter getting around the tax department by buying a bunch of crap that involved naked chicks.

I appreciated Edition 39 of the Griffith Review.  It learned me a lot and it got me some thinking.  But its a bit of a wank really.  A bit like the State Government at the moment: Nostalgia mixed with spin coated with a thin film of supposed academic credibility.  Nice words, some good light entertainment.

But now we need to get on with life.

If you are being affected, or have been affected, by a long wait for surgery in the Tasmanian Health System consider joining the Waiting List Tasmania facebook group.  It’s a place to share your story and raise your voice.

Delayed surgery is a situation felt by many.  It affects not only the person who needs surgery but their friends and family.

Let’s talk to each other and encourage one another.  Maybe we’ll get noticed.

Finding HomeMy response to reading an autobiography is a binary condition – the book is either tedious or don’t-want-to-put-it-down fascinating.  It is the latter condition that results from a read of Finding Home, the autobiography of the Gen-Xer Tasmanian Christian Environmentalist Activist, Erik Peacock.

My fascination was not simply due to the fact that I know Erik personally: a bit more than simply a mere acquaintance, a friend of a friend and occasional conversationist. I know some of those he talks about. I remember many of the environmental and political issues he refers to. Sometimes it was a surprise (“that was him doing that?!?”) and other times it was nostalgic. He writes

…I found myself lounging on the back of a flatbed truck full of woodchips with a smellly hippy doing blocks of the Hobart CBD. We both had suits on and life sized pictures of then Prime Minister John Howard and aspiring prime minister Kim Beasley which we held in front of our faces and then pretended to snog. The point was that both the government and the opposition were ‘in bed’ together when it came to forest issues. (Page 197)

I recall a time when walking the streets of Hobart I glimpsed an acquaintance from YWAM and Uni sitting in the back of a ute. I remember this event.

In a shallow and mild sense, then, Erik’s story and my own overlap by simple accidents of space and time. The insight into his story, however, has caused me to realise that there is also something of a deeper affinity. I also am a child migrant from England. I also had parents attempting their own version of The Good Life in rural Tasmania. I also learned to draw spirituality together with experiences of the land and the wilderness (although nowhere near as adventurously as Erik) and to appreciate the maverick revolutionary nuances of grassroots-focussed greenly-tinged politics. I wasn’t home-schooled but, being TV-less for much of my childhood, I dwelt in the lands of books and brains rather than the latest trends and the common narrative of Saturday morning cartoons.

My journey is my journey of course. Erik reveals his own with a fair degree of openness and vulnerability, as well as sensitivity to some of the living, breathing characters that share the narrative with him. The book is constructed as a series of “stories”, largely chronological, each one a piece in the mosaic. Once the story progresses past the foundational experiences of his childhood and adolescence there are some clear themes: his environmental activism, his journey of faith, and a broad-spectrum awareness of culture and cultural interaction.

The first of these – environmental activism – is the guise in which I best know Erik. The activism of his youth, including blockades and demonstrations, speaks to the true sense of activist; an activist is one who gets into action, who doesn’t just sit and whinge but does something. His activism is self-generated adventure to be sure, but like any good adventure the reader is caught up in amusement and outrage, empathy and thoughtful reflection.

It is easy, however, to combat engagement with the activist story with cynicism. Erik doesn’t always help his case (if this is indeed his intent) as the philosophical grounds for his environmentalism are mostly wrapped inside his own personal responses to a particular event, or they remain hidden inside some stark statistics and presentation of facts. The rights and wrongs of his position are assumed, not argued for. The point where he does engage however, is where his environmentalist meets his faith. He decries the lack of Christian engagement with environmental issues and is scathing of the use of the “dominion covenant” to justify a purely utilitarian view of the environment which gives no innate value to forests and the like.

Erik the Christian is someone who rests much on spiritual experiences. These experiences are both positive – he references YWAM meetings and other places where the presence of the Holy Spirit are tangible – and negative – aspects of spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry are recounted. And so we encounter the enigmatic figure of an ardent environmentalist merged with a zealous evangelist who is willing to speak of sin and demonic oppression.

He fully admits, however, that his conservatism has waned. I empathise with much of his reflections on the state of society and the church. I have also walked the path of depression as he has and have found refuge in elements of contemplation that are foreign to the fervent pentecostalism of my earlier Christian life. I wonder, though, whether in some areas his conservatism has increased – he is less and less a pacifist, his rejection of multiculturalism as a practical reality seems to strengthen in its resolve as the journey continues. Erik Peacock remains a delightful enigma.

Here, in book form, is what might be called a “coffee conversation in black and white.” This is the sort of stuff – everything from views on home education and politics to military procurement strategies – that naturally flow when wannabe-polymaths share a beverage. You don’t always agree, but iron sharpens iron, good thoughts are thought, and strengthening happens. I am hoping, in my case, that my reading of this book may preempt such a conversation.

For the more general reader, this book can be taken as something of an insight into a generation. Here is the turmoil of the post-boomers, we who are the receivers of idealism and cynicism in equal parts. We who seek to grasp some of the things of eternity in the face of selfishly purist utility and vacuous political correctness. Here we have angst, passion, depth, frustration, primality and formality shaken up and pressed down. Like it or not, the Erik Peacock’s of this world exemplify the current and imminent thought-shapers and leadership of the world. God help us all!