The Fall of the Derwent

Early during my walk along Tasmania’s Derwent River from the mouth to the source, I was travelling near Repulse Dam on a reconnaissance trip when I came across two others.  It was a strange experience.  Previously I had become aware that two women planned, with assistance and support from others, and with the direct engagement of specific groups of people in some parts, to walk from the mouth to the source.  That day, as Andrew and I drove around for me to suss the landscape and the walking route options, when I saw two women seeming to do the same, we stopped them and I asked questions.  ‘Yes we are those women’, said Justy Phillips and Margaret Woodward.  I am sure they were as surprised as I was.

Since then, Justy and Margaret have made their way alongside various parts of Tasmania’s Derwent River and arrived at Lake St Clair where they were Facebooked taking a dip in those cold waters, seemingly delighted with their arrival.

Their project was very different from mine.  In my case, I wanted to walk around the whole of the Greater Hobart Area, and then to walk every metre of the way to the source at St Clair Lagoon dam.   By contrast, Justy and Margaret walked alongside parts of two Derwent Rivers; Tasmania’s Derwent River and the other in Cumbria England.  The experience of and learnings from their walks were used as part of the basis to write what they describe as a ‘fictionella’; written in the form of text artwork, similar in appearance to poetry.

That book is titled Fall of the Derwent. In this website you can see  range of photographs including two where Justy and Margaret are holding their black covered book.

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The title of the book references a drawing by an early Tasmanian surveyor George Frankland which he named ‘Fall of the Derwent’.  Colonial artist Thomas Bock engraved the image and James Ross printed the picture in The Hobart Town Almanac in 1830. The picture was drawn at a site near unpassable rapids on the Derwent River upriver from New Norfolk.  When Justy and Margaret walked past what they believed was that place, they took a suite of black and white photographs;  half a dozen or so of these images are bound into their book.  Without returning to that area I seem to remember the spot.  After reviewing my photographs in that area, clearly I was looking for serenity and simplicity.  I was looking at colours and contrasts.  It seems I was focusing on one way of seeing that world of the Derwent River, and Justy and Margaret’s view is an alternative.20150917_094036.jpg

20150917_095352.jpgI did not focus on the twisted interlacing of stark and scrappy vegetation at the river edge like Justy and Margaret have done  The differences in our images is a reflection on the different nature of our projects. I wanted to entice others to be seduced by the beauty of the landscape and then to make their own journeys along the river edge (I now wonder why I didn’t see vegetation tangles as beautiful).  When I read their book it seemed they wanted to use their experiences as the basis for creative abstract thoughts; perhaps even a metaphysical approach involving questions such what is there in that world and what is it like at a more profound level.  My approach was literal and descriptive.

The Phillips/Woodward Fall of the Derwent publication presents poetry-styled ideas and comments in ‘chapters’ headed by the days of the week; the book proceeds over  44 days consecutive days – but the ideas associated with both rivers are intermixed.

“Let us begin with two rivers / And a Dad not long for living. / Two daughters …”

Despite the introductory lines, theirs is not a chronological story connecting the sequences of walking the two rivers; reference is made to other locations such as Cape Barren Island, Dover Point, and Brisbane. And the English father walked with Justy and Margaret when they traipsed near the Cumbrian Derwent. As an intertwined overlay in this book, mention is made of his declining health – Dad in pain, no longer able to feed himself, no longer speaking.  For this reason and for the manner of writing which removes easily identifiable meaning through much of the publication, this book has a limited audience and is obviously a set of personal ideas to be understood, remembered and perhaps loved by the authors. For their personal satisfaction. I was surprised that this book uses combinations of words that do not create, for most of the book,  visual images of either of the two rivers. Instead, the poetry reads as a meshing of many experiences which presumably helps Phillips/Woodward to reconstruct a feel of those experiences.

On occasion, where the meaning was clear because I could recognise specific locations, I enjoyed some of the lines. For example, “…rows of hops that string this neck of the river…” referred to the hop vines and their structural strings in the Bushy Park area.  These hop fields obviously made a significant impression on Justy and Margaret because there was a second comment on the same topic; “…the hops in single file march orderly disruption to the valley.”  Then, when they walked around the Wayatinah Power Station, “…the woodstave pipeline is a blistering gland … Draws the corset of her breathing”.  Like Justy and Margaret, I looked in awe at these two locations and their dramatic impact was described during my posts.  To remind you – here are photos of the hop fields and others of the wooden pipeline.   20150918_104145.jpg

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DSC01655e.jpgJusty and Margaret learnt in Cumbria; “On the banks of the River Derwent, that the term ‘black market’ is born. Through the illegal trading of graphite.”  Then they found graphite was part of the geological structure at Wayatinah on Tasmania’s Derwent.  From these findings, grew the idea to play with ‘black’; the book’s cover is black, some copies are cloth bound and impregnated with carbon powder, the Fall of the Derwent and ‘black’ are interconnected within the text, and one section of the book presents a list of locations along Tasmania’s Derwent which include ‘black’ in the name; examples include Black Bob’s Rivulet and Blackmans Bay.

Phillips/Woodward’s book Fall of the Derwent was part of a public artwork presented in association with GASP (Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park) in 2016. Further information can be accessed here. If you click on ‘Download Hydrographic Score’ you will be able to read the book online.

The Derwent – a version by Stephenson and Walch

Late in July this year, an exhibition opened at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) which put ‘Tasmania’s iconic River Derwent on show’.  This free-to-attend exhibition will continue on display until 5 November.

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The exhibition features the time-lapse photographic and video work of David Stephenson and Martin Walch, taken over a 5 year period.  In addition, TMAG has brought out a selection of their permanent collection’s 19th century drawings and paintings depicting the Derwent river around the Hobart area.

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In the centre of one gallery space, a display box contained photograph albums from the late 1800s.

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Based on the larger ‘The Derwent Project’, viewers at the exhibition are presented with large scale works which provides one indicator of the large scale of our Derwent River. Descriptive still images are provided on the Derwent Project website so you can get some appreciation of what to expect when you visit the exhibition.  The photographic works are wall-sized composites of thumbnail photos.  IMG_0543.JPG

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The videos are gigantic projections of the changing waters of the Derwent – along the side of one very long museum wall. I loved the silky silvery quality in the videos. IMG_0540.JPGIn addition , large image shift pictures changed as you watched in another gallery space. IMG_0546.JPG

The Mercury newspaper reported ‘Two men, one river, a vision splendid’ and show photos of the artists and other images from the exhibition.

Reason for travel

Below I have included an excerpt from the most recent publication of Tasmanian-based internationally renowned author Robert Dessaix:  The Pleasures of Leisure.  In the last pages of the book, when Robert was discussing travel and its connection to leisure, I realised he was expressing my reasons for the Walking the Derwent project as he talked about his view of travel destinations which satisfy.

 As far as I’m concerned, for a place to be worth going to, three things must dovetail: firstly, it will be somewhere behind enemy lines because that puts you on your mettle – so Canada is out; going to Canada is just like staying home, but colder. Canada is nice.  Canadians are nice.  You don’t want ‘nice’ when you travel. The god of travel, after all, is Hermes – god of boundaries and boundary crossings, of transition and transgression, constantly darting in and out of enemy territory.  In a word, he’s the god of changing places. I doubt Hermes could even spell ‘Canada’.

Uganda, on the other hand, is definitely behind enemy lines, as is Cuba  (so far as I’m concerned), but neither of them strongly tempts  me as a destination because I doubt I’d find myself interesting there.  It’s not a judgement on Uganda or Cuba, but on the match. It’s like a conversation, really, any conversation that leaves you feeling elated: you want to be part of it so long as it makes you feel larger, richer and more interesting than you’ve felt up to now, so long as it magnifies something you cherish, so long as it makes what could feel unremarkable (about you or the universe) remarkable, as someone you love does.  To be remarkable in itself – as the Taj Mahal is, or Machu Pichu, or Angkor Wat – is not enough. It must make everything that has been ordinary about you now feel extraordinary. That’s the second criterion in where to go.

And the third thing I look for when I travel well is hunger: where you go should leave you feeling slightly hungry, should sharpen your appetite for life, not quench it.

To walk against the Derwent River from the mouth to the source took me onto land that belonged to others and into and through forested landscapes which were never designed with the expectation that humans might roam the earth. I never thought of landowners, their fences and gates, or the bush as enemies, but their expectations and nature kept me  ‘on my mettle’. Despite working hard on each stage, my walks left me ‘feeling elated’ and ‘larger, richer and more interesting than’ I had felt up to that point.  After the adventures of each walking stage along the Derwent, I felt more alive and even more excited to go on living, and to travel more for new experiences.  Dessaix’s exposition helps me to understand why I have not felt the need to travel overseas. The Derwent River and the Tarkine locations are close to home yet they offer the three essential ingredients: they put me on my mettle, make me feel richer and more interesting, and stimulate my hunger for more.

Robert Dessaix offers a myriad of wonderful ideas in his book. I recommend you add it to your reading list. This insightful book is so wonderfully easy to read and offered me a great deal of pleasure  on every page.

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More silvery views of the Derwent

Another of my favourite local bloggers No Visible Means has, in recent months, taken new photographs and some of these show the Derwent River. Soft, wispy and silver.

In particular look at his blog post titled Autumn for photos from Mt Knocklofty and Mt Stuart looking down to the silver ribbon.  Other wonderful blue Derwent River photos are also on display in this blog post.

The mouth of the Derwent from a long way off

Over the weekend one of my favourite bloggers This Amazing Planet published an image from his latest foray into Tasmania’s south.  The location of his ‘viewing platform’ is indicated on the following Google map.

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The post, titled View from Hartz Peak thru to the mouth of the Derwent River. Southern Tasmania , describes the scene accurately.

 I am in awe of Mark’s walk up to the top of Hartz Peak clambering over snow covered rocks and unreadable depressions in the ground.  But I am so very grateful to see this photograph.  Sensational.  It presents the Derwent River as a soft silvery ribbon.  Beautiful!

Rivers of music

Mark Miles wrote a wonderful post The Music of a River that Flows through the Soul.  This post is informative and reminds me of the emotional connection that sounds make – the sounds of waters and the sounds of instruments.

When I walked along some sections of the Derwent River, I sang loudly and with great joy as a result of the emotional uplift which the river environment offered, and because I had the privilege of being able to walk freely.

It is easy for me to understand the motivations of musical composers over the centuries, and to love their work.  Only now do I recall that the music played as I walked down the church aisle to be married, was Handel’s Water Music.  Only now do I recall that one of Mum’s favourite vinyl LP was Strauss waltzes, with the Blue Danube Waltz ever present on the turntable.  As I sit here and type, a flood of memories of water and music connections throughout my life thrill me.  Were these happy memories the result of my being born in late February- Piscean territory?

Reading past Walking the Derwent posts

The local Friends of Australian Writers (FAW) group has invited me to be one of two guest readers on Sunday 2 July at 3pm at the Republic Hotel (corner of Elizabeth and Burnett Streets) in North Hobart.

I will be reading a selection of posts from my ‘Walking the Derwent’ blog, for about 20 minutes.

If you have missed your regular dose of the Derwent story or simply want to catch up for a drink perhaps you would like to come.  I will be especially interested to meet followers of  this blog who have generously made comments, and offered information and help during my walk; those who I have never met.