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What are your favourite books about Tasmania?

To celebrate Stella Day Out and the designation of Hobart as a UNESCO City of Literature, award-winning authors Michelle Cahill, Amanda Lohrey, Heather Rose and Danielle Wood share with Stella their favourite books about Tasmania. The four award-winning authors were at Stella Day Out Hobart on 16 February.

Heather Rose | 2017 Stella Prize winner


 
In 1840 Louisa Ann Meredith arrived in Tasmania and settled on a property on the East Coast. Her memoir of that time, My Home in Tasmania, offers spirited observations of the remote, wild world she finds herself in, and frank and astute social and political observations, making these two volumes vivid reading almost two hundred years later. The recently released Tongerlongetter by Nicholas Clements and Henry Reynolds brings to life one of Tasmania’s greatest warriors whose determined resistance to invasion has hitherto been untold. Clements’ The Black War is equally compelling reading. I also love Lloyd Robson’s A History of Tasmania and James Boyce’s Van Diemen’s Land. Novels I admire for their rich evocations of Tasmania include Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Light and Dark, Rachel Leary’s Bridget Crack, Lenny Bartulin’s Infamy and Rowan’s Wilson’s The Roving Party. As a child I loved Nan Chauncy’s classic They Found a Cave. Beautiful collaborations of writers and artists include poetry by Adrienne Eberhard and artistry by Sue Lovegrove in The Voice of Water. And poetry by Pete Hay and words and artistry by Jane Giblin in I Shed My Skin.

Amanda Lohrey | Longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize


 

The concept of “favourite” is problematical for me since there are several films and books set in Tasmania that I haven’t seen or read. Given that qualification, I’m a great admirer of the director John Honey’s film Manganinnie made in 1980 about an indigenous woman who for a time looks after and protects a lost settler child.  It’s not a long film but has a powerfully enigmatic quality and suggests the mystery and dignity of a culture we can never know from the inside and has something of the indefinably mystical aura that Peter Weir achieved in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It also foreshadows a reconciliation we can only hope to arrive at in the future.

Two of my favourite novels about Tasmania are colonial:  Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life and The Broad Arrow by Oline Keese, the pseudonym of Caroline Leakey. Leakey was a young woman who came out to VDL at the age of twenty to help her sister, a free settler, with domestic chores. The Clarke is a compelling melodrama, the less well known Keese focuses on the day to day domestic lives of convicts and is, in its way, more revealing of those times and an astonishing feat for so young a writer. 

Danielle Wood | 2002 winner of the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Prize


 
As a young aspiring writer, I had my mind blown by Christopher Koch’s novel The Doubleman. At the time I was growing up, we Tasmanians still suffered from a cultural cringe about our place in the world; until I picked up The Doubleman, and began to read about events taking place in locations I knew and loved, I really had no idea that Hobart was, or could be, a place where literature “happened”. It’s a strange book – a coming-of-age novel – that blends an entirely grounded realism with psychoanalysis, folk music, fairy tales and the occult. Another of my favourite Tasmanian novels is Blue Skies by Helen Hodgman. A spiky, highly original debut novel, it offers a unique take on the Tasmanian Gothic. A young mother, stifled by suburbia and the searing heat of a Tasmanian summer, finds distraction in affairs that she conducts on Tuesdays and Thursdays while her mother-in-law minds the baby. Blue Skies could be about postnatal depression, the nature of art, the problem of consumerism or the aftermath of colonial dispossession, or – indeed – all of the above.

Michelle Cahill | Longlisted for the 2023 Voss Literary Prize


 

I’m reading Born Into This, a collection of sixteen stories by Adam Thompson, a Pakanaauthor who takes us into the pulse of lutruwita, Tasmania, its forests, extractive industries, sea country and Straits communities. Thompson is a consummate stylist who writes with humour, a masculine directness and delicacy. This book is vital, demystifying, beautifully observed in its characters and always sensitive to the brutal stigmas of settler colonialism. Thompson vividly explores the tensions, complexities and ironies of racism, climate change, language, and the nuances of heritage, drawing us into a world he has inherited, and now shapes. 

I’m also reading Lohrey by Julieanne Lamond, which really deepens my appreciation of Amanda Lohrey’s lyrical, meditative, and dramatic fiction. In poetry, Slack Tide by Sarah Day and AfterLife by Kathryn Lomer, are my Tasmanian picks.

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