Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cabbages and Convicts

We see history all around us; monuments to lives lived and lives lost. Cities brimming with entrepreneurial enterprise has made them what they are and the history of their eras is in every building, every business, every museum, every suburban street and every bridge. The everyday lives of people in our collective histories are in our minds as lives of families, villages, farms and armies, punctuated by events and remarkable individuals.

It is with quite some mental adjustment to live in a state (almost like another country, in reality) where convicts formed a great part of the white man’s history. Shipped to the other side of the world for crimes as small as stealing bread to feed a child and as big as murder, men and women thrust together in gangs built the infrastructure and were the manpower involved in businesses and life in Tasmania, at the very bottom of the world.

Today a great number of its inhabitants are descended from convicts and this itself is a deep and sometimes hidden side of family history. It was recently quoted that as many as 80% of those Tasmanians descended from convicts have never been outside Tasmania, even to this day. This makes for a far different place from the rest of Australia and a place where I feel a foreigner in some regards.

My travels by foot and kayak into the depths of its beautiful environments often leaves me speechless, for more than just the scenery; cabbages loom large! Before roads could reach these areas, boats and ships plied the seas and rivers, carrying tons of logs destined for England and the British Navy who needed timber for ship building, carrying minerals mined for manufacturing the construction of life in Tasmania and in Britain and carrying convicts to do the work. Do you ever think how they fed the convicts doing this toil, stationed in the remote wilderness?

I have been on the edge of the wild, south-west Tasmania world heritage area, mesmerized by sea eagles, grebes, dolphins and seals, by mountain ranges draped in soft sheets of cloud, by forests full of the fresh scents of wild Tasmanian plant life and then I am told that where I am standing was once cleared and planted with 5,000 cabbages to feed the convicts. Further on I am told that after serving time and gaining a ticket of leave, a convict had a very successful import / export business right here, shipping out timber etc and bringing in supplies for a town that grew to 500 people, mostly convicts. All this, where I thought was pristine wilderness at the bottom of the world.

There is a group of 3 islands just off the beach at Dover. I have paddled my kayak around one of them on a glorious summer’s day, feeling the sun on my back and revelling in the joy of being out in wild, southern Tasmania. Again my head is abruptly sent spinning when I am told that here too, on the next island, thousands of cabbages were grown by and for the convicts.

I would like to learn more about feeding the gangs of convicts and about the individuals who were the gardeners and farmers; about how they chose a site, how they managed the soil and what seeds they used. Some Tasmanian families probably are still growing cabbages and other vegetables from those seeds. I’d love to meet them and hear their stories. I’d especially love to have some of the seeds, the seeds of civilisation in Tasmania, and sow them in the Cygnet community garden.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Integration brings integrity; making it work for Tasmania

Tasmania is a magnet for rural tourism. Why? Is it because of the scenery? It certainly isn’t because of the facilities or large resorts. Is it because of the non-existent raging, city night life or sprawling shopping malls?

I rent out a room in my house on Airbnb and I meet the tourists who read my profile on the website and choose to come and stay in my old cottage on an organic, rural 1 acre in the town of Cygnet. I hear what they say when asked why they come to Tasmania. I see the streets of Cygnet literally full of tourist vehicles all year round and I have a stall at the Cygnet Market which provides most of my income because, even for a town of 1,000 locals, this market is what people want to experience.

Everyone with excess produce in their gardens offers it to the girls at The Lotus Eaters cafe who cook the most amazing stuff, using food grown within a very small circle of the cafe. It is always full of people, all year round. In winter you see people in their coats and scarves at the outdoor tables, hands around hot cups of coffee and their famous chai, because this is what they come here for, not to sit in the air conditioned environment of a shopping centre or resort. There is no view from this main street cafe, but there is more atmosphere and warmth and genuine soul than any view can give.

Then on the other side, I listen to the radio and hear how “experts” say that Tasmania needs to catch up with the mainland of Australia and provide more facilities and exciting things for tourists to do and it makes me want to scream! They say we need to build more roads, big hotels and a cable car to the top of Mt. Wellington. This is segregation; dividing tourism off from the everyday life of ordinary people and is expensive and unsustainable in a tiny, cash-strapped state.

I hear about Tasmanian agriculture and how so many fruit orchards have been ripped out or fruit left to rot because of cheap imports. I see that the major supermarkets sell apples from China, when not that long ago, Tasmania was called the Apple Isle and exported all over the world. And yet, local fruit growers have set up roadside stalls and they are patronised by locals and tourists in huge numbers as are all farmgate operations. Every road around here has properties with small groves of  mixed orchards, wood lots, a few animals and a vegetable garden. Many are new or have new owners who can see the wood and the trees! And this week has been Agfest, a rural show of mammoth proportions, visited by anyone and everyone who can get to it, from all over Australia.

The experts are segregating, not integrating. They look at figures for tourist spending in other places and think that this is relevant to Tasmania. They don’t spend a couple of weeks as a tourist in Tasmania and actually see for themselves. Tasmania is unlike most of the rest of Australia in that it is decentralised and people live in nooks and crannies all over it. The “cities” are small; the capital and biggest, Hobart, is only 250,000. It is more like south west France, with very rural villages every few kilometres. And, like rural France, that is exactly what people come to see; rural, everyday life supplying excellent quality, local goods and services in rustic villages and markets.

Everyone wants to go France; where every facet if life is integrated; ancient buildings are not museums, they are loved and lived in. Markets abound with local food and the French people themselves would not buy food grown elsewhere if it was grown locally. Rooms on farms and in rural homes are on every visitor’s list of accommodation. Every tourist to France goes to the markets and villages to see the real French way of life; and so it could be in Tasmania.

Integration means business is life; farmland has tourism in its agenda; farmers integrate ideas with neighbours, instead of competing, to provide diversification; people live and work in their own town, using the shops and services; cafes cook and shops sell what is grown locally; artists use local materials; nothing is dependent on one big industry. Using very little from outside means a low earth footprint which, in itself, is worth advertising for tourism and makes for a sustainable future. I think this is how Cygnet is developing, almost accidentally, and I look forward to the blinkered government and local authorities staying right out of it’s fabulous future!

Sydney is buying and shipping thousands of tons of sand per month from northern Tasmania for making concrete for developments. Is this how Tasmania should be making money?

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate Integrate not segregate is permaculture principle 8

                   Many hands make light work