Review by Peter Patmore

About Peter Patmore

After studying at the University of Tasmania, with Shannon, Peter went on to study at Cambridge, and later gained a PhD in Political Science in 2000. He is a barrister and solicitor, and was an MP for 18 years serving as Deputy Premier of Tasmania and Attorney General. He currently lectures in law at the University of Tasmania and from 2002 has been an Australian delegate to the United Nations Commission for Narcotic Drugs.

Book Launch Review Speech by Peter Patmore

Transcript of Review Speech by Peter Patmore

When I first looked at this book I was a bit worried about my thoughts. What were they going to be?

After all, let’s have a look at this. It covers a lot of territory, physical and cultural Tasmania, Aboriginal survival, cultural attitudes, Tasmanian history, unions, labour, asking who we are, the Tasmanian spirit, and of course, surfing.

So you can understand my concern, it puts you in the possible position of seeing a mate’s ugly newborn child and having to say how lovely he or she is.

This wasn’t the case, it was not the case.

So how do I describe the book for those who have not read it? Why is it relevant?

I think it is published at an opportune time. I thought about it today when I read the Australian, something I hate to do, but I like to be irritated. On page 3 there is an article and it is entitled, ‘Modern Rat Race is making us Unhinged’. I’ll just read a section because it relates to Shannon’s book.

It reads, “The big questions don’t come more perplexing than this. Has the human race inadvertently fashioned a style of living that is completely misaligned with our mental and physical wiring? Has the drug of economic growth put us on a rat wheel of false expectations, a conduit for the materialistic beast that must be fed at the expense at the expense of the community and social life at the heart of our fundamental wellbeing.”

That was in the Australian today. I thought about it and, “Yep”, that is pretty much what this book is about. I think this book deals with this conundrum. I don’t know whether he meant to, but I think it does.

So rang Shannon this morning and said, “Mate, why did you write the book? What is it about?” He was a bit taken aback by that. He avoided the question and spoke about how the Judeo/Christian values of non-conformists had contributed to egalitarian society in Tasmania.

I think I asked him am unfair question because he has already shared his beliefs and views with us. I reckon its brave and I reckon that it is worthy.

I describe it in another ways. The English mystic, romantic poet William Blake writes in his poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’. He has a quatrain:

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”

To Blake it speaks of how the beauty and nature of the universe is often in the small everyday details and this is what I found in Shannon’s book. It isn’t just religious and political views.

So I said, “Mate, you have written a love story, not Mills and Boon, but you have written a love story.”

It is a love story about Tasmania, its environment, its people, its beauty, its history.

The first section describes the uniqueness of Tasmania’s environment, its geological and biological wonder. Blake’s grain of sand becomes Tasmania, a microcosm of the world and the beauty and the danger that it faces. So it is about love, love of the environment, the need to nurture and protect what we have.

One of his quotes here is, “Environmental sustainability understood is love bequeathed to future generations”.

So Shannon reminds us of the legacy we have, our awe of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania, the important role of non-conformists in shaping our community, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the loss of moral authority of the church and by default, how educators have had to step into that role.

And of course, it concludes with surfing, of course! ‘Have we ever really surfed … or done anything?”  I’ll quote from this, here is what Shannon says, “From the thrill of riding that first wave and the feeling of speed and elation that it gave; to the first bouncy bottom turns and bangs off the top in onshore slop; to those trips at night in the back of the panel van falling through space to explore those distant wilderness beaches; to the discovery of beachside Aboriginal campsites and realising we are but recent interlopers; to feeling the first power drive turns; …”

“… to laying sleepless in anticipation as the wind and rain lashed the bedroom window and bought up that swell; to the first on edge, rooster tailed cutback feeling the G forces; to all those fantasy movies that ran in our head of what we would like to do on a wave; to the first landed, weightless re-entry over the white water;   to that tube where time stood still; to a wave count of thousands over the years;   to that journey into our own nature as a person in the weekend surf  where we question our attitude and behaviour towards  fellow surfers in a crowded, competitive environment;

… have we ever really surfed?”

“In the ‘soul surfing’ culture we inherited, … there is a link between the act of riding a wave to a deep, wholesome appreciation of life, nature and a personal spiritual ethic.”

He goes on to suggest an indicator as to whether a person has ever really surfed, or done anything in life. The book describes a seeking of equality, to understand who we are.

And of course this is all supported by these magnificent photographs. They, for me are an equal love of nature and our society. Kip Nunn, Gary Tew, Stu Gibson, Ron Rainbow, Phil O’Neill. In fact when I see who has assisted in this book I see a collaboration of old friends that have gone through the decades.

In summary I reckon the book speaks for itself. It gives a privileged window into someone’s view, it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t order. It mirrors Shannon, a gentle but insistent voice. It invites contemplation of the absolute privilege of living in Tasmania. I call it the cosmic lottery. What other reason are we here and not in some other awful part of the world.

It is a book that rewards returning to. I think that many of the chapters stand on their own. It gives you a chance to think, it gives you a chance to meditate. They are worth thinking about and worth considering.