Defined by pride of place

Home Hill, the home of Dame Enid and Joseph Lyons, built in 1916.
Home Hill, the Devonport home of Dame Enid (Australia’s first woman MP) and Joseph Lyons (the only Tasmanian-born PM), from 1916 to 1981 .

My tour of Joseph and Enid Lyons’ family home reminded how democracy – “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – matters. Not only that, but how key Tasmania has been in the evolution of democracy in Australia.

Home Hill, the Lyons’ home from 1916 to 1981, now jointly managed by Devonport City Council and the National Trust, has just hosted its centenary. Dame Enid, Australia’s first woman MP, would have approved of the volunteer-run garden fete; and how the former PM’s home relies on community volunteers who show pride in maintaining its homespun and worldly treasures as if the couple had just left the room.

Lyons’ plain speaking and honest heart led him to turn his back on the Labor party and form the United Australia Party in 1932. Home Hill manager Ann Teesdale points out that, along with the Greens, two Australian political parties had their origins in Tasmania. In fact, she’d like to see “a democracy bus tour” of both founders’ properties – between Home Hill in Devonport and Oura Oura in Liffey. She says it would inspire people to feel proud of democracy and their ability to effect change.

Which is what a Town Hall meeting in Hobart in ten day’s time is desperately hoping to achieve. November 8 is not only US election day. It’s also World Town Planning Day.

Tasmanians are well acquainted with the spirit of public protest; it has stopped dams and mills. Now, 20 (and growing) community and environment groups (from the Beaumauris Action Network to the Tasmanian Planning Information Network) are joining forces, horrified by the proposed statewide planning scheme which seeks to scrap all local planning schemes and replace them with a single Statewide planning scheme.

The draft Statewide Planning Provisions (SPPs) will make a number of significant changes to the way that use and development is assessed in Tasmania. For example, local councils will have no opportunity to refuse development in National Parks and Reserves that has been approved by the Parks and Wildlife Service, and the public will not be given a chance to comment and/or appeal against many significant tourism developments.

Organisers of the Town Hall meeting say it’s hard to get people to care all over again about highly technical and complex legislation when many have had enough of conflict, are burnt out, and their resilience frayed. Nonetheless, they’re motivated by an incremental weakening of planning laws already underway in other parts of the country that removes the legal rights of home-owners and communities.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning at Melbourne’s RMIT, is one of the speakers lined up for the November 8th Town Hall meeting. In Victoria, Buxton has observed “a paradigm shift away from careful and considered strategy-led planning, towards market-driven, ad hoc development facilitation”.

Three months of public hearings on the draft SPPs are now wrapping up, with Minister Gutwein due to receive the final report from the Tasmanian Planning Commission in early December.

Sophie Underwood from the Freycinet Action Network is stepping into the fray again with 20 years of background in planning at a local level in Swanwick. Through her involvement in numerous appeals tribunals including Federal Hotels and RACT developments in Freycinet, she has learned the importance of appeal rights; how they can lead to better decision-making processes for a community affected by development.

“Without third party appeal it’s hard to hold developers to account,” says Underwood. “This is more important than ever because people don’t realize how the draft statewide planning scheme affects every land title in the state. It’s not only a threat to national parks, threatened species, undeveloped coastline, urban amenity and sites of Aboriginal cultural significance. It could potentially impact on everyone in their own backyard.”

At one of the Tasmanian Planning Commission’s Hobart hearings, Underwood says she pleaded with Chair Greg Alomes to talk to the minister and advise him to re-think the whole thing.

“I get how important it is,” says Underwood. “It’s about a vision for Tasmania. It should be a vision for all of us, not just developers’ ability to shape our future. I don’t want to be a victim of something that we didn’t want in the first place.”

Along with the 19 other groups, Underwood, through Freycinet Action Network, is now sharply focused on raising awareness. “My dream is to pack out the Hobart Town Hall on November and see it overflowing onto the street. The government needs to listen to the people.”

Tasmanians have always had a great connection to place. Our local character, different around every corner, is shaped by a distinctly regional way of life. We should all care if there is a risk of losing the right to shape our own lives in the way we have always done; it’s made us who we are.

First published in TasWeekend, October 29, 2016.

Poets and painters

Poet Adrienne Eberhard (left) and painter Sue Lovegrove find inspiration at The Big Punchbowl. Photo: Hilary Burden

While painter Sue Lovegrove scans the surface of The Big Punchbowl, holding three pencils banded together, poet Adrienne Eberhard arrives to share what she calls “a watery nest”. Artists are perched, delicately like wrens, on driftwood at the edge of the lagoon. With a black book in her lap Adrienne starts playing with words, seeing the fringe of trees, though Sue hasn’t got past the water yet. The morning belching of frogs fascinates her and she’s trying to mark each sound. They’ll sit here for most of the day making friends with the blank page.

Sue and Adrienne are among 18 renowned Australian poets and painters participating in a three-day retreat at The Big Punchbowl Reserve. The wetland oasis is part of a series of lagoons dotted across 244 hectares on the Freycinet peninsula, acquired by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy as its 14th permanent reserve in 2015.

Carol and her late husband Dick Bett, of Hobart’s Bett Gallery, started the poets and painters initiatives (where writers and artists pair up to produce collaborative work) in 1986 as part of the gallery’s audience development.

“Back then, an exhibition was us, the artist and the artist’s mother,” recalls Bett. Artist David Keeling, who’s been with the Bett Gallery from the beginning, and is paired now with poet Edith Speers, acknowledges with gratitude how the gallery’s approach made it possible for artists to live and work in Tasmania.

It’s the first time in 30 years Bett Gallery has joined with a third party. After the TLC’s hosting of a wilderness residency that created The Skullbone Experiment in 2013, it seems a natural match. Both hold passionate regard for their worlds, where species are endangered or rare.

This time last year The Big Punchbowl was empty. January rains have seen the return of the globally threatened green and gold bell frog and waterfowl in large numbers.

The TLC’s Sally Bryant sets off with a party to view two raptor’s nests; later they’re rewarded with three sea eagles soaring above them. Freycinet’s first oyster farmer Andrea Cole shucks oysters while lunch is prepared at the bush camp by the AliCart food truck; wines from Devils Corner just a few kays away.

Andrea, a resident of more than 50 years, recalls when all you could get on the peninsula was a pie and milkshake and there was a set menu at the lodge. She sees the changes. Retired now, and clinically blind, she cares for wildlife and shares her stories at nearby Shuckers Cottages; how Pacific Oysters were a gift from Japan after the Second World War.

Poet Pete Hay is co-curator with Carol. The collaborative works from this retreat will be exhibited in August 2017. Hay calls Tasmania “a poet’s island”. “We’re expecting a lot from them”, says Hay. “Not just one piece. It’s a whole body of work.”

Adrienne, a teacher at St Michael’s Collegiate, has three sons and writes poetry in what she calls “the stolen moment”. She worries social media is discouraging the quiet, contemplative space people need to write and read poetry. “I think if young people never learn to concentrate, to read, to give a poem a go, then they lose something of immense value.  It’s not that we lose poetry but we lose the readership and the potential in ourselves for understanding, empathy, and compassion that poetry can provoke.”

Tasmanian Aboriginal poet and essayist Greg Lehman, who is paired with artist Imants Tillers, has welcomed the group, and urges them to learn the name of the local Aboriginal tribe who once lived in the area. In their watery nest, while they draw and write, Sue and Adrienne repeat the tricky name over and over: Loontittetter Mairrenerhoiner, Loontittetter Mairrenerhoiner, Loontittetter Mairrenerhoiner…

It is fascinating to observe the impulse when in nature there is nowhere else you have to be. It seems it’s what you do with that moment. Those present are practiced at preserving it.

Out of this intimate privacy, the general public will be able to view the extraordinary next August: paintings and poems dug out of stolen moments, caught at The Big Punchbowl. Every story will be different and unique. Not snatched but absorbed and digested. From contemplation speaks the hope of the artist that they might help make the world a better place.

That translucent wallaby skull, a wombat that seemed to walk on water, the orchestra of frogs, wind on the lagoon, a swan with her cygnet, the Blue Love-creeper, the wedding bush and native cherries ripening on the tree…

Poet Jan Colville says to write poetry she has to be excited by something. “It has to have amused me, frustrated me, intrigued me. It’s what I’ve loved, what I’m passionate or curious about.”

“In a way,” muses Colville, “when you’re working on a poem, it’s working on you. For us old fogies you hope it will come back to a point where there is a place and time for contemplation.”

Poet Ben Walter and painter Richie Wastell are about to wade into the middle of the Big Punchbowl. Can’t wait to see what they’ll make of that.

Words & photo copyright Hilary Burden. First published in TasWeekend, October 22nd, 2016