First published September 5
When I was at uni studying journalism, I was forced to team up (ugh – “group work”) with an older woman and assess each other’s words. I hated her piece. It used phrases like “wax lyrical” (Jeebus).
She also raved at length about how hideous Tasmania was compared to her homeland of Denmark, from which she was cruelly wrenched as a teen. She said gum trees were “ugly” and the landscape was “sparse”. I thought she was weird, annoying and rude. But she also confirmed with me something my 19-year-old brain had long suspected: that Tassie sucked.
I grew up in a recession-hit Hobart during the 1990s when it was a little town on the edge of the world with nary a successful person in sight. Paul Keating was our illustrious smartarse leader. We heated our homes with radiators and woodheaters. We went to bars with names like the Doghouse that had puke and beer encrusted into the carpets. We mourned Kurt Cobain and wore flannel shirts with ripped jeans. There was nothing to do except hang out with slime-haired older boys and drink cask wine and glorify suicide. In short, Hobart was a bit of a shithole.
Plenty of articles have been written about Hobart’s dazzling success in the arts and cultural scene since Dave Walsh flew in on his magic cloud and sprinkled the place with sex-n-death dust. I have no intention of rewriting what has been said many times. What I want to talk about is the way my mother’s eyes glaze whenever we drive back home from the airport. Without fail she’ll turn around to me, as I’m invariably texting in the back seat of the car like a petulant teenager, and sigh dramatically. “Amber,” she’ll say, “It’s the land. Whenever I come back to Tasmania, I know I’ve come home.” This has got nothing to do with MONA. My mother has been saying words to this effect ever since I remember, as do so many other Tasmanians I know. I have come to realise that in a large percentage of the population: Tasmania is hypnotic; Tasmania steals your soul.
Personally, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. My life in Melbourne was punctuated with dreams and hopes and career and friendships and drinking negronis in sexy dim-lit alleyway bars with clever characters who knew the meaning of words like “schadenfreude”. My life in Hobart, by contrast, was a neverending sea of job application knockbacks, embarrassing encounters with past romantic interests while picking up prescriptions, and the depressing echo of my own footsteps as I walked through the Elizabeth Street mall. And quite honestly, seeing the MONA logo emblazoned on everything from the local children’s playground to the Franklin Square loos to the Meander Valley CWA cupcakes was starting to give me the shits.
And yet here I am, homesick as a sailor at sea, melancholy for that odd, lonely island that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. I hear the word “Hobart” and am barraged with images of my smiling mother and her Dilmah teas, my garrulous grandfather, the small herd of chickens my brother is breeding at Dodges Ferry, and the bevy of bearded bogans at the Hope and Anchor Tavern. But fuck me dead, and dare I say it, I am homesick for the land. The blue-green expanse of trees as you drive down the Heritage Highway. The sandy dunes of Lewisham. The achy silence of Nutgrove Beach. Tassie hypnotises you, it makes you feel like you’re a character in a strange, dark and beautiful surrealist painting. And it makes you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret, a mystery.
We are a diaspora. Most of us barely last a few months, let alone a few years, before the magnet of the motherland pulls us back in like osmosis. We leave for better lives, for opportunities, to widen the gene pool, to become the people we hope to become.
And we return back to Tasmania, most of us, guaranteed. Because the place is special. Because we can’t bloody help ourselves.
*Amber Wilson hails from Hobart but spends her days haunting Melbourne’s CBD as a court and crime journalist for the national newswire, AAP. She loves whisky and rum and lives with three beautiful cats and a sarcastic Scotsman.
• Lindsay Tuffin in Comments: I came across a wonderful site today about Tassie called The Ones Who Got Away ... It’s by Kate Fox who is from Hobart originally and moved to Sydney to work in TV and publishing. She moved to Hobart three years ago ...