The Lonely Edge of the World

What fascinated me in the writing of The Slipping Place is the fact that Hobart is on the edge of some great emptinesses. Tasmania is surrounded by vast, dangerous, icy oceans. The European settlers crossed these to arrive here.

In a way I think we have inherited a deep sense of loneliness. At some level we are aware that we are miles away from anywhere, at the cold edge of the world. You can see this in our pure light that seems to reflect straight up from Antarctica. Certainly as a child I felt this. I yearned for an elsewhere that was warm and fast and important and a long way away.

We also live on the edge of vast, glorious, precious, inhospitable wildernesses. Walls of rock and deep impenetrable forests. In a way Hobart can seem like a refuge, a place of protection. In the early years, we built thick stone walls. I imagine the oldest buildings turning their back on the mountain and what lies behind it.

These – the wilderness, the mountain, the ocean air, the Antarctic light, the danger, the past – these are fundamental to Hobart’s profound and complex beauty. Nowadays, in many ways, we embrace and celebrate our wilderness, the coastline, the sea and the mountain. But at the same time, I think there is something deep in our psychologies of sheltering ourselves and turning away.

The Things People Don’t Talk About

In many ways I was given an idyllic childhood. With the neighbourhood kids and assorted dogs, I was free roam the river bank (and the water) and the hill behind our houses. I received a liberal intellectual and moral education of the highest possible quality at Friends’. I was given endless opportunities to try all kinds of physical, outdoor and cultural activities.

Our parents hardly ever told us anything about their pasts, but over the years you piece it together. Gradually, I realised that my parents had both had fairly sad, tough childhoods. Like everyone, I can find some heartbreaking stories in my family’s history. I don’t think this is unusual. It is the story of my generation, and theirs. My parents papered over the sadnesses and privations and darker things and gave their children wonderful, privileged lives.

I think Hobart is a bit like this. We have created an idyllic place to live. It is stunningly beautiful, benign in climate. We have papered over many sad stories in our pasts. I hope future books can touch on this.