Talking Tasmanian Literature in the Faroe Islands

This is the paper I gave at The Tower at the End of the World Conference in Torshavn, Faroe Islands, in May 2017. It was exceedingly well received, though very many people couldn’t calibrate their aural senses to my north west coast twang! Among a conference full of exotic people, I was by far the most exotic – almost a Thylacine.

The paper examines what I think to be the most increasingly toxic fault-line in Tasmanian society: the bifurcation between those clinging to an old paradigm of industrial development and all the assumptions about life and nature that go with it; and those who find ineffable and transcendent meaning within the very living tissue of the island. Most of Tasmania’s creative community, and especially so its writers, are within the latter paradigm, and give powerful oppositional voice to Tasmanian discourse.


‘Balding Nevis’

This is my favourite paper, and exists in article and essay versions.  The one posted here was published in Geographical Research in 2008.  It clearly refutes the notion that the sawmilling and specialty timbers communities are 100% supportive of exploitative industrial logging, and offers is a dramatic corrective to accepted wisdoms in my island’s ongoing hemorrhaging over the fate of the forests.

The paper reports ethnographic research I carried out in the sawmilling communities of the Upper North Esk.  I loved these  gentle, passionate people – and when you read the quotations embedded in the paper you’ll know why.  I’d really like my old mate, George Harris, to read this – though I know he won’t.

Pioneer Cemetery, Zeehan

A poem by Pete Hay

Posterity, in this town, was of no account.
You’d not have thought to die here –
the idea was to salt it away and leave,
to be remembered, in God’s good time,

The publicans had other ideas.
The sag-timbered mines had other ideas.
So we are here, we who drowned, we who drank,
we here by default, having died in the mud of the Somme.

The living were generous and they mourned well.
We had memory at our heads, nicely scrolled in stone,
nicely etched in good Huon pine.

But the living left,
for this was a town for vagabonds.
They left, and their leaving was the beginning
of the forgetting.
Fire came next, for this is fire country.
Gorse came, and thicket scrub.
And there was the end of the forgetting.

You are here, say, to find the grave of James O’Grady,
your great-great-grandmother’s brother-in-law.
Miner, good union man,
had a funeral that the AMA stumped,
and a stone.
Yes, he’s here, old rough and surly Jim.
He’s here somewhere.
Good luck finding him.
If he’s over there you’ll need to get through the swamp,
and watch out for old Joey Blake – that’s his domain.
So good luck with that.
If he’s this side the swamp likely the gorse holds him.
Or, more probably still, the fierce lick of summer fire
doused all that signals a life on this earth,
just as, no doubt,
in another place it took his soul.

If you’re so set on saluting James O’Grady,
James O’Grady who you never knew,
do it here, then, by the road.
Rather mourn for us all in a smeared out, unfulfilling way,
we who had not meant to be here,
and leave James O’Grady safe with us
and our unremembrance.

All the Beautiful Dead

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Physick’ (2016)


Down dark corridors

the beautiful dead

step from their rooms.


They watch me pass.

They would have me stay,

hear their imperative word.


Where there are tails,

tails bob like nodding-grass –

I do not know what they mean.


Those who stand erect plead

with eyes of portent,

of expectation.


Some venture a smile,

their smiles slight

and uncertain.


I do not know what it is they want.

I pass on by

and know this as failure.


Their eyes brush my back

with gentle, knowing