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.

I’m Driving: Laughing Jack to Hobart

Laughing Jack Lagoon is at my back.

Suddenly there is     shatter.
Shatter        cluttering to the horizon.        .

Some treefern survive.
Arched fronds nod a knowing,
cast it on the wind.

The broken voice of the land
dreams it back,
the quick complexity
before the Shatter.

No-one means to wound our dreams.
But they do.

This piece nipped away, that.
The land lost by a thousand cuts.

In the drinkeries of Hobart we fire up,
spray our helpless grief about.

One more and leave.

What is will be.

Nothing to laugh about, Jack.

Cranky Fan

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Physick’ (2016)


Here is her nest,
his stem-and-glass pride
lacquered in spiderspun silk.

And here my trickster friend
flairs his cardsharp hand,
her geisha flutter of fan.

My friend the blithe tumbler
snaps up midges on the stall
of his mad jinking flight.

She pipes on the rise,
this little reed of song squeaked out
as he dips and joggles down the creekline.

He is all tail to wag the bird,
and irrepressible – as random as amoeba.
She dances the jig of his light life.

I watch – I impossibly watch.
He is metaphor for distance,
for vast, evolutionary plotways.

In the grief of my time,
ironshod and slow,
I watch my cranky, delirious friend,

her weightless bounce,
his spinwheel progress,
the sauce in the spray of her tail.

I watch as he flips from sight.

It is impossible for the naked eye, even the experienced naked eye, to distinguish between the sexes of the marvellously erratic cranky fan’ (the grey fantail – so called, though it is a charcoal black). It is a favourite, irrepressibly cheery bird of my island bush.