Review by Shane Nichols

“Original thinking of substance” writes journalist, Shane Nichols in July 2017.

 And so it has come to pass that inequality between people is returning as the central historic flashpoint driving our political future in Australia and in many other places with western civilisation.

Ex Advocate, Mercury, Age and Financial Review journalist, Shane Nichols, picks up on the centrality of this theme and its propensity to accelerate political good and evil in his recent review of Discover the Spirit of Tasmania and Western Civilisation by Shannon Davey.

Many of us born in the 1950s in Australia became the first generation in our family to go to university.

Improving standards of living and an inherent national mindset that tertiary education is a valuable social and economic asset in a way made it inevitable this would happen. And so it did for us, the kids of the Fifties.

Shannon Davey’s study of geography and the humanities, and then his career as a teacher, and privately as a surfer and thinker, has equipped him to write this book which is both universal and particular.

It is about Tasmania very specifically, that is the point. But it is absolutely global in the sense of analysing history, race, psychology, religion, ethics, spirituality, nature, politics, relationships and even surfing (as more than a pastime) to tell a story of why Tasmania is the way it is.

Davey has used his academia, and his life journey, to do something academia is incapable of doing from within silos of learning and discipline. He has written this all-encompassing discovery of the character of Tasmania through an exegesis of what he sees as the leading causes and contributors.

It is holistic in a way that only an individual, using the tools that include a tertiary education, can provide. It is an achievement and represents everything that a quality education would hope to equip someone to do – original thinking of substance.

From that point of view it is a dividend – a giving back to the community.

Looking at the intersection of civilization and geography in this case, the first key point is that Tasmania is an island, and by Australian standards, not such a big one. It is a social crucible, with a small population close to the classical ideal of what a perfect democracy would be – around 500,000 people. Not too big, not too small. Most residents meet the governor at one time or another. They will have met their local political representatives.

Indeed there is almost no aspect of social interaction that a local person is not familiar with or touched by. Major issues are confronting for nearly everyone if no other reason than the size of the population and the land mass. This is witnessed by the major issues such as environmental debates which have played out in Tasmania before elsewhere.

In a way, Tasmania is a frontier, and frontiers are always interesting places because they are usually a mixing ground, transforming and transformative, and often up for contest.

People in big cities simply do not understand or even imagine how intense a frontier can be and how creative they are. David Walsh’s edgy MONA project is in exactly the right place.

Davey explores this specialness of Tasmania, the crucible. There are various lenses that pull all his observations into a unified theme. The first is the heritage of Western civilisation and the tenet of human equality. He sources the Judaeo/Christian tradition and its linkage with democracy as a force for good.

Through this “gift” he explores the natural gift of the island itself. How the natural world had been demonised, feared and then plundered over the years, finally now taking a rightful place as something to be championed. The rest of the world, without exaggeration, is coming to appreciate and treasure Tasmania’s qualities.

It is a powerful place and more and more the state is coming into its own – not least due to people like Walsh, a native product.

(His exploitation of the gambling industry to use the profits to build an art museum now employing many people and elevating Tasmania on the international stage is plain and simply a “good”).

Davey’s preoccupation is with the good. He extols the positive growth that has happened and lays out ways for individuals as well as collective society to progress on a positive path.

It follows from the earthly example of an ancient tale: evil in  paradise. Tasmania’s dark history jars against its natural and inspirational beauty like a cosmic bad joke. There is a lot to reconcile, so very much to be thankful for, and much reason to be hopeful.

Davey has looked around, and to respectfully quote the book, decided it was good.