Review by Tim Holmes

About Tim Holmes

Tim was born in Wales which gives him another perspective on Tasmania, but has lived in Tasmania for 40 years. He is a builder designer and has been a member of the Master Builders State Council with expertise in colonial architecture. Tim has been a full time artist and has been a leader in the arts community. He has worked in tourism and accommodation as owner of the Potters Croft Gallery at Dunalley.

Book Launch Review Speech by Tim Holmes

Transcript of Review Speech by Tim Holmes

I was not so sure about the cover when I first saw the book. But having read the book, I can say with confidence that you can judge this book by its cover. However you won’t understand the cover until you have read the book. A massive dolerite column, a sea washed ledge, a vacant grey ocean. A brooding sky and a lone figure in a stance that hails the universe.  A brilliant photograph, the perfect choice.

American Robert Green Ingersoll said, “Life is a narrow vale between the cold barren peaks of two eternities, we strive to look beyond the heights”.

Within that narrow vale we share this life, we share this moment, this evening, here on earth, here in Tasmania.  We have the opportunity to consider the question that Shannon asks in the preface, “What is the Spirit of Tasmania”. The question is a call for us to think about it. In seeking to answer the question Shannon gives us a sense of place, puts us in context and gives us an understanding of who we are as Tasmanians.

This book is an ambitions undertaking, a broad brush story that tells of geological and climactic forces, anthropology, natural history, social history, adventure, exploration, convict transportation, commerce and industry. A concise history of much that has gone before us in Tasmania.

What strikes me about this work, the words and the photographs, is the way that I am carried by their suggestion into that place of shared wonder, that place where we touch an ethereal quality and know that others also see the same beauty in the landscape and in life itself.  We stand mute witness in time and space. Shannon has had the courage and been articulate enough to say something meaningful in the silence.

The wilderness photographs are powerfully evocative: “Misty mountains where the eagles fly, lonely valleys where the lost ones cry”.  Robin Williamson Incredible String Band

When I first came to Tasmania in the early 1970’s it was said that Wedge Tailed eagles were occasionally seen in the sky over the general post office in Elizabeth St.  You can still see Wedge Tailed Eagles and Sea Eagles over our place in Dunalley.

Shannon describes a dramatic physical backdrop of wild oceans, rugged mountains, verdant river valleys, a myriad of sparkling lakes, coastal headlands, towering cliffs and pristine beaches. Which he says creates the setting for life in Tasmania. It is certainly one of the things that has kept me here.

Last Monday was my wife’s birthday, it was a classic, sparkling, autumn day. So with our two daughters, their husbands and eight of our grandchildren we went to a remote beach on the Forestier Peninsula. We walked for a while and came to a headland where we stood and looked along the coast. What lay before us was a completely unspoilt beach. No sign of any human development, no footprints in the sand, no boats on the water. My youngest daughter Vanessa told the children the story of the French Expedition that arrived under the leadership of Marion Dufresne in 1772.

In this very bay the sailing ships Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries came looking for timber to re-mast the Marquis and fresh water to fill up the barrels. The sailors came ashore in a long boat and a yawl. There were Tasmanian Aborigines living in the area, at the site of these foreign vessels, the like of which they had never seen before, the aboriginal family groups sent the women and children to hide in the bush.

The bush was probably just where we were standing. The men stood boldly on the sand with their spears and waddies. Marion Dufresne and his men were the first Europeans to meet Tasmanian Aborigines. Tasman had not met Aborigines when he visited in 1642. At first the meeting was friendly and the strangers from the northern hemisphere gave trinkets and tried to ask for water.

The contact did not end well because some apprehension and misunderstanding resulted in a volley of musket fire and Aboriginal casualties. Shannon tells this story and many others as he deals with the plight of the indigenous people in a sensitive and respectful manner.

A few years ago Shannon sent me a piece he had written on indigenous Tasmanians and after reading it I suggested that he should write a book.  He has written that book, among other things it is about our transient existence in a landscape previously populated only by indigenous people, the spirit of whom still pervades the land.

There is a beach north of Marion Bay where the forest comes down to the sandy shoreline. In the dancing shadows I have imagined human figures like spirit memories. What Shannon calls a powerfully evocative wilderness with a unique ability to nourish the human soul.

There are 27 Chapters in this book, each one an essay. Shannon has been unconstrained, with no need to conform to any protocols or conventions, no need to be answerable to anything other than his own high ethical standards.

While he does not speak about himself, he has distilled for us the story of Tasmania. He handles the hot chestnuts with bare hands and is not afraid to diagnose the ailments of modern society and prescribe some strong medicine.

He describes the invasion and the attempted genocide and explores the background of “Western Civilisation”. The reference pages show he has researched well.

He tackles the big issues of environmentalism and concepts of God.

I thought at first that “Western Civilisation” was a rather grand inclusion in the title but on reflection I think it is justified. Shannon explains the social background and conditions in Britain and Ireland. He mentions the enlightenment, the throwing over of superstition and fear, the growth of equality, justice and mutual respect.

I do have to correct Shannon on one issue, Chapter 10, “The Holy Grail and Tasmania”. He suggests the Holy Grail could be found in Tasmania. From Shannon’s point of view the Holy Grail is equality, justice and freedom.

Noble thoughts Shannon, but you need to know that The Holy Grail is the cup used by Jesus at the last supper. The Welsh have already claimed possession of the real Holy Grail. It is buried under Arthurs Stone on Cefn Bryn, a mountain near where I spent my childhood.

The cup was apparently taken by Joseph of Arimathea to Wales. Joseph was a trader who travelled to Cornwall to buy tin and he is credited with taking Christianity to Britain. He left the chalice in the care of the Welsh. Therein lies another story of the Celts, Christianity, the Vikings, and a multitude of other events, the history of another place. It is what goes before that makes it what it is today.

Shannon’s book has given me a much better understanding of what has gone before and what contributes to The Spirit of Tasmania, what makes it what it is today.

Congratulations Shannon and all involved, especially the photographers.