Anna Donald goes to Tasmania

Anna DonaldApparently, we are moving to our new apartment on Thursday. Only we haven’t completed the sale as planned, on Monday. This is our fault, sort of. The bank didn’t send documents in time before we went on holiday in Tasmania. So we signed them late. Which means the money wasn’t in the right account at the right time. This was despite running around the Tasmanian wilderness seeking post offices and witnesses to documents, with bemused wildlife looking on.

Tasmania – Cradle Mountain to be precise – was amazing. For the uninitiated, Tasmania is an Australian state, despite the New York Natural History Museum, in the early ’80s, portraying it as an independent country.

Sydney-siders always imagine Tasmania to be halfway to the South Pole, which is not really true. But it’s still very cold by Australian standards. Tasmanians always proudly point out their “English weather” which enables them to grow the oak and the ash and the bonny birchen tree, and a host of other British plants which are pretty but which have no doubt wiped out lots of native species. For someone who’s endured nearly 20 English winters, I have no idea what they think they’re boasting about.

But the virgin forests, such that they still exist, are really something else again. Their beauty reflects the millions of years that have gone into their making. They exude a kind of sanctity and authority that you sometimes find in little pockets in the wilder parts of Wales and Scotland, and no doubt Ireland too, but which are truly rare in England, because it is so incredibly cultivated. Of course, the turning of every English sod over centuries by Pics, Celts, Angles, Saxons, slaves, serfs, farmers, and bulldozers, lends it a dense human-earth history that neither Tasmania (nor any other part of Australia) has.

Not that Tasmania was uninhabited before the convicts turned up. There were well known Aboriginal tribes in Tasmania who were, eventually, obliterated using every possible method: “gifts” of blankets infested with smallpox, hunting parties to gun down stray people, and, infamously, clifftop parties in which people were rounded up and shoved or shot over the cliffs. In this way, the Tasmanian aborigines were completely wiped out within a few decades and we don’t know that much about them. It seems that they were not the same – in many ways, physical and cultural – as their mainland bretheren. This makes sense, as the two groups would have been isolated for thousands of years (at least since the last Ice Age – thanks Tom!) – it is still extremely difficult to cross Bass Strait in a light craft, due to the huge seas that surge between the two land masses. In any case, the colonial genocide comprised yet another terrible loss, like so many from European Australia’s violent and unspeakable origins.

It’s strange to come from a country that actually began as a prison (due to the new American Republic refusing to take any more British convicts). The good thing about it is that the only way to go is up. But it took a long time to do that, with more than half the early white population dying each year from starvation, disease, violence, and cluelessness about their new environment. Apparently the reason why one Aboriginal chief in Tasmania didn’t wipe out the new European tribes – which he could have done, early on – was because so many people died that he assumed the whole lot would soon be gone, which would be much less trouble than waging war. He didn’t reckon on the relentless line of ships (despite numerous wrecks) which kept bringing new people, mostly brutalised; new disease; new disasters for his people.

Back to cancer, the dog that is my faithful companion, waiting for me when I wake up. Things seem pretty good. The natural beauty of Tasmania was palpably therapeutic. I could actually feel the energy arising from the tangled, enchanted forest with its spectacular, gnarled and ancient trees. I took 348 photographs, mostly of lichens and mosses and tree trunks with incredibly coloured barks – purples, blues and browns – that I’ve never seen before. At the risk of sounding a little demented, I seem to be becoming more sensitive to the beauty of nature; the sky; the sea. I find myself weeping over the blossoming trees in people’s front yards (spring is on its way in the Antipodes), having to hide my eyes from oncoming pedestrians lest they think there’s something wrong.

I still cough when I climb a hill or otherwise exert myself, but it’s definitely becoming less pronounced, little by little. The oral chemotherapy is still quite tolerable, despite the palm-and-feet effects – mainly, splitting thumb pads- which are only a mild nuisance, making me clumsy when shuffling cards (we played too much bridge on our holiday) and turning pages.

So now I just have to photograph the spring and pray that all the documents get signed so we can move on Thursday. I don’t want to have to take up residence in a storage unit staring at the evidence of a lifetime’s expenditure on unnecessary plastic items, counting how many people’s lives we could have saved, or helped, if we hadn’t been so addicted to designer kitchen utensils and DVDs. Consume! Be Silent! Die! Really, I mean it, I’m over it. There are mouths to feed.

Thank you so much to all the people who have made such lovely and helpful comments. I will be back online once the modem in the new place is set up.

Anna Donald Blog 12

  • Prudence Scott

    Dear Anna,

    I read your entry in the ’30 years of Rhodes Women’ booklet; as I scanned it for familiar names, I was delighted to see your name, before being saddened to read the second half of your entry. After googling your name to try and make contact, I found your BMJ blogs and have been profoundly moved by your insights and your ability to share them. As ever, your energy and vibrancy continue to amaze while your natural ability to teach continues to inspire and inform. And as a medical oncologist, I feel particularly, that I have a lot to learn.

    I remember a morning spent many years ago in Wellington Square, discussing the hilarious revelations about our personalities after doing a questionnaire. I remember your scoffing at the labels “thinker” and “intuitive”, but how true they are when I read your evaluation of all that is happening around, and to, you.

    I hope the sale went through and the move goes ahead as planned. Good luck.

    Love and thoughts, Prudence Scott

  • Dear Anna

    Sounds like an ideal holiday prior to the move, in spite of the slight hassle with the completion documents. Good luck with the move – I will be thinking of you on Thursday. My thoughts and prayers are with you, as always. With much love, Urmila

  • Karen

    Dear Anna, So glad that you had such a lovely time in Tassie. Bummer about the complications with the house purchase but glad that it got sorted out in time for your move. I hope that the move goes smoothly. Don’t hurry to unpack your boxes! Please let me know your new number – keen to call you at home. lots of love and prayers, Karen

  • Tom C

    Dear Anna,
    Hope the new digs work out OK – I’m sure having your own place will be just wonderful after months of the Meriton.
    Good to hear you made it to Tasmania – I thought I’d add that I’m pretty sure the locals down there came over during the various ice ages, when the seas were much lower and you could walk across Bass Strait. But I suspect there are many things we don’t know about the original people – as you rightly say, it was a very effective genocide.
    Hope your catch up with E was good – lots of love, Tom

  • Diana

    Dear Anna
    FINALLY resolved my software problems and can access your blog again after many weeks. Tasmanian forests are truly special: I always thought that the Lord of the Rings films should have been shot there. The trees have a very magical aura. However, it is chilly, and in Summer there are tiger snakes, which just goes to show you you can’t have your cake and eat it too!
    Love Diana

  • Jan

    Just discovered your blog – bit slow on modern tech. What a wonderful writer you are! I’m so happy to see that fantastic mind and spirit of yours whirring away in full creative mode.
    Lots of love and don’t give up the shoes.

  • Karen

    Dear Anna, I feel a bit like Justin J. – you seem to know a number of Karens! Well, this one also sends love and best wishes. Good luck for the move this week, and holler if you need any help! Much love, Karen and co xx

  • ghislaine young

    Dear Anna

    Far from being “demented” by being touched to tears when you observe the beauty in nature, it is the rest of us in our every day lives, who become blinkered so that the truth and beauty which surround us become hidden from view and we accept every day miracles with complacency and blunted senses. We replace the spiritual with the material and it is little wonder that there is so much depression in our age.
    Good luck with the move!