Sunday 14 September 2014


[The perfect place for contemplation] 
Tasmania’s coast is a restless, constant reminder that we are islanders. Living on this heart-shaped island fills us with a restive contentment; an internal tide. Sometimes it tugs at us to leave in search of more, at others it floods us with an ache to return. In between there is the glad, shifting present.

As Seamus Heaney said of his Ireland.

         Come back to this
         ‘island of the ocean’
         where nothing will suffice

[Rock formations, Lulworth, Tasmania]
* * *

We are spending the weekend at a house overlooking Bass Strait, that most solid reminder of Tasmania’s separateness. The Strait is a gap, a filter, both environmentally and socially. That small aquatic separation gifts us the astonishing flora and fauna we treasure. And that disconnection from the main can also give us a sharp perspective on what happens there.

Like the peasant at the edge of the court, we recognise the fragility, folly even, of those closest to the throne. We see clearly that even at the glittering, crowded centre nothing will suffice.

[Treasure and distractions on a Bass Strait Beach]
So we return to our fringe, wiser perhaps. But there is a melancholy here, a sense that – like the Irish – our island’s troubles will continually resurface. A sense that the young, the ambitious, the talented often leave; that we who stay will look over the waters with a longing for those no longer here. Such feelings of separation are universal of course. But somehow a body of water refracts and magnifies them.

And water brings reflection too. Our first afternoon by the Strait is cool. But the unmistakable tang of the sea is not to be resisted. We walk along the shore, not at our normal brisk pace, but at a slow amble. It is partly the soggy sand, the uneven cobbles, the slippery rocks. But it is also what happens when thought and coast meet.

[Reflecting on a Bass Strait Beach] 
We wander between pools; examine the ever varying rocks; swerve the occasional surge of waves; compare the myriad shells. We think and chat about the aeons of time and the restless patience of the sea that have together produced this present. And like every present, it is momentarily producing a new present, only for that moment to be swept impatiently away by the time and tide that have a reputation to uphold.

Looking over today’s waves has me thinking of particular partings. One afternoon I stood high on Don Heads, well west of here, but overlooking the same Strait. Some dear friends had left on the car ferry to Melbourne. From this headland we watched the ship ploughing into a decent headwind, taking our friends away.

[Looking across Bass Strait from Waterhouse Beach]
That time the tug of the main relented, and they returned, sharing more years with us on this side of the Strait. They left again, as we all must in one way or another. But there is a small comfort in knowing that they carry this island with them. Because once this place has you – as it has me, whether it be my birthplace or not – it holds you wherever you may go.

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