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Road trip Tasmania: Mt. Field NP, Tasman Peninsula, Freycinet NP & Bay of Fires

Pirates Bay, Tasman Peninsula

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 1 June 2014 | Views [231] | Comments [1]

Pirates Bay, Tasman Peninsula

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In Tasmania, 2005 will be remembered as the year in which Margaret Scott died. She had been a defining spirit of Tasmanian literary and cultural life for decades. Born in Bristol in 1934, she grew up in wartime England, which she wrote about memorably in poems and fiction. She attended Newnham College, Cambridge where famously she was a contemporary of Sylvia Plath’s. She emigrated to Tasmania with her new husband, the Australian Michael Boddy, and their young son, in 1959. Like many intending English sojourners in Tasmania she came to think of it as home, perhaps more easily than would have been possible anywhere else in Australia although her early poem ‘In Tasmania’ (from Tricks of Memory, 1980) is an ironic comment on how unlike England Tasmania can look and feel, a ‘place of unremembered graves’.

From the mid-1960s she became an influential teacher of literature at the University of Tasmania, where she worked closely with James McAuley, inspiring young writers and future academics. She was also an early supporter of the teaching of creating writing, at a time when it was looked down upon as a university subject. With her own writing, as well as her encouragement of younger writers, like Amanda Lohrey and Richard Flanagan, her support for Island magazine and 40° South, and her editing, with Vivian Smith, of the first anthology of Tasmanian poetry (Effects of Light, 1985), it’s hard to think of anyone who contributed more to the creation of literary community in Tasmania, across institutions, across generations and across regions.

Margaret retired from the university in 1989, but remained an Honorary Research Associate. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1999. In this last stage of her life she lived on the Tasman Peninsula, a place she had written about since her first arrival in Tasmania. Her house at Premaydena, ‘Tara’, which burnt down in 2003, had been a run-down apple orchardist’s home before she renovated it. She wrote memorable poems about this dramatic and isolated region, like ‘Return to Pirates Bay: Tasmania 1974′ (from Visited, 1983) and ‘Walking to Cape Raoul’ (from The Black Swans, 1988). The Peninsula was also the site of the Bryant massacre of 1996 and this trauma called out Margaret’s extraordinary powers as a community leader. Her book Port Arthur: A Story of Strength and Courage was a powerful account of that tragedy, giving the local community a voice in response to otherwise inexplicable events. Margaret was also on the board of the Port Arthur Historic Site and a community activist in all matters to do with life on the Peninsula. Like Judith Wright, at one stage of her life, Margaret did important work with government agencies in the area of cultural heritage policy and administration. She was also a vocal supporter of the Greens and of the Wilderness Society. Shortly before she died, in August, Margaret was awarded an Emeritus Writers Award by the Australia Council.

Margaret also published two novels, The Baby Farmer (in 1990) and in 2000 her fictional account of her own ancestry, Family Album: A Novel of Secrets and Memories, as well as many occasional essays and articles, often on Tasmania’s literary and cultural heritage. She had a deep scholarly knowledge of colonial Tasmanian writing, convict ballads, and the earliest evidence of Tasmanian Aboriginal poetic expression. ASAL members who attended the 2000 annual conference will remember that Margaret’s Collected Poems (Montpelier) was launched during the conference. Her elegies for her second husband, Michael Scott, as Richard Flanagan has noted, are among her best work.

  ASAL Jun 12, 2014 7:35 AM

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