Living in rural Tasmania, where marsupials rule the roads
Why I love living in... rural Tasmania
Philip Lynch: ‘On our bush block, an hour’s drive south of Hobart, we can often go for days without witnessing any other human activity... the island’s rich array of marsupials commandeer the highways and byways from dusk to dawn.’
After living for almost three decades in Melbourne, this Irishman now calls rural Tasmania home.
My wife and I wanted a change from our treadmill-like existence in Melbourne. With its population surging well past 4 million and burgeoning house prices, it was a city getting busier, hotter and more crowded. Several camping trips to Tasmania had sparked our interest in heading south.
We’d also thought of heading back to Ireland for an extended period but everyone at home said we’d be mad. That was during those dire days after the Celtic Tiger implosion. Then my parents died and that cord was cut.
Anyone visiting this island, 240km south of mainland Australia, will be struck by its breathtaking natural beauty. No wonder it’s a favourite destination for countless grey nomads, tourists and seasonal fruit-picking backpackers.
On the Tasman Peninsula are the ruins of the Port Arthur penal settlement. Hundreds of convicts were incarcerated there for 50 years until it was shut in 1877. William Smith O’Brien’s cottage is one of several restored buildings on that sprawling historic site. And near Hobart, the recently built Museum of Old and New Art - MONA as it is known - is justifiably garnering worldwide acclaim.
At our town’s market, fresh produce can be bought and local musicians entertain the shoppers. Locals congregate to chat and swap gossip on the main street. It’s not uncommon to wave at other motorists, a practice I last witnessed when I was growing up in rural Westmeath. People are genuinely friendly and everyone seems to look out for each other.
On our bush block, an hour’s drive south of Hobart, we can often go for days without witnessing any other human activity. Winters are a little colder than Melbourne but our summers are much cooler, and for that I’m grateful. It’s hardly Siberia here though, nor does it come close to an average Irish winter.
We live frugally. This year we managed to grow a decent crop of potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries. We have plans to expand our vegetable garden but it will have to be possum-proof if we are to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Not much is open after dark; so eating out or going to a cinema is a rare event. Anyhow the island’s rich array of marsupials commandeer the highways and byways from dusk to dawn, so it’s best to avoid night-time commuting.
Tasmania’s glory days as a thriving apple exporter are just a distant memory. Word is there were about 3 million commercial apple trees back in the 1960s. A devastating bushfire in 1967 followed by Britain joining the European Union in 1973 effectively torpedoed Tasmania’s apple exports. After 1967, many orchardists had already walked away from their livelihoods.
One of the island’s leading industries, salmon farming is beginning to suffer from warmer waters courtesy of climate change. But boutique industries like strawberry growing, stone fruit production, artisan bakers, cider production, and cheesemaking, to list just a few, are providing some much-needed jobs and income.
But for all that, Tasmania’s economic activity remains sluggish. Unemployment in this part of Tasmania is a sobering 9 per cent, so many of the Island’s school leavers and graduates head off to the mainland in search of work.
Forestry Tasmania, historically one of the Island’s chief employers, is practically insolvent. Our timber exporters are facing stiff competition from countries that can produce cheaper quality timber. This harsh economic reality hasn’t stopped environmentalists being held up as the whipping boy and scapegoat for the decline of Tasmania’s forestry.
In a sign of the changing times, tourism now generates more income than agriculture, forestry and mining combined. Yet many Tasmanians remain dubious about the merits of tourism. There is much resentment and angst about the loss of jobs in the traditional industries. This view is borne out of generational unemployment that has plagued some parts of the Island.
Tasmanians’ socio-demographics also fall well short of mainland Australia. Unemployment remains well above the national average, as are the rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiac disease. For an island with so many wide open spaces, many Tasmanians are a surprisingly sedentary lot.
I suspect we probably dodged a bullet by deciding not to return to Ireland. I guess I’ll never really know. Tasmania is fast becoming our home away from home. The days are cutting away and another autumn is upon us again. ‘Tis time I headed outside and split some firewood. Winter won’t be long now.