Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Bruny Reunion



[pic: looking across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel from North Bruny Island]

[some thoughts on our experience of islands, and particularly Tasmania's Bruny Island]


Why do islands grip our hearts so? Peninsulas and promontories are all very well; seaside towns and mountain villages can be a delight. But there is something uniquely seductive about islands.


Island-dwelling novelist David Guterson, famous for Snow Falling on Cedars, offers this explanation.

Islands fill mainlanders with an unabashed yearning for a life simpler than the one they endure, a pared-down life in which all that is elemental - sea, wind, sun, love, the last light of day, the sand beneath fingernails - is brought to the fore-front of existence.


It was more than 30 years ago that our family first visited Bruny Island, across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel south of Hobart. The long, twin landmasses are joined at the Neck, a sand isthmus, but the twins are far from identical. South Bruny is the wild sylvan sister; North Bruny the conservative bucholic brother. The south has high, wet, wooded hills – almost mountains – running down to dramatic capes, strands and headlands. The north is drier, more cleared, laconic like a farmer.


That’s only on the surface, because both Brunies can sneak up on you, each in her or his own way. The north can turn dramatic, like a farmer who fits all the stereotypes but then takes to reading poetry and preparing fillet mignon to perfection in a romantic candle-lit dinner. And the south can be gentle and sweet, bursting with wildflowers, and weather that is full of sweetness and light.


To my initial untrained eye, Bruny’s lack of remoteness – the island can be seen from many of Hobart’s suburbs – lessened its appeal. Back then I was besotted with the grand, remote wilderness places of Tasmania. They were Bach’s B Minor Mass. Bruny aseemed more a snatch from a Bach cantata.


But then Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring fits that category, and how many compositions can match the sublime perfection of that diminutive masterpiece? To return to Bruny is to discover again a down-home, “she’ll-do” shackiness cheek by jowl with the wild. As if to reinforce that one morning our dog walk turns to dolphin spotting as a pod of dolphins sports and cavorts at one end of Nebraska Beach. And another night a curious eatern quoll peers in the deck door.


The weather too is wild. A westerly gale hauls a load of clouds that bounce off the higher mountains to the west. This creates mountain waves, alternating bands of clear sky and cloud. The air thrums deeply. I can’t determine whether it is a frequency created by the abrasion of wind on earth or the beating of waves on the shore.


On one early visit, in the late 1980s, we stayed with friends who had borrowed a shack at Dennes Point, near the northern tip of Bruny. There are shacks and there are shacks. This peculiarly Tasmanian name for a holiday house can apply to anything from a humpy to a seaside mansion. This shack was much nearer to the former than the latter. The ceilings were sagging and stained with possum piss from the resident screeching marsupials. Stealthy legged and noisy winged wildlife also had free rein through the house, most annoyingly in the form of squadrons of mosquitoes. The beds were lumpy and in a dubious hygienic state.


Four adults and 6 children spent two hilarious nights in the shack. That at least is how we came to see it in retrospect. At the time it was a case of roll over; swat; get up; hunt mosquitoes; change a nappy; hush a child; listen to our friends’ children scream; listen to our children scream; scream a bit ourselves; and finally laugh and get up at first light.


Apart from retrospective humour, the shack bequeathed one other long-lasting treasure. From somewhere in my febrile, sleep-deprived mind, a children’s story was hatched. It was inspired by the squalid, wildlife-invaded building. That and the brand name of the shack’s toilet: Armitage Shanks. Somehow a story featuring a huntsman spider who could read and speak was formed.


20 something years later, I confess with some chagrin, the story is still not finished. But getting back to Bruny, the scene of its conception, has inspired me to post the so-far-completed chapters on this blog. Who knows, it may inspire me to finish the story. Perhaps that mosquito at 3am this morning was a sign.

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