Monday, January 24, 2011


One of the first things Pete said to me when I arrived in Tasmania was, “You know you’ll be homesick, Laurie, and everything you do here will be through the lens of homesickness.” Right. Thanks, Pete, for that wonderful welcome. But I knew there was some truth in what he said, as months before there had been an evening at John and Claire’s – a dinner party where the wine flowed freely, before I even knew I had been accepted to UTas – when I got up to go to the washroom, and sat on the loo looking at the folksy snowflake sign above the door, something I had given to John one Christmas – which read “My best friends are flakes” - and imagined what it would be like to not be there and missing my family and friends and my Island and dinner parties like this… There were tears – no doubt abetted by the alcohol - but my heart was heavy with misery and the next morning’s hangover was ever so poignant as I remembered the ache….
However, that didn’t stop me from coming to Tasmania. Obviously. I arrived the morning of September 3, 2010, and that same evening went to an art exhibition opening, where Pete’s wonderful poems hung on the walls beside Christl Berg’s exquisite photographs of flotsam found “On the Waterfront,” and he told me about homesickness. But I was really in Tasmania. On the other side of the planet. About as far away from home as I could possibly get. I was thrilled.
Over the next several weeks I travelled with Pete and Anna to Bruny Island; I went with Denbeigh and Maddie and “Gramps” for fish and chips at Fish Frenzy and to Salamanca Market, to Conington Beach and Peppermint Bay; I went on a bushwalk with Millie and Lily and Sarah and Vishnu and Jane; I went with Millie and Garth to Salamanca Market then went with them to Anna and Dave’s for supper; I experienced my first footy Grand Final at “Boyler’s” house – along with the requisite “barbie” and pavlova; I went with Jane and Ralph and Em to the Poetry Festival in Launceston, and with Jane to the Botanical Gardens. I tasted the beer in Pete’s four favourite pubs and read poetry at the Republic AND the Lark. I even got drunk with Pete and Deirdre, along with writer Richard Flanagan, photographer Matthew “Newts” Newton, and Marcus Morse, “the great river man,” at Knopwood’s.
But then Thanksgiving rolled around (that’s the second weekend in October for those who aren’t familiar with Canadian holidays), and it was also the double-whammy of my birthday (I’m one of those people who actually LIKES her birthday!), and there were Facebook postings about turkey and stuffing and cranberries and rum pumpkin pie, and e-mails from home asking, “Who’s going to make the gravy?” (that was always MY job!) and “What about Laurie’s buns?”… and birthday greetings and “Wish you were here’s…”
Poets Anne Kellas and Liz Winfield
Jane Williams reading poetry, with Emily, Liz, and Peter Bakowski and his wife looking on
And even though Thanksgiving Sunday and my birthday were spent with new friends at a poetry reading at the Republic, followed by a potluck at Liz Winfield’s house, where the table looked just like the one at home would – sagging with scrumptious food and surrounded by a dozen new friends on mismatched chairs, with the wine flowing freely and the conversation engaging and warm and funny – there was something missing: the turkey in the middle. And the gravy and stuffing and cranberries and my Auntie Jean’s airbuns and my rum pumpkin pie. And my old friends. And Saturday morning Farmers’ Market. And even the Superstore. And then it started. I walked into the university on Monday morning, bumped into Kate Booth who asked me how my weekend was, and I started to cry. A divining rod would have jumped out of the diviner’s hands.
They say that homesickness is a pathology: you can be, literally, sick for home. Psychologist Douglas Porteous writes (and I quoted him in my Master’s thesis): “The idea of home as a base, a source of identity . . . is the goal of all the voyages of self-discovery… Journeys are necessary in order to discover primitive roots. Exile is likely, and even in exile one is surrounded by those who re-create home . . . home tugs throughout our adult lives.” While journeying, Porteous writes, “home remains the territorial core. The necessary sense of adventure gained by venturing from home is supported by knowledge that the home remains intact and the ways back to it are known.” As I wrote in my thesis: in keeping with the idea of “primitive roots,” the self is so tied to its place of origin that it can become physiologically “sick” for “home.”
So there. It’s legitimate. I’m sick for home. And this, I guess, is my journey for self-discovery. Ironically, I’ve exiled (ex-isled, in my case) myself from home in order to learn MORE about my home – about my islandness. But, always, “home tugs.” And, ironically again, it’s exacerbated by the means by which I stay close to home: e-mail and IM and Facebook and Skype… I am in touch with home on a daily basis – not like in the “olden days” when you’d write a letter which might take a week, and then you’d wait a month for a reply (if you were lucky), or if you were a student travelling through Europe you might phone home once the whole time you were away (or if you ran out of money)… Thank you to Jane Ledwell for that crucial insight into how technology affects our relationship to home. It bears more thought, more teasing out, in the context of my work about place – and placelessness – about what Canadian geographer Edward Relph has put into categories of belonging: “existential outsideness (feeling alienated from a place), objective outsideness (remaining purposefully unengaged), incidental outsideness (dispassionately observing), vicarious insideness (appreciating a place without actually being there), behavioural insideness (recognizing familiar things about a place), empathetic insideness (“getting” a place, being open to the significances of a place), and existential insideness (knowing in your bones that this is the place where you belong).”
That last one is me. At home. Where, according to Lawrence Durrell, in his book A Spirit of Place, I “have had particularly moving experiences,” from where I get my “vital source of both individual and cultural identity and security, a point of departure from which we orient ourselves to the world.” To me, Prince Edward Island is literally a “field of care”; it is, paraphrasing Relph, “where I know and am known.”
Fortunately for me and my disease, I have some very supportive friends - both old and new. Claire gave me a pep talk: “This is just a very small period of time in the grand scheme of things. You’re there experiencing new things, meeting new people, seeing new people. We’re still here doing the same ol’ same ol’. You’ll come back and fit into our lives like you’d never left. Except you’ll be richer and wiser for the experience you have had.” (She must have read my thesis!) And I realized through my blossoming friendship with Tassie poet Jane Williams that establishing these new links is why I’m here… the rest of my life would be poorer if I hadn’t gotten to know people like Jane Williams and Relph Wessman and Jane's daughter Em, Pete and his wife Anna Williams; fellow post-grads Millie Rooney and her partner Garth, Anna Egan and her partner Dave, Lily Pearce, Jade Price, Vishnu Prahalad, Mahni Dugan, and Jenny Steiger; my officemate Jenny Scott; recent PhD grad Kate Booth (another of Pete’s students!) and soon-to-be-grad Andrew Harwood; Leo Cheverie’s cousin Pamela Balon and her partner Paul; and my housemates Denbeigh and Stewart and Maddie, and “Nona” and “Gramps” and Suzie… It helped get me through the homesickness, and I could knuckle down to work once again.
But when Mike told me he couldn’t come to Tasmania for Christmas after all, all bets were off. An idea formed and fomented until it bubbled over the top: I asked him and Mikhala if it would be all right if I came home for Christmas, instead of coming to their UPEI graduations in May. But if I did that, it meant I couldn’t come home until June. Mikhala said, “Graduation, shmaduation… it’s a boring affair anyway!” And Mike said sure – he’d come to visit in May instead, and fly home with me when I left. So I asked the-Queen-of-organizing- travel-itineraries Mikhala to start looking for flights; I booked it (paid way too much money - thank you, Acorn Press sale!); and then started counting the weeks. Pete said he was sorry I wouldn’t be here over Christmas so I could see how they pack a whole year of fun into a month, and how they replicate a Northern Hemisphere turkey dinner in 35-degree weather… I told him my body was craving the cold – it needed minus 10 and snow. It needed a Christmas tree and lights, singing in the choir for the candlelight service and Midnight Mass at 9, Saturday trivia at the Churchill Arms, shopping at the Superstore, a huge snowstorm where EVERYTHING stops, snuggling with my sweetie, and a Christmas turkey dinner - with cranberries and stuffing and gravy and buns and shortbread cookies - at John and Claire’s. My body just needed to be home.
The countdown was interminable: I felt like a little kid waiting for Santa. I counted sleeps.
But December 3 finally arrived… I said good-bye to Maddie, and told her I’d bring her some pictures of snow and Christmas trees… filled my borrowed backpack with socks from the Salamanca Market, and went home.
And it was everything I asked for. Even the 12 hours I had to spend in LA were fantastic, thanks to Sheryl MacKay’s cousin Thane Tierney, who met me at LAX wearing a big red maple leaf on his shirt, took me to lunch, then toured me around Santa Monica and rural LA County, all the while entertaining me royally with stories about the music biz. He and his “bride” Carol welcomed me into their home like family (my daughter Mikhala IS sort of related to them… she’s the stepdaughter of another of Thane’s cousins Paula – we are a postmodern family, after all!), before depositing me at the airport for the last leg home.
As I flew over Rocky Point into Charlottetown, I could see the patchwork quilt of the Island – looking rather dull in the December rain, but I still choked up. Mike met me at the airport with a great big grin on his face. We even made it to Saturday afternoon trivia at the Churchill in time for the second half. For presents, everyone got books from the Bookmark and Tassie socks. I saw everyone I wanted to see, ate too much food, drank too much wine, went to too many parties, patted my dog Callie and my cat Rosie, and soaked up the Christmas lights and snow and cold…
 I didn’t get my white Christmas – but we had snow by Boxing Day – which, even though it wasn’t the huge storm I wanted, made me and my sweetie STOP – pyjamas only, and no one was allowed in or out of the house. It was the perfect vacation day.
Leaving home on January 4 was surreal. I could hardly believe it was over… and saying good-bye at the airport was hard hard HARD. But as soon as I started to think about the work that awaited me back in Tassie – the January 7 seminar at the Art School, the ethics application I had to write, the artist interviews I had to set up and prepare for - reality set in, and I was okay again. I was okay knowing that everything was just the same as I’d left it – and it’d still be there when I got back, just like Claire and Douglas Porteous said it would be. I’d seen home through new eyes, which made me love and appreciate my “existential insideness” even more.
I realized when I arrived back that I’ve come to love Hobart, too – being greeted by Denbeigh’s huge grin and rushed by Maddie… carrying her all the way to the airport carpark in one arm while towing my suitcase with the other… driving over the Tasman Bridge and seeing Mt. Wellington loom large behind my house in South Hobart… the view from my bedroom window down to the harbour… my morning walk down to the university and then back up that *&%*$# hill on Lynton Avenue… meeting up with my friends in the Geography tea room… sailing on the ferry over to Bruny Island once again with Pete and Anna, with Flossie and Ollie yapping shrilly in my ears… walking Nebraska Beach… it all brings a sense of familiarity that is comforting.
It’s empathetic insideness I’m feeling. I’m “getting” this place. My heart is open to the significance of this place. And it feels just fine.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bruny Time

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Bruny Island. 
Bruny Island Ferry (from the Bruny side)
You drive 35 minutes south of Hobart along the main highway, through the small towns of Kingston, Margate, and Snug to Kettering, then sail for 15 minutes across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to Bruny, then drive inland for about 10 minutes. Then you come to a bit of a junction. You can choose to go left – which is north – or straight – which is south. Usually we go north, to Pete and Anna’s “shack” or what we’d call “the cottage” – though, by definition in Tasmania, a shack is where all the stuff-that-gets-worn-out-in-the-house-but-that-is-still-too-good-for-the-tip goes. As a certain young man cheekily asked a certain older man recently, “Is that where your wife sends you?”
Nebraska Beach, near Dennes Point on North Bruny Island
There are all kinds of shacks all over Tasmania – in various states of gentrification or dilapidation or just good plain homeyness. They’re mostly found on or near water, though not all… and they’re mostly where people go to get away from their regular lives. Shack culture is prevalent here. There's a website called, and a book called Shack Life with some fabulous photos by Matt Newton. Indeed, he describes shacks as “perhaps one of the most endearing symbols of Tasmanian life.”

But that’s not what I want to write about here. Well, I don’t really even want to write much. Mostly I want to show you the pictures.

In late November I got to over to Bruny once again – but this time we headed south.

We passed all kinds of bays, including Adams Bay and Ford Bay and Little Fancy Bay, which are all part of Great Bay. Out of sight over the hill on the eastern side were Top Slip Point, Trumpeter Bay, Lookout Bay, Variety Bay, and Tarpot Bay. Near Fancy Bay we passed Bruny Island Airport – a tiny airstrip where the rich and famous can fly in. North and South Bruny are joined by a long spit of land that looks narrower on the map than it really is. It’s called The Neck, and it separates Isthmus Bay from Adventure Bay. I longed to be able to see both sides of water from the road, but alas I could not. What I could see was a gorgeous vista – because the tide was out, it was kilometers of flats. There’s a tiny penguin rookery there (for tiny penguins – not that it’s particularly tiny) – next time I hope to see one of the little birds up close…

Bruny is about the size of Singapore, but has a population of 620 instead of 4.5 million. Some of them live in the villages of Alonnah, Lunawanna, or Adventure Bay, where Rob Pennicot’s award-winning Bruny Island Cruises depart from. Although Adventure Bay sounds like a TV show, it was really named after a ship that anchored there – it belonged to Captain Furneaux, one of several European explorers who explored around Bruny, including Captains Flinders, Cook, and Bligh (yes, Captain Bligh of Bounty fame!). First sighted by Abel Tasman in 1642, Bruny was named after Rear Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux who visited in 1792-93.
Adventure Bay
We headed down through Alonnah and Lunawanna, (where we stopped for award-winning meat pies), Little Taylors Bay, Great Taylors Bay, Cloudy Bay Lagoon, and Cloudy Bay toward Cape Bruny Lighthouse in South Bruny National Park, but we stopped when we noticed a sign that dogs weren’t allowed into the park – even in cars. But you know from the map that once you get to the lighthouse there’s nothing between you and Antarctica.

On the way back we stopped at Morella Island Retreat and Hot House Café, where we had a beer in the greenhouse-like restaurant and a fabulous view of The Neck.


Bruny's tourism brochures rave about the “abundant wildlife, beautiful beaches, and stunning scenery… boutique food offerings including cheese, wine, chocolate, fudge, and smoked atlantic salmon… Once you reach the other side, take your watch off and throw your mobile phone out the window… you’re on Bruny Time!”

From what I experienced, I couldn’t agree more… it was a great day and a fabulous weekend. Thanks again to my wonderful hosts… I’m thinking that I could get used to Tasmania’s shack culture and Bruny Time…