Please, don’t ever ask me “what are you doing here?” with an incredulous look on your face. I don’t know, alright? It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I was on the cusp of turning 30; I always said I’d do something outrageous for my 30th. I did think it would be backpacking with my husband and 2 children in the Kimberleys (Western Australia) however, 29 saw me single, childless, and absolutely fed up in the fish bowl that was Tasmania.
Now Tasmania is not, contrary to popular belief, a small island with one school and one road running through it. It’s a fairly sizeable island with a population near half a million. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s stunningly beautiful. It has wilderness beyond imagination, temperate rain forests, a wild river, beautiful bush, amazing mountains and glorious beaches. The air, for the most part is pure. The raw produce, vegetables, fruit, fish and meat are second to none. There are vineyards and wineries, seemingly around every corner. The cheese that’s produced in Tasmania and its outlying islands is some of the best in the world.
There is wildlife too, the fascinating Tasmanian devil, pademelons (like a small wallaby), quolls (the native cat – as destructive as an English fox) and endless species of birds. There are unique orchids, stunning trees, such as the native Huon pine, and other very beautiful old growth trees. Tasmania is a stunning place, and I am privileged to have been born and raised in this very special place.
Tasmania also has a lot of artists, and musicians. It has a world class orchestra. Tasmania invests a lot of time and money in festivals. It has a newly opened Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) which is, I think, pretty much unique for anywhere in the world. There are lots of opportunities for craftspeople to show their wares, and vibrant markets, like Salamanca, a meeting place for artists, musicians, foodies and everyday people to mix and to gather in an atmosphere that I have never experienced anywhere else.
So if Tasmania is so wonderful, what, in fact, am I doing here? Tasmania is tiny. It is very hard to find work, unless you are especially gifted, clever and persistent, it is difficult to find an entry level job. There is a lot of competition in the job market for the most basic of jobs. When finishing university I found it impossible to find work, and did a course retraining me to care for adults with disabilities.
Tasmania has a very dark side. The suicide rate, particularly for young men, is amongst the highest in the world. The murder rate is also very high. Tasmania is very insular, and its difficult, if you make a mistake in your life, to cut your losses and move on.
If you recall the Hollywood concept of six degrees of separation, in Tasmania this translates to about 3.2 degrees. I recently went back for six weeks, and without trying managed to run into my ex-husband’s stepmother and father, without trying in a restaurant in Hobart. Hobart is quite a large city with many eating places, but this sort of thing happens all the time. I recall once working in Fiji on a community project and I met a girl about my age, 19, and she said “oh Tasmania, I know only one Tasmanian, Mr Dutta”. Yep, sure enough, he was one of my teachers at college. Every Tasmanian can tell this sort of story. In fact, in my first week in Manchester I was with a friend eating in a pub and I whispered “I am sure I know the waitress”. She came up again and we got chatting. Yes, she was one of my ex-boyfriend’s ex work colleagues, from Launceston, Tasmania, the town where I worked and studied for over 10 years of my life.
One of the problems with Tasmania is that it is incredibly isolated. The little stretch of water, known as Bass Strait that separates Tasmania from the Mainland (or North Island as some Tasmanians call it) is quite small, it costs a considerable amount to cross it either by plane or by boat. And the crossing point by boat is about a 3 hour drive from Hobart, the capital city. Due to this isolation, there are some things that happen rarely in Tasmania, such as visits by well known bands. We don’t see classic works of art very often, I’d never seen major European works until I moved here.
Tasmania compensates for this by producing its own artists and musicians, but it isn’t always a fair exchange. I remember as a teenager even the then Premier, Robin Gray, on the 6 o’clock news making an appeal to Boy George to bring Culture Club to Tasmania. I may have hated his politics, but his bumbling rendition of Karma Chameleon was endearing. He even gave him the key to the city of Hobart. Dunno that Boy George ever used it. Perhaps I should ask him on Twitter. Dare me?
I remember writing letters to Duran Duran, Wham and later once I’d matured a bit to U2, and to endless other acts, pleading with them to come to Tasmania. To get to the mainland to see a band as a teenager was impossible, unless one had young and hip parents with plenty of money, which I didn’t. Big musicals didn’t come to Tasmania, we had our own theatre companies that would sometimes reproduce them, but it just wasn’t the same. The only thing that “helped” was the Port Arthur massacre in 1995 (?) – I think it was this year, but I refuse to Google it on principle. This made a few bands come to Tasmania in the subsequent twelve months. The Cranberries at the height of their fame and the Presidents of the United States of America are two that come to mind. But soon it was forgotten, and no one bothered about Tasmania much.
All the issues Australia has of being separated from Europe and the USA are, for Tasmania, even more keenly felt, and that makes it difficult to have a very well-rounded world view. I was very blessed to be able to travel overseas at the age of 19 to Fiji. For the first time I saw poverty. I saw very obvious distinctions between the rich and poor. And it opened my eyes to what life could be like, living in paradise, but living in abject poverty.
However, international travel was out of my grasp, I could never earn the sort of money it would take in order to be able to travel. So once I had saved enough, I left, with the premise of working for a few years, saving some more money, and coming back for good.
And I know people think that it was because I fell in love and had a baby that I settled here, but truth be told, my decision was made before I met Man of the House, and long before Joseph arrived. The truth is, I love England. The reasons I love it are a post for another day. But here, in short, I feel a freedom that I never had in Tasmania.
That freedom isn’t the reason I left, as I never knew I didn’t have it, but it is, the reason I stayed.