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  • lydiajulian1

First in Tasmania, then for the rest of us?

Tasmania is Australia’s smallest and only island State within the Federation. The nation’s smallest State, it is close in the size to Denmark. So, it is only natural that Tasmania provided the land of Lego with its present Queen.

Long derided for its perceived economic, social, and cultural backwardness, especially in relation to the diversity of its inhabitants’ bloodlines, Tasmania has a population of just over 500,000. Have you heard the one about why fully attended international sporting events in Tasmania run at a loss? Everyone gains admission on the same family ticket. Boom Boom!

As a Tasmanian, I can attest to the many connections of its population. Visiting my homeland late last year, I was able to pay an impromptu visit to a school friend who lived in my Launceston Street a mere 45 years ago. Needless to say, I discovered that his wife was born on the same day as me in the same Launceston hospital and grew up to marry my erstwhile neighbour. None of us thought this coincidence was either unsettling or unsurprising.

Tasmania may also be considered an example of both Dickens’ “best and worst of times” and Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

For the convicts sent to its penal settlements, especially Port Arthur and Sarah Island, they could only speak of the worst of brutal treatment. One example will suffice, in addition to the standard punishments of floggings and hard labour. Convicts sent to the pitch dark ‘dumb cell’ in Port Arthur for periods of solitary confinement were deliberately released in the middle of the day to maximise damage to their eyesight.

Similarly, the fate of Tasmania’s indigenous population was catastrophically cruel. Open conflicts, forced resettlements and the scourge of imported infectious diseases destroyed the indigenous population. Tasmania’s last full blood Aboriginal, Truganini, died in 1876.

The naming of Cape Grim on Tasmania’s north-west coast to recognise where aborigines plunged to their death is tragically apposite.

Environmentally, the elimination of the island’s unique thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger- the last captive animal died in the island’s capital’s zoo in 1936-is seen as another nadir of Tasmania’s history.

How it all changes!  Contemporary Tasmania is seen as one of the world’s last great natural environments. Ironically, the air quality near Cape Grim, is regarded as the purest in the world. Many a Tasmanian still believes that a thylacine or two prowl in the south-west wilderness of the State.

Tasmania has led Australia in the use of hydro-electric power. Long before hydro power was considered as the apotheosis of renewable energy sources, Tasmania took advantage of its high orographic rainfall and southern latitudes in the years after World War 2 to develop extensive hydro electric power stations.

This is where Newton’s law comes into play. Whilst hydro power was considered best for the environment, the need to develop its supply led to great environmental conflict as many argued its development was wreaking the worst of damage. One of Tasmania’s longest serving post-war Premiers, Eric ‘Electric’ Reece, once declared that it would be a sin “ to let a river flow to the sea.” In the early 1970s there was great objection to the flooding of Lake Pedder to create a reservoir, with Prince Philip registering his objections.

In the early 1980s, international environmentalists including David Bellamy, lent their support to a campaign to stop the damming of the Franklin River. The Franklin River dispute also brought to national prominence Dr. Bob Brown, whose passionate objection to the damming and logging of Tasmania’s old-growth forests led to him developing a political career that continues to change Australia.

For it was Bob Brown that created the Australian Greens, beginning his career in Tasmanian politics, before moving to the Federal Senate, where he presided over the growth of his party into a potent third force in Australian politics.

For every action there is a reaction. Bob Brown was also the first openly gay member of the Federal Parliament, yet his home state was the last to decriminalise male homosexuality. This social conservatism has led to another Newtonian reaction.  Tasmania has become the first state to allow parents not to nominate the gender of their child on its birth certificate. Tasmanians, aged fourteen and above can unilaterally nominate their sexual identity on their birth certificate.

As many social commentators bemoan the effect of gambling on Australian families, let’s not forget that Tasmania was home to Australia’s first legal casino. The Wrest Point Casino was opened in 1973. One of its first devotees was polymath David Walsh. Without the worst of Wrest Point, Mr. Walsh would not have gained his gambling fortune that he used to develop Hobart’s world famous  Museum of New Art.

Politically, Tasmania has always made a racket. It is probably the only State that has regularly elected Senators of an independent bent who are prepared to fight for Tasmania’s interests above those of their political masters. Think Brian Harradine in the 1980s and 1990s, think more recently of Jacqui Lambie!

On April 23 Tasmanians had an early State election. Needless to say, Tasmania is the only Australian State that uses a system of proportional representation to elect its representatives. Five electoral districts each return seven members.  The result? No clear result! Tasmanians have returned a minority Liberal government which has 14 members of the 35 seat chamber. The Labor Party has 10, the Greens 5, Jacqui Lambie’s Network 3 and there are 3 Independents, one of whom, David O’Byrne, was a former Labor Opposition Leader.

In just over a year Australians will have a Federal election. Even allowing for the proportional method of voting used in Tasmania, its electoral results may well be a foretaste of what is to come for us all next year. Both major parties continue to struggle to attract primary votes beyond 30-35%. There is clear support for credible minor parties and independents.  Another Federal minority government is a distinct possibility.

Not for the first time Tasmania may be the tail that influences, if not wags the national dog!

A scrap of tennis news before the European clay court season begins: Nadal’s latest withdrawal, this time from the Monte Carlo Masters, is confirmation that we will not be seeing Nadal on the tour after this year, if ever again. Paris is surely the appropriate venue to announce his official retirement.

No one wants to see one of the game’s greatest players, and clearly the game’s best ever clay court player, die a sporting death of a thousand withdrawals.  

Democratic politics, tennis, and life itself regularly remind us that none of us can confidently predict the time of our leaving.

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