Wild sky looking west over Cape Raoul

Day 1 - Thursday 5 April 2012

I leave Hobart at 6.30am. The sun is shining and itís a beautifully mild Thursday morning in autumn. The streets are quiet, no one is around and everything appears to be much stiller than normal. As I was getting ready to be picked up, my cat ĎChillieí re-appeared after 5 days of being missing to great joy for all within our household. This makes for a good mood all around when leaving the house for 10 days off for another adventure on Tasman Island.

In the helicopter and a great holistic view of the island and its magnificent inspiring cliffs, next stop Tasman
Right on time Mike and Derek arrive and I hop into Mikeís old Land Rover for the drive down to the Taranna Parks office. The first conversation we have, whilst travelling over the traffic-less Derwent River Bridge, is a story from Mike about being stuck whilst kayaking down a river in grey gloomy Ďeerieí fog, with the river water he was on being described as Ďblack like oil.í I see this as another good omen for things to come. Lets hope we get some fog, and big piles of old, tip-style rubbish for me look at and photograph and maybe draw as these are my only preconceptions for artistic exploration on this trip, as, like previous trips, I mostly want keep an open mind with how I might approach being there as an artist.

The drive feels long and slow, perhaps because I am eager to get back onto Tasman. After waiting for about an hour at Safety Cove, the helicopter finally arrives and soon we are on our way towards the island. The pilot flies us low over the Tasman Peninsula, rounding the top of the Blade and Cape Pillar before turning right continuing the journey across the Tasman Passage and the length of the island, and finally rounding the southern tip before landing. It takes about 10 minutes in total and its an intense assault of experiential being, offering a truly strange and mutated view of the landscape from the vantage point of arriving in a helicopter. In fact, this being my fifth or sixth time landing like this, its abnormally becoming a little less strange and more of the norm. However, as with other times doing this I am also in awe of the full body sensations of it; seeing the island appear in the distance as we rise up over the sand dunes of Safety Cove, the barrage of loud blasting static white noise from the helicopter rotor blades whirring overhead, the diesel smell of the choppers engines as it burns fuel in the rapid acceleration towards our destination, and the sweat cooling my body from the mild anxiety sensed provide by the vulnerability of being in a helicopter Ė that feeling of just a small piece of plastic between you and a drop into the vast sea or cliff face below. In short, itís a swift and sharp introduction to the tone of what is to come; a radical shift in life, in living life, and in what my normal perceptions are. In how I sleep and converse with others, and more importantly, in how I look.

After arrival, I head to the house referred to as Q2, which will be my lodgings for the next 10 days. Itís also known as the middle house as itís located in between the other two houses on the island. Positioned a short walk from Q3, the house nearest to the lighthouse and helipad, Q2 is fairly run down, very basic, with only two of the front rooms capable of being used as accommodation. There are two beds in one room and one in the other. The third house on the island, known as Q1, is further north from the both Q2 and Q3 but it is the grand dame of the three as it was built to be the head-keepers abode and therefore has a few more rooms than the others. I settle on a room in Q2 and unpack a few of my things. I set up my bed then wander back to Q3 to have the first of many communal morning teas. Q3 is the best kept house on the island due to its position close to the light. This is where the majority of the people on this trip are staying and where meals and social gatherings are mostly to be held. So begins the ritual of eating and drinking on the island. Carefully scheduled, this is one of the most important aspects of Tasman Island life whilst on these trips. Revolving around communal breakfasts (not so much communal as most of us tend to arise and eat at different times), morning teas, lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. Today, after something to eat and drink, Chris and I set up the header tank in Q2, before heading back to Q3 for lunch. The routine of Tasman life continues as if I had never left.

There is no monotony about this landscape; everywhere I turn it is filled with nature at its most abundant and magnificent. There are looming vertical cliffs, a vast infinite stretching horizon, a lone albatross drifts through the sky, and the list goes on and on. One of the first things that I really notice is that everything spatially is so in-my-face. All the elements I have been analysing for so many years are here again in my immediate vicinity, up close, being immersed in place again, and experiencing the place first hand.

My new boots feel good and are very comfortable but I have sweaty Tasman feet again. Iím much more prepared this trip than I have been ever before. Thereís the same buzzing of flies around the room, the chirping of birds with first light, talk of previous trips and other adventures, the rawness of living away from my standard affluent life.

Our stuff arriving on the next trip, Q3, the lighthouse and the oil store in the background
What a glorious day Mother Nature has provided us today. Its 25 degrees and sunny, thereís no wind, plenty of stillness, itís a joy being back on what feels like a familiar island to me, like talking to an old friend who I havenít spoken with in years but as soon as we speak its just like old times again. I am enjoying the anticipation of what is to come on this trip.

After lunch I do a little weeding with fellow artist Sue Lovegrove, who, in the past, has made many beautifully intricate paintings based on the grasses of the island. I like working with her in the long grasses. I feel calm. I also get a good sense of what Sue sees in the landscape and why and how she responds to it in her artworks. The colours, beauty, intricacy and minutia of detail within the grass, itís all there, densely packed into each small section. She has experienced this frequently whilst on the island through her many hours of wading through the grass; weeding, looking, seeing, feeling, thinking, analysing, interpreting, etc. She has a lovely feel for the up-closeness of the grass. Whereas I feel like Iím still getting a feel for its elements, its structure, and its deep chromatic palate. Iím taken by its movement, the sound it makes, how it grows, what all of the different types are called, where they come from, and now, whilst weeding it, how to kill it.

After afternoon tea we decide on a bit of an introduction walk around the island. Starting at the oil store on the other side of the lighthouse from Q3, we work our way down to the top of the haulage way with a few stops into Q2, Q1 and at the old whim, in-between. One of the other stops we make is at the weather station. Here Sue and I talk about her fascination with the grass on the island, and how she has spent many hours painting the cliffs of Cape Pillar from this position whilst she was here over summer for 4 weeks. I am intrigued by this sort of insight from her. Further through the walk we head to the top of the old tip site area, basically a place where the keepers would dump stuff simply by throwing it off the edge of the cliff. I take many photos of the top of tip site, and all of the other little piles of rubble lying around the island at various points on the walk, such as; the now collapsed Clerk of Works office (otherwise known as the Relief Keepers Quarters); an old water tank out the back of Q1 filled with old timber, asbestos, wire and other detritus; and, a few other smaller sites.

A late afternoon walk through the long grass

Whilst walking I think of David Keeling (and his ideas of landscape/culture in his artworks) and of the human cultural inhabitancy within the landscape of this place. I think of Sue and her beautifully layered, repetitive grasses. I think of my own repetitive scribbles replicating the textures of the rocks. I start to see this again in the rocks that Iím looking at around the tip site and I take lots of photos. I see long black shadowy crevices, and rich textured variations of tonal greys in the rock. There is very little colour in this rock. All of sudden its appearing everywhere, interesting compositions everywhere I look. I think how this is my close-up-ness of Tasman to Sueís grasses. Only then, and for a brief period, do I start to think of Miha Strukelj and his use of contrast with tonal values. I need to focus more on this when I am looking and photographing the landscape here, and be more conscious of what I see. This feels a little bit like my introduction back into place, through the eyes of art.

I think again about this notion of landscape (place) / culture of Keeling and about what I do. Itís not Culture, or is it? It is definitely landscape (place) but what goes with it. Drawing as culture. What makes Keeling so interesting is this simple premise that he has, that flows through just about everything he does in a careful and focused way.

The sun going down on my 1st day back
As I look up I notice that thereís a beautiful light in the sky as the sunsets over mainland Tasmania. It turns from bright yellow to orange to purple as the sunlight fades and the darkness sets in for the night shift. I think of the futility of taking images of sunsets. I donít know what can be done with them. They exude such a dense and complicated contrast of colour and light. I think on this trip Iím more interested in the notion of fog. Or how a fog has the capacity to overwhelm a place. Fog has mystical qualities, or Ďeerinessí as Mike says, in a sense itís a kind of void like space, abstracting the detail of all of the things it consumes. And as Virtue does, its way of flooding a scene with a blanket of the past, instead of, for example, a cloud just sitting in or on top of the sky, it smothers everything around itself.

It's great being back on Tasman again, dinner is similar to all of first nights that I have spent on Tasman in the past. There are lots of silences amongst us, but the people seem really nice. After dinner, the wind has picked up and I walk down to Q2, absorbing the wind, the darkness, the silhouettes, and the sound of rough and raw nature. I feel remarkably calm, the calmest Iíve been whilst being on this island.

Iím tired but today was a good day, I did some weeding, and more importantly some reacquainting with a special place. I looked closely at its upfront grandeur and was once again surprised by its depth of complexity. Much more will be revealed in the next few days and I am little anxious, yet mostly calm about what lies ahead. I must remember to think about the basics of looking and drawing whilst here; to squint my eyes to concentrate on tone, think about structural lines to formulate objects and composition, negative space, shape, etc.

I also think about the names of things here. There is the Monkeys on the southern edge of the island, Anchor Rock on the north, The Blade, Cape Pillar, Snobbyís Rocks on the eastern side, the Haulage Way, the Whim, the Oil Store, the Weather Station, Q1, Q2 and Q3, the Relief Keepers Cottage (otherwise known as the Clerk of Works office), the Zigzag track, the Hippolytes, which can be seen over the other side of Cape Pillar. And then thereís the unofficial names, such as The Lost World and Trautiís Rock. These names seem familiar to me now, as do the places associated with them.

There will be lots of weeding for me on this trip. I feel that I will get a very good sense of the grass, like Sue has been doing, and I am very much looking forward to it. The roller coaster, emotionally and physically, that is being on Tasman has begun.