Thoughts behind Haven

No matter how enlightened and efficient the world might be, there will always be those who cannot find a place for themselves. People are displaced when borders move, regimes change, land dries up, industries close and faiths become marginalised. For nature, the expanding demands of human consumption mean there is less space to support non-essential organisms. And for ideas, changing intellectual fashion and the spinning wheels of consumption mean that certain ideal and cultural practices languish.

But we are blessed with a planet where variety of human society is still possible. There must be somewhere in earth's far reaches where threatened forms of life might find sanctuary. Such a location need not be the 'promised land' sought by Moses, to be conquered and claimed for eternity. All that's required is a piece of land far enough away from the centre to be safe, and dense in nature to resist over-cultivation.
In the mythology of the 'new world', America opened its arms to the downtrodden of old Europe. No matter how poor or humble, they were given the chance of sharing the American dream of wealth and success. They came as Poles, Irish, Germans, Swedish, Italians and Armenians, but all emerged as Americans, part of the story of an energetic and forward-thinking country.

Nothing could be further from the USA than the island of the coast of mainland Australia known as Tasmania. With virtually no role to play on the official world stage, it has still managed to offer quiet sanctuary for a remarkable range of peoples, natures and ideas. The island's most prominent responsibility rests with the forests and river systems of south-west Tasmania, which offer one of the world's most important wilderness areas. Much of Tasmania's political muscle has been exercised around environmental issues, principally through the leadership of Bob Brown, leader of the Greens Party.

While the 'Apple Isle' is readily perceived as Australia's concession to bio-diversity, it has recently also begun to champion the human equivalent. The Tasmanian support for Kosovar refugees and their Safe Havens continued despite the turn of opinion elsewhere in Australia. And today, on the stage of national politics, Tasmanian Federal representatives are outspoken in support of humane treatment for asylum seekers. Greens Party leader Bob Brown is most vocal in his criticism of the government approach. The two candidates for the Hobart seat of Denison, Duncan Kerr and Greg Barns, both express hesitation to follow the mainstream party's conformity to popular opinion.

The idea of Tasmania as a haven may seem to some a means of glossing over the dark history of the island. The convict system of ruthless cruelty, the attempted genocide of the Palawa nations and the trauma of the Port Arthur massacre, all contribute to the sense of Tasmanian Gothic, which has shrouded the island in a dramatic gloom.

For many, the island has been the 'end of the line'. The thylacine is used as the main icon for tourists. In the past, the most famous Tasmanian was Trugganini.
But times have changed. At the moment, Australia is experiencing a kind of civil war of the heart, with a liberal class seemingly powerless to 'enlighten' the overwhelming majority of Australians who support the incarceration of asylum seekers. There are various paths this could take us as a nation. The liberal-minded could become comfortable in their rage, enjoying the contrast against the more small-minded suburbanites. Or they could give into political reality and concentrate on their own lives.
Australia has shown a greater capacity in the past to show compassion to the world's homeless. As Malcolm Fraser has pointed out, the boat people from Vietnam were given a radically different reception on the 1970s. We need some part of Australia in which that other more compassionate nation can find refuge.

There have been serious concerns in the past about the way people on the mainland have perceived Tasmania. This concerns both lack of attention to its achievements and over-attention of its ghoulish elements. I have heard many sides of the argument during regular visits to Hobart and Launceston over the years, as well as from the many Tasmanians living on the mainland. Such conversations forewarn me to be hesitant in taking up a Tasmanian point of view.

In this project, I come as a mainlander. In the middle of the nineteenth-century, my great great grandfather was fortunate enough to spend some time in Tasmania at his majesty's pleasure, but I'm not so interested in exploring that past. I come as a mainlander seeking somewhere in my own country where I can invest hope of a better society.

Australia needs an island now, more than ever.

Curator, Kevin Murray