Island 163 Cover

3 November 2021

Island magazine is an important part of Tasmania's much-vaunted literary culture, which is why I'm relieved and pleased Arts Tasmania will fund the publication for 2022. Island connects writers with audiences, giving emerging writers a crucial toehold in the marketplace, and giving readers diverse and wonderful things to read. It also provides a space for readers to connect with established writers, hearing from them when they may not have an entire book to share but nevertheless have a short story, essay or poem to give the world. It's also important to remember that Island is not just Tasmanian. It's an Australian literary magazine that is produced here, that brings together voices from many places while at the same time giving our island's spirit a presence on the national stage. Thanks to Vern Field and the team at Island for your dedication, commitment, creativity and vision. Below, the the text of a column published earlier this year in The Mercury.

Once upon a time, in my early twenties, I flew into Hobart early on a Saturday morning in late summer, having just weathered the gloom of a long, London winter.

For months, the only sun I had known was one that waited until mid-morning to shine, disappeared again in the middle of the afternoon, and failed to do anything very interesting in the few intervening hours. From the airport, I went home, dropped off my suitcase, and headed straight for Salamanca Market.

Can you imagine? I’m sure you can. The full-throttle sunshine, the cobalt of a February sky, the sweet-and-tart taste of fresh raspberries, the flavour of a proper apricot, Arauco Libre playing South American music near the Retro, and the beautiful bulk of kunanyi (not a cable car in sight) overseeing whole scene.

From one of those gorgeously haphazard secondhand stalls that used to be a thing at Salamanca Market, I picked up – for a song – a stack of back issues of Island magazine. So there, I was, sitting on the grass under the plane trees to shield my lily-white-London skin from the sun, eating my raspberries and apricots, leafing through my newly purchased hoard, not knowing I was, right at that moment, beginning a journey of the mind that would last for decades, and that I trust hasn’t finished yet.

The very first thing I read was a review by an academic called Tony Bellette, of a book I was not at that time familiar with – Peter Conrad’s Down Home. Intrigued by the review, I tracked down Conrad’s grumpy and jaundiced, yet fascinating, account of what it was like for him to grow up in the suburb of Goodwood (not far from where I grew up, in Lutana), and much later to return to the Tasmania to grapple with the island’s identity, and – by extension – with his own.

Reading Down Home, I discovered Peter Conrad himself was one of the child actors in the film of Nan Chauncy’s book They Found a Cave, which had spellbound me one school holiday when it was screened at the State Library.

Visiting Nan’s property of Chauncy Vale again some months later, I observed that a quotation by the Tasmanian poet Vivian Smith hung, framed, in the homestead and I remembered that an early Christopher Koch novel had been dedicated to that same poet.

They’re all talking to each other, I remember thinking – Bellette and Conrad and Smith and Koch and many, many others – and they’re talking about things I know. There is a conversation going on in this island, each offering coming slowly – like Entish speech – with the call-and-response of novel and memoir, poem and play, painting and photograph and film.

I had always wanted to be a writer, but now my desire was sharpened by the knowledge that there was a dialogue, open and fluid, which – if I thought carefully and worked hard – I might be allowed to join.

Island is our island’s collective journal. Isn’t that something worth keeping into the future?

For me, a steady and regular voice in that conversation – as I have listened to it, and been fortunate enough to participate in – has been Island. The magazine has been publishing, with an island sensibility, the works of writers from Tasmania, Australia, and further afield, since 1979 when it began life as The Tasmanian Review.

In recent years the magazine has pulled off a number of Lazarus moves, surviving – and just recently, diversifying into an online publication that supplements its print version – despite repeated episodes of de-funding.

While the heroics of the current management and editorial teams, who are part-time and sometimes voluntary, have kept the publication alive so far, such feats cannot possibly be sustainable. Therefore I hope our arts funding bodies will see their way clear to provide Island with a stable future.

As a teacher of writing, I know how important it is to new generations of emerging writers to have opportunities to publish their work. As a writer myself, I know how important it is to have opportunities to publish those works that might be shorter or more experimental that the ones the book market best likes, and also to find a home for pieces that might be end up being pilots for future, full-scale works.

As the co-editor of two anthologies of Tasmanian writing, I know how valuable Island magazine has been in terms of keeping a record of the stimulating and cross-pollinating conversation that goes on between writers and thinkers, established and emerging, from here and from afar.

In that review by Tony Bellette of Peter Conrad’s Down Home, the author offered the interpretation that Conrad represented Tasmania by turns as Hell and Heaven, Eden and Alcatraz. It’s a summary of our island’s multiple personalities that I found striking when I was a twenty-something writer-in-waiting and it has stayed with me for almost three decades.

Perhaps there is a good reason that one of the words we use for publications like Island is ‘journal’; I’m thinking, here, of the journals we keep for ourselves in order to record our lives, interpret our experiences, think through our problems, define and interrogate our identities.

Island is our island’s collective journal. Isn’t that something worth keeping into the future?