Volume 2:1 - Great Ocean

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The Franklinagans and their Narrow Roads to the North

A generation of Australians - indeed a world audience - has grown up watching Tasmania trying to reconcile its forests and its future. From Lake Pedder to the Franklin Dam, the Gunns Pulp Mill and more recently the fate of Triabunna, the place of the island state in a wider conservation context has been seen as a terrestrial one.

But islands are defined by the waters around them, and Tasmania’s cultural and scientific history is dominated as much by the ocean as by the forests.

Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan’s war novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the Man Booker Prize this year. It was also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award, a name which echoes another (unrelated) Franklin, and a narrow road to a different North.

Sir John Franklin was the nephew of Matthew Flinders, and at just fourteen had accompanied his uncle on his epic voyage across southern Australia in the Investigator in 1802. They sailed from Cape Leeuwin to Sydney, anchoring over the scallop beds of southern Port Phillip Bay near present day McRae to climb the wooded slopes of Arthur’s Seat.

Franklin married twice: his second wife, Jane was descried by Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore as “a restless, indefatigably curious, highly intelligent and slightly neurasthenic woman…” It must’ve been hell lugging all those adjectives around.

In 1837, Franklin become governor of Van Diemen’s Land. William Buelow Gould, the convict artist whose life Flanagan fictionalised in his third novel, Gould’s Book of Fishes, had just been granted his freedom. The locals were sick of the authoritative Governor Arthur: they wanted a “free market”, that is, continued nepotism and assigned labour, but without the rules. Franklin immediately disappointed them - he was a decent man and a humanist. His private secretary Alexander Maconochie, moreover, was a ferocious critic of penal transportation. Political life for both men became very difficult.

The role of governor’s wife was supposed to be a passive one. Lady Jane was anything but. She fostered an intellectual culture in Hobart, started a sailing regatta and a botanical garden, and tried to eradicate snakes by paying a one shilling bounty for dead ones. As Hughes wryly pointed out, “there were more snakes than shillings.” She hiked the southwest wilderness with her husband, becoming the first woman to walk overland between Hobart and Macquarie Harbour (as well as from Sydney to Port Phillip).

Flanagan wove his fifth novel, Wanting, around this period in the Franklins’ lives, exploring the darker undercurrents in their adoption of an Aboriginal girl, Mathinna. The story serves as a metaphor for English colonial arrogance towards indigenes, and an examination of the “silences” of van Diemen’s Land.

Franklin’s opponents had him thrown out in 1843. On his way back to England, he redirected his ship into Port Phillip Bay and retraced his walk up Arthur’s Seat forty years earlier.

Although nearing sixty, Franklin took up an offer in 1845 to command an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. He’d already made two voyages in search of the fabled route through the Arctic Ocean. At that time, the English believed seawater couldn’t freeze, as James Cook had reported that Antarctic icebergs were comprised of fresh water. Therefore, they surmised, there must be a sea route through to the North Pole, and with it all sorts of strategic advantages.

In 1847 Franklin, his two ships and 129 men vanished somewhere in the Arctic pack ice. Lady Jane led the searches and berated the sceptics, devoting the rest of her life to finding her husband. In the process, she risked many more lives but also sponsored the exploration of huge expanses of the Arctic. Franklin most likely died on a lonely rock outcrop called Beechey Island. Inuit hunters told searchers the men died of cold and had cannibalised each other.

Modern research has backed the Inuits’ story, but the human remains which have been found on the islands also contained high levels of lead, fuelling theories about the lead content of the solder on the men’s tinned rations, and also the pipes in the ships.

Today, ice shelf loss in the Arctic Ocean due to global warming has not only made the Northwest Passage a navigational reality, but has also revealed its secrets. In September this year, a Canadian expedition found one of Franklin’s ships on the bottom: a grainy hull outline glowing in a sonar image, sketched poignantly like a nautical lithograph.

Meanwhile, Flanagan’s book has again brought Tasmania before northern eyes. But Franklin and his indomitable wife may have been the first to link the lonely island, across the oceans, to a wider world.



18 “Es Complicado”
Surfboard Diplomacy in Cuba

Daniel De Carteret

32 On the Southen Ramparts
Jock Serong

50 The Artisan’s Hands
Steve Baccon

58 From the Forest to The Sea:
Deep Green Ethics Turned Blue

Dominic Hyde

66 Traces of that Salty Stream
Geoff Heriot

80 Orchard Beach:
The Bronx Riviera

Jock Serong

104 A Coast of Their Own
Kim Irons-McDuff

110 A Picture of Antalya
Mick Thomas

112 Stormies
Jake Dean

118 The Unlikely Voyage
of Young Digby Ayton

Mike Jennings

12 Sabbatical
Zoë Bodzas

26 Wave
Richard Harms


10 Mislaid Books of the Sea
Moominpappa at Sea

Gregory Day

72 The Church of the Open Sky
Marlon Williams at the Bible
Christian Siloam Chapel,

Jock Serong

98 Voyages
Captain Liz Clark

102 Greg Malouf
Calamari Stuffed with Pork
and Pistachios

116 Too High
Love from Room 109

Arturo Bandini