Rob Walls

There were the usual misspellings: one advertiser offering a “Dawn wench” (winch? wrench?) Maybe he really was offering a home visit from a woman at sunrise for $160. “Golf shoes, imported leather, studded soul” another claimed. Memories of Issac Hayes. What wouldn’t you give to have a studded soul? There were also the oddly archaic linguistic echoes in ads such as that for “Mutton birds, fresh, salted or skun”.

I MOVED to Tasmania in 1990. Moving here had seemed more like moving to a foreign country than changing states.

There were new social customs and living habits to adopt and learn. Things like how and where to buy firewood; how to respond to the often hostile accusation of being a “lifestyle refugee”; that sort of thing.

In an effort to come to grips with this island, I thought a subscription to the Mercury might help the resettlement process; that it might offer some insights to help me adjust. As it turned out the Mercury, especially in its classified ads, seemed to reinforce how “foreign” this island really was. Having a bit of a cleanout of my office this week, I stumbled across a folder of clippings I had collected at the time.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that caught the eye of this newcomer. In the Boats and Marine section of the 14th of January 1991, just below an ad for a sailing dinghy, an advertiser with typically Tasmanian terseness asked for a “Woman to cook and clean fish, dig worms.” Other than the phone number, that was it. 8 words.

There was nothing about a wage, or an offer of a relationship. “Dig worms” with a view to marriage? Nothing. Looking at the ad again, a thought occurs to me. Am I being sexist in my assumptions? Was this perhaps an ad placed by a woman offering “ to cook and clean fish, dig worms”?

In the General Ads, around this time, there was one that said “Fishing Nets mended, no hole too big or too small”. What struck me about this was the generosity of this journeyman net-mender’s claim. It appeared your net could have a little tiny break or could be near destroyed, but trust Des. He would come and fix it.

The odd thing about this offer was that it was sandwiched between two “personal” ads which seemed to contribute erotic overtones to Des’ ad. Was he really offering to fix holes in fishing nets? Did he, as a result of its unfortunate placement, get a bunch of kinky replies?

There were the usual misspellings: one advertiser offering a “Dawn wench” (winch? wrench?) Maybe he really was offering a home visit from a woman at sunrise for $160. “Golf shoes, imported leather, studded soul” another claimed. Memories of Issac Hayes. What wouldn’t you give to have a studded soul? There were also the oddly archaic linguistic echoes in ads such as that for “Mutton birds, fresh, salted or skun”.

The Personal ads, I found, were often charged with deep pathos as in: “Gentleman 33, slight intellectual handicap, would like to meet similar lady for friendship”. The contrast with the personals in mainland newspapers where supplicants touted their slick skills, looks, physique and new age capabilities in clever turns of phrase was marked. One can only hope that the remarkable honesty of this advertiser was rewarded in full.

In the Public Notices of the 3rd of April, 1991, J. Saggers posted an ad stating, “All trespassers will be prosecuted and all dogs shot at No 3/Lot29 Okines Road, Dodges Ferry”.

And there next to this threatening statement was Gaz. Gaz who poured out his love for his beloved Shannie in a passionate poem jammed between an announcement for the Oatlands Sunday market and an ad for Tasmanian Kit Homes.

With reckless lack of regard for what his mates might think or say, this is what Gaz wrote:

Shannie

I’ll tell you this time; the last it could be

That Shan I do love you, all of you three

But sometimes the pain is too much to bear

It’s obvious to me, that you do not care

A marriage I thought, if all but for life

Where man and woman become husband and wife

To tackle the problems, together we see

My darling dear Shannie, I miss my family

The door will be open, always for you

If you want to return to “Creekside”, Glen Dhu

For my love will never diminish at all

All that is needed, is for you to just call

The light will stay on in my hurt heart

At the moment though Shan, you’ve torn it apart

Just think of the times we shared so much love

And come home real soon, we’ll get help from above

I hope somehow this shows that you are an unrepeatable miracle in my life, you are my dearest possession, I love you…

Gaz

He appeared to run out of poetic steam in the last line or two, but quality of the verse aside, what depths of love would make a man bare his soul like this in the Public Notices of the Mercury? By the time I reached the end, I was cheering him on and praying that Shannie was a Mercury reader whose heart had been melted by the raw hurt she had caused and the passion of Gazza’s outpourings. I do hope there was a happy ending.

Sixteen years on I’ve got used to living here, but Tasmania still manages, from time to time, to appear surprisingly exotic.

To paraphrase L. P. Hartley, the past (and Tasmania) are a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Rob Walls
www.robwalls.net