Wild sky looking east over the Tasman Sea

Day 3 - Saturday 7 April 2012

Morning light over the south east high point of the island
I commence writing these words after morning tea, or around midday-ish Ė Wild weather has hit the island. I woke up this morning to the wind howling through the brick fireplace in my room. It's a mad howling drone that has disturbed about a third of my sleep last night. During the first third my window was intermittently rattling in the mild NE wind, then it went still although that meant that I could hear the soft patter of rain on the grass outside, then finally it really took stock in the later third of the night continuing wildly throughout the morning.

The rain eventually ceased, but the wind didnít. It blew up, bashing my senses as well as my body around the place as I attempted to navigate my way from Q2 to Q3 for breakfast. Then it would calm down again, only to resume unexpectedly a few moments later sending me across the path in what I'm sure looks like a drunken 4am stagger after a big night out. I love these wild winds as they blow through my head. I feel vulnerable, not trapped or overwhelmed, but certainly a little at the mercy of my surrounds. After breakfast we all sit around in Q3 as thereís little we can do in this weather.

On the pathway looking back at Q2, a storm coming from over Cape Pillar
I nestle myself in a comfy couch in the living room of Q3. It's a sparsely furnished room with a fireplace at one end. there's three different single couches along one wall, a table against the only window and a long, very low to the ground mustard colour three-seater. There is also a small cabinet tucked deep in one corner with a complete set of Australian Geographic magazines, a bunch of scientific documents about Tasman, a Tasman Island puzzle and a few other lighthouse/island/adventure type magazines. I pick up and start reading a few historical documents about the island, loosely filed into a dark brown folder. I read about the very early days of the settlement of the island. In one particular document is a very faded photocopy of a 19th century newspaper article documenting the decision process made over a 20 period prior to the eventual construction and opening of the lighthouse in the early 20th century. The period was from 1885 - when there was first a mention of putting a light on Tasman, up until the 1906 and the official turning on of the light. I must find these articles in Trove the national library archive as there is some fascinating detail in it. (The articles I read were; Official Opening of Tasman Island Light (1906) and The Maatsuyker Island Light - Another Tasmanian Light-House (1891))

Reading about this place makes me think of its many contrasting attributes. I think of the history, as an island with a working lighthouse, elucidated into my mind through stories or snippets held within old newspaper articles, and from the accounts Iíve read and heard from previous keepers and their children.

Generally, the stories about the historical aspects of the island focus on the wildness and the day to day operations of being on an island with a lighthouse. I have heard about how things were made, how much they cost, how things were delivered and what had to be done to survive, etc. There are the frequent accounts of the wild weather, such as like I'm experiencing today, the fog, the inhospitable nature of this place, and of course, the dramatic vertical cliffs.

Accounts frequently describe the island in through these very recognisable characteristics. But there is definitely more to it than this. These are things are I have written about in previous diaries and are bought to fore so eloquently by Sue Lovegrove as she discusses and depicts the subtle and soft side of the island. But generally these words are not really talked about. Itís more about the hardness, the isolation, the ruggedness, and the difficulty. But Iím with Sue in this instance, as I enjoy seeing the small, soft and micro elements that essentially are of equal importance when thinking about what it is that makes this place unique.

I sometimes find myself listening intensely to FoTI members talking about their knowledge of the plants, the clouds, and the other little things that make this place interesting, but often I find it difficult to decipher as it can be quite technical/scientific at times, perhaps my view is more poetic. Thank goodness for the handful of reports in the living room that help me to decipher all of this stuff that I feel compelled to understand more, and in doing so, constantly shifting my awareness of what makes up the holistic sense of place, or the heart and soul of this island. And in a way it is decipherable, it just takes time and a lot of looking and listening. So I guess the construction of this place in my mind is like a three-dimensional puzzle, made up of the history of the stories and events that have taken place here, blended in with my own experiences and daydreams within it. There is a part of me that is a little confused about this sort of meaning of place that I am looking for, but I guess thatís part of the reason I keep coming back and am still interested in it.

Karl used to be stationed on Tasman as a lighthouse keeper in the 1970ís a few years before the light was automated and when he was in his mid-twenties. Heís now in his 60ís and you can tell he loves being here and that it holds a very special place in his life. He walks around almost talking to it as he goes. He has a deep smile that occasionally reveals itself to us. He is frequently talking about his experiences here, but not in an overpowering manner. He disappears for lengths of time, looking, remembering, and absorbing.

The island, in three days, has really shown itself to me again. Sun, stillness, broad sweeping vistas out into the ocean / Tasman Sea, thick fog rolling in off the Pillar, and todayís wild winds beating me up when I go out into it. What else is in store?

If I was to write about this island what would it focus on? The sense of self in people would have to be key, as well as the type of people that get drawn here and its impact on them. It would have to include a description of the physical elements and the experiences within them as well as the journey to get here. It should also include the macro (cliffs, sky, and ocean) and micro (grasses, people/personalities, wildlife birds, and insects, etc.) It should also consider exteriors and interiors (cliffs, sky, sea, grasses against the people, houses, history and memories). Essentially itís the physical elements and peopleís memories and history that seem to be the focus of much of the previous written material. And that leaves what?

5.38pm Ė More reading throughout the day as the weather is still inclement. Iíve read more about the islands, a cat eradication plan and more weed reports. This afternoon bared itself in typical Tasman style. I sit here on the stripped back weather beaten (more like ruined) front porch of Q2 and canít help but reflect on the afternoons proceedings. Hereís a quick summary.

The weather cleared at one stage and the wind dissipated, the waves seen out to sea disappeared, the swell dropped and the clouds mostly cleared, but not totally, only somewhat but it still made a dramatic change from the mornings wild wild weather.

Tasman's Island, by Charles Cousins and John Skinner Prout; print: steel engraving; image 115 x 176 mm., on sheet 21 x 27 cm; published London : Virtue & Co, [1874-1876]; Source, Tasmaniana Library, Linc Tasmania
After morning tea we looked at some of Karlís images from when he was stationed on the island in the 1970ís. It was a uniquely different look at the island from 30+ years ago with an enthralling running commentary from Karl as we went, adding much value to the images. It was a snapshot of a part of the history and memories of this place and most pertinent to what I wrote earlier today about the nature of being here and what place means in the context of my experiences. Even more so do I feel more aware, more experienced, with a deeper connection to this one small, remote, intense, all-consuming place. (History again reared its head when later in the afternoon, at about 5pm a replica of the Endeavour, an old wooden ship usually docked in Hobart casually floated by the south eastern corner of the island. I thought back to those beautiful copies of etchings I analysed in my MFA, but this time I was in the vantage point of being on the island rather than on the boat out at sea looking back at it. Again strange spatial perspectives came to mind, like the trip in the helicopter coming here.)

After Karlís presentation I went into the living room next to the kitchen and read some more before afternoon tea was called. Following another face filling of Tasman culinary delights Sue and I headed back down to Q1 for some more weeding. Firstly, we went into the old garden area on the northern side of Q1 now filled with waist high bracken, looking for a certain type of brassica weed. After an hour of culling we did a bit of yarrow weeding around Q1ís header tank. A much easier job on the body compared to traipsing around in the long grass.

Wild sky just before sunset
Itís now 2 minutes to 6pm. I stare out to my left whilst sitting on the cold concrete outdoor porch of Q2. It used to be an undercover porch but weather like today over many decades have taken it off. It now sits in pieces in the bedroom next to mine inside Q2 with the heavy timbers stacked next to me neatly in a pile at the end of the porch. The fading light is rapid, but looking further right from my vantage point, beyond a small bush is the Blade, followed a little further by the dramatic arching sweep of Cape Pillar and its vertical dolerite cliffs. A glimpse of the sea and large Hippolyte rock in the distance, a vast expanse of grey cloudy skies, and a rich array of dark greens laying on the sloping south eastern part of the island finish off the view. Straight in front of me is the path leading to the concrete steps made by John Cookís followed by the high side of the island. Spotted between the dark, nearly black, and green bushes is the odd touch of light grey/green. The island drops away again and an edge of a cliff face is in view. The sea stretches out into infinity where it meets the sky filled with more clouds. A half hidden glowing orange full moon sits above this horizon. My eye leads down the freshly mown path to Q3, the red/orange brick building nearest to the lighthouse. A single light glows from the kitchen window where the cooks and most of my fellow islanders are settled. And to the very right the lighthouse has just begun its automated evening duties, lighting up the night sky with its unique half second flash every 2.5 seconds. My hands are getting cold, as is my nose. Itís time to stop writing and looking and head over to Q3 for the evening ritual of dinner and conversation.

8.16pm Ė the dinner ritual is over for another night. Outside itís a glorious evening; very still, the moon is bright and glowing over everything in the night sky. If I stay still long enough I notice a very slight breeze that is cooling down the world around me. Because Tasman is flat, or rather lightly undulating, there is always a very full sky above. At night, and when itís not cloudy, it features a complete set of stars, the moon and the constant glow of the moving light emanating from the lighthouse. Barry Lopez in his book Arctic Dreams writes similarly of this big night sky when describing an Arctic night, he says there is ďno forest canopy to dim the landÖ or no night shadow of a mountain range to contend withÖ it is open unobstructed country.Ē

It doesnít feel like Iím in the night at all, instead I feel Iím within some strange silver grey underground apocalyptic world radiating a glow of the suns reflected surface onto a moon then onto us, dramatised with a constant flash of the lighthouseís perfectly timed rotation. These are beautiful soft and silent moments, in much contrast to the wild weather of earlier today. However, in saying this, the forecast for Hobart over the next few days is ominous, wet, snow and high winds so I wander what itís going to be like here on Tasman? No point in worrying about it I suppose.

Iím back to my bedroom in Q2 early tonight. They now have a TV on Tasman, bought in by Parks when the recent cat eradication program was operating, and half of the group has gone off to watch it. Iím not really that interested in TV. Iím on the island to get away from all of that.

Today was a strange day. So much happened, yet also so little. It started normally, the ritual of waking, washing in the kitchen sink of Q2 walking over to breakfast at Q3. It progressed through many intense weather seasons, and had a few history and biological lessons. I think the people with me here on this trip are starting to loosen up a little but still there are many long silences during the eating rituals. What a strange thing for all of us to be doing on our Easter break. Landing ourselves on a small island off a bigger island surrounded by the sea on all sides, 1,000 foot high up the clouds. Little do we know each other, but we all are consumed by this place and what extraordinariness it has to offer.

Thereís been many times during the last three days where Iíve stopped and just looked around, or stopped and taken a photograph of something that takes my eye. These are mostly very different things to what I have been looking at on previous trips. Iím not distancing myself from things Iíve looked at before, but really just taking a different focus on things.

One of these so far has been thinking about seeing through the eyeís of Sue and her paintings of grasses, their colour, and their wispiness streaking in the flow of the wind from here to there. These are long, fine blades of grass piercing sidewards and upwards in complex flowing patterns.

Dark and moody interior of Q1
Iíve also enjoyed once again the dark empty interiors of Q1, as well as the piles of rubble around the place. Iím intrigued by this evidence of what once was. Collections of memories, broken and destroyed, providing some evidence of what once was. I think of David Keeling garage sale paintings, but these are different, they are broken, waste, destroyed, unrepairable but still salvageable, which is what happens to most the stuff lying around on Tasman, it gets stored somewhere out of the elements and used again to repair that which is remaining.

And finally the rocks, but instead of looking at them from below as they launch themselves upwards into the vast space of the sky above, Iím looking at them from above, at the point where they begin their drop down into a seductive abyss in an up close-ness of the grey to blackness of the rock as they disappear into the void of nothing-ness. In thinking about this I realise that I am really looking forward now to climbing around the bottom of the lost world with Chris in a few days time. That way I get both the view up and the view down. This should provide some beautiful new close ups of the rocks and cliffs as well as the old tip site.
Back verandah of Q1

Denise Robinson has said about my Tasman obsession, that its like Ďyou are becoming placeí. When I think this way, and interpret Tasman as place, as myth, legend, stories, memories and history as well as its physical features, in a complete Ďantagonismí of place, then perhaps this is what my idea of landscape/place + additional component is? Like the Keeling landscape/culture positioning. My focus is this one place, but I feel like it needs to be extended somehow.

Perhaps I could use the stories that I know of about this place, that I hear of, such as cat eradication, setting up the light, Abel Tasmanís first view of it whilst negotiating his way through a storm in 1642, and so on and so on and create my own vision of it. I think about the old tip site wedged between cliffs. I like the idea of an image of stuff wedged between something else, or there being space between something else receding. Perhaps I Ďbecome placeí by using these things that make up place as a way of connecting deeper to place and therefore finding meaning within it.

I switched the light off after writing that last bit and shut my eyes, but my mind continues to raceÖ I think about giving lectures about Tasman and how I might do this by relating my experiences whilst in this place. Perhaps starting wildly, erratically like the weather today, and then getting smoother as the presentation progresses. Or make little sense at the beginning by being wild and dramatic like the thoughts one has when viewing the cliffs and sky, and then finish in a more micro manner, focusing on the things that make it unique as place. Perhaps I should use these diary writings to indicate a certain dayís aptitudes as a starting framework. In a sort of ĎA day in the life of Tasmaní but donít tell them until the end. I think about Martin Walshís beautifully poetic lecture that he does when he reads out his uncleís journal whilst a series of images flick by. Use the lecture to give a sense of what its like to become place, to become Tasman. Hmmm, tired now.