Review ‘In Tasmania’ by Nicholas Shakespeare

I was eager to read ‘In Tasmania’ by Nicholas Shakespeare for I wanted to learn more about my birth place. I have always been interested in this unique island and looked forward to learning more facts about its history. I was not disappointed. The book is packed with information, much that was news to me and Nicholas has found no end of sources that I seemed to have missed.

I was also looking forward to a leisurely stroll through his journey in time while on the island, but he did not present himself in this way. I often got the feeling that he had so many facts gathered that his priority was getting them across rather than telling a good yarn. It was a strange feeling, living in the UK now, having an ‘outsider’ to Tasmania tell me what it is like in the eyes of someone from the UK. Quite often he surprised me. My view of the place is obviously narrow, fixed to the immediate childhood environment in Devonport, and Hobart where I lived and was schooled, but is nevertheless well-defined and infused with a deep sense of what it is to be a Tasmanian. I longed for Nicholas to share with us the strong sense of humour that my family enjoyed. Perhaps we were not indicative of our fellow Tasmanians? However, I was reminded of this humour when some years ago, some Tasmanians were trapped in a mine. In spite of their dire situation, they were heard to make a few quips as they waited for rescue. One of them was how they thought they might retire from mining when they got out – an understatement to say the least, but typical. I missed this aspect in Nicholas’s writing, although he did get the over-exaggeration that some of the locals indulge in when telling a tale or two.

One place Nicholas and I had in common was Swansea where he lived for a couple of years. Swansea was the place where we used to go on holiday as a family many years before Nicholas arrived. It was almost as if we visited a different town. Our family used to stay at Coswell, owned by Wally Donne, a descendant of the poet John Donne yet Nicholas did not mention this. How could he miss it?   Perhaps my years there were so long ago that they are wiped from the memory of those who live there now.

Another interesting difference is his attitude to the people of mixed Aboriginal race. I remember the deep regret we felt that we had no more ‘full-blooded’ Tasmanians yet, Nicholas seems to accept that the mixed race descendants were ‘full-blooded’.

Enough nit-picking of the content. I am very glad I read his book and I still remember the thrill I got when he described the overall beauty of the place – this joy we certainly shared.


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