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.

White Words

A Poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Silently On The Tide’ (2005)


…could feel the weakness of… big/local govt… what sort of culture…
will not be available… best sort of market we can… people have a global…

This is an age of data and dead hills.
This is a time of envenomed meal for the mouth.

.              In the newsroom they are all a-lather:
will interest rates move,
the current account take a dive,
will a j-curve pigstick that lionised moneymover
.              who took the nation to the cleaners
.              but had a red shot at a yacht race?

Today I learned:
.              of the poised scythe
.                           of technocratic joblessness;
.              of the unstable acid plant
.                           just a demon’s foul fart from the CBD;
.              of mechanics by the plantful
.                           dying of organ rot from lethal de-greasers;
.              that half the planet’s avifauna
.                           face obliteration’s fell axe within fifty years.
But not on the Moody’s rated, deficit-funded news.

This is a time of words for the killing.
.              Friendly fire. Collateral damage.
.              Icons of a chameleon language,
.                           smog-thick and sly.

This is a time for worship of those whose Midas lives
.              are built upon Blacktown, Broadmeadows, Bridgewater,
.              and upon the hourly extinction
.                           of a unique craft of life.

When the majesty of life is degraded to resource.
When it is those who defend the lifeworld
.              from the privateers of a marauding market
.                           who are accused of the ‘locking up’.
When goodfellows-all are freely chosen
.              to ease the small death of wonder today,
.              and the harder death tomorrow.

Words.              Words.              Walled within words.

After Peter Stephenson, White Words 1, 1991, oil on canvas; White Words 2, 1992, oil on canvas; White Words 7, 1992, oil on canvas.