Yep, that’s it for the photos. Click on them to see them big and scroll through. Below there are an awful lot of words. They’re my journal. You might call it a rant. I’m sharing them with you if you’re interested, but you needn’t feel compelled to read on! Thanks for getting this far.
At the moment that my plane’s tires lost contact, unglued, as the French would say (décollé), from Tasmania, a vivid impression came to me. It was of a little Pademelon, like a child to me for many of the months of the last year, but now separated from me in preparation for release to the wild. Now though, here she was! With me with such force and clarity that it seemed that this imagining seemed to be a fragment of truth, a revelation in the same way a saint might have experienced a vision of God.
Did she know where I was going? Certainly I had now penetrated another element, utterly alien to pademelons and surely humans too. If only she could have known just how far, how unreal the place was, that this plane was taking me to.
At first Tasmania remained vaguely familiar below me: crags girdling Ben Lomond’s snowy plateau; the scalloped, yellow coast; islands, strung out – Ninth, Tenth, Waterhouse, the Furneaux. They seemed like claws hanging on grimly, preventing Tasmania from being submersed by the sea. Claws softly padded, like a cat’s, with clouds that gather along the craggy spine of Flinders Island, Mt Munro. I see it again, later, the clouds banked up along the coast of South Australia – clouds need land and land needs clouds. It is sad to see, as the land dries, the clouds dissipate like a wedding gown gone powdery.
But I’ve already flown ahead of myself. It’s only Curtis Island below, a last remnant of Tasmania. It looks warm, sunlit, but about as alone as I feel, up here, in this half-empty canister of respiratory diseases. Despite myself, I pick up the inflight magazine and am abruptly wrenched this way and that in a colourful sea of stories woven by advertising consultants. I am immersed in desirables: technotoys, bijoux, leather and commercially viable art; holidays in places where the sand is white and the sea more aquamarine than aquamarine.
I learn that, not content with alcohol sales (ah… but alcohol is for the poor and unhealthy, not MBAs with glowing skins); not content with executive pricing structures, hotels now offer in-room fashion. Just open the wardrobe and take your pick of stylish suits and dresses. Add it to the tab. No need for concern over the lack of room for your things in the over-stuffed wardrobe – Pft! What do you want to bring your shabby old clothes for? Just wear and dispose. Oh that I was on room service when that gorgeous top was on the rack, like a cross between a bolero and a gypsies jacket. But listen to my little ambitions! A true high flyer deigns not regard the worn and discarded relicts of the jetset. No, they would have been reading that article about the 25 year-old-genius-entrepreneur and thinking, “if he can do it, so can I.” Then they would have turned to the pages advertising MBAs from unheard of universities and programmed a few numbers into their phone to call-up on landing.
I look down and find I’m catching up with myself. The skeleton of Australia is being revealed by the late afternoon sun. The landscape changes – a slow unfurling from tame green fields and towns with their little blocks of forest, to the sand, first revealed through the ruined mallee of the Wimmera, then as wrinkly ridges like the ruffles of a certain Photoshop filter I can’t quite put my finger on. It is still lightly veiled with green and yellow quadrangles of rapeseed. How aptly named it seems, from up here, looking down on that despoiled soil.
Later sand ridges dominate the field of view, long rows, sometimes straight, and separated, sometimes like a litter of leaves, gently scalloping together, neatly preened. In one place the lineations themselves are widely spaced, but each ridge is an elaborate braid, like necklaces stretched out on display. Then there are places where there are not lines of sand but angular scrapings. The land seems older here, like a sheet of sandstone picked away by the wind, only jaggedy crusts remaining. It’s as though all the sand has blown east long ago. All the wind can do is now is pick impotently away at scabs.
Sometimes superimposed on these immense sheets of nature’s screen-printing, there are other things: a lake, dry and pale, a runway, a hesitant track ambling its way to a homestead. A tiny settlement reduced to seem a mere camp among dunes, but it injures them; their ochre sands are exposed like blood, pooling out around the ramshackle buildings.
Why is it we see what we see? The eyes scan for ‘features’, things that stand out from the rest. I join similar things together in my mind, formulating patterns, sequences. These become a system that seems to delineate or expose reality. But then, am I only seeing the wood, not the trees? Or is it trees, but not the wood?
As the sun gets lower and less intense a brown smear is exposed above the clouds, extending out as far as I can see. In reality it cloaks the globe. It is a reality belying a utopian vision of the sky as a pure space. It’s no more virginal than Tasmania’s ‘pristine’ water. Our atmosphere might be corrupt, but it is not the only reason for climate change. Those who trot out facts and figures to try to demonstrate falsities in climate theories fail to comprehend that it is only part of a much bigger and chaotic system in which small changes can have long reaching impacts.
Meanwhile I am being primed to land in a consumer paradise, in Singapore, a garden city, keen to claim green cred. Green maybe, but look at all that stuff for sale, think of the energy, water, materials that went into making it. And what’s it all for? It seems purchasing power is power, full stop.
In the inflight magazine, placement ads for ‘destinations’ jostle for space with fashion labels and business advice. Travel is a commodity with status value. People like to boast about where they’ve been. But what do they do when they’re there? One ad shows eight or so sculpted women arrayed across a blue lagoon. They lie in the cobra pose on SUP boards and make me think of fur seals on flat rocks (it is not the only ad with women in this position). Another page shows couples nesting in wicker baskets suspended over a tropical blue swimming pool. It seems like creativity is exhausted once the boardroom door’s been closed. Time for play requires props and consultants to remind executives how it’s done. Maybe corporate creativity training doesn’t extend to interacting with the real world; yeah, that one down below, with earth, water, plants.
There was one image in the magazine though that really made me pause. It’s a scene that’s oh-so-familiar. A girl in shorts so short they seem straight from the seventies, leads a gaggle of walkers up a gravelly flight of stairs that slice their way through scraggly coastal heath. Fluted cliffs rear behind and enclose a bight of blue water. It is the Cape Hauy track, home of fat tiger snakes slow to move aside; where last time I visited I noted Banksias dying back alarmingly and Oyster Bay Pines springing up alongside recent track works.
I also noticed contented walkers (they got that place to tick-off) gathering at well-signed meeting points, and strange growths called ‘art’ popping up in unexpected places. “It was Tasmania’s Christmas present to the world”, proclaims the opening sentence of the article. I am finding it hard to reconcile how this gloomy old place at the arse end of … even Tasmania, could have become a desirable diadem. A place to pay for, to photograph and show-off. Yeah, sure, the cliffs are spectacular, there are beautiful plants, occasionally you see mammals or unusual birds, more often lizards… and leeches. Leeches. The weather is there is awful. This is the same walk I once did, when struggling in near dark easterly gloom and drizzle, brushing asked cutting grass, we discovered a horror of leeches.