Monday, April 17, 2017

Birdsong, A Celebration of Bruny Island Birds

"Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers"
Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I spent it on Bruny Island in Southern Tasmania. I had been invited by Bruny Island Arts to hold an 'in conversation' event with Pete Hay, a man whose poetry and other work sings of Tasmania like no other. He's a teacher, an elder, and a rum'un, and delightfully rich pickings for the likes of me, generous with his considered conversation. At some point Pete mentioned that the most electric energy anywhere in the world is where the sea meets the land. A forcefield on every island. 

I was reminded of this gorgeous book, a delightful hardcover that includes the work of some of Tasmania's best poets and visular artists. Here is a review, first published in Warp, 2016.

A Celebration of Bruny Island Birds
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous book of words and art that, as the title suggests, celebrates the birds of Bruny Island. It has been edited by Anne Morgan (poetry), Victoria King (art and design) and John Cameron (essays) and it starts with a quote from Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers”.
It is the second edition, this time in hardcover and it includes work from some of Tasmania’s (and beyond) best known and loved writers and artists including Ron Moss, Michael Leunig, Janet Fenton, Don Knowles, Lyn Reeves, Jane Williams, Pete Hay - and I could really go on writing the names of each contributor, the work contained is so rich, and such a considered celebration of an island that means so many different things to different people.
It does not do the book justice to single out contributors, but I must make mention of Pete Hay’s poem White Faced Heron with its almost perfect structure, the kind of poem that leaves you sadder, richer, wiser, and finishes with the lines

“The heron stays its stately hunt:
its stark eye skewers dusk.”
This poem is accompanied by a print from digital image by Barbara Tassell ‘A Common Elegance- White Faced Heron’ a gentle and wise juztaposition.
Adrienne Eberhard’s lyrical and warm poem ‘Fledglings, Wood Ducks’ is typeset around a beautiful pastel drawing from Tasmanian writer, elder and artist, Janet Fenton, called simply Wood Ducks. It is drawn in a singular blood red and captures the “peep, peep, peep” of the birds, onomatopoetically referred to in Eberhard’s poem.
“Black Swan Event, Adventure Bay” by Anne Morgan talks of place, of land and shore and history, alongside the currency of day to day life on the island, the poet kayaking

“I hunch to glide
between concrete piers
Dodging lines of hopeful fishers,”

The book also contains essays and a wonderful collection of photographs of all the endemic species of birds on the island by Chris Tzaros.
Bruny Island is one of the many magical places and one of the hundreds of islands off the coast of Tasmania, a major tourism attraction and also home to some of the best cruising waters for sailors in the world. It is also home not only to vibrant and in twelve cases, endemic, bird life, but to an annual Bruny Island Bird Festival.

This is a book whose motivations are not simply to inspire the soul through words and images, it is a book whose profits are turned into research – in this case, research into ways to mitigate predation threats to the critically endangered, hollow-nesting Swift Parrot, a lovely bird whose habitat has been under destruction for many years from forestry in the state. Future profits will fund community education around cat management on the island. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

When Did You Tell Your Mother You Were Straight?

When Did You Tell Your Mother You Were Straight? Three Generations of Gay and Lesbian Experience in Tasmania.
This is an interview with three generations of Tasmanians. It was first published in Island 133, Winter 2013 and I am publishing it here now following the Tasmanian Government's official apology yesterday, to the LGBTI Community for any pain caused arising from oppressive laws that were only repealed in 1997.

Conversation with Miranda Morris, Dave Arnold and  Lochsley Wilson
Dave Arnold is 84 retired from teaching and education administration in 1959  when he decided that he wanted to be a gardener. His partner Pete, who he met in 1984, following his divorce, and have lived together since 1987 and have travelled extensively since then. He was involved with gay law reform in Tasmania from the beginning, present at the very first meeting, “when Rodney (Croome) and Nick (Toonen) took the ball and ran with it. Bob Brown was there too. It was a meeting deciding that just something had to be done and that was when the activity started.”  He has three children and seven grandchildren.

Miranda Morris, is 60, a writer, historian and academic, who has also worked on adventure playgrounds and radio scripting. She is currently working full time writing espionage novels. She is the author of The Pink Triangle, the definitive book about the gay law reform and human rights issues which incited Tasmania and the world in the late 80s and early 90s.

Lochsley Wilson is 18 and lives in Launceston. He is currently on a ‘gap year’ and is going to the University of Melbourne next year to do a Bachelor of Arts possibly followed by a Bachelor of Law. He has recently wrote a story in response to an article in The Examiner (Northern Tasmanian newspaper) about gay marriage. The story “started a domino effect,”  which took him to Canberra for the ABC Regional Writers Summit for JJJ’s  Haywire. The story was then recorded and broadcast on Radio National.

RE –One thing that is extremely apparent to anyone with an awareness of Tasmania’s recent gay history is that we have ricocheted from extreme to extreme – from a state where male homosexuality was illegal until the early 1990s to setting an international standard in human rights, following the United Nations decision in 1994. As we delve even further back into history, a lot more richness is revealed.
LW: my sister was born in the 1994, the year that the UN Human Rights Commission condemned the intolerance of Tasmania at an international forum. I mentioned it in a speech trying to encapsulate family and my experience growing up within the context of gay law reform. That speech was really interesting to write because it made me realise how I really am at a point in history where things have gone from us being the last state to decriminalise homosexuality and the first house of parliament in Australia to near legalisisation of same sex marriage.
MM  I was working for the Health Department at the time of the Parliamentary debates around law reform – it was obviously a pretty hot potato there. They were trying to stop the spread of HIV but men who had had sex with men were reluctant to be tested because it was a notifiable disease and people who tested positive were put on a register. It was tantamount to turning themselves in, because sex between men was illegal. This was not the area I was working in but I could see the political quid pro quos that were happening.
 I always find it a bit difficult to work with the grain, so the opportunity to write a book about something that was going to be quite challenging was absolutely exactly what I liked to do. The book came about at the time the Preventative Measures Bill, which included the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men, had just failed to pass for the third time.  The book was funded by a grant from the National Council on AIDS, and its aim was to understand the issues underlying the debate. The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (TGLRG) wanted attitudes towards homosexuality in the State to be examined in a broader context – to remove the pairing of AIDS and homosexuality. It was tricky because at first I was housed in the AIDS Council, as was the TGLRG, but then the TGLRG became too political for the AIDS Council and had to move – and I had to make the choice about whether to stay in the AIDS Council premises, or move with the TGLRG. It was an interesting thing to try and write because I was trying to write it historically but things were happening every single day –it was always in the news, always being debated in parliament. Phones were ringing, banners were being raised, people were helping out with paints so it was very much full immersion journalism that I was doing.
 LW –how did you go about counteracting bias in your book? What sort of mechanisms did you put in place to try and make sure you were seeing more than just your side?
MM Well, there are two things, one is about ‘the side’ – because the debate was thrown into diametric opposition between people who felt that the gay law reform shouldn’t happen and that gay people should not have relationships and then gays and lesbians themselves who figured that they should. Gay men and lesbians were not in any way suggesting that heterosexuals should not be having relationships with one another– so it felt to me that the bias was incredibly strongly one way. This kind of false argument was to entrenched that a heterosexual on the interviewing panel for the book, someone who very much supported law reform, expressed concern about my being appointed because, as a lesbian, I would be biased. You would never have someone's heterosexuality questioned in this way. Law reform was a human rights issue so I guess if anything, I felt there should be a counter bias. In the event , I didn't feel I needed to intervene much around what people had said. The debate was loud and with lots of spectacle. The polarised sides were vocal and unapologetic. I used first person quotes– from Hansard, the media and interviews. I guess that my bias wasn’t so much in what I chose to say, but the way I organised the material. people said things that I wouldn’t have dreamt of writing myself because it would be slanderous. I felt that by using their words, anyone reading the book could decide for themselves.
I had an advisory committee and its members had been involved for a lot longer and had strong opinions and that was an interesting thing to find my own voice. I went from being on the within a small community, but this full immersion was from my first day of employment onwards. It took about 18 months to write and one of the frustrating things about the book was that the publishers wanted it to be completed and  I really wanted to wait for the Tasmanian government. We knew it was imminent that the law would be changed and we did manage to include the whole of the United Nations period so that was very, very exciting as it was a huge thing to go to the UN. They had never had anyone approach them around sexuality and human rights, it was of international significance. In fact I think it was the most significant thing to come out of this was to get that on that agenda. Because a lot of the signatory countries are pretty conservative, not just us. And for me, personally, it was a major coming out. My photograph was plastered over the front page of the Mercury.
LW –When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality I was on Google, looking at what has happened in Tassie and it was really shocking for me to find out that I was born in a time that homosexuality was illegal. My parents had always been supportive and I was never really under the impression that it was abnormal. In that sense I am living in a far more progressive time than you have all grown up in. From that perspective it is a huge change and I guess something we can all be thankful for.
RE – one of the many interesting comments in your book Miranda, was that there were many  feminists keen to support the gay law reform movement in Tasmania especially as  they had had more experience of organising and collectivism but there was a group of women who said “no, we’re not going to help these blokes,” which led, in part, to lesbian separatists. This sense of bringing knowledge in - or conversely, condemning others to repeat mistakes they’d made was an interesting divide.
MM yeah, that was quite a difficult one too because on the whole gay men hadn’t been very sympathetic.  Lesbian separatism had grown out of the older homosexual law reform movement that wouldn't include lesbian issues on their agenda. And I mean certainly the issues were very different for men and women -  sex between women wasn’t illegal but women were often losing their children in court because they were lesbians much more out as feminists and quite loud in Hobart. The focus for lesbian feminists was to rethink patriarchal structures of all kinds. But most recognised the gay law reform opposition as being the result of homophobia that affected both gay men and lesbians.
DA I felt as if they were more accepted because they used to go around together and could hold hands but men couldn’t.
MM I don’t know how many women would have felt comfortable about holding hands, I remember we had a, not a march exactly, of women deliberately walking through the mall holding hands. It wasn’t something I felt able to do. Certainly it was likely to cop verbal abuse.
LW – do you think that Tassie will ever get a strong gay and lesbian community?
MM there is one
LW – well I suppose I’m in Launceston, I don’t know what it’s like down in Hobart but it seems like the only way there is a sense of community is with a few Facebook groups trying to find casual sex
MM I think that having a political focus helped us in the late '80s and early '90s.  I don’t know if you felt this Dave, but it was interesting that a lot of older people didn’t get involved in the political aspect at that point. They had had to be covert for so long it was a really difficult place to be.
DA – yes, in the shadows. I was involved with the AIDS council from the word go. As it grew bigger we left it to the younger people. I was also involved in a phone counselling line for about 14 years. We used to get calls from all sorts to ask all sorts of things - at funny times of the day sometimes-  but that was interesting
MM – Dave, do you think a community grew out of that with people? Talking to a lot of people who were quite isolated, was there any way they became more socially involved through talking with you?
DA – they could have but I don’t know on a group scale. There was a man from Tullah who used to ring and tell me what he was wearing, describe it in great detail. He used to dress up at the weekend in camp. This phone line must have grown out of a good deal of tolerance. But I was also amazed at the change in people’s attitude when the law reform was passed. We had some parents ringing up about their son that they thought was gay, he wanted someone to talk to. That was indicative, I think and we became much more tolerant people.
MM There were an awful lot of concerts and cabarets to go to, with mainland and international artists giving their time to raise funds: Elvis Herselvis, Paul Capsis, Julie Small and others. I think the social life around that time had that edge of political push, it was very, very exciting. The other aspect of this community was that it became almost everything I did. Everything I did in those two years was related to either writing the book or being involved in the gay community and actually at the end of that I just wanted to be really be able to express the other aspects of myself and not always be socialising with the same people. I wanted to be much more integrated and I think one of the reasons that there doesn’t seem to be much of a community is for positive reasons
LW –yes, that’s the thing, I think it almost feels like there doesn’t need to be a ‘community’ because everyone is more open – and it has only been through the same sex marriage situation that there is a need for a community and a need to harness support. I’m ready to use these policies as leverage towards a sustainable gay community in the North. I think it is especially important for people to come to terms with it whether they are younger or older but if you don’t know any gay people, where do you go? How do you meet gay people? There’s no gay bar in Launceston – though there is one in Hobart, obviously.
DA – in the sixties I used to go to the back bar at Hadleys and that was a community. A group of people who used to meet there on a Friday or Saturday night. I was still married then but I used to pop in there for a couple of beers and to meet people. That was perhaps the beginning of me becoming part of a gay community.
MM I think it was you who told me initially Dave, that the front bar was filled with lawyers who acted as a kind of padding between the back bar and the public.
DA it was a matter of getting into the back bar without being seen
RE – One of the loveliest things that I read in research for this conversation was somebody saying that at the Sydney Mardi Gras you’d always know where the Tasmanian float was in the parade because the cheers were loudest.
MM the first time especially – people were absolutely in tears about it because they were so excited. We were such a long time getting there, such a long time until legislation was passed in Tasmania. When it was passed, the community generally had become used to the idea and there had already been a lot of behind the scenes liaison meetings with the health department, the education department and the police. When the law was changed they were ready to take positive action. It was amazing to see the legitimacy for homophobia being lifted when the laws changed.
LW –  I guess my involvement in gay rights has really been about the same sex marriage debate. I initially wanted to focus on issues I felt were separate from me – human rights in West Papua, or climate change and how that’s affecting small island states -  all things that didn’t really relate to me other than my empathy. Then there was an article in The Examiner by Claire Van Ryn. She was comparing the sanctity of the Tarkine to the sanctity of marriage and saying that if the Greens are so fervent in pushing for the Tarkine why aren’t they trying to do the same for the institution of marriage? The whole thing was a convoluted metaphor.
RE – and we’ve heard that argument before ‘Are the Greens For Nature or Against It?’ So 1990s!
DA – yes, we’ve heard it before!
LW - I read it and saw everyone on Facebook having this huge anger rant about how terrible the article was and how it completely misrepresented the issue. They were going off and sending her hate mail. I thought these things were completely counter-productive. I’m kind of glad for Claire Van Ryn* – that was why I wrote the story for Haywire.  
When they talk about this sanctity they obviously have a biased idea of what nature is. I see sexuality as something that is biological though clearly the people opposing it see it as a choice and I think that’s why the Tarkine metaphor is really quite powerful – it’s something that everyone can enjoy – marriage is not so. Claire Van Ryn started it for me!
The debate at the moment is still very male centric. At least in the way it is framed – in the ads you see for gay marriage it is always two guys and the whole gay marriage debate actually forgets that is marriage equality because there are transgender people and a myriad of different demographics trying to fit into this gay marriage debate. It’s so important that we don’t continually focus on gay law or lesbian law instead try and think of it as part of a wider community.
MM I have a problem with gay marriage as an issue from a feminist point of view. In the 70s and 80s the debate was around abolishing marriage not trying to make it more inclusive. We seem to have lost the debate around what marriage is.
LW – I personally believe that the government should have no intervention in our relationships at all but should be for everyone not just gay people so I am trying to get census marriage for everyone. I support these issues because I want people who want to get married be able to.
MM  it’s still not about the big picture, because marriage privileges couples and certain kinds of couples. Certainly not everyone can get married, I mean some people can’t because they can’t find a partner, others because they don’t want to get married, other people want different relationships to be considered that would not be allowed under marriage, so if your most significant relationship, even it is not sexual, was with your brother or sister for example that would not be allowed under gay marriage so it seems to me elitist, even if it is. broadened.
DA –we are recognising relationships though.
MM The Significant Relationships legislation was really progressive. It broadened our frame of reference and encouraged recognition of cultural diversity. I feel as if the next step should have been making that the umbrella legislation and phasing out marriage legislation altogether.
Why does anyone need public recognition for something that is a private relationship?
LW I guess it’s one of those things. Marriage is of huge cultural significance, whether you are religious or not and I guess it is one of those things a lot of people want to experience. They want to have the big white meringue and they want to have the dress and the cake and the wedding bells and the arch and all these romanticised ideas of love. From a historical perspective we have so much hinged on this idea and to be told you can’t do it with the person you love is to quite devastating to a lot of people. 
MM it seems to me that there is a difference between a party and legislation – I mean legislation is intended to privilege one group and exclude all others.
RE one of the things that crystallised the situation for me was when I went to the wedding of two dear (lesbian) friends. As part of their ceremony the celebrant had to legally say something that meant “well, I’m not properly marrying you.” It seemed to be a statement that was intrinsically anti gay marriage.
MM But that is pretty recent. There had been no requirement for the gender of a couple to be mentioned until the Howard government introduced an amendment in  2004.
 LW it is just trying to get a point where we can retract those backwards moves and then we can work to find a fuller equality. I’m thinking about what Christine Milne said on the Mama Mia blog recently.  It was talking about the quote by Michael Ferguson that she was the “mother of teenage sodomy”.  Although she is a politician and an environmentalist, she was talking about that experience primarily as a mother.  It was an extremely powerful article, to consider that a politician, in this case Ferguson would even say that – and that my mother could be called the mother of teenage sodomy was horrifying.
RE – each of you have come at out a different time, under different laws and levels of acceptance. How different were your experiences ?
DA well, I was married and I have three children and seven grandchildren and they accept our situation. All of the grandchildren have been born since Pete and I were together – so it’s always been Pop and Pete. The acceptance of the family has been on both our sides has been fantastic, I think it’s part of the general acceptance that there is in the community these days. We live out in Lenah Valley and we’ve got gay people around us but nobody bothers us and we’re accepted. I’m sure people know – if they don’t know they should.
MM   – how was it initially Dave?
DA – well it was never really different. I remember an occasion when we did a TV interview for Lateline about gay marriage and they wanted a couple of normal looking people to introduce the topic.  They took tape after tape and after this went to air, it was only a snippet, two minutes or less. My brother in Queensland phoned me a few weeks later and he said “hey, we saw you on television,” and I thought “oh god, here we go,”  – he’s six years older than me, and I thought they’d be in bed by 10.30 when Lateline started.  Pete and I had stayed with them but we’d never talked to them about anything to do with gays and things. Anyway, he said “gosh they must have paid you some money for that”. But he didn’t say one thing about “oh, you’re gay.”
I am amazed about how supportive my kids are – they wouldn’t let anyone say anything against gay people or against our relationship in their presence I’m sure, they’re just totally supportive.

RE – Miranda, what about you – when you  arrived here in Tasmania in 1973 were you out?
MM no I wasn’t, I married out here and I have a child. When I was first becoming aware of my sexuality, I was a bit of a late bloomer I was about 30 -  and it was from reading Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West and then reading about more and more lesbians in the 1930s and I began to think “oh gosh! I wish I’d lived then when there were lesbians.”
The debate following gay law reform involved quite a lot of discussion around gay and lesbian parenting. When I was approached by television and papers about whether I would do an interview about parenting, I had to really think about it. I didn’t want to involve my daughter in a political debate it felt unfair on her. As it was, as soon as they knew I was a single parent, whatever my sexuality they were completely not interested. They wanted people who were clearly going to have sex with each other! I was too ordinary. It was quite weird and really most of my life since my marriage I have been living as a single person and it’s quite difficult socially, people make assumptions that you’re not gay and it’s no kind of well “here’s my partner, meet my partner,” making it clear and I still find that I get to this awkward position when I’m talking to people or introducing myself  about whether I say anything or I not because I know that the assumption’s there that I would be heterosexual, but at the same time it seems completely unnecessary for me to state my sexuality to somehow draw attention to it..
DA – we don’t feel the need to tell anybody but if they ask we respond truthfully in most cases.
MM it’s kind of clear from your living arrangements but I also get to the point with  some people that I’ve known for a long time and not said anything, I find myself getting really scared that they’re not going to like me if they find out and they’re going to cut me off.
DA – well it makes no difference!
MM – well, I would it wouldn't. I’m just thinking that it’s still a hangover from before, that kind of self censorship.
RE –Lochsley, you mentioned when you were starting to come out you were googling, what was the experience of coming out for you?
LW – well, coming out in a time where we were one of the first generations where we had internet access readily available, when I wanted there were places to go. It was both a  blessing and a curse because while I was reading information how “it’s ok” and all the supporting documents but I would only need to a go a few more pages down Google I would find the ‘God hates you’. I think it made it more difficult as well as easier, especially because there were the social networks. I wasn’t at a point where I was able to tell my parents or my friends it was good to be able to get it off my chest to someone, even if it was only in a chat room.
I had told my Mum when I was in primary school but she said I should wait! So in year seven and I wanted to have my friend Olivia stay the night and she said “Lochsley, I know what you’re trying to do” and I was like “no Mum, I’m gay.” It was all really quite easy for me though it isn’t for everyone in my generation, though I would like it to be.
I have a friend last year who told his mother who went to the minister of her church, who recommended that he was kicked out. This was a month before his 18th birthday, at the end of year twelve and of all the things that go on as an 18 year old.  You’d want support from your mother at least.
DA – very different from when I was growing up! There was no ‘gay’ word – I suppose there was ‘camp’ but not homosexual –
LW-– Why SHOULD we come out? and it’s kind of a tricky kind of thing because the more people that come out the better known it is, the more people accept – and the more people that know a gay person, it’s suddenly less foreign, suddenly so much more approachable but at the same time the fact that it’s assumed you’re straight until…well, innocent until proven guilty.
 I don’t think it should be the way -  I shouldn’t have to had ever tell my Mum, but I did – I hope that the more work we do now, that when I have children it’s never assumed and that they can be who they are without any thought or fear about anyone else knowing.
RE – Let’s go back a bit futher–to the comparatively ancient history since white settlement in Van Diemen’s Land – and before that.
LW –It is so tricky without a scribed history – and indigenous culture was sent down through generations through oral language or dance. It is so hard for us to know what happened. We can go back to Ancient Greece and we can see Plato’s Symposium and the discussion about sexuality there so it‘s much easier for Western culture to see where it started there than it is for Australia’s oldest culture.
MM it’s interesting what the impact of exactly when Tasmania was settled has had. I think if it had been settled a century earlier then perhaps we wouldn’t have seen quite the same trajectory.
DA – but the type of settlement must have had something to do with it –because it was mainly male wasn’t it?
MM it was mainly male but it was also the beginning of a kind of bureaucratic surveillance – a sense that you could have not just physical control over people but moral control as well and that you could control it from a distance, from England. This meant that  moral codes were set in writing.
LW –What discussion of homosexuality was there in the penal colony?
MM Oh! There was masses! There was a big report about it. There were people who desperately wanted transportation to end and one of the best ways of garnering support for this was to show how morally depraved the system was. Sodomy in particular, actually not just sodomy, it was sexual relationships between women and men which were listed in various reports to try and show how appalling it was.
  We have some very interesting and quite detailed reports of same sex relationships - sometimes you get something lovely (for an historian) but normally it’s just in police records that we actually hear about any kind of same sex relationships. It’s also a class thing, so we’ve got records from the working class for that convict period and a few more from the literate upper class sometimes revealing things through letters. Everything we had is so fragmented. The information that has remained is very, very select. A title of somebody else’s book is ‘Streetwalking on a Ruined Map’ and I really love that as an idea of how history works, you know you just have to somehow piece together; you know you’ve got far more gaps than facts and you know you can’t extrapolate but we tend to because that’s just how we’re made and we want our stories to work.
DA – We like to have things clear cut don’t we? Precise.
RE –One of the quotes that you mention, Miranda is Flinders of Bass and Flinders fame, quoting in his diary about  Bass – “there was a time when I was so completely wrapped up in you that no conversation but yours could give me pleasure. Your footsteps on the quarterdeck over my head took me from  my book and up on deck to walk with you.” Which is just beautiful.
LW and clearly very romantic as well
MM that’s ever so interesting, it was a Georgian relationship so before Victorian times. People were much freer in expressing  who they were before the 19th Century. It’s easy to see ourselves as having a kind of progression but there’s an absolute backwards move that corresponded with the rise of the bourgeois family.
LW it feels like it goes in varying states – I wonder if will go backwards again. They used to call all homosexuals Florentines because in Florence during the Renaissance lots of people were homosexual, especially with the big art community it seems like it was accepted.
DA I suppose it’s just the tide of history – Queen Victoria had a lot to answer for
MM no no no, she wasn’t to blame!
DA she wasn’t to blame?
LW do you find there’s a blurred line between historical fact and historical fiction when we have to fill in the gaps for ourselves and try and figure out – especially with something like gay law reform?
MM We certainly are, especially if you are politically involved because you really need to believe on one level that what you do is gapless and whatever your focus is you have to really believe that it’s true because otherwise you lose the energy to see it through. It’s a fragmented story and we’re in much more danger of creating a fiction if we’re involved in trying to make change than if we’re not. I can’t really stand outside that. The sense of community that existed in the early 90s meant it necessary that we didn’t show too many cracks.
RE –What can you tell us aboutt the niece of Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, Marie who was a romance fiction writer in the 20s and 30s and grew up in Tasmania? Marie was an early ‘out’ lesbian, it seems
DA Did Joh know!?
MM –Marie Bjelke Peterson lived with her loved one Sylvie, and about that, there is no doubt in our minds. She also wrote film scripts and one of them is called Jewelled Nights. It’s set up in the North West coast of Tasmania in a mining town and it’s about a young woman who is unhappy in love and goes to the mining town dressed as a miner, a very glamorous miner. This chap falls in love with her and it’s very Shakesperean as there is the issue being the ‘wrong’ sex to be in love with. It is slightly coded but it was quite advancied. Louise Lovely, who starred in it was a Hollywood film star who came back to Tasmania with her husband. They had the Prince of Wales Theatre in Macquarie Street and she also ran screen tests for anyone who wanted them at the Theatre Royal. 
In terms of Marie Bjelke Petersen and Joh knowing about her sexuality, well Bob Brown decided to propose making the criminal act gender neutral. It was just around the time when anti homosexual laws had been introduced in Queensland. As soon as Bob Brown had got it through the lower house he realised that this meant that, to change the language to gender neutral, sex between women would become criminalised. He was horrified and approached the speaker and asked whether it could be rescinded but it did go through to the Upper House. He then discovered that in Queensland Joh had specifically asked that women be excluded from this political code and although he didn’t say, why it is quite interesting. It would make some level of sense because Marie and Joh were quite attached to each other as aunt and nephew.
RE where do you see the movement going and what would be an ideal future considering the conversation we’ve had today?
LW I would like to see the marriage equality legislation passed, whether it’s in Tassie or nationally, leading to a nice bed for the next movement maybe laws for parenting and surrogacy. This is where I see myself campaigning in future.
DA for our relationship we need nothing to change, we’re happy and we couldn’t marry if we wanted to – and we’re not interested. I’ve said before if I were going to be in a straight relationship I wouldn’t marry again. However, I support the Bill for those who wish to marry.
MM I would like it to be absolutely ok for children to be growing up with parents in gay relationships and for their peers to think it’s OK for their parents to be gay. There can be bullying around parents and their own sexuality. I want being gay to be absolutely fine for children in schools and accepted. I would just I would love this fundamental Christianity -  fundamental any religion, - really strong anti gay predjudice to be dissipated. I know that’s not really within our control but the fundamentalists of any persuasion are making lives an absolute misery for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
LW one of things I would like to see is about how a young person should never have to come out. I say to my friends “when did you tell your mother you were straight?” Keeping in mind that everyone is individual and everyone should be not just tolerated but accepted and embraced for their difference.
DA it’s a matter of total acceptance, not just a matter of tolerance. It’s a great ambition and something to work towards.
MM –even in movies, on television and in the media generally if there is a gay relationship not only is it hardly ever women, mostly men and hardly ever the focus of the movie.

LW – like in Modern Family – the jokes are always about who is more camp than the other and although I do find it quite funny I would still much rather if you could have that relationship without the focus on sexuality.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Paige Turner March

It will be almost impossible to avoid a book or story related event if you are in Tasmania during March. Non-stop reading and writing parties, it will be NONSTOP. Or at least a variety of word related events that will tickle your wordiest desires. Read on, dear devourer of symbols, read on.
Look out for newly minted, gorgeously devised and positive change creating local story telling organisation The Story Island Project. They want to hear your Stories of the Brooker Highway. If you have something to share about the currently chaotic arterial, they are gathering these stories as part of a larger project that will bring together the diverse communities that have lived, worked and travelled along the highway. You can share yours on March 5 at the Mona Market, the Showgrounds Market on Sunday 12 and 19 March and at the Moonah Taste of the World Festival on Sunday March 26. For more details about this, check their website
Local designer Jennifer Cossins has had her delightfully illustrated books, A-Z of Endangered Animals and 101 Collective Nouns snaffled by international publisher Hachette (Australia). This is a major achievement and I send a hearty round of applause, smattered with anticipation for Jennifer’s new audiences. These books are slated for June release and in the mean time you can check her work at Red Parka in Criterion Street, Hobart.

James Boyce, award winning historian and writer, is becoming increasingly recognized as an incisive social commentator. He has been particularly vocal about gambling in Tasmania and the destruction it causes individuals and communities, while a few people get very rich. His latest book Losing Streak, How Tasmania was Gamed by the Gambling Industry, (pictured) is impeccably researched, calm in execution and beautifully written – and an indictment of the nuances of Tasmanian power structures. This will be launched at the Republic on Tuesday, March 14 at 5.30pm

Kate Gordon, author of YA novels, including the amazing Thyla and Vulpi that tell of shapeshifting girls up kunanyi/Mount Welly, is working with multi-award-winning publisher, Twelfth Planet Press. She’s in charge of their children's imprint, and getting the word out about their YA anthology, Kaleidoscope. This anthology includes twenty original stories that are fun, edgy, meditative YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. The stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life. The book contains New York Times best-selling and award winning authors along with newer voices including Tasmanian locals Tansy Rayner Roberts, Holly Kench and Dirk Flinthart. More information here.

In Hobart, Blue Pollen Beautiful by Elizabeth Goodsir, with etchings by her daughter Madeleine Goodwolf (I love their complementary names) will be launched on March 21 at the Hobart Bookshop. It’s also World Poetry Day and what a way to honour poetry than celebrate the launch of a new collection.

The Writers’ Centre is hosting Maria Tumarkin in March. Tumarkin, who will host a workshop on long form creative non-fiction, has taken my breath away with her concise and beautiful essays. She faces the world unflinchingly and this comes across in her work. It’s a unique opportunity and one I wish I could attend. This is happening on March 12. They are also hosting children’s illustrator Christina Booth for a full day workshop on How to Create a Picture Book. This is happening, as with the Tumarkin one, at the Moonah Arts Centre, and it is on March 26th. For more information, and for other upcoming events see their website.

The State Cinema Bookstore is hosting local author Katherine Johnson for a Meet the Author event on Sunday March 26th at 2pm. She will be discussing her book The Better Son. This event will be held in the bookstore more information to follow on their website

Fullers Bookshop in Hobart is bursting at the proverbial seams in March. Starting on March 3, a play adaptation of the book The Shape of Water by Anne Blythe- Cooper, tells the heretofore untold story of Sophia Degraves, wife of the founder of Cascade brewery. On March 5 they are hosting, with the Theatre Royal “Meet the Cast” with Nathan Maynard about The Season.
The launches they are hosting in March include Flame Tip, by Karenlee Thompson, with an introduction by David Walsh and on March 28, Krissy Kneen will be there for the launch of her new book An Uncertain Grace. On March 30, Caroline Cochrane’s book A Changed and Uplifted Life will be launched and on the 31st Melanie Thompson will launch her book All the Birds in the Air. On March 24 and March 26 Damon Young and Ruth Quibell will be discussing The Art of Reading and The Promise of Things, and My Brother is a Beast, respectively. More information? Visit Fuller's website

If you have any book news or events please get in touch

Rachel Edwards

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Palestine Day

The Mercury asked me to write a few words about my favourite love stories. An edited version of the below was published in last weekend's TasWeekends -

I’m far from a capital R Romantic and generally don’t enjoy predictable love stories, though I’m not immune to having my breath taken away and the momentous madness of falling in love.
Lydia Davis’ forensic analysis of a relationship that has ended, The End of the Story, told in the first person is one of the best ‘love’ stories going around. The narrator, who had fallen in love with a younger man, and he with her, begins to recount the relationship years after it has finished. We, the reader are carefully carried through all stages; the pursuit, the delight of new love, the nascent doubt, the collapse. She tells it with a sharp, perspicacious honesty in which the narrator questions her own and other’s point of view in the re-telling.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier initially grabbed me as it was the story of pirates, and of Cornwall, a place which I have actually fallen in love with from a-far. The cover would have us believe that this is a trashy romance “beautiful Lady Dona…excitement….danger…passion” and it more or less is – though the one beautifully un-predictable part of this novel is its happy ending. I’ll reveal all! She sails off with her pirate lover. Woah! It still takes my breath away.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos is a gorgeous, slow burn of a novel that is also a love song for Cuba and its music.. It’s the story of two musician brothers, Oscar and Nestor Castillo, who leave Cuba for New York in the fifties. It is told through Oscar’s eyes, who often talks of the lovesong that Nestor spends much of his life re-writing, the story of his lost love Maria, the woman he left behind, the woman who, in his memory, remains as passionately in love with him, as beautiful, and as young as he was when he left her behind Cuba, so many years before. La Bella Maria de mi Alma, ‘Beautiful Maria of my soul.’ I am so glad she remains beautiful in his soul, because real life brings such a different story.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Paige Turner, February, 2017

May your 2017 have begun with time for reading, clarity, creativity and inspiration.

February, as ever, is jam packed with books and writing related events, and two of the more curious ones are Lost Rocks, and the opening of a new gallery (that stocks books) called Private.

Lost Rocks is a slow publishing artwork. That already makes my heart ease. In 2015 Hobart-based artists Margaret Woodward and Justy Philips found a dilapidated Tasmanian Mineral Board at the Glenorchy Tip Shop, and over the next five years they are commissioning artists to choose from a missing rock and create a fictionella (from the Latin 'fictio', meaning to make-with, rather than to make up or invent – and 'novella', meaning news or a story that turns on a single event). These works, from A Published Event, will be released, eight a year, for the next five years. On February 2 they are launching a crowdfunding campaign that will run to March 13 – and this is your way of growing your Lost Rocks Library of experimental text-works, narrative prose and fictiō-critical writings grounded in lived experience. Each fictiōnella will be printed in a limited edition of 250 paperback copies, making Lost Rocks a highly collectable publishing artwork.
Private is a new art space in Moonah. Private is looking to show new art to new audiences and look into different understandings about art. They are also stocking new and old texts, graphic novels and interesting printed matter, a lot of which is second hand and highly collectible. They currently have in stock new works from veteran underground artist Michael Fikaris including a collaboration between Nicole Gunn and Fikaris called An Instruction Manual for Lonely Mountains. The future will bring small press delights from Leigh Rigozzi and some art publications from the fabulous art writing magazine Discipline.  @privatedlr on instagram.

Tasmania has a new bookshop, Scribe, which you can find at Au Bien Etre Cafe at 34a Main Street, Huonville (just next to the roundabout). The Scribe's collection has strong holdings in esoteric, science fiction and fantasy, history, philosophy, technology, and farming books. I’m looking forward to checking it out this summer.

Events are slow off the ground this year in bookshops, though Fullers in Hobart have a few coming up including the launch of Sally Wise (Queen of Preserves) and playwright and ABC producer and content maker, Paul McIntyre’s Little Book of Slow, a lovely book of recipes and suggestions of things you can do to slow down and take time to truly engage with the world around you. This is happening at 5.30 on Thursday February 2.
On Friday 3, editor of New Philosopher magazine, Zan Boag will be in conversation with writer and scientist Nicole Gill about climate change, aliens and the likelihood of human beings becoming obsolete.
Fullers are also hosting the launch of Rebe Taylor’s new book Into the Heart of Tasmania, a search for human antiquity. This will take place at 5.30 on February 10 . On February 24, also at 5.30 Forgetfulness Feelings and Farnarkling, Reflections on aged care and how you can make a difference will be launched. This book is by Anne Kelly and is a must read for anyone who is connected personally and professionally to dementia care.
I am, as writer in residence working  with younger onset clients at Alzheimer’s Tasmania, and this is a disease (or really many different diseases under one umbrella) that we should all learn how to be around wisely and supportively.
All these events are free, for more details and to RSVP click here.

The Tasmanian Writers Centre have morphed their events program (last year, A Novel Journey) into a series of workshops touching on many aspects of writing including essays with James Dryburgh, features with Maria Tumarkin and memoir with Benjamin Law. Kylie Dunn, author of an excellent guide book that will take you through the vicissitudes of self publishing, Write to Launch, is first off the rank, with a workshop on February 19.

The Shape of Water is a new novel by Anne Blythe-Cooper that tells the story of Sophia DeGraves, best known as the wife of the man who started Cascade Brewery and built the Theatre Royal, It is also performed as a play at the Cascade Visitor Cente every Friday, Saturday and Monday at 2pm.

And there's a new mag on the streets -Tasmanian Living, a magazine, (in their words) for 'Tasmanians.... and those who wish they were.' Two headed beasts. My words, Watch out Freycinet is already sinking (my words). I digress, It looks like a gorgeous lifestyle mag - food, wine, people.

In Launceston, on February 18 between 2-5pm at the Greenwood Bar, Poet Musing (aka Stephen Johnstone) is hosting an open mike, poetry and meet and greet to support local suicide prevention. Contact Poet via Facebook for more details. This is motivated by the importance of face to face meetings and a recognition of the power of art and poetry to make positive change to the health of individuals and community.

Speaking of health, I’m embarking on one of the many excellent free online university courses, this one Literature and Mental Health offered through Warwick University in the UK and am delighted to be speaking at an Arts and Mental Health Forum at Kickstart Arts on February 21. I’ll be talking about the power of books and stories, and about bibliotheraphy more generally. For more details and for information about the other speakers, contact

Let me know if you have any book or word related events – racheledwards488 at

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Paige Turner, December 2016

Blessed are the booksellers, especially at this dastardly time of year, where the Christmas retail spirit leaches every echo of goodwill from your shopping laden pores. Consider them, hauling tonnes of books, displaying them beautifully, finding your perfect gift and wrapping until their fingers are shredded and paper stained. And smiling throughout. Blessed are the booksellers.

2016 has been a devastating riot for many, with the death of a lot of pop stars, and Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has also been a year of fantastic new books and new reading discoveries. Some quick highlights from me include a baptism by fire into the world of comics and graphic novels, notably JW Clennett’s alt history of Tasmania, The Diemenois, Lydia Davis, a US writer and translator whose short stories and novels astound me with their simplicity and weirdness is a new favourite writer and Roberto Calasso’s gorgeous little book The Art of Publishing touched and inspired me.

Personally I’ve met some excellent writers both in Tasmania and around the region and I look forward to continuing my work with writers from Iran, India, Tasmania and Burma in particular. There is some astonishing contemporary work coming from these areas. At Transportation Press, Tasmania’s newest publisher (and close to my heart, as I am Editor in Chief) we will be announcing two excellent projects early in the new year, but as a teaser; Of Wine and Words will riff off the ancient Persian connection between wine and poetry, and Smoke, an international microfiction competition, generously sponsored by FullersBookshop will be launched.

Around Tasmania in December, as the darling booksellers cower under piles of your Christmas shopping lists, a number of events are still going ahead.
On December 6 at Fullers in Hobart, Musquito, Brutality and Exile by Michael Powell will be launched by eminent historian Henry Reynolds at 5.30. Musquito, a legendary Aboriginal man was transported first to Norfolk Island then Van Diemen’s Land and became well known for organising against white settlers. He was hanged in his part in the murders at Grindstone Bay in 1825. This book offers excellent insight into Aboriginal resistance in NSW and Van Diemen’s Land. (pictured).
On December 14 also at Fullers Bookshop, Francesca Haig will be chatting with me about the second novel in her Fire Sermon trilogy. These books are richly imagined and action packed post-apocalyptic thrillers. Kirkus Review said of the first two that they “poised to become the next must-read hit”. I’m looking forward to this, especially in the face of the burgeoning new genre ‘CliFi’ – climate change fiction, generally post apocalyptic. Other notables in this genre include Clade by James Bradley, The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau and Briohny Doyle’s wicked The Island Will Sink.

On December 15, again at Fullers, the 2nd edition of The Abels, Tasmania’s finest mountains, each over 1100m high. Hear from the crack team of bushwalkers that has bagged every peak as they give a studied portrayal of each mountain. Learn the best routes to take, how and when to take them, and find intricate notes on mountain nomenclature and history.
The Hobart Bookshop is hosting the launch of Hani Abdile’s I Will Rise on December 16 at 5.30pm. Hani is a Somali asylum seeker who came to Australia by boat when she was only 17 years old. She is an award winning slam poet and you can hear her at the Bankstown Slam here

Celebrate Tasmanian books another way this Christmas with Tassie Books on Facebook. It’s an excellent way to interact with local writers and to buy local. Thoughtfully managed by author Anne Morgan, this page offers direct links to writers andpublishers

Some excellent news from Island, one of Australia’s leading lit mags. Not only was their Poetry Editor, Sarah Holland-Batt, listed as a finalist for her poetry collection The Hazards (UQP 2015), she won. As well, David Ireland’s The World Repair Video Game, published in Island in serial form and subsequently published by Island as a limited-edition hardback, was short listed as a finalist in the Fiction category.

Tasmania’sbiggest and most recognised publisher, Forty South have some new books out, Shadows in Suriname by Margaretta Pos tells her family’s history in Suriname. Anne Blythe-Cooper was runner up in the Erica Bell Manuscript Prize and this has manifested as The Shape of Water, a fictionalised account of Sophia Degraves, the wife of the same Degraves who started Cascade Brewery and was responsible for Australia’s olden theatre, The Theatre Royal in Hobart. They have also just released a new book by Adele Ogier Jones called The Coffee Palace.

A new book, Big Stake by SJ Brown, the third in the DI Mahoney series is out. It is a cop drama set in Hobart. This book turns the spotlight on the damage inflicted by the prevalence of gambling in modern Australia.

Blessed are the booksellers and consider them, sweating under the stench of desperation and sticky tape. I wish you all beautiful summers of reading, learning and yarning.

If you have any book news contact me at

Monday, October 31, 2016

Paige Turner - November

Journalist Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. She is a journalist from Belarus whose book, Secondhand Time, the Last of the Soviets, translated by Bela Shayevich, is a truly transformative read. For decades Alexievich had placed her tape recorder on the table and in the book she presents the devastating people’s history of the USSR. This year’s Nobel Laureate of Literature is, controversially, the mystical poet of the people, Bob Dylan. A film made from Alexievich's essay Voices from Chernobyl is featuring as part of the Tasmanian Eco Film Festival on November 20, in Hobart. 

Closer to home there is a great selection of events happening around Tasmania in November, wherever your noble affiliations lie. The Story Island Project is a new organisation that celebrates the power of a story, and the people of an island. They are having a public celebration at the Moonah Arts Centre on  24 November at 6pm. Australian of the Year Local Hero and Sydney Story Factory co-founder Cath Keenan will speak at the event. Wetlands are slimy and amazing places and to celebrate their unique habitat, Tasmanian students are invited to submit a poem into a poetry competition. For more information click here

Red Parka Designer Jennifer Cossins is releasing a gorgeously illustrated book called A-Z of Endangered Animals (pictured here). The launch will take place at the Red Parka Shop on Criterion St, Hobart in the afternoon of November 2. For further information click here. 10% of the profits will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund.

This year’s Sustainable Living Festival will feature a poetry slam and a story slam where you have a chance to get on stage and delight, astound or murder a poem or story. While I will not judge you, I am a judge for the story comp and the incomparable Storyteller Spinks is MC. For details click here. 

The Adam and Eve ABC Guide to the Art of Ageing Disgracefully is being launched at Petrarchs in Launceston on November 25, 6pm. This is a slightly risqué stocking filler about some of the challenges we face as we age. It’s a quick read that will give you a few laughs and some excellent food for thought about how you might like to age...disgracefully.

Also at Petrarchs in November are the following events:Country girl and bestselling Tasmanian Ruro (rural romance) writer extraordinaire, Rachael Treasure will be signing copies of her new book Down the Dirt Roads on November 5 at 11am. Photographer Owen Hughes will be signing copies of his latest book Love This Island Tasmania on November 12 at 11am. Owen successfully captures the diversity of our cities and regions, our strong sense of community and the pleasure we take in joining others to celebrate and play.

Two of my favourite things are flowers and books and I may head north for Woolmer’s Festival of Roses, especially as Petrarchs will be on site hosting the book side of this floral event. The following authors will be speaking; Janice Sutton on her book, Garlic Feast 11am, Karen Hall, about Wychwood, - Indira Naidoo will discuss The Edible Garden and The Edible City and Ben Milbourne will yarn about his book Tasmanian Trail. All of this on a single Sunday (the 13th) in November.

In Hobart, Fullers havesome good looking events including Robyn Williams from ABC’s The Science Show discussing his book In Love with Betty the Crow, on November 8, Melissa Ashby on November 10 discussing The Birdman’s Wife, and Briohny Doyle will be chatting about her dystopic fiction (is it dystofiction?) The Island Will Sink, on Friday 18th. Captain Blueberry strikes again – and The Journey of Admiral Bolognaise will be launched on November 12, the day after the launch of Margaretta Pos’ new book Shadows in Suriname. Make sure you RSVP!

The Hobart Bookshop is hosting the launch of Tony Brennan’s A Beauty That Catches, a collection of poetry on November 3. On November 9 Jen Gibson will launch Meanderings by Betty Mckenzie-Tubb and on November 24th, Dianne Coon, secretary of the Volunteer Ambulance Officers Association will launch Ro Evelyn’s first novel, The Volunteer.

Furious Penguins is looking for people to read their favourite Joseph Conrad passages at a special event in December. The tribute reading will be held on the Derwent bank adjacent to the scuttled remains of Conrad's ship, The Otago. Poets and writers who would like to read their own original work about or inspired by Conrad are also welcome to participate. Click here for details.

Matthew Evans and Nick Haddow will be having a hearty yarn about cheese and tucker and their array of books, including Nick’s new one, Milk Made, a book about cheese, at the State Cinema in Hobart on Monday, November 7. Click here for further informationand to book tickets.

Tony Fenton spent a lot of his childhood roaming around Melaleuca and Port Davey with his grandfather, the legendary Deny King. His book, Fleeting Hopes, an immaculately researched history of the area is complete and ready to go to print. He’s crowdfunding to make this happen. I’ve pledged and am busting to read it. You should pledge too. 

The Tasmanian Writers Centre are hosting a Twitch Celebration at the Centre’s Reading Lounge on Tuesday 22 November at 6pm. This will feature readings from some of the young writers involved in this excellent program. They have a workshop called Perfect your Non-Fiction Book Proposal with Mary Cunnane on November 20. The centre has also extended the deadline for Young Writers in the City, Devonport until November 7. Get on it.

If you have some book news or events you would like to share, email me at

A version of this column was published in Warp. 

Birdsong, A Celebration of Bruny Island Birds

"Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers" Yevgeny Yevtushenko Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I spent it on Bruny Isl...