-- / --
Curiously little is made of the demonic and demonisation in relation to Van Diemen's Land. It does not appear to be a theme of interest to historians or to psychoanalysts. And yet it figures prominently in the tales of Van Diemen's Land and Tasmania -- if only in past justifications for "remedial" action by western faiths and the naming of various kinds.
Van Diemen's Land (so designated in 1642) was named after Anthoonij van Diemen, governor general of the Dutch East Indies. It became a separate British colony in its own right in 1825. It was renamed by proclamation in 1855 as Tasmania during the process of elaboration of a new constitution accepted by the Queen in 1855. Under the authority of Van Diemen, Abel Janszoon Tasman had been the first European to "discover" the long-inhabited lands of New Zealand, Tonga, the Fiji Islands -- and Van Diemen's Land. The name "Tasmania" had been used unofficially by 1823 (Boyce, 2008, p. 158).
The Van Diemen's Land Company, created in 1824, received a Royal Charter in 1825 and was granted 250,000 acres in northwest Tasmania in 1826. The company continues, under that name, to retain much of the original land grant and is widely believed to be the last chartered company still operating. Given its direct participation in the elimination of the Tasmanian Aborigines (Boyce, 2008, p. 202), there is now presumably a historical case for them also to apologize -- but to whom?
"Demons": The change of name may have been made to some extent because of the unfortunate homophonic association with "demon" and the easy assumption that "Van Diemen's Land" could be appropriately translated as the "Land of the Demons". At the time of the change, Lieutenant Governor William Denison noted to London with polite understatement: "There is a feeling here that to the name Van Diemen's Land a certain stigma attaches", if only in relation to its primary designated role as a penal colony. Whatever the case, as noted by James Boyce: "Van Diemen's Land never vanished, but by edict of an embarrassed ruling class, it went underground" (Van Diemen's Land, 2008).
Informally references continued to be made thereafter to "Van Demon's Land" and to "Damn Demon's Land". Whilst homophony may have been significant to the illiterate, the literate might have been more influenced by associations with "Die Men's Land". This would also have given it the unique distinction of a country subject to nominative determinism (or aptonymy ?), namely that its key characteristics ("Die Men") were explicitly implied by its designation (as pronounced in English) -- which may well have influenced their development.
It is one of the last places to have figured on earlier maps as Terra Incognita (as part of Terra Australis Incognita) -- occasionally to be depicted as inhabited by monsters and demons ("here be dragons"). Its top predator/scavenger (other than humans) is the Tasmanian Devil -- named for the demonic sound it makes at night. It has effectively become the mascot of the State of Tasmania -- with "devil" being incorporated into popular names of sporting teams as well as those of commercial products and services. As Richard Busch remarks: "So it's not surprising that most people know little about this Australian state, except maybe the fact that it's the home of the devil" (Australia's Best Kept Secret, National Geographic Traveler).
Demonic toponymy: The first map of Van Diemen's Land, by Thomas Scott in 1830, was produced when 'over half' of the island was colonised. The south west forest (possibly the most internationally well-known part of Tasmania) was named Transylvania on such early maps, setting into motion a strange unnamed kind of Tasmanian Gothic that has dominated much artistic production there ever since.
More evident is the extent to which many topographic features there continue to have names that contain "devil" (Devil's Kitchen, Devil's Gate Dam, Devil's Gullet State Reserve, etc). Areas are described as "Devil country" (in reference to the animal), notably in promoting tour packages.
Tasmania also has a River Styx. The River Styx of Greek myth wound seven times around the underworld, as the boundary between Earth and Hades - the land of the dead. The Styx Valley contains all that remains of Tasmanian temperate rainforest -- some of the tallest trees in the world (exceeded in height only by the Giant Redwoods in California). The valley is currently the focus of a bitter campaign between loggers and environmentalists seeking to protect the old growth forest (through the Styx Valley Global Rescue Station) -- each appropriately demonising the other, given that the mythical River Styx was also known as the River of Hate. [As one campaigner notes, if all goes according to the logging schedule there, Tasmania's Styx could be flowing through a lifeless world in emulation of the myth.]
"Hell hole": A Tasmanian, Hilarie Roseman (Humiliation Flowering from Historical Roots: an Australian experience. 2005) concentrates "on 'demonic' inhumane treatment of the convicts in the Australian past, and the present manifestation of treating people like 'objects' or 'dogs' to try to break their spirit in the present history of Australia today". She notably cites Robert Hughes (The Fatal Shore, 2003):
Prisoners would simply murder an overseer or a prisoner so that they could be hanged. Macquarie Harbour would remain a colonial benchmark for some time - the nadir of punishment, until it was shut down.... If it was not 'demonic' it would have been as useless a deterrent as gallows with no rope. Mercy on the mainland needed the background of terror elsewhere.
Van Diemen's Land has therefore often been characterized as a "hell hole" (although it is less well-recognized that the brutality was primarily reserved for secondary offenders, or recidivists):
In Australian legends, Tasmania was known for incest, bestiality, birth defects and freaks. Gerry Turcotte (Re-mastering the Ghosts: Mudrooroo and Gothic Refigurations. 2003) argues that:
Tasmania... has so often been figured, in the Australian mainland imaginary, as a space of terror, of backwardness, of depravity. Australia itself, however, long before it was ever 'discovered' by European explorers and cartographers, was constructed as a space of monstrosity, where even to believe in its possibility was considered heresy. Tasmania, owing to its notorious convict prisons, was seen to be even darker.... the Gothic has frequently been used by imperial agencies to identify Aboriginality as primitive, pagan and unenlightened, precisely by returning to the origins of the word, so that in one easy gesture the "Dark Ages" and Aboriginal Australia are equated. Both are dark, unenlightened.
Turcotte notes the development of this argument by Penny Van Toorn (The Terrors of Terra Nullius: Gothicising and De-Gothicising Aboriginality, 1992-93).
What is to be said of an imperial power that used as its penal colony a "hell hole" named such as to enjoin to a very probable death both the original inhabitants and those forcibly transported there -- thereby empowering those able to facilitate this? It might aptly have had inscribed on its gates the slogan, supposedly on the Gates of Hell, from Dante's Divine Comedy ("Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here").
It is extraordinary that it was faith-based (or faith-inspired) governance that was responsible for creating and sustaining the "hell hole". This is notable in the case of George Arthur, after whom the notorious Port Arthur prison was named -- who had undergone an evangelical conversion to Christianity in 1811 (Boyce, 2008, p. 187) and thereafter ensured the implementation of one the severest penal regimes with their associated dehumanisation.
Fire: Any sense of hellishness, the demonic or evil in Tasmania (and more generally in Australia) is easily reinforced by the incidence of wildfires and their imaginative association with "hellfire" -- especially when communities are visibly menaced by a wall of smoke and the glow of flames, just over a neighbouring hill, with the possibility that the wind might change, cutting off vital evacuation routes. Wildfires remain a major risk and were in fact one of the weapons most effectively used by the Aborigines in response to the early settlers on their traditional hunting lands (Boyce, 2008, pp. 194-196). Given any association of Aborigines with evil at that time, their skillful use of wildfire (acquired to manage their environment), and the dependency of some ecosystems on their periodic destruction by fire, could readily compound such associations.
Evil: The perception and legitimate definition of criminality (according to Victorian laws and conventions) were of course inspired by Christian views of the nature of evil and the demonic -- offering a significant example of the phenomenon of "demonisation". The "demonic" nature of both convicts and Aborigines derived from the projection onto them of the antithesis of Victorian "Little England" that was the optimistic vision of Tasmanian society values (cf Sharon Morgan. Land Settlement in Early Tasmania: creating an Antipodean England, 1992). This effectively transformed Van Diemen's Land, and Tasmania, into an accumulator of those demonically inspired -- if not to be considered as possessed by demons.
For John Henderson:
Without hope to 'sustain' the moral feelings or to 'restrain the fell passions', the convict consequently became like 'a demon' and 'crimes which at one time would have been thought of with horror, are committed with avidity'.73 'Blasphemy, rage, mutual hatred and the unrestrained indulgence of unnatural lust' were thus the terrible outcomes of the convict state. (p. 74)
the free low-born European soon acquires a thorough acquaintance with the evil practice of the convict, and speedily becomes as little worthy of confidence...
As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 236), an official inquiry in 1838 found that the evil of convictism could not be successfully quarantined, declaring:
there belongs to the [convict] system [the] monstrous evil of calling into existence, and continually extending, societies or the germs of nations, most thoroughly depraved, as respects both the character and degree of their vicious propensities.
Under the Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance (Cth) in 1911 (repealed in 1957), a Chief Protector (made legal guardian of every Aboriginal and `half-caste' child under 18) notably declared
Children are removed from the evil influence of the aboriginal camp with its lack of moral training and its risk of serious organic infectious disease. [more]
Much of the condemnation of the moral degeneracy of Van Diemen's Land has its origins in the nineteenth-century evangelical revival, with its rigid belief in the evils of sex outside marriage.
Sinister criminality: The use of Tasmania as a penal colony from 1803, which finally ceased only in 1877 , became the focus of public demonstrations in London, notably in the light of the account provided by John Frost (The Horrors of Convict Life, 1856) as usefully reviewed by K M Reid (The Horrors of Convict Life: British radical visions of the Australian penal colonies, 2007). Some indicators:
As noted by Caitlin Mahar (Vandemonians, Electronic Encyclopedia of Gold in Australia, 2007):
On the mainland, those who hailed from the island colony were known as "Vandiemonians" or "Vandemonians". The second moniker referenced the place where they had (usually) served time but, as Bruce Moore notes, it also "blended with the word demon". These "demons" flooded into Victoria in the early days of the gold rushes - in the second half of 1851 there were more recorded immigrants from Van Diemen's Land than from New South Wales and South Australia combined.
Victorian usage of "Vandemonian" was noted by Rafaello Carboni (The Eureka Stockade, 1855) as implying "evil, maybe from Tasmania". More generally the term was used in the nineteenth century to refer to people on the bottom rung of the Tasmanian social ladder: convicts, aborigines, and their descendents. Ironically a guide to Aussie slang notes that "demon" indicated a policeman or detective -- originally a Tasmanian (Vandemonian) ex-convict recruited into the colonial police force. "Vandemonian" came to be associated with sinister -- as in the description by Rafaello Carboni, of a "Vandemonian" as a fiendish thug or ruffian:
... a sulky ruffian, some five feet high, with the head of a bull-dog, the eyes of a vulture, sunken in a mass of bones, neglected beard, sun-burnt, grog-worn, as dirty as a brute, -- the known cast, as called here in this colony, of a 'Vandemonian,' made up of low, vulgar manners and hard talk, spiked at each word, with their characteristic B, and infamous B again; whilst a vile oath begins and ends any of their foul conceits.
The proximity of Victoria to Tasmania saw many of the "Vandemonian Banditti" make their way across the Bass Strait to continue their life of crime. As noted by Stefan Petrow (Combating the Hated Stain: Victorian legislation against Vandiemonian convicts in the 1850s. Australia and New Zealand Law and History E-journal, 2005):
Other Australian colonies feared that Vandiemonian convicts would find their way to, and spread crime and immorality in, their pure communities. As the closest colony and with the magnetic incentive of rich goldfields, Victoria was the most fearful and in the 1850s a moral panic arose over an upsurge in violent crime and robberies in Melbourne and the goldfields that were largely attributed to Vandiemonian convicts... A product of this panic was the enactment of draconian legislation, beginning with the Convicts Prevention Act 1852. This Act provided for the arrest of any Vandiemonian convict found living in Victoria whether conditionally pardoned or not and including those who had not committed any crime, the confiscation of property, a sentence of working in irons on Victorian roads from one to three years, or their return to Van Diemen's Land.
Curiously the capital of Victoria, Melbourne, did not originate under official auspices, instead being formed in 1842 through the foresight of settlers from Van Diemen's Land. Its first mayor was Henry Condell, himself a "Vandemonian", as recalled by his friend William Westgarth -- noting that that was the "ill-omened name" of that time.
Abomination: Tasmania has been the last of the Australian states to decriminalise homosexuality (in 1997), following a declaration by the United Nations that its laws were in breach of international civil and political rights. The homophobia was partly a consequence of the connection made in the 1840s between homosexuality and the concentration of convicts in remote probation gangs. As noted by James Boyce (Van Diemen's Land, 2008):
This topic aroused such emotion and hysteria that its implications were seen to go far beyond penal policy, with convict sex in the Van Diemonian bush becomoing a matter of the highest imperial concertn. With the biblical warning of Sodom vividly in mind, the politically influential evangelicals claimed that the fate of the whole society, indeed possibly the whole empire, was at stake....the mid-nineteenth century evangelical view of homosexuality became inextricably associated with Van Diemen's Land and instilled an enduring sense of shame . The pervading "stain" of convictism arguably has its origins more in shame about sex than in memories of sevitude.
It is curious that fear of homsexuality was such a determining factor in the termination of the "hell hole" rather than any concern about the murderous brutality associated with it. Boyce quotes an anonymous poem of the time (1847):
|Shall Tasman's Isle so fam'd
So lovely and so fair
From other nations be estrang'd
The name of Sodom bear?
The newly enriched Victorian elite cringed at the idea of their colony being morally tainted by slovenly ex-convicts from the south, many of whom were considered sodomites, so they simply banned them from landing in Melbourne. [more]
Encroachment: The manner in which Europeans encroached upon land used otherwise by earlier inhabitants is readily reframed to justify the historical process and its modern counterparts (Errorism vs Terrorism? Encroachment, Complicity, Denial and Terraism, 2004). The subtleties of the process can be used to engender astonishment and moral indignation at the inappropriateness of any violent reaction. Such violence can be reframed as unjustifed evil -- thereby justifying any level of brutality in response, including extermination (Boyce, 2008, p. 195).
Encroachment has also had more readily acknowledged impacts on the natural environment, notably the extinction of animal species (Tasmanian emu on which European colonists were first significantly dependent, or the Moa of New Zealand). Such questions are discussed by Boyce with respect to tree flora, the introduction of species, and the propagation of weeds problematic to agriculture.
Genocide: "White Tasmania", like "White Australia", is recognized by some to have a "black history". The last Tasmanian aborigine was effectively "exterminated" by 1876 (see James Boyce, Towards Genocide: Government Policy on the Aborigines 1827-38, in: Van Diemen's Land, 2008). As noted below, considerable controversy has been raised by the issue of whether their disappearance was a deliberately genocidal policy, if only as cultivated negligence. According to Henry Melville (History of the Island of Van Diemen's Land from the Year 1824 to 1835):
It is generally believed that this race of human beings will soon become extinct altogether, as the deaths are common, and the increase nothing equal in proportion. Little is known as to the manner in which they are governed, and the Colonists are not at all informed of the proceedings of the Government towards them.
It is claimed that "The Black War of Van Diemen's Land" was the official campaign of terror directed against the Black people of Tasmania -- whereby between 1803 and 1830 the Black aborigines of Tasmania were reduced from an estimated 5,000 people to less than 75 (Cive Turnbull, Black War: the extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines, 1948/1965). In Tasmania in 1824, settlers were authorised to shoot Aborigines, possibly in government "roving parties" considered by some to be a "war of extermination" (Boyce, 2008, 192).. In 1818, Boyce (2008, p. 99) indicates that the Aborigines were (under)estimated to number 7000, whilst the whites numbered 3240. Curiously almost all the authorised killing of Aborigines was done by convicts and former convicts (Boyce, 2008, p. 205). He also indicates (Boyce, 2008, p. 197) that the number of deaths acknowledged has been seriously underestimated. An article in the Tasmanian Colonial Times (1 December 1826) declared, for example, that:
We make no pompous display of Philanthropy. The Government must remove the natives -- if not, they will be hunted down like wild beasts and destroyed!
Runoko Rashidi (Black War: the destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines. 1998) states:
With the declaration of martial law in November 1828, Whites were authorized to kill Blacks on sight.... In time, a bounty was declared on Blacks, and "Black catching," as it was called, soon became a big business; five pounds for each adult Aborigine, two pounds for each child. After considering proposals to capture them for sale as slaves, poison or trap them, or hunt them with dogs, the government settled on continued bounties and the use of mounted police.
Boyce (2008, p. 11) notes:
Massacres were, as most nineteenth-century historians believed, likely to have been commonplace. Equally horrific, and almost certainly unscrutinised, were the government-sponsored ethnic clearnances conducted on the west coast after the fighting was over.
The elimination of Tasmanian Aborigines, whether deliberately instigated and sustained or not, was as much due to structural violence as to physical violence. As in Victoria, by 1851, the Aboriginal population had through dispossession, a policy of turning a blind eye to the pastoralists massacres, and disease, been reduced to such a degree that they were expected, like in Tasmania, to disappear in two or three generations (cf Robert Travers, The Tasmanians: the story of a doomed race, 1968).
There is a curious resemblance to the debate in certain countries regarding Holocaust denial, its criticism, and its criminalisation. Any such comparison is necessarily controversial, as in the case of that of A. Dirk Moses (Revisionism and Denial in: Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History, 2003, pp. 337-370). Moses compares Windschuttle to the renowned Holocaust denier David Irving, although reviewers have considered this neither helpful nor relevant. Whilst "whitewash" is an insightful title, it can usefully be seen as responding to the "blackwash" criticized as inappropriate by Windschuttle.
Endurance of the Tasmanian Aborigines: Despite the disappearance of pure blooded Aborigines in Tasmania, the continued existence of "Aborigines" has been achieved by reframing the progeny of their miscegenation and intermarriage (dating from 1810) -- now the focus of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Office (a "business unit of the Department of Tourism, Arts and the Environment") in seeking to preserve honourable traces of that culture. All those choosing to define themselves as Aborigines (estimated at 16,000) now have Caucasian genes, as noted by Peter Hay (Tasmania: the strange and verdant politics of a strange and verdant island, 2000), who comments:
It is no longer the dominant view that the Tasmanian Aborigines are extinct. There is an extremely active, robust, and articulate community claiming descent from Tasmania's "Palawa" -- claiming moreover, a continuous tradition of identification as Aboriginal, and insisting on this account that Palawa society is still very much with us.
Tasmania is however the only State of the Commonwealth of Australia to have made formal arrangements to compensate the "lost generation" -- the descendants of Tasmanian aborigines forcibly removed from their parents.
Indigenisation: In its early years as a penal colony, obtaining adequate food supplies was a challenge for all. As a consequence those to whom convicts had been allocated (possibly as indentured labour) empowered them to act as hunters in the wild -- typically "armed" with dogs rather than other weapons. The dogs were used to hunt kangaroo as extensively described by James Boyce (Canine Revolution: the social and environmental impact of the introduction of the dog to Tasmania, 2006). To an unrecognized degree the wilderness became home to the convicts and represented freedom. Their they could live free and independent lives. As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 49): "With what seems extraorindary speed, a motley collection of British criminals made the bush their home". A convergence in the way of life (and clothing) of the immigrant and indigenous populations became evident before the degeneration into officially sanctioned savagery set in.
Blurring of roles: To an unusual degree, Van Diemen's Land
was witness to an extraordinary blurring of roles. Convicts and guards drank
in the pub together, the distinction between (convict) servants and bushrangers
was blurred, there was a dependence
on convicts to acquire food through hunting. As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 174):
"By 1835 there was one policeman for every 88.7 people [1 per 135 in 1847]...About
two thirds of the police were serving convicts". As noted above,
almost all the authorised killing of Aborigines was done by convicts and former
convicts (Boyce, 2008, p. 205). Free settlers minimized stock theft by handing
over a portion of ownership (typically a third) to convict stock-keepers. The
division of Van Diemen's Land into those who had been convicts and those who
controlled them was very loose. Even in the 1820s association with the Aborigines
had contributed to a "degree
of unusual levity and wildness"
amongst the native-born.
Hauntings: According to Margaret Giordano (Tasmanian Tales of the Supernatural, 2001), of all the states of the Australian Commonwealth, Tasmania is said to be the most haunted (see also Joan Dehle Emberg, and Buck Thor Emberg, Ghostly Tales of Tasmania, 1991). Ghosts are often mentioned in the press, while the better-known legendary hauntings are recorded in books of local history. The turbulent "Van Diemonian" past of the island -- characterized by cruelty, murder, alienation, sudden death and suicides -- typically inspire many such tales of the unknown.
The cultural context is conducive to such beliefs, whether through Aboriginal belief in consorting with the spirits of the dead or through the early massive emigration of Irish women of a class that had cultivated Celtic beliefs in the supernatural -- and sensitivity to them. Most of the convicts had Irish as their first language (Boyce, 2008, p. 226).
Tumarkin ('Wishing You Weren't Here …': thinking about trauma, place and the Port Arthur massacre, 2001) cites Avery F Gordon, Ghostly Matters. Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1997):
Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither pre-modern superstition nor individual psychosis: it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it.
It is appropriate to argue that "Tasmania" continues to be haunted by "Van Diemen's Land" and its various inhabitants, black or white. For those of Aboriginal descent, ghosts necessarily tend to be encountered in places where massacres are known to have taken place.
There is a curious coincidence to the fact that Margaret Giordano, author of Tasmanian Tales of the Supernatural (2001) was earlier the biographer of the man who opened Cradle Valley as a nature reserve and established Waldheim there (A Man and His Mountain: the story of Gustav Weindorfer, 1987), of which more below. Were Waldheim to have been haunted (of which there is no public record), and razed to the ground "after a fire" in 1974 (as it was) for that reason, and were it then to have been rebuilt following public protest in 1976 (which is not widely known), this pattern would epitomize the challenge of collective memory in Tasmania (discussed in Annex B). It is now a museum. Waldheim as it now stands, even as a replica, might be considered to correspond to what many imagine to be a haunted building -- perhaps appropriately haunted by the people of "Cradle Valley" that Weindorfer seemingly chose to forget. Giordano does however reproduce (pp 134-136) the extensive record of five people describing an "unusual phenomenon" collective witnessed on Cradle Mountain for which she considers Aboriginal spirits "seem also to be the explanation". She asks:
Was it indeed something to do with the angry spirits of long-dead Aborigines into whose domain they had unknowingly strayed? It is recorded, in fact, that a family of Aborigines, fugitives from George Augustus Robinson, who had persuaded the rest to accept deportation to Flinders Island in 1835, resisted here for a number of years... Within five years of giving themselves up, the family was decimated, the parents and three of the sons perishing as a result of their contact with white civilisation.
With respect to that place, Giordano notes the remark of David Quammen (Wild Thoughts From Wild Places, 1999) that: "The place does have a preternatural feel".
Ghost towns: As a consequence of the exhaustion of gold and other mining possibilities, or the attraction of gold rushes elsewhere, a number of towns in Tasmania are effectively ghost towns -- or only slowly recovering from that status. A prime example is Queenstown -- a total contrast to Queenstown in New Zealand. Such ghost towns have also been created as a result of the completion of major hydro-electric construction projects and the consequent abandonment of the housing and other facilities for workers. Places like Queenstown may also be severely affected by the continuing presence of pollutants arsising from the mineral separation processes.
Tourism hyperbole: Whilst many rural towns and villages have their charm -- including ghost towns -- there is a curious discrepancy between the exaggerated (high quality, professional) descriptions of their attractions and the reality actually to be experienced. Many such locations therefore constitute exemplars of contexts in which "nothing happens" -- or at least apparently so. Much is based verbally on very little -- as is perhaps characteristic of proprietary representation of real estate and symbols of identity. It is the context as a whole that is so remarkable, but there is little that can be effectively detailed about "wholes". There is not a lot that can be said about the quality of places, so attractive to many, "where there is no time and nothing matters".
Road kill: A highly unusual experience for tourists travelling by car throughout Tasmania is the number of animal corpses on the road. These are typically possum and wallaby -- or occasionally wombats or Tasmanian Devils. Whilst such road kill is a recognized phenomenon in many parts of Australia, the quantity of such wildlife in Tasmania means that it is not uncommon to find such corpses every kilometre or less on rural roads. Of course such animals are killed (or wounded) by vehicles travelling the roads -- typically between dusk and dawn (of which road signs duly warn).
Although promoting ityself as the Natural State, others have suggested that it might well be called the Roadkill State -- in the light of figures showing that more than 100,000 animals are killed on Tasmanian roads each year (Tim Jeanes, Report shows high animal road kill toll in Tasmania, ABC, 24 November 2005).
Curiously the phenomenon has to some extent been reframed as an acceptable part of the natural cycle because of the insufficiency of predators to limit burgeoning animal populations (possum are notably destructive to trees) -- the Tasmanian Devil being itself endangered by disease even though it is a protected species. However it is scavengers, such as the Tasmanian Devil, which are expected to clear the corpses off the roadway at night.
Political system: One feature of the Tasmanian Act of Constitution which distinguishes it from those of other states of the Australian Commonwealth is that it is incomplete. According to R. D. Lumb (The Constitution of the Australian States, 1963/1991), there are no provisions in the act which empower the legislature to make laws for the peace, welfare, and good government of the "colony" or enable it to change its constitution. The act must therefore be read in conjunction with those of the Australian Constitution Act (No. 2) which conferred law-making power, including the power of constitutional alteration.
Unbeknown to most, even in other parts of the Commonwealth of Australia, Tasmania has a very unusual political system, whether in terms of electoral processes, or the composition and powers of its houses of parliament -- or its consequent conservatism. Known as the Hare-Clarke system of proportional representation, it has been recognized as one of the world's most fair.This has been helpfully described by Peter Hay (Tasmania: the strange and verdant politics of a strange and verdant island, 2000), with problematic aspects described by Kate Crowley (Disenfranchising the Greens: Labor's Electoral 'Reform' Strategy in Tasmania, Paper for the Australasian Political Studies Association 2000 Conference). Its constitution has only been slightly amended since its elaboration in 1855.
Despite such conservatism, Tasmania is unusual in its legal provision for relationship between partners:
The Australian state of Tasmania does not recognize same-sex marriage. However, the Relationships Act 2003 provides for recognition and registration of a type of domestic partnership in two distinct categories -- Significant Relationships and Caring Relationships [more]
Whilst politics in Tasmania has indeed tended to be extremely conservative over many decades, it has been deeply riven by conflict centering on environmental issues, notably those affecting its vast wilderness areas. It has been witness to archetypal confrontations between "the greens" and the business interests associated both with the timber industry and with the very extensive hydro-electrical power industry -- both being largely responsible for the excellent road system providing appropriate access for the exploitation of such resources.
As one example of the rhetoric from a green perspective, Peter Adams (Forestry 101 for Bill Bryson, 2003) notes on a blog (appropriately called Life on the Edge):
Tasmania's government has made its corporatised forestry department, Forestry Tasmania, exempt from the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conversation Act, the Threatened Species Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and our state's own Resource Management and Planning System. Is this not corrupt or what? And Tasmania is the only state that sets out to poison its own native animals. "Clean and green?"
On Forestry Tasmania... the old growth rain forests have been clearfelled and destroyed with a demonic enthusiam equal only to the immorality of the fire bombing of Dresden. In their drive to make Tasmania the toilet paper center of the world, they are willing to sacrifice, not only the hundreds of thousands of animals and plant species living in the diverse habitate of our old growth forests, but also the thousands of employment opportunities related to boat building, honey production, the furniture industry, the arts, true eco-tourism, organic farming, scientific research and land management. If this is supposely world's best practice, it doesn't say much for the world.
Protest and dissent in relation to Tasmania continue to be curiously associated with a "Vandemonian" perspective, both positively and negatively. The 150th anniversary of the historically significant Eureka rebellion in Ballarat (Victoria), at the Eureka Stockade, was recently celebrated by Australian anarchists (Reclaiming the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion in 1854). That revolt of gold miners, many notably attracted from Van Diemen's Land (and purportedly triggered by a Vandemonian), arose from grievances associated with mining claims. The Victorian Colonial authorities had worked from the premise "that all gold belongs to the Queen" and that the diggers making claims on crown land were a "necessary evil" that needed to be controlled with an iron fist.
Potemkin forestry and autistic economics: In travelling through the wilderness of Tasmania, roads typically pass through areas formally declared as national parks or World Heritage Sites, and then, by contrast -- through other areas -- where roadside signs from Forestry Tasmania declare "This is a working forest". Such a statement effectively frames the protected areas as "unemployed forests", raising the spectre of "forest unemployment" and the policy challenges it implies. The concern with "old growth forests" must presumably then be seen in relation to "forest retirement" and the worthy case for "forest euthanasia".
Clearly such thinking derives from an (autistic) understanding of economics -- whereby "forests" can only "work" when appropriately employed by government or those licenced to exploit such areas. This cognitive fixation is of course nonsense in terms of the thermodynamic understanding of "work" (and the capacity of trees to lift large quantities of water to a great height). Such thinking corresponds to past failures by economists to recognize that those defined as "homemakers" also work. Given current preoccupation with the urgency of carbon sequestration by forests, in response to climate change, clearly this fixation process is presumably also not to be understood as "work", whether or not it is undertaken in protected areas. A related inadequacy is evident in the underevaluation of the energy resources available to a society, most notably following any collapse of electricity supply systems (Reframing Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future the vital role of psychosocial variants, 2006). The mindset is also to be fojund in the undervaluation of tasks performed by volunteers when no monetary value has been allocated to their work.
Illustrating the mindset of the early settler (and of generations of developers and economists to come), Boyce (2008, p. 216) cites a commentator from 1840 to the effect:
The floral mead -- the pearly stream -- the goodly grove, however they delight the eye, or ravish the imagination -- what are they all? -- a worthless waste, until the genius and industry of man converts and fits them all for the welfare and enjoyment of his kind.
As in other parts of the world, Tasmanian forestry makes use of uncut trees lining the road to screen from view from the road the clearcutting that takes place behind them -- in a "working forest" at least. This practice has been appropriately termed Potemkin forestry and is designed to stem protest at the depredation caused to forested lands and the associated wildlife.
Untransparency of power: In contrast to many other countries, there is little evidence of security services. On the other hand people are exposed to another manifestation of power in the form of very large log-carrying trucks en route for sawmills at high speed -- and necessarily encountered on rather narrow winding roads, where they may easily be experienced as physically menacing. The sense of menace is exacerbated by the lack of any sense of whose interests such activity is serving and by whom it is effectively controlled. It is further enhanced by the limited number of vehicles on such essentially "lonely" roads -- possibly one every 15 minutes or more.
A different sense of undefined menace is associated with the various ways in which the hydroelectric industry is silently encountered in wilderness areas. Huge investments have been made there in setting up networks of dams to channel water over large pipelines to power stations -- with which abandoned residential communities for construction workers may have been associated. When these are subsequently taken over by other business interests, as effectively gated upmarket conference facilities and tourist centres, the experience of such artifical communities may be quite eerie -- reminiscent of the homebase of some sects.
Curiously, as the occupants of what had been named "Transylvania", Forestry Tasmania and "the Hydro" now readily lend themselves to demonisation by environmentalists -- who take on the role of despicable Vandemonians in the eyes of those in power (cf All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre, 2007). This is an example of the process of enantiodromia at work (cf Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007).
Religious surrealism: "Complementing" the demonic toponymy, noted above, are the unusual, religiously inspired, place names in parts of Tasmania. For example, in front of the official information office of Sheffield, a signpost points to the following neighbouring locations: Garden of Eden (15 miles), Paradise (5 miles), No Where Else (5 miles), Promised Land (11 miles) -- all of which have a physical reality. Somewhat further afield are the Walls of Jerusalem -- bounding a national park of that name. This is next to Cradle Mountain.
These names arise from a period in the 19th century when religiously inspired settlers of various denominations occupied that central region of Tasmania -- somewhat as they had done in the United States. The landscape indeed encourages such descriptors -- even the Walls of Jerusalem. But where else in the world would one find a juxtaposition of such place names -- intermingled with their demonic counterparts (and perhaps appropriately so)?
Such a process of naming features of the land (noted above), to appropriate it psycho-culturally, bears a strong relationship to that of disparaged Aboriginal attitudes through which their identity is associated with the landscape, if not embodied into it. (cf Darrell Addison Posey (Ed). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999).
Denial: Boyce (2008) expresses considerable concern at the degree of denial by Tasmanians, Victorians and Australians -- in the past and to this day -- regarding the convict society of Van Diemen's Land and what occurred there. This challenge of amnesia is one theme explored in Annex B. Particularly surprising is the rapidity with which history was rewritten. Boyce (2008, p. 243) notes the commentary of James West (1852) reproduced with govbernment support a century later:
The colonists had demanded the end of the convict system, and it had ceased. They had demanded self-goverment and got it. Vamn Diemen's Land, with its tyranny and cruelty, with its leg-irons ansd the flagellator's lash, was dead, and Tas,mania rose from its ashes.
He also notes the degree to which Victoria continues to avoid the "inconvenient truth" that it was first settled by ex-convicts from Van Diemen's Land -- who established Melbourne and provided its first mayor (2008, pp. 244-250). There is a certain irony to the triumph of the "Little England" values of Queen Victoria in Tasmania whilst those of the Vandemonians triumphed in their own way in "Victoria". However, by an Act of 1852, Victoria sought to exclude former convicts from Van Diemen's Land, and as noted by Boyce (2008, p. 250):
The role played by Van Diemonian convicts as the founding fathers of Victoria still remains largely hidden, and the truth that former convict shepherds and bushmen did the main work of settlement -- incliding the violence consequent to it -- is little known. Forgetting the immigrants from Van Diemen's Land and concealing their bloody deeds have, it seems, gone hand in hand....The story of the convict settlers...differs dramatically from the accounts which still fill Australian history books and set the terms for debates about national identity.
More intriguing for a future, reflecting on "alternatives" in the event of social and environmental collapse, is the argument of Boyce (2008, pp. 253-254) that:
The Van Diemonians of southern Australia are undoubtedly difficult founding fathers with whom to come to terms. However, their way of life poses an alternative to the widely publicised vision of their masters -- which is the only early settler perspective most Australians have ever heard....environmental imperatives meanst that many imported products -- clothes, tents, tools... -- were commonly discarded, needs were simplified still further.... success was not to be gauged by the accumulation of capital but rather by self-sufficiency and the extent to which one could preserve life and freedom.
In stressing the need to "break out of intellectual straitjackets that constrain national imagination" and learn from the deep resilience of the Van Diemonian story, Boyce notes the point made by E P Thompson (Customs in Common, 1993) that it is not that it is possible or desirable to return to "pre-capitalist human nature" but that in the context of ecological crisis: "a reminder of its alternative needs, expectations and codes may renew our sense of nature's range of possibilities".
For Boyce (2008, p. 258):
A central challenge of the early twenty first century is to reconnect this cultural heritage to the great environmental and social questions of our day.
The policies adopted by the British Empire and implemented in Van Diemen's Land, with respect to treatment of criminals and indigenous peoples, should not be seen as unique for the times. However it is appropriate to raise the question as to the extent to which the policies implemented (often prior to their use elsewhere) constituted a "test drive" for policies that were used over the following century -- even to this day, in some cases.
The following highlight the possibility that from an historical perspective, Van Diemen's Land offered a context for a policy "proof of concept" that was later implemented and emulated in other imperial contexts and by other colonial powers. Do they represent the policies of "best practice" retained in a classified "bottom drawer" as options for future use by those obliged to deal with dissent in response to the development of national or vested interests?
In no particular order:
In the 1840s Van Diemen's Land was conceived by the British to be the "jail of the Empire" -- comparable to the current role of Guantanamo Bay for the USA.
Possible constructive learnings of the "proof of concept" initiatives might be:
There is a dilemma for the future in that, in contrast with aliens in foreign lands, any contact with extraterrestrial aliens may be based on their enlightened principles (Communicating with Aliens: the psychological dimension of dialogue, 2000). These may include the fundamental non-interventionist principle of doing unto others only as they do unto their own. Earth may then be framed by them as their Port Arthur or Guantanamo Bay. Why would humanity expect otherwise?
There can be no question that Tasmania is relatively unique in being a remarkably idyllic island, whether in terms of the beauty of the vast wilderness areas or the unusually unstressed lifestyle in its many rural areas -- themselves often to be found in idyllic settings. Curiously, beyond the developed areas invested by legitimate authorities and inhabitants -- the uncluttered countryside and towns of rural Tasmania are now the epitome of what the rest of the world might have aspired to be in terms of natural beauty and lifestyle. The absence of billboards and hoardings -- especially for products widely marketed -- contributes significantly to this.
In the following points a contrast is made between the "demonic" (as described above) and the "daimonic" as associated with the "daimon" (or daemon) (Daimon, Djinn, Muse and Duende: variations on a timeless experience, 2007; Patrick Harpur, Daimonic Reality: a field guide to the Other World, 1994). Aspects were notably honoured in classical Greek culture as the voice of the conscience, in Iberian cultures as "duende", and by such as the poet W B Yeats (The Daimon). Creative people may simply recognize it as the gift of their "muse" -- deploring the challenge of its absence or loss. In psychology the daimonic may also be recognized as the unrest within everyone which forces a person (or presumably a culture) into the unknown, leading to self-destruction or self-discovery
Wilderness inspiration: Tasmania offers numerous areas in which people can commune with nature in ways that increasingly urbanised environments inhibit. As noted above, Tasmania promotes itself as an Island of Inspiration. This opportunity is much valued in ecophilosophy, by "nature lovers" and "deep ecologists". as well as by rock climbers (David Orton, The Green Movement and the Deep Ecology Movement, 2006; Joanna Griffiths, The Varieties of Nature Experience, Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, November 2002).
Curiously the iconic high points of tourism worldwide are places specially significant for the experience of there being "no time" and of "nothing mattering" -- but marked by the nature of the journey to that place and the perspective it may offer. This is the case with Uluru (Ayer's Rock, Australia) and specifically with Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. It has been said of Australia, for example, that it is the only continent with two-thirds of its landmass effectively reserved for mystical experience (David Tacey, On the Edge of the Sacred, 1995). A similar point might be made of Tasmania as its largest island.
The appreciation of that area as a wilderness, which directly resulted in its early creation as a national park, arose from the dedication of the early nature conservationist Gustav Weindorfer (1874-1932) and his wife Katie (cf Margaret Giordano, A Man and a Mountain: the story of Gustav Weindorfer, 1987; Sally Schnackenberg, Kate Weindorfer -- the woman behind the Man and the Mountain, 1998). For Weindorfer the motto of the area was "where time stops and nothing matters" (the focus of Annex C). So significant is this area that, unusually, it has 7 of the 10 criteria from which World Heritage Sites are nominated.
Weindorfer was an Austrian (from Carinthia), who obtained Australian citizenship (1905), and with his wife built a chalet there, open to visitors (1912) -- starting a pattern that continues to this day. The chalet they built was called Waldheim, meaning "forest home".
Despite the significance attached to it, then and now, unfortunately it is the marginalised Aboriginal peoples who have developed the greatest cultural dependence on their interaction with their surrounding natural environment (Darrell Addison Posey (Ed). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999; Boyce).
Creative imagination: This may be seen as a process of deliberately engaging in the engendering of psychoactive cultural artefacts as a way of reframing collective reality:
Land nám ("land claiming or taking") was [the Norse] technical term for this way of sanctifying a region, converting it thereby into an at once psychologically and metaphysical Holy Land.... Land nám, mythologization, has been the universally practiced method to bring this intelligible kingdom to view in the mind's eye. The Promised Land, therefore, is any landscape recognized as mythologically transparent, and the method of acquisition of such territory is not by prosaic physical action, but poetically, by intelligence and the method of art; so that the human being should be dwelling in the two worlds simultaneously of the illuminated moon and the illuminating sun. (p. 34)
The process continues to be common whenever dominated territories recover
their independence -- as in South Africa where indigenous geographical
names are substituted for European names. Variants are to be found in the
naming by scientists of theories, equations and processes -- after their
originators in the discipline in question. In the case of astronomers and
biologists, this extends to stars and species respectively. This offers
a more dilute understanding of cognitive property -- unrecognized by law
as intellectual property -- by which communities empowered to do so place
their (trade)mark upon cognitive space.
In the case of Tasmania, it is especially significant when it is used to substitute for pre-existing Aborginal names (significantly absent in naming striking geographic features). Boyce (2008, pp. 137-141) notes that before 1820, before the systematic use of names from England were imposed in 1811-1821:
...most geographical features were named by the ordinary people, especially the kangaroo hunters, stockmen and bushrangers who first vitied them. This has been obscured because many of the major geographical features wwere subsequently renamed as part of the broader attempt to remake the land and its people....Poorly represented...inpart because of the role played by ordinary people in their discovery, were Aboriginal names...[such people] lacked the sensibility or detachment to appropriate the language and culture of the indigenous people in doing so.He gives as examples: Murderer's Plains, Killman Point, Hell Corner, Four Square Gallows. Reference has also been made above to:
Dreaming: A curiously fundamental factor in the relations between Aborigine and European in Australia is the understanding of "dreaming" by Aborigines and the seeming failure to comprehend its significance by Europeans (cf W. E. H. Stanner, White Man Got No Dreaming, 1979). For Aborigines it is variously understood as a personal, or group, creation myth and for what may be understood as the mythological "timeless time" of formative creation and perpetual creating. Ironically, the archetypal notorious Vandemonian, Michael Howe, kept a journal of dreams, and as noted by Boyce (2008, p. 81): "His dreaming place was the heart of Van Diemen's Land itself".
On the other hand it might be argued that the optimism (that is the focus of the responses discussed in the initial paper) is a form of "dreaming" of the "White Man". Any form of social change is now typically envisaged in terms of a "dream" -- exemplified by Martin Luther King's widely-cited phrase "I have a dream....". Weindorfer's dedication, with his wife, to conserve the Cradle Mountain area as a nature park, is an example of the pursuit of such a life-long dream as specifically noted by Margaret Giordano (1987).
An interesting effort to frame a compromise between Aboriginal dreaming and that of the White Man is that of Germaine Greer (We Can Dream Too. The Guardian, 19 June 2004). This would call for an act of faith for:
Whilst the Dreaming of the Black Man may be focused on creation myths (uniquely active in their understanding of the present moment), it is an interesting question whether that of the White Man (as illustrated by the question to scientists discussed in the initial paper) is focused on creativity and vision -- possibly about the processes of creation.
There is an irony to the fact that White elites, as part of their "re-creation", go to places in Tasmania such as Waldheim (Cradle Mountain) to dream and seek inspiration. Weindorfer's naming of Waldheim, "where time stops and nothing matters", might be recognized as a White Man's intuitive understanding of what the Australian Black Man may name as the Dreamtime.
There is a further irony to the fact that the White Man goes to Waldheim to "consume inspiration" and that is how the experience is marketed. In the terms of Forestry Tasmania, it is not a "working" area. It produces "nothing". The Dreamtime of the Black Man is also essentially "unproductive" in conventional economic terms. The irony is that it is the White Man's productivity, and the dreaming it sustains, that has proven to be unsustainable (despite the UN's Millennium Development Goals). This may be compared with the millennia long sustainability of the Aboriginal peoples, as noted with respect to Tasmania by James Boyce (Van Diemen's Land, 2008) with respect to the destructive impact of latecomers on the environment .
|Dreaming about the nature of the "Edge of the World"?|
|Black Man's Dreaming||White Man's Dreaming|
|Locus||Contextual "Dreamtime"?||"Waldheim" as an edge?|
|Aspiration||economic benefits||"where time stops and nothing matters"|
|Sustainability||over thousands of years||an art to be discovered|
Another articulation of a form of compromise between these potentially complementary dreams has been the subject of dialogue with Aborigines as a University of Earth (cf University of Earth: Questing for a more comprehensive dream, 1999)
"Haunting release": Margaret Giordano (Tasmanian Tales of the Supernatural, 2001) reports on the use of a poem specially written to free a location of the spirits of Aborigines by which it was visibly haunted.
|Spirit in a Tree|
|Patterned in the leaves
of an ironbark, a face,
like a granite sculpture,
scans with flummoxed frown
imprisoning roots that lattice
tendrils into traps over the land.
The haunted eyes search
the labyrinth of history
for Creation Ancestors
of the Dreamtime
Ebon in tragedy
the eyes perceive the trespassing,
the iniquity that aborted revivals
of the oppressed.
(by Norma Knight,
reproduced with permission of the family of Margaret Giordano)
The phenomenon had previously been officially reported.
"Saved by the Muse": Rural Tasmania does not offer many economic opportunities. Many towns are threatened with some form of decline. It is therefore intriguing to read of an aesthetic response from 1985 to a decline in the economic state of the Kentish region centered on the Tasmanian town of Sheffield -- promoted as the "gateway to Cradle Mountain". As the story is told:
...a new organisation was founded - the Kentish Association for Tourism. With sublime synchronicity, a documentary about Chemainus [a community on Vancouver Island, Canada], and its resurrected prosperity through mural art, was shown on television on the eve of KAT's first meeting.
KAT (now renamed SMART: Sheffield Mural Arts and Rural Tourism) has becomed renowned as an area of mural art -- on the blank walls of any properties or buildings. Since 1986 more than 10 artists have added more than 30 murals to an Outdoor Art Gallery in Sheffield and 12 more all round the district [images]. The mural art offers new attractors, bringing tourists into the region.
Whilst some of the art remains from year to year, other works are renewed. This has been notably achieved since 2002 through a National Mural Fest, to be followed from 2008 by a Global Mural Fest [more]. Latterly this has taken the form of a competition to generate mural art -- inspired by a different poem presented to competitors each year [poems].
"Spiritual retreat": Whilst there are indeed many opportunities for spiritual retreat in Australia, it is amusing to note the extent to which this concept has been appropriated and commodified to focus on every form of bodily health therapy and relaxation, however unrelated it may be to the spiritual dimension as otherwise understood. A "spiritual retreat" in Tasmania is therefore typically a context in which physical well-being is the focus, and "spirit" may well include the alcoholic variety -- if it is not understood as the essence of such a retreat. This ambiguity has of course long been a feature of monastic communities that have derived a significant proportion of their income from beer or spirits.
A-maze-ment: Tasmania is readily to be perceived as amazing. But, given the emphasis on bushwalking and its association for some with personal spiritual vision quests, themselves associated with the symbolism of the labyrinth, it is not surprising to note that Tasmania has one of the world's largest maze complexes located in a town perhaps appropriately named as Promised Land (Tasmazia).
A-muse-ment: There is a certain irony to the fact that so much of Tasmanian income through tourism is dependent on "re-creation" and "a-muse-ment" (respecting the origin of the term).
Fiction and fantasy: The point has been made that the original claim, made by the British Crown in taking possession of Australia through Captain Cook, constituted a legal fiction. This "fiction" has however been the basis for the credibility of that claim ever since.
For Alex C Castles (An Australian Legal History, 1982):
Some of the differences between Van Diemen's Land and the other British colonies in Australia during this period are not always easy to determine. In Van Diemen's Land the years between 1825 and 1850 were marked by the birth and nurturing of legends on the working of the convict system.... Fact and fiction also tend to surround the reign of George Arthur, the "Saint of Hobart Town". (pp. 254-5)
As noted by Boyce (2008, p. 67):
A true picture of the frontier before 1820 is extremely difficult to establish. There was no government supervision, very few free settlers and only occasional second-hand newspaper reports.
A number of fictional tales have been inspired by Van Diemen's Land, some based on fact, to a degree that they are studied to clarify the often fragmentary histories of the reality of that period (cf Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life, 1874).
Historians have been notably challenged by contrasting interpretations of the information variously considered factual and especially that relating to the demise of the Aborigines (Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Van Diemen's Land 1803-1847, 2002; Robert Manne (Ed.), Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History, 2003 which includes Fantasy Island by James Boyce; Stuart Macintyre, On 'fabricating' history: history, politics and the philosophy of history, 2003).
Such Australian "history wars" regarding the degree of violence in the course of British settlement have resulted in various studies (Andrew Gunstone, Reconciliation, Nationalism and the History Wars, 2004; Ann Curthoys and John Docker, Ann Curthoys and John Docker. Is History Fiction? -- the necessity for and difficulty of finding the truth in history. University of New South Wales, 2005. Is History Fiction? -- the necessity for and difficulty of finding the truth in history, 2005; Robert Hodder, The Narrative Wars in an Island State: Vandemonian legacies into fiction, 2007).
A novel of Christopher Koch (Out of Ireland, 2000), set in the Tasmania of the 1840s, offers a profound exploration of human idealism and an intensely literary experience that intentionally echoes the structure of Dante's Inferno. As "Van Demon's Land" it figures in Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce (Not olderwise Inn the days of the Bygning would our Traveller remote, unfriended, from van Demon's Land... [more]).
The curious "temporal condition" associated with Van Diemen's Land is suggested by its mention in Umberto Eco's novel The Island of the Day Before (L'isola del giorno prima, 1994), a story about a 17th century Italian nobleman trapped at an island at the International Date Line. Day and night night are effectively reversed with respect to England.
Vampirism: As noted earlier, the imagined existence of vampires was perceived as significant to the threats to which nervous Vandemonians assumed themselves to be exposed. This has since offered a literary theme. Late in 1991, Tasmania was said to have entered the realms of the macabre with Vandemonian, a journal edited and published by Kate George. Ostensibly a Stephen King Fan Club publication it included general horror material (stories and poems); only a single issue was produced.
The significance of this theme is remarkably explored by Gerry Turcotte (Re-mastering the Ghosts: Mudrooroo and Gothic Refigurations. 2003). Turcotte discusses the question of the Gothic mode as it has been used to construct a eurocentric notion of Aboriginality. His focus is on the way the mode has been transformed by Mudrooroo to produce an oppositional, revisionist discourse that works to undermine European historiography. Mudrooroo (aka Colin Johnson and Mudrooroo Narogin) has held the Chair of Aboriginal Studies at Murdech University (Perth).
The principal examples used in Turcotte's study are Mudrooroo's Master of the Ghost Dreaming (1991) and The Undying (1998), which locate their ghost and vampire tales at the site of the invasion of Australia by Europeans, and around a battle which was frequently effected through missionary activities. Turcotte is especially interested in Mudrooroo's rewriting of the "conciliating" efforts of George Augustus Robinson (Protector of Aborigines), in what was then called Van Diemen's Land), and his disastrous attempts to establish a "Friendly Mission" that would effectively rid the small island of its Aboriginal inhabitants and so leave it free for white settlement. This is explored in Doctor Wooreddy's Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World (1983).
Noting the study by Ken Gelder (Reading the Vampire, 1994) , acknowledging that the fictional association of vampires with Transylvania (in Bram Stoker's Dracula) was made after its use on a map of Van Diemen's Land in 1830, Turcotte highlights Gelder's comment that 'it also, perhaps, anticipates that later association' and his argument that 'one of the peculiarities of vampire fiction is that it has - with great success - turned a real place into a fantasy.'
For Turcotte, it is certainly true that European epistemologies have persistently enacted a similar refiguration of the "other": constructing and inventing a fantastic identity for "undiscovered" or recently "discovered" lands and peoples. He then argues:
Beyond genres: As noted earlier with respect to the comments of Michael Schiltz (Form and Medium: a mathematical reconstruction, Image [&] Narrative, 6, 2003), the adequacy of the form on which understanding is expressed can be usefully challenged. With respect to a genre, such as "fantasy", Mudrooroo (Writing from the Fringe, 1990) notes that genres:
... have developed as a European way of categorising works of literature. In themselves, they are ways of manipulating the text so that the reader is led from an intuitive to a logical response to the work. Not only this, but the Aboriginal writer is led to believe that there are fixed categories of literature to which he or she must conform. If we as writers accept this we, in effect, dilute the Aboriginality of our work.
With respect to Mudrooroo's approach, Gerry Turcotte (Re-mastering the Ghosts: Mudrooroo and Gothic Refigurations. 2003)
The texts, therefore, are redolent with contradiction - they are contra/dictions: against utterance. Similarly, the project of Empire has been both explicit and indirect, admitting to its totalitarian vision of colonisation, and yet simultaneously couching this desire/design within a rhetoric of, dare one say, missionary purpose, of colonising for the good of the colonised. This double vision is expressed through many of the narratives which Mudrooroo invokes in his novel. In The Undying Mudrooroo reveals the hidden, he enacts the unperformed, he declares the unspoken.
Of Master of the Ghost Dreaming (1991), he says 'the novel resonates with the rhythms of a different Australia and a different mental universe.'.
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