Friday, August 14, 2009

Gondwana Mer

We live in a land surrounded with water and yet defined by land. It's always been about the land. Our national infrastructure is laid out over ancient tracks, waterhole to waterhole, superimposed over Songlines. Rail, highway, wheat, sheep, gold. Appropriation.

What about those other highways? We can't fence off the sea. The sea is amorphous, unfencable, uncontainable. We can't peg it out, despite longitude and real estate agents.
To use the sea as a highway and dwelling place, takes understanding and respect. There is a kind of anarchic democracy intrinsic to sea going people because, although there may be staunch hierarchy, dictators tend to stain the brine with blood pretty quickly - just look at Captains Bligh and Ahab.

When the sealers roamed the southern seas, their plan was often to stay out of the way of authorities and fair enough. Many of them had felt the lash and the cold stone of Port Arthur. Their living and happily subsisting on the islands without need to 'settle' land drove the authorities into nervous paroxysms. Their kidnapping of women for slaves and wives had to be stopped. At the same time, settlers were kidnapping Tasmanian children for servants and then abandoning them as adolescents, a black line was walking the country and the policy of the day - assimilate, relocate, eradicate.
In one of history's strange ironies, the 'reprehensible' sealers were responsible for the survival of more Tasmanian Aborigines than any other group of people.

It drives land-hungry governments nuts. People who live on the ocean and move between islands often wear the tag of brigands and banditti, pelagic ferals, rootless, outsiders. These tags are bestowed upon them by someone sitting inside at a news desk, or administrators and D.E.C. bureaucrats (Sorry, that just slipped out).

There's so much in this argument - the Fletcher Christians of the world, the Pacific Solution, Border Control (the musical), the trawling communities up in the Gulf of Carpentaria. I had a great conversation* today with a maritime archaeologist, Mr Wolfe, and I have to credit this post (however confused, hang in there, I'm still making it up) to him for planting a precious seed that I hope one day will grow into a forest of sleek and snaky bull kelp.

*This conversation began with my offering to show him the pterodactyl skull, covered in barnacles, that I found in the nets this morning under the Kalgan Bridge. Turns out it was a rather unseaworthy emu.


  1. But what a great way to start a conversation!
    Someone told me that the way the Nullabor/Eyre Highway settlements are laid out has a lot to do with landing stages from sea, to deliver something (I can't remember what, maybe railway sleepers) so a land road that depends on the sea..?
    This is very interesting stuff. I'm excited to see where you go with it.
    That's Adam, yeah? who is trying to get the exhibition of the fish pictures happening.

  2. Yes. I think that may have been me with the Nullabor story. It was a lot quicker and easier then to use the sea as a highway. I think all of the Nullabour settlements were orginally landing ports.

  3. Where do you come from Ms Toa?

    This is fascinating. I've been thinking about re reading Songlines of late....even have it bedside in prep.

    There is so much to be said about the layers of history here...and you are the right explorer for the task, methinks.

  4. Excellent Sarah. Love the ironic twist about the sealers ensuring the survival of the Tassie tribes. Perfect. 'It's an ill wind....' alright.

    Rootless Rooters! Ha. Am I a sicko or what? :)

  5. Thanks people, I think it is an avenue of research that could easily suck me in for a while yet.
    The Songlines, yes, read it a few times. It's one of my favourite books. The only time I got an opportunity to buy it was in a Dunedin bookshop and the owner chided me about being an Aussie buying Aussie books in N.Z. and I got too embarrassed to pay for it!

  6. I thought it might've been you that told me. you are full of so much interesting stuff!