A couple of Sundays ago I went to church. And not just any church – I attended St David’s Cathedral. There I spoke, at a service that was a cross between an Anzac day gathering and the conventional Sunday morning proceedings usual to a venerable Anglican cathedral. It was the hundredth anniversary of Legacy, and that’s why I was there. Legacy came to my family’s rescue in our coastal town, after the far-too-early death of my father. Continue reading “My father’s Legacy”
- April, Saturday 29th: A Tasmanian Map, AKA ‘the Hay and Spinks Show’ with Bert Spinks, at the Eaglehawk Neck Community Hall, Eaglehawk Neck. It’s at 3.30 PM. To book: https://www.trybooking.com/CHGVG. More info: https://petehaywriter.com.au/the-hay-and-spinks-show-a-tasmanian-map/
In mid-November I was a guest of the Mount Roland Folk Festival, there to deliver a presentation on the relationship between folk music and the bardic tradition. The talk was spattered with several of my own poems, these underscored in their rendering by the gentle guitar of the wonderful Daniel Townsend. I had a great time.
And then, on January 5, with my marvellous collaborator, Bert Spinks we resumed our periodic renditions of ‘A Tasmanian Map’. Bert was fresh from sojourns in both Crete and the Tasmanian high country, since we last performed (in September, in Wynyard). This time we were at Dennes Point on Bruny Island, and an extraordinary crowd of 70 people squeezed into the café, Bruny Island Wild. They were entertained by the brilliant Bruny jazz guitarist, Julius Schwing, after which Hay and Spinks were in harness. The 70 included my Sydney family, down for the Tasmanian summer, and in my humble opinion we gave them, all 70 that is, a fine old time. Bert was his usual charismatic self, and I like to think I did pretty well too. It was tempting to make comparison with my memorable Spanish shows with Paul Gerard, back in the day, but those events were exceedingly different to ‘A Tasmanian Map’, so I resist making any such comparison.
We’re next in Swansea on February 19. Should be a beauty. In due course there’ll be a formal notification – but put the date aside and get yourself along.
Hay and Spinks stop next at Eaglehawk Neck, on the 29th of April, 2023. You can find the details and book on TryBooking, here: https://www.trybooking.com/CHGVG.
The event is also available on Facebook. We’d love you to share it and be so grateful if you did: https://www.facebook.com/events/544451550906309/
Please read on, below, if you would like to read more about how past iterations went.
The Hay and Spinks show – ‘A Tasmanian Map’ – has now had three iterations. I’ve previously posted notifications in advance, but in the case of the last two shows I’ve neglected to report on how they’ve gone. This is by way of rectification.
The performance on April 14 in the Trowunna Wildlife Park at Mole Creek exceeded all expectations. I was trepidatious – surely, I thought, way out here we’ll be performing exclusively for the devils. But no – a full house, and a wildly appreciative one at that, with people travelling all the way from Launceston and even further. Bert was, as ever, superbly on song, and I was happy with how I went, too, though the chronic bronchial condition with which I now must live put in an unwelcome appearance. The repertoire from the Hobart show was tweaked so that the new playlist would exhibit a distinctly more northern emphasis, and this was a good decision, I think. One addition was the ‘wild colonial girl’ section of ‘Up In The Stirrups’ (you can find it in Physick), and it was so successful I’m inclined to repeat it. I thank my dear old friend and erstwhile Thylacinians Cricket Club teammate, the redoubtable Roo Kelly, for hosting us at the wildlife park. And I should also acknowledge the bright-eyed residents of Roo’s devil breeding enclosure, a few short metres from whom I bunked for the night.
On June 4 we were at Lilydale, this time in Rudy Valentino’s amazing business premises, the Valentino Safe Company. Yes, that’s ‘safe’ as in strongbox for securing valuables. You won’t believe me, so here’s a pic of the facade, courtesy of Kate Crowley and Jerry de Gryse, who travelled up all the way from Hobart. The audience was huge! The VSC was utterly packed, and again the boundary separating wariness of poetry from full-blown crowd appreciation was crossed with ease. Bert was brilliant yet again (I’ve included an image, with thanks, this time, to Roo, who made the long trip from Mole Creek. I can’t help feeling that the codger’s new lease of life is a consequence of having to match the panache of the charismatic kid, a poet and storyman extraordinaire. I probably didn’t match it (I reprised the wild colonial girl and don’t think I performed this as well as I had in Trowunna), but I was more than happy. And how could I not be pleased, for the mood of the night was downright euphoric! And it continued to be so when the performing party + Roo retired to Gordie and Suzy’s marvellous ecohaven up the Mount Arthur road for a convivial pre-sleep debrief. The tough nuts (which is to say, neither Anna nor I) roistered on until 3am.
We’re now putting the show away for winter, but I’m having such fun with this project that I can’t wait to crank it up again. It’s keeping this creaky old codger creatively alive.
I posted earlier (on Facebook), news of my arrest in the Tarkine. I was there in the good cause of opposing the proposal to site a monstrous tailings dam north of the Pieman River in the Tarkine/Takanya on Tasmania’s West Coast. The great Matt Newton interviewed me in situ – or attempted to – and again later in the precinct of the activist camp. I though there might be some interest in Matt’s footage, so here it is. An apology is needed, though. In the video I estimate the extent of the proposed dam through superimposing it upon Hobart’s inner northern suburbs – but it was not me but my good friend, architect John Button, who worked these dimensions out. John is a former team-mate in the much esteemed veterans cricket team – the Thylacinians – members of whom sat alongside me in the road-blocking ‘action’, and were duly arrested. Anyway, I hope you find the video material interesting.
Thank you to Matthew Newton for the header image on this page (and many others on this site).
is stubborn in stubble,
vertical-board peeling white
to sere grey.
On Christmas Day one of the global luminaries of literature, Barry Lopez, died. His Arctic Dreams is surely one of the most extraordinary literary achievements of the twentieth century, and for many years excerpts from this remarkable book were on the syllabi of the units I taught at UTAS, along with his equally remarkable short fictional pieces. ‘Drought’, published in River Notes in 1979, remains one of my handful of standout pieces of writing, both for the grace with which Barry wrote, and what it has to say.
And he deserves recognition on this site because, a self-declared ’writer who travels’, he was here in 1996, a guest at the last of the island’s sadly unsustainable blockbuster writers’ festivals. He stayed on, and in that time we formed a friendship that post-dated his departure. He was interested in evil as a phenomenon, and was keen to visit Port Arthur. At first the sweetly manicured lawns and avenues of roses disappointed, but all this was to change once we entered the Model Prison with its chilling technologies of surveillance. Now Barry felt the immediacy of all that is raw in the human psyche, and when we re-emerged onto the larger site he brought with him a different sensibility.
But this trip was remarkable for another reason. While I took myself off for a slash Barry rested against a mustard-coloured Volvo with a surfboard on top in the Broad Arrow carpark. Yes, Martin Bryant’s car, and yes, this was a mere week before Martin Bryant committed his deeds of infamy. With his extraordinary powers of observation Barry was able to convince the investigative task force that Bryant had been on site that day (this wasn’t yet known). Who knows, Bryant may have been planning to let fly that very day, only to opt, for some reason, for a brief postponement.
At the 2015 conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, held in Moscow, Idaho, I was privileged to sit on a panel dedicated to Barry’s legacy, and there I recounted the Port Arthur incident at length as the largest component within an account of Barry’s time in Tasmania, and of the impact that Tasmania had upon him. He even published locally – a brilliant short essay, ‘Natural Grief’, was published in Famous Reporter in 1996.
Barry has suffered from prostate cancer for several years – even so, his death came as a shock. Wildfires that tore through the Oregon woods in the last northern Fall destroyed his home and his treasured archive. No doubt this tragedy hastened Barry’s end. And here’s how ‘Natural Grief’ ends:
I want to say to the bear, They want your home, you know. Hold out as long as you can. Eat my table leavings if you must. A lot of us will be going down the river with you.
The last unyielding days will be beautiful, I believe. I do not think the bear will ever honor the request to dance.
Barry Lopez’s voice has been taken from us, and we need it. I honour him. I will dance.
Forgotten Corners has just won the Small Press Network’s 2020 Book of the Year!
By now the news is likely to be known. But for those of you who are still in the dark, Forgotten Corners has just won the Small Press Network’s 2020 Book of the Year! (Here is the SPN’s announcement and judges’ statement). I’ve known for a few days now, but was under the thumb of an embargo. In fact, even the announcement of the short list was embargoed for a period. And just as it was lifted, and I was on the verge of posting the good news, I was informed that I’d won, and I was back under an embargo.
I’m over the moon. As a dedicated champion of small press publishing, there’s not a single award in Australian literature I’d swap for this one. All power to the Small Press Network, then – long may it prosper. This is the way of the future, I think. With the book as a physical artefact under threat from developments in the digital world, it is the small publishing sector that has the requisite flexibility, and the requisite economy of scale – these being, paradoxically, downscaled economies – to keep the book, this beloved physical item, alive and well as we head into an unhinged future. In large part this is because small presses can cater to specialised, focused demand – geographically and socially specific demand – and that is the key, I think, to future resilience.
I would be passionate about small press publishing, though, even if there were no economic imperatives at play. Because, in a globalising world, what is most at risk are those crucial ties to local place and local biophysical distinctiveness that make for a marvellous world of richness and variation. I would only want to live in such a world. I would only want to live in a world with a cornucopian abundance of lifeforms – and these would, necessarily, require geographically specialised environments. Niche specificity. And I would only want to live in a world of abundant cultural diversity – a world of linguistic, artistic and folkloric richness. As against the looming spectre of cultural greyness – uniformity of architecture, lingo, cultural product, and even technology – such that the entire world becomes a variation on Indianapolis, or Smallville.
The large publishers, in my view, are unwitting participants in that cultural greying. Whereas small press publishing does the opposite. It valorises place and cultural particularity, and, in the doing, is a force for the maintenance of wonder in the world, and not the dismal homogenisation creeping ever closer.
For many years my own publisher at Walleah Press, Ralph Wessman, has supplied the key literary infrastructure of the island at the end of the earth. He merits all good things that come his way. Forgotten Corners owes its award to Ralph, who entered the book in the first place (I’m not much of a one for entering literary awards). So thanks Ralph, my dear old mate. Just now I’m remembering the time Ralph got Flanagan and Hay hideously drunk, then taped us as we argued incoherently about the rival merits of two types of potato! (Hint: Bismarks won.) All is officially forgiven Ralph!
At the virtual event late yesterday afternoon I might not have made the best choice of what to read, but it wasn’t the worst choice I could have made, either. A tad too cerebrally demanding – an undemanding but entertaining story might have better fitted the bill, and there are plenty of those in Forgotten Corners. Concerning which, if you haven’t already read it, please do – on behalf of my badly misunderstood island.
And here I leave you with some forgotten corners of the island. Click to view larger images.
Seen first, a parabolic etching
sun-seared against sky.
At the tree’s skirt, a promiscuous spawn.
Possum and wallaby will do for them.
Best not to mourn.
Here’s what’s happening…
No poetry – I’m stuck on a long ambitious poem entitled ‘The Bunker’. It’s about a grim, brutalist concrete ruin in the Tasmanian high country, the provenance of an obsessive American survivalist who, ironically, died of cancer before the apocalypse was anywhere in sight. To iterate, it is to be a poem about the monstrous, confrontational concrete artefact in the wild country, and not about the architect thereof. Too many tripwires to venture there.
But there are a couple of prose projects hove-to on the near horizon, each a series, and each intended for the website of Forty South – ten ruminative pieces on historical meaning in Tasmania (though not, of themselves, works of history); and ten fictional pieces very roughly bouncing off the plague stories of Boccacio’s Decameron, stories from one pandemic to another.
But here’s the thing. I’ve reached a stage in my life when people from my brave young days, people who rubbed against me heroically and dynamically, are dying in increasing numbers. And every time such a one dissolves into the shadows, a chunk of my own life vanishes with them. No wonder people become grumpier as they age. Right now several people who mean a very great deal to me are living with death sentences.
Howsoever, this is by way of preamble. One of these magnificent, larger-than-life (though not death) personages whose beings constructed my own died a few days ago. There was a wake, but I couldn’t get to it, and there was a funeral, but I couldn’t get to that either. So here is my tribute to Geoff Dyer, Archibald Prize winning artist, friend of the great and the lowly – and he who, more than anyone else, gave Salamanca Place it’s grace and colour.
At the time of his death Geoff was unquestionably Tasmania’s greatest living artist. Though an Archibald winner, his forte was landscape, and no visual artist has penetrated the elusive soul of the island as effectively as Geoff.
I knew his art well. He was dedicated to his vocation, worked at it hard and enthusiastically, and understood well the theories and histories of art. But I knew him best as a lovable ratbag. He was a cheerfully inveterate gambler who could happily blow a large commission at the casino before returning to Salamanca to roister on. He was, many years ago, a talented footballer, albeit one prone to white line fever. His conversation was outrageous, conspiratorial, intimate. He loved life with an undaunted passion, and in his company it was impossible not to love life, too. And now he’s gone, and he leaves a void that can’t be filled.
Around the traps people are telling their Geoff Dyer stories. Mostly they are ‘big’ stories. Here is a small story; small, but it gives the flavour of the man. I was walking along Salamanca and spotted Geoff in animated conversation with a group of people at an outside table. I was in the act of walking past when Geoff disengaged from the group and walked up to me, put his hands on my shoulders, looked meaningfully into my eyes, and said: ‘We’re fucked mate. We’re completely fucked’. Then he took his hands from my shoulders, turned around and walked back to his table. That’s all that was said. I said not a thing.
Geoff was a one-off. A brilliant artist, a brilliant person, irreplaceable. Hobart is the poorer for his passing.
Note: The feature image on this page is Geoff Dyer’s ‘Lake Repulse’, sourced from Despard Gallery. You can browse more of Geoff’s marvellous paintings here. Lake Repulse is from his last, apocalyptic, exhibition.