Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beam Me Down under; A Story of Drunkenness, Torture, Villainy and Cannibalism in Tasmania

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Beam Me Down under; A Story of Drunkenness, Torture, Villainy and Cannibalism in Tasmania

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK JONES

In Tasmania

by Nicholas Shakespeare

(Harvill, [pounds sterling]20)

A FRIEND from Melbourne gave me some advice when I told her I was reviewing this book. "We might call it Tassie," she said, "But don't forget the mania bit."

Mainland Australians rarely do. They treat Tassie as the English treat Wales and the Welsh: a place for their hillwalking and adventure holidays and a people they can make jokes about - mostly of the inbreeding/sheepshagging school. Nicholas Shakespeare recounts seeing a T-shirt on sale in Hobart with a spare hole for an extra head. (He points out austerely that there is a "lower rate of congenital malformation than the Australian average".) But there is a darker side to the barroom jibes. Men with two heads belong in a storybook land of tigers and devils, of trees and plants from the mythical continent of Gondwana-land, the land of the " Tasmaniacs". It's also a land that breeds scapegoats. Shakespeare quotes Bernard Lloyd's astute observation that "Australians project all the things they loathe about themselves - their racism, their homophobia, their parochialism - onto the ' Albania of the Antipodes'". It is also where their deepest canyons of Anglo-Australian shame are located and, perhaps, contained: the worst convict prisons, the worst Aboriginal genocide, the worst serialkilling spree and, had it not been for the desperate opposition of protesters at Gordon River in 1982, the worst act of environmental damage.

Shakespeare fetched up here on a course of biographer's rehab - it was one of the few places he couldn't find Bruce Chatwin, whose tracks he had been following around the world for seven years. The cold turkey wasn't too successful.

He soon discovered a hamlet of Chatwins living on the island.

He also found himself back in the libraries and newspaper libraries discovering his own family's yet more intimate and extraordinary Tasmanian connections.

The first half of the book is mostly taken up with the tale of his ancestor Anthony Fenn Kemp, a rollicking and swindling early-19th-century adventurer. …

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