News & Comment

Fri Nov 05, 2004

Tasmanian life

"Three Tasmanians I admire"

I'm humbled.

Justice Michael Kirby gave this address in Hobart yesterday, to mark the Tasmanian bicentenary.

It was a great honour to be named as one of the three Tasmanians Kirby admires. It was an even greater honour to finally meet Kirbyís partner Johan van Vloten.

Admiring someone doesnít necessarily mean you always agree with them.

Michael Kirby is by nature more accommodating than me Ė his Irish Anglican forebears put a high premium on the kind of calm, fellow-feeling that my Baptist farming ancestors found it hard to muster. In his typically respectful manner he has sometimes warned me to be more tolerant of other peopleís intolerance.

For example, I was charmed when he once compared me to Martin Luther. But the message here was about more than just standing up to perceived abuses. It was also about Luther's propensity to stubbornness, unsettling people and generally being "difficult". These things can be crucial in creating social change, Kirby assured me. But always be careful not to slide into dogmatism.

Of course, I donít see myself as difficult, let alone dogmatic. If anything Iíd self-assess as too wistful, sensitive and self-doubting to be an effective human rights campaigner.

But Kirby is a shrewd judge of people as well as laws so when he says one of the strengths of the Tasmanians he knows is that they are "persistent, insistent, occasionally irritating", I must defer.

Just as admiration doesn't equal agreement, so being admired by someone doesn't mean one has to accept that their entire assessment is correct.

Kirby is known as an internationalist, but he is also an Australian nation-builder in the most noble, outward-looking sense of that term.

In his speech he co-opts the three Tasmania's he admires, Andrew Inglis Clarke, Frank Neasey and myself, into the Australian national project.

Clarke fits. His hero was the nineteenth century Italian nationalist, Guissepe Mazzini, who believed that national self-determination was the key to world peace (a belief exploded by German leaders from Bismark on, but that's another story). I know less about Frank Neasey but assume, from what Kirby says, that he probably fits too.

I don't fit.

Australia is a continent and a jurisdiction, but in my view, much less a nation and in no way a country. Australian nationalism was the product of a particular time, made possible and necessary by nineteenth century technology, that century's mania for centralism and most of all by its utter disregard for the role of land and place in human destiny. As ideas of human dominion over nature recede so will those ideas of nationality - like Australia's - that don't correspond to place.

A continent is not a place. It's too big, too diverse. I feel no more "of" the wide brown plains of continental Australia than an Irishman or woman feels "of" the Steppe, or a Sri Lankan feels "of" India's great river valleys. In my experience many Australians feel the same. What they call "Australia" is in fact not Australia at all, but their locality, their place, mistitled. Sooner or later the fragile idea that is "the Australian nation" will dissolve under the weight of all these different "Australias". Australia will then return to being what it perhaps should never have been more than; a geographical term.

Ironically, it is Tasmanians like Richard Flanagan and Peter Hay, who most openly question Australian national identity, just as Tasmanians like John West and Andrew Inglis Clarke once led the movement to create that identity. It's at the edge that a tapestry's pattern is first woven and first frays.

Those people who are offended by Tasmania's contemporary Australia-sceptics might use Kirby's term "Little Islanders" to label them parochial. But this would be unfair. Their outlook is just as global as their predecessors. Their island is important not because it is their whole world, but because it teaches them about a new relationship to the world - one in which ways of being human are shaped into such a bewildering diversity by the environment that they cannot be contained within the old straight-jacket of nationality.

All that said, I am humbled by Kirby's generous words.

Perhaps the greatest compliment Kirby paid me and some of my fellow Tasmanians was that we have

"a great faith in the understanding of (our) fellow citizens. I was to come to see this inclination as a theme common to many Tasmanian friends."

Nothing is more important to me as a participant in public life than this faith. And nothing makes me prouder than to have this fact acknowledged.

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Wed Sep 08, 2004

Tasmanian life

Back from away

Remoteness is in the eye of the beholder.

Iím back from my brief trip to "remote Tasmania". In fact I wasnít that far away. I stayed over night at Palmerís Lookout, a few ks south west of the township of Port Arthur.

It was remote a century and a half ago. Thatís why convicts were sent there.

But I call it remote today because of the views. Beauty is another name for the moon as it rises over the 1000 foot sea cliffs of Tasman Island and casts its lights across the dolerite columns and rolling swells at the mouth of Port Arthur.

Places like Tasman Island are as remote as itís possible to be in Tasmania, and in spirit thatís where I was as the moon rose last night.

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Wed Sep 01, 2004

Tasmanian life

Avoiding reality

From the convict "stain", through Dickensian fantasies, to gun control conspiracies, Port Arthur is a metaphor for denial.

The Port Arthur massacre video story grows ever weirder.

First a copy of a police training video with footage of Martin Bryantís victims is brought from an op shop in Hobart for 10 cents.

Then the videoís owners are revealed to be proponents of the theory that the government was behind the massacre to push forward its hidden gun control agenda.

Now the women who bought the video has come forward, and sheís none other than Tasmaniaís foremost holocaust denier and death-to-gays pamphlet distributor, Olga Scully (click here and here for the latest from the Mercury).

Martin Bryant, gun control, police training, Port Arthur, gay-hate, op shops, the holocaust Ė itís an impenetrable tangle, and with an emotional charge that is confusing to outsiders.

I canít make much sense of the tangle of events and conspiracy theories. But I do have an insight into the underlying emotional dynamic.

I worked for three of my undergraduate summers as a guide at Port Arthur Historic Site. Some of the guides I befriended then still do the same work.

When I visit PA they always bring up the massacre, while, at the same time, claiming itís off the agenda.

"We never talk about that", they declare forcefully. And then proceed to talk about it for the next half an hour.

If, out of a desire not to appear uninterested, I offer some opinion or sympathy their response is, "Iíd prefer not to talk about it".

Did some stupid psychologist tell them it was time to "stop venting" and "move on"?

Maybe. Or maybe itís just the Port Arthur thing.

For 100 years Tasmaniaís attitude to its convict past went something like Ė "shut up about it and it will all just fade away." This attitude was nowhere stronger than amongst the ruins of the convict system, at Port Arthur.

That denial is Port Arthurís emotional mortar was never more obvious than at the memorial service for Martin Bryantís victims in mid 1996.

A local Church of Christ Minister, standing on the podium facing the audience and with his back to the hulking ruins of the convict-era penitentiary declared his amazement that such a "crime against humanity" could have occured on the "beautiful and innocent" Tasman Peninsular?"

"Beautiful" yes, but "innocent"? Port Arthur was the prototype of Stalinís Gulags Ė a brutal, corrupt, forced labour camp for the malcontents, scapegoats and expendables of a rapidly industrialising global power with a compelling new ideology tearing at its soul and a wealth of underdeveloped resources within its grasp.

Tasmania is as innocent as Siberia.

All this remains too hard to acknowledge, let alone accept. Even when the silence about our convict past was broken in the 1970s it was replaced with fantasies straight from some debased, generic Dickens novel where wayward boys and honest-hearted poachers make good in the colonies. In some ways the silence was more honest than these myths. At least it said something about the horror of what had happened.

Itís strangely appropriate that the Port Arthur video, and the larger stories of which it is a gruesome part, are in the hands of conspiracy theorists and holocaust deniers.

People who canít deal with reality are the rightful custodians of something which is intimately connected to so many of the realities Tasmanians continue to avoid.


For more on the Port Arthur massacre and its aftermath click here.

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Sun Jul 25, 2004

Tasmanian life

Down on home

Some things only appear to change.

I'm in Sydney with limited internet access. Till I return to Hobart check out this piece published recently on the Tasmanian Times website.

It's a critique of a lecture given by expat Tasmanian and Oxford Professor, Peter Conrad. Togerther with this piece, it inspired the recent controversy about me "outing" Tasmanian cultural icons.

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Fri Jul 23, 2004

Tasmanian life

Stirring up a gay row

Always triple check.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article to this site and to the Tasmanian Times website titled "Gay, Tasmanian and proud of both".

In that article I wrote that Peter Conrad, Nigel Triffet, Graeme Murphy and Peter Sculthorpe are gay.

This has caused a great deal of controversy.

Firstly because some people do not believe it was necessary for me to point this out. Secondly because Murphy and Sculthorpe have since said they are not gay.

Iíll deal with the second point first.

I apologise to Murphy and Sculthorpe for my mistake and I thank them for their gracious responses to this mistake.

In my defence, my claim was not frivolous or careless. I based it on biographical details and the first-hand testimony of people who claimed to be close and trusted friends of the men involved.

I was so convinced of the truth of my information that I did not believe I was outing anyone. How can you out people who are already out?

My other, less serious, defence is that every person Iíve spoken to about this issue has shared my surprise that neither Murphy nor Sculthorpe are gay. Perhaps by providing these guys with an opportunity to set the record straight (so to speak), and "come out" as heterosexuals, Iíve done them a small favour.

But none of this changes the fact that I was mistaken. This mistake damages my credibility and effectiveness as a gay rights advocate. I have a lot of work ahead of me repairing that damage.

The lesson is well and truly learnt. Double checking is a thing of the past. From now on if a fact canít be triple checked itís not a fact.

As for the criticism that I should not mention the sexuality of people who ARE openly gay, Iím unrepentant, for the following four reasons.

1. If we really want to understand the achievements of our gay artists and writers we have to accept that being sexual outsiders may have had as much influence on their work as being Tasmanian

2. By referring to the homosexuality of some of our great artists and writers I wanted to draw attention to the fact that they've come from a disadvantaged position in life to be cultural icons. We should be celebrating this in the same we would celebrate Tasmanian achievers who are Aboriginal, from non-English speaking backgrounds or disabled.

3. Tasmania should embrace and celebrate its gay achievers, not only as achievers but also as gay men, because the Tasmania these achievers left behind when they went to live elsewhere was openly hostile to their homosexuality. We owe it them to show them Tasmania has changed for the better

4. Young gay Tasmanians desperately need role models from whose example they can learn that it's possible to be gay, Tasmanian and to make something of yourself.

Now back to work.

First, to the book Iím writing. I've put all the references to famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Tasmanians on ice until I have established beyond any doubt that they are or were same sex attracted.

In some cases this may involve seances. But Iím willing to do whatever it takes to avoid this kind of fiasco again.

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Tue Jul 20, 2004

Tasmanian life

Return to Mt Misery

Sex, death and wisdom in the Huon Valley...

Iíve just returned from Huon Bush Retreats. I enjoyed it so much the weekend before last I had to go again (for more on my previous visit see "Sassafras", 12.7.04, below).

Although the name of HBR's key geographical feature is Mt Misery, the place is wondrous. Trees grow to twice the height of the tumbling waterfalls that irrigate them. Deep in the forest, rocks are painted lime green, sherbet yellow and deep orange by lichen, algae and the fungi that live off them. Crawling around these candy rocks is the rare and ancient Peripatus. Half insect and half worm, Peripatus and its few related species make up an entire order of animals. One of the oddities of Peripatus is that it mates through its head.

It snowed several times while I was out walking. Each time, spotting the first flakes falling to earth, I stopped and held my breath as if some sudden noise might frighten the snow away. I wasnít the only one. When snow falls in a temperate rain forest that forest is at its most silent and still. Itís not the sleepy stillness of a hot day. Itís the complete suspension of movement.

This visit I finally discovered why Mt Misery is so called. The G-rated story is that wet and wild westerly weather arrives in nearby Huonville after tumbling over Mt Misery.

OkayÖso why arenít all Tasmanian mountains called Mt Misery? Answer: because thatís not the real reason for the name.

The more likely but less family-friendly and much less often told story, is about a woman who once lived near the top of the mountain with her children and a cow. She could do most everything she needed to keep her family fed and warm, except chop wood. For a reason thatís not explained (but which may have something to do with the impermissibility of women living independently in the nineteenth century) she relied on men from Huonville to fell trees and cut them up.

In return for this service the woman provided a service the men were pleased to receive. Fine. Everyoneís happy. Whereís the misery?

One sad day a young man from Huonville died in a snowstorm on the mountain. The misery was in the fact that he died on the way up, not on the way back down.

Strange way to name a mountain? Not really when you consider the way the nineteenth century made sex an even more serious issue than death.

Itís also not an unexpected story to find in Tasmania. Where else would something as obvious as a mountain be named for an event no-one felt comfortable talking about.

For generations we pretended the Aborigines naturally died out and the convicts were treated well. Yet in their very names Quamby Bluff and Cape Grim remind us of aboriginal massacres, while Hells Gates, the Pieman River and Suicide Cliffs mark suffering that drove convicts out of their minds. No wonder some Tasmanians are ill-at-ease with the natural environment.

For a century and a half Tasmanians also maintained a sullen silence about homosexuality. Sadly there was no Mt Sodomy to mock their homo-denial.

That destructive silence has long since been broken, and my trip to HBR introduced me to someone who has helped break it.

In the dinky little town of Cygnet, at Australiaís most southern vegetarian cafť, the Red Velvet Lounge, I met Val.

Even though Val is probably right to describe herself as the oldest dyke in the Huon Valley sheís as sprightly as her puppy Ruby and a great conversationalist.

Val and I talked about her career as a nurse in the outback in the 50s, the way she learnt from Aborigines how to "be" rather than "do", her old flames, her move to Tassie, and what itís like being openly lesbian in the Franklin Bowls Club and the Ranelagh Anglican Church of St James.

Val doesnít take any crap. If the male bowlers show any signs of asking her to cut their sandwiches she tells them to do it themselves. If the evangelicals drop hints of homophobia Val gives them what for. And from what I could tell her fellow bowlers and church-goers have nothing but admiration and affection for Val and her no-fuss style. So much for the myth of rural intolerance.

When the conversation turned to human rights Val was kind enough to compliment me on my advocacy. But true-to-form she didnít hold back her one criticism.

"About this marriage thing Ė Iím not so sure about it."

I assumed I knew what was coming next and broke in with "you think marriage is something special that should be reserved for heterosexuals?"

"No, itís not that", she replied. "Itís that same sex relationships are special. Theyíre so wonderful I donít want them brought down to the level of plain old run-of-the-mill marriage."

Had Val shared this idea with her friends on the bowling greens of the Huon Valley, or are there some things it is still judicious not to talk about?

It seemed impolite to ask, so I just nodded and smiled. Then together and in silence we watched the snow fall outside.

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Wed Jul 14, 2004

Tasmanian life

Gay, Tasmanian and proud of both

The only people we Tasmanians hurt when we canít speak the truth are ourselves.

Lots of people have enjoyed hearing ex-patriot Tasmanians reflect on the island during the bicentenary project Reflections of Tasmania co-sponsored by Arts Tasmania and the University of Tasmania.

But am I the only one who has found at least one aspect of it a bit surreal?

At least four out of seven of the Tasmanian achievers featured in the program are gay Ė Peter Conrad, Peter Sculthorpe, Nigel Triffit, and Graeme Murphy.

Yet this hasnít been mentioned anywhere by anyone.

My problem isnít with the presenters themselves not talking about their homosexuality. Theyíre here because of theyíre achievements not their sexual orientation.

My problem is with the fact that no-one else is willing to talk about it, let alone celebrate it.

Imagine if 60% per cent of Tasmanian achievers who accepted invitations to return to the state during its bicentenary year were Aborigines. Whitefellas would be crowing from the roof tops about how accomplished our indigenes are.

Instead, in the midst of a celebration of the New Tasmania, a place where creativity is nurtured and sexual minorities included, no-one dares mention the obvious: some of our greatest cultural icons are also poofs.

Is this the 1990s when Tasmania found LGBT issues too hot to handle? Is it the 1950s when the stateís courts gaoled same sex couples for living in a house with only one bed? Is it the 1860s when Hobartís apprentices were banished to the hated Separate Prison for touching each other up? Is it the 1830s when convict sodomites swung on ropes because of the threat they posed to Governor Arthurís spy state?

No, itís the 21st century Ė time we started making amends for our horrific history by sending a clear message to the islandís gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people that they can be incredibly proud of being queer and Tasmania, and if thereís any doubt, here are the role models to prove it.

I assume the whole gay silence thing is about not tarnishing our icons. Tasmanian success stories are still rare enough for us to wrap them all in cotton wool. It may also be about not offending the luminaries. If we stay-at-home Tasmanians tread on their toes maybe they wonít like us any more. Some of them might even start running us down again.

But are these fears real?

In a world where openly gay pop idols rule the British charts, Czechs swoon over their lesbian tennis champions and transgender singers carry the hopes of the Jewish nation to Eurovision will anyone think less of us if our ambassadors are gay?

More importantly do they care if we talk about it? None of them have ever hid their sexuality. Admittedly some of them have been circumspect, or even omitted references to their sexuality in their work when it should have been mentioned. But this is an argument for the rest of us being refreshingly honest not embarrassed into silent. Letís show them that the Tasmania they grew up in has changed. They donít have to hedge any more.

The only people we Tasmanians hurt when we canít speak the truth are ourselves. Our claims to social renewal ring hollow. Our detractors gloat that they were right all along to think we were hicks. Worst of all our young people Ė queer and straight Ė are left with the overwhelming impression that thereís still something wrong with being LGB or T, indeed with being different in any way. As long as we keep on telling them thereís only one way to be Tasmanian theyíll keep on booking one way tickets out of here.

The promise of the New Tasmania is that diversity will not just be tolerated, but valued and celebrated, because it enriches us all.

If we are to fulfil that promise the place to start is with those great men and women who represent the best our island has to offer the world.

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Mon Jul 05, 2004

Tasmanian life

"Third World Care"

Foreign doctors and regional hospitals donít mix, or do they?

The Sunday Tasmanian has finally revealed what everyone already knows, lots of problems are raised by the fact that there are so many overseas trained doctors working in Tasmaniaís hospitals.

Accreditation is one problem, communication between patients and doctors is another. Social dislocation for overseas doctors working here is another still. Then there's the unspoken but obvious racism that underlies the whole issue.

I first encountered all this when my father was gravely ill in the Mersey Regional Hospital two and a half years ago (apparently 100% of the doctors working there are from overseas).

I didnít realise at the time it was because of Keating-era down-sizing of medical schools. I thought it was just cost-savings by then owners, Mayne.

The doctors at the Mersey were thoroughly competent, not that there was anything much they could do to save dad by the time he was hospitalised.

Communication was a problem. Mum was lucky my sister and I were there because she was distressed and couldnít understand what she was being told.

But there was a much more serious issue.

Those regional communities where there is a high number of doctors from overseas are precisely the same communities which are most Anglo. Tasmaniaís North West Coast is an excellent example.

And letís face facts: according to social surveys older people in regional Australia are more likely to be uncomfortable around people from different ethnic backgrounds. My father was no exception.

Hospitals are exceptional places so no-one on the Coast would think twice about having one of two English-unproficient or dark-skinned doctors around (well, almost no-one).

But for an elderly patient to be suddenly surrounded by Bangladeshis, Ethiopians and Russians when theyíve never encountered anyone from these backgrounds before is likely to cause distress.

Am I giving in to racism by indulging it in the seriously ill? I hope not. Under no circumstances is it right to judge people according to their accent or the colour of their skin. In fact overseas doctors offer an important opportunity for Anglo Australians with little knowledge of ethnic diversity to expand their horizons?

No, my sympathy for my fatherís predicament was not about indulging his racism. It was about acknowledging that he felt the hospital in his district was second class because no doctor with Australian citizenship wanted to work there.

Imagine what it would feel like if every single doctor attending you had almost no choice about being there, and not one doctor with a choice opted to work in your community. Like my father and his peers youíd feel that the world undervalues you and your community. Youíd feel second rate.

My intuition is that this sense of worthlessness is shared by many of the doctors. Regardless of their skills, they are given jobs Australian doctors donít want, working amongst people who donít understand them and may even resent them. Whether they want to or not they do not belong amongst the people being born, recovering or dying around them. They will also come to feel second rate.

Whatever the solution is to this mutual disenchantment it wonít come from the policy units, strategic plans and management teams who created the mess.

If thereís any hope it lies in the possibility that some patients and doctors will recognise they share the same problem Ė a world that doesnít much care about what happens to them Ė and decide to overcome it by valuing each other.

No-one can predict how or when this might happen. The one thing we can be sure of is that itís precisely in these unlikely circumstances that new and astonishingly powerful alliances and loyalties are formed.

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Mon Jun 21, 2004

Tasmanian life

Wilderness pics

The Tasmanian on-line journal, Leatherwoodonline, has published some photos by soon-to-be famous Michael Dempsey.

Michael is a core member of Hobartís LGBT bushwalking group, the Wellington Wanderers, and did the state proud by winning gold in badminton at the Gay Games in Sydney in 2001.

Check out his pics by clicking here and following the links.

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Sun Jun 13, 2004

Tasmanian life

The extravagant truth

Tasmania in the 1960s may have been oppressive for some gay men, but for others it was liberating.

Sometimes it seems almost every mainlander has a Tasmanian story to tell. And each story speaks of something wilder, sadder, more enraging or wondrous than most anything else in the story-tellerís life. There will be a moment of silent reflection in the telling of a Tasmanian tale that says without saying, "for better or worse that changed my life forever". The island is the extra to the continentís ordinary.

Older gay mainlanders have more than their fair share of Tasmanian stories to tell. In fact the sheer number of gay men over 60 who travelled to Tasmania in their early twenties with no fixed plans or return dates, and who wandered the islandís winding roads with no destination, suggests they werenít just visiting beauty spots or escaping the summer heat.

I suspect that in their own small way they were replicating the journeys white gay men of means have been making since the eighteenth century, journeys of escape from convention to other, distant, exotic lands where they might find some freedom.

Certainly this was the goal of more recent gay immigrants to Tasmania, those green-minded gay men like by Bob Brown who came looking for the Thylacine but were really looking for themselves.

Some of the gay adventurers of the 50s and 60s were profoundly disappointed by an island in the clutches of a change-averse elite determined to drive out homosexuals and whatever innovation, creativity, shame or subversion they were thought to embody.

But most Iíve spoken to were entranced and inspired. Although it was homosexual oppression from which they were fleeing and homosexual freedom for which they were searching they did not need a homosexual cultural or sexual experience to find themselves. Indeed for many of these men understanding their struggle in its own terms was too confronting. They needed a symbol, a metaphor, safely removed from love and sexuality, through which to interpret their deeper needs.

Lex was one such man. I met him at Brisbaneís LGBT Fair Day on Saturday. He was attracted to the Tourism Tasmania stall I was helping staff by a large map of the island. He was staring at the West Coast when I hit him with my standard ice-breaker about whether he was planning a trip to Tassie.

"I went there years ago."

I asked if heíd spent time on the West Coast.

"I went everywhere, but I loved Queenstown."

"Not many mainlanders say that", I joked.

"It wasnít the place, it was the people, well more one person.

"One night I started talking to this guy in the Queenstown pub. He had a lot of energy in those bright blue eyes of his, and he never strayed far from talking about dams.

"He said he wanted to see them built everywhere, most of all on the East Coast. He told me about the drought they had then, and about the sheep dying and the farm labourerís kids going without shoes. He had me believing dams all up and down the East Coast was the answer to kids with dirty feet."

Lex laughed and his eyes were suddenly bright too.

"I wasn't exactly sweet on the guy. He wasnít Rock Hudson. But he had a way of looking at things that carried you along.

"Anyway, the craziest thing happened.

"I asked him what his name was and he said ĎEric'.

"Whadya do Eric?"

"'Iím the Premier of Tasmania.'

"Bullsh*t, you bloody liar.

"He said, Ďyou ask anyone here and theyíll tell you itís true. Ask my wife. Dear, what do I do for a livingí.

"íYouíre in politics dear. Youíre the Premier.í

"If it had been anywhere else I would have thought it was some elaborate joke, but it was Tasmania so it was the extravagant truth."

Itís easy to pass judgements on discredited visions. The vision of Tasmania as the industrial heartland of Australia, a new Ruhr Valley powered by endless cheap hydro-electricity, has received more than its fair share of mockery because it was a state-sponsored ideology hammered into the head of every Tasmanian child my age and older. It obliterated beautiful places and corrupted idealistic men.

Itís harder to look beyond this to the profound sense of purpose such a vision brought to those who believed in it. To do this means questioning the sources of our own sense of purpose, and eventually the whole project of purpose.

When writers like Richard Flanagan present us with the idealism of hydro-industrialisation and the idealism of wilderness conservation, when he traces the all-too-human errors, blind spots and conceits of both, and then asks what difference, we start wondering where does meaning legitimately come from? When he narrates Tasmaniaís two hundred year history of cargo cults we are left to ask where are our answers if they're not all safely stowed on the next plane or boat?

If Iíd had the presence of mind to ask Lex he might of said a vision is something each of us needs at some point in our lives but then most of us move on.

The man with the bright eyes so carried him along that he stayed for two years and loyally helped Eric Reece win the 1968 referendum that led to the establishment of Australiaís first legal casino at Wrest Point.

Then he said goodbye to Reece, Tasmania and the meaning he found here, I assume having become the man his early life had promised he could be.

I usually ask gay men like Lex if they want to re-visit Tasmania. Some say "never" because they learnt all they could learn, or because they perversely regret the "innocence" Tasmania lost in the 1990s when it confronted and overcame its gay demons, and they donít want their memories spoilt.

But most say "yes, sometime" because they are reaching a stage of life when it's time to take stock.

Lex was no exception.

"Will you go to Queenstown?", I asked him.

"Maybe, but where I really want to go is the East Coast. I want to see if there are still any kids who go without shoes."

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