Those of us administering blogs and websites are usually mindful of the visitor numbers the sites generate; visitor patronage may determine book and magazine sales, after all. Alison Croggon has publicly expressed her interest in visitor numbers to Masthead at www.masthead.net.au/ while Ron Silliman’s website ronsilliman.blogspot.com/ registered its 750,000th visit on 4th June, 2006. "The readership here has been stable for roughly a year now, suggesting that it will reach the one million mark next February," Silliman wrote at the time.
Nor am I immune. Site traffic to walleahpress.com.au is recorded by the host site’s webalizer service, indicating details such as most commonly used web entry and exit pages, most popular website pages, most visited URLs, etc.
One of the Walleah Press website pages most regularly visited is the Kate Middleton interview with Queensland poet Melissa Ashley, recorded in early 2002 and published in famous reporter 25. Time and time again, it’s among the site’s three or four most frequented pages.
Nothing wrong with that. Kate is an experienced and intuitive interviewer, and Melissa a gem of a choice to record for her considered and insightful responses, her views on poetry for instance: ‘It’s quite hard to pin down what for me makes a poem. I feel like I’m constantly discovering how plastic or malleable or fluid the form is. Poetry is extraordinary when you really start to think about it - such an economic, condensed style of writing. The permutations of combinations of image, metaphor, symbol, metre, metonymy, landscape, idiom, mythology, narrative, cultural specificity - I could go on all night.’
Still… Month in, month out the Melissa Ashley interview turns up in the stats, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the only decent thing we’ve done.
I couldn’t help myself in the end, did a google search on ‘Melissa Ashley’, came up with a British site that….
Aahah!!! One of those sites…. That explained it!
And reminded me of the time I’d googled Tim Thorne’s name in connection with something or other.
I’d been aware of Tim’s Dorian Laurent connection, but ‘Tim Thorne the Bristol based accoustic songwriter’ took me by surprise I have to admit.
Tim Thorne, on his recent trip to Europe and North America, was kind enough to send not only the two poems gracing this issue of the magazine, but these notes:
In the tiny French village with the unprepossessing name of Urt, which we arrived in more or less by accident, I was surprised to discover the Roland Barthes Library. Apparently barthes in the local idiom are the flood plains of the Adour River, from which the writer's ancestors no doubt took their name.
Stephanie and I have been reading the stories of Alistair MacLeod in preparation for touring the Maritime provinces of Canada. What an evocative and emotionally powerful writer he is, and how well he captures the savage landscape of this part of the world.
Thursday 27th April, 2006 – 5.30pm, Hobart Bookshop, Hobart.
Island 104 was launched in Hobart by Norman Reaburn, Chair of Island’s Management Committee.
Norman spoke of the procedures followed for finding a new editor, how in the past the committee had met behind shut doors and scratched its collective head till coming up with a name. This time, they’d decided to do things differently, instigating a national search for an editor by networking through friends and colleagues across the whole of the continent. And the response, said Reaburn, amazed and astounded, there was a significant number of people interested in the job.
Secretly, in its heart of hearts, the committee had hoped to be able to find an editor who lived in Tasmania. Gina Mercer’s application had been one of the early ones, and in Reaburn’s mind was the vague notion that even at this early stage of proceedings they’d found their applicant. Gina possessed a strong academic background, had published a novel, a poetry collection, had acted as a judge for literary competitions and won critical and academic attention for her work. ‘We took great pride and pleasure in offering her the editorship of Island, and took great delight when she accepted.’
David Owen, retiring editor, spoke of Island as ‘an unpredictable magazine’, but with so much communal support and goodwill ‘it is impossible to see how it could fail’. He named and thanked the work of previous editors who’d brought good things to Island and made it a truly national magazine. ‘I’ve had a few handover sessions with Gina, the magazine is in very, very good hands, I’m absolutely thrilled to be handing over to her.’
‘As for anecdotes,’ David continued ... 'well there were the occasional difficulties, such as with the second issue I edited. A reference I made in the editorial was – I realised – basically a big mistake on my part. This was at eight o’clock at night, just after we’d taken the magazine to the printers. I rang them first thing next morning, "I hope you haven’t started printing yet?" '
‘Yeah, just about finished….’
‘So I told them my problem, and they said don’t worry, we’ll just cut the page out, do a cut and paste job & no one will notice, you might at most see a little join.’
Owen said he lived with - and learned from - the experience.
‘And then there’s Island’s letterhead masthead,’ he continued, ‘which on one side says "excellence’ and on the other "variety". I’ve had quite a few letters just addressed to The Editor, Island Excellence Variety. Or addressed to Rodney Croome; this will happen to you too Gina, so when they come your way, simply reply mentioning Rodney left about nine years ago….’
Owen went on to relate a wee mishap in a portaloo, remarking that ‘if there’s any writer who I felt worthy of pissing on my leg it was him: that’s the way I’ll remember Island!’
Gina Mercer spoke of her vision for Island as a ‘national conversation’, rooted and composted in Tasmania with writing diverse and rich. ‘Tasmania has been a fantastic and welcoming place to come to, as has been the experience of coming to grips with editing the magazine. I’ve always been a reader, but now I’m reading Island six or seven times before publication – and it’s David’s turn to be able to relax and enjoy the magazine for what it is without the responsibility of editing it into print.’
Gina wished David well before inviting a handful of contributors to read from Island 104. ‘The next Island launch will be on Friday 23rd June’, she continued, ‘as part of The Tasmanian Writers Centre’s Ice Cold Words Festival dealing with writing about the Antarctic.’ And she encouraged her audience’s continued support of the magazine. ‘All my family and friends know what they’re getting for Christmas … Island in their stockings. And if you ever feel the need to contact and converse with me, feel free – particularly if it’s at the time I’m stuffing Island magazine into envelopes to contributors and subscribers, I’d love your help.’
Issue 26 of Poetrix appeared in May 2006, featuring twenty-eight writers including Esther Ottaway, Connie Barber, Jillian Pattinson, Lorraine McGuigan, Lorraine Marwood, Jennifer Chrystie, Susan Kruss, Barbara De Franceschi, Gillian Telford, Dorothy Williams, Jean Frances, elspeth brock and Tracey Rolfe. Published twice a year (closing dates for submissions are 28th February and 31st August), Poetrix has no particular theme other than to publish ‘the best of Australasian women’s poetry. There are many different voices and poems waiting to be heard and read.’ The writing challenge issued by Poetrix 26’s editorial is ‘to move outside your comfort zone and try something new, whether that is a new form or shape poem, or you could be even more daring and try something experimental and different.’ And don’t forget to send your poems to us, add editorialists Sherryl Clark and Tracey Rolfe.
Subscriptions to Poetrix cost $13.20 for two issues (within Australia), cheques should be made out to Western Women Writers and addressed to Poetrix, PO Box 532, Altona North, Victoria 3025.
The ‘Ice Cold Words’ Antarctic Writers’ Festival ran from Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th June at the Peacock Theatre in Hobart – a weekend festival of readings, discussions, debates and interpretations of Antarctica featuring Australian and international authors who have either travelled to Antarctica or have published fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry and prose set in Antarctica.
The festival opened Friday evening, with Sir Guy Green launching issue 105 of Island Magazine, followed by a theatrical piece from Robert Jarman. Tim Bowden then introduced the writers featured in the festival.
Some notes from the weekend’s sessions follow….
The first session of Saturday’s program is entitled "Myths and Legends – Themes and Motifs in Antarctic Writing," and features Bill Manhire, Steve Martin, Allen Mawer and Elle Leane. It’s timed to begin at 10 am, but by 10 am there are no more than four or five people in the theatre – the panel speakers - standing around on stage, perhaps discussing the forthcoming reading, order of readers, where to sit. Besides yours truly, there’s not a soul in the audience. Festival director Joe Bugden patrols the aisle. ‘Hobart audiences’ he mutters, flashing a grin. His patience is rewarded as within the hour the audience builds to fifty or more.
Allen Mawer introduces the readers on the panel. "I think Bill Manhire could be called the Poet Laureate of Antarctica because I don’t think any other poet has been down to the South Pole." Elle Leane speaks of the way Antarctic myths have arisen, utilising as an example the legend of a mystery ship encountered in 1840 - crew dead, having been trapped in ice floes for the past seventeen years. Such stories generate their own interest, Leane suggests, Rosemary Dobson for instance referring to it in her poem ‘The Ship of Ice’. "There’s the idea that time flows differently in Antarctica," Elle concludes, "it seems to be a place of preservation whereby its layers of ice give access to past ages, I think that’s because of its remoteness. Nevertheless I believe it has a predictive function as well, is capable of informing us about future time."
Steve Martin, speaking of the career of expeditioner Ernest Henry Shackleton, foreshadows his talk as "somewhat morbid" given its concerns with the mythology of death. "The Antarctic tourist industry has developed around Shackleton," he points out, adding "Though I’m not complaining, because I’m part of it. One of my greatest life experiences was to stand on Elephant Island – where twenty-two members of Shackleton’s ship Endurance survived for nearly two years before being rescued - with my thirteen year old son last year."
Mawer turns to New Zealand poet Bill Manhire. "Bill, are you going to continue the tendency of this session to be morbid? Or will you perhaps explore the idea that Antarctica can take us back to a utopian ideal?" Manhire’s disquietening response is to report on a science conference held in Beijing a week or two previously where astrophysicist Stephen Hawking offered the keynote speech. Hawking’s message was that human society might be well advised to establish a permanent base on the moon in twenty years and a colony on Mars in the next forty given that continued life on Earth is subject to the disastrous possibilities of nuclear war and global warming.
"Interestingly," adds Manhire as he threads the relevance of Hawking’s message to the concerns of the panel session, "someone in the audience argued against his idea as impractical and expensive, that the idea of the colonisation of Mars was a great waste of money, and suggested that perhaps it’s Antarctica that’s the place to do it, the place that can take us back to a vision of utopia."
Manhire introduces quotations from writers familiar with Antarctica. "The excruciating purity of the environment allows the traveller to simplify himself," was science fiction writer Richard Matheson’s response to the experience of Antarctica. [Matheson - whose Antarctic experience as a tourist in 1989 changed his life forever – is these days a supporter of The Antarctica Project, a Washington, D.C.-based umbrella organization coordinating the efforts of different environmental groups to make Antarctica the first World Park]. The word ‘pure’ recurs throughout Manhire’s commentary. "When it comes to the early Antarctic explorers, the purity of the place – the human yearning for some kind of purity – has attached itself to those people … or perhaps they’ve attached it to themselves".
Elle Leane, in response, remarks that within the notion of purity lurks … something quite dreadful. She alludes to charges of cannibalism raised within an Antarctic context, while someone else points to the connection between purity and race. Manhire agrees. Hitler and his friends were "the great exponents of purity" he points out, adding that a strong impulse in the world of art is to find the pure within "the messy, impure things in life". "Another point I could make about Antarctica" he adds, his fertile imagination off on yet another tack, "is that it is often gendered as female – just as imperial, colonial literature everywhere genders Antarctic explorers as male. That’s normal, of course … it’s just that Antarctica manages to remain virginal."
A question from a member of the audience queries the failure of memory, particularly in relation to the myth of Shackleton as someone who "never lost a man", when in fact this was incorrect. "Not sure why people tend to ignore the Ross Sea party," is Steve Martin’s response, "perhaps the myth is neater, it doesn’t offer an awkward postscript".
"But it’s accentuating what we choose to remember, what we perpetuate as myth," the questioner persists.
"Which gets back to the question of why we need myth so badly in society. To be truthful, I don’t know!"
In summing up, Mawer suggests the themes covered are the universal ones, "projected on this huge panorama, which of course has nothing on it – so it is of course, about us."
Next is a reading, featuring Laurence Fearnley, Bernadette Hince and Anthony Lawrence.
"Rather than work on my novel, I spent my days working with glaciologists," observes Laurence Fearnley in explaining the day to day routine of her life in Antarctica. [Fearnley was awarded a New Zealand Antarctic Arts fellowship and travelled to the Antarctic in January 2004]. "What’s important to me with my writing is primarily location, then the characters directing the plot. I like to observe a place, learn about it over the years so I can accurately portray it in my writing. My terrible predicament with regards Antarctica was that my fellowship was only two weeks in length, and I believed I’d never return. During those two weeks I anxiously observed everything and
everyone, I watched the glaciologists like a hawk". Fearnley diligently – feverishly? - observed, recorded and wrote as much as she could during her two weeks on the continent. She concludes by reading a couple of pages - poignant and personal paragraphs - from the book resulting from her residency: Degrees of Separation, her fifth novel, published by Penguin in 2006.
Bernadette Hince is next to the podium, reading a prose extract capturing the perhaps naïve expectations of arrival at Casey – for instance, the expectation of an absence of smell. "This is of course not the case … there are beach smells, the odours emanating from penguin rookeries, the hut’s smouldering smoke fire fuelled by eucalypts transported from two thousand miles away. There’s a lot of smell in Antarctica."
Anthony Lawrence is solemn as he approaches the microphone, but light of tone and engaging of his audience when he speaks. He’s alternatively poet and fisherman, relating tales of his interminable travels in boats throughout the Great Southern Ocean, of sliding past the Hippolytes with its huge and wonderful cormorant rookeries, witnessing numerous baitballs of fish "ripped into by any species of fish". Anthony reads "Wandering Albatross", a poem that came to him on a fishing trip where he found himself in the excruciating position – for a poet – of being without a writing implement. "The poem was coming, but I had nothing on me to write it down. Eventually I found a sharpened screwdriver and scratched the opening words on the back of an aluminium lure tray … when I transcribed it I think I’d caught most of it". He continues with poems "Baitball", "Scarves" (playing loosely with images of the scarves we wear for style and warmth, the scarves we administer in wood ringbarking a tree, the scarf the poet witnessed worn by a satin bowerbird), and "Luge". "I wrote ‘Luge’ during the winter olympics, fascinated by the idea of heading feet first down the run, it reminded me of archival footage I’d seen of someone being buried at sea. I thought, okay, there’s a poem here".
The next session features Craig Cormick Terry Whitebeach, Laurence Fearnley and Tim Bowden: ‘JAFO’S AND JAFA’S. Are writer’s perspectives (as opposed to, say, scientists’) valid, naïve, romantic, realistic?’
"I’m intrigued to know why we even have to ask the question," admits Craig Cormick. "There are many different ways to write Antarctica, both scientists and writers are attempting to find elusive truths that at the end of the day bind us much more tightly together than you might think."
"I was in Dundee a couple of weeks ago where I visited the Discovery Point Antarctic Museum and where the research ship Discovery is on display. When I was little, I had a model of Discovery, so I was familiar with her shape. What I was unprepared for was the beauty of it, and I found myself thinking – here I am, by Shackleton’s cabin, imagining his daily routine. That’s what you have to do as a writer of course; you have to imagine, in an effort to take us beyond what is known."
"Imagination, again. Mawson, arriving back at base to find his ship has left, that he’ll have to winter at the base. In his diary is one short entry. That’s it! But what was he thinking? We don’t know, we have to imagine."
"These are not new debates, of course. Can male writers write about women’s lives? Can non-indigenous writers write with authority about indigenous life? etc. Of course, the scientific perspective is valuable. But sometimes the imaginative perspective captures an experience that surprises us, offers added dimension to what it is we’re trying to understand."
Terry Whitebeach’s response to the question of whether writers’ perspectives may be valid, naïve, romantic or realistic, is that yes, they may be any or all of the above. "As may scientists’," she adds. "I don’t see it as a dichotomy. As an either or. Although I do agree with Kathleen Jaimie, it’s poetry’s job to keep making sense of the world in language, to keep the negotiation going."
"Some scientists don’t acknowledge this. But then, some scientists once believed the earth was flat. And it’s a fact quantum physics is only just beginning to explore the territory well known to poets for centuries."
In response to the question of what writers and other artists have to offer scientific investigation of Antarctica, Whitebeach says that as a JAFO/closet JAFA she recognised it was a privilege to be on an Antarctic expedition "and I tried to fulfil my end of the reciprocally incurred obligation to the officers and IRs on board ship and the station staff in Antarctica by lending a hand wherever possible, by scrupulously observing regulations and procedures, and by not demanding too much of busy people, and to ANARE, by producing a radio play Antarctic Journey."
"I did not find such a great gulf between scientists and writers/artists as might be imagined. Many people in Antarctica are both, and, the way most people of intelligence and empathy approach the world is never singly dimensional."
"In 1993 I was approached to contribute poems for an Antarctic mid-winter exhibition with a difference: instead of being a public showing, the writing and artwork was to be photocopied and given to each of the winterers to read and view privately. And it was not writing about Antarctica that was requested, just the richness of one’s mind and heart and art, whatever word-gifts we had to offer to those far from home."
"Many scientists are also writers. In the old station logs I found poems, philosophical and historical musings, psychological analyses, motherly brooding over the men in their care, rapt descriptions of place, as well as crisp, recordings of facts. Temperatures, wind-speeds, repairs to huts, scientific readings of all kinds."
"The thing that unites most expeditioners to Antarctica is their passion for the place: and particularly enthusiasms, such as a passion for upper atmosphere physics, glaciology, Weddell seals, or polar birds, are not so different from the passion of a writer to find words for the particularness of life, for what touches the mind and heart; the desire to achieve in words a precision of sense and feeling that will point beyond, to what can’t be articulated but which nevertheless exists and is real."
"Kathleen Jamie reminds us, though, ‘If we always work in words, sometimes we need to recuperate in a place where language doesn’t join up, where we’re thrown back on a few elementary nouns. Sea. Bird. Sky. This is also one of the appeals of Antarctica. It can’t be proscribed or contained – by either science or art.’ "
"Barry Jones says ‘art has sustained me my whole life. It helps make sense of existence.’ "
"I have always been avid for facts, for details of Antarctica. And I have been grateful for those scientists who have articulated the place by means of their particular discipline. As a writer and as a person, I was overjoyed finally to fulfil my long-held dream to stand on the Antarctic continent. Everyone feels it. There are just not the words, always, for that feeling. It’s the love of the place, and science or writing or photography are the vehicles that transport us there: I found my own family in Antarctica. They gave me facts about engineering of ice runways, about glaciers, wind speeds, crevasses, the atmosphere, bow thrusters, snow petrels, Norwegian cookery. I gave them my humanity, my writer’s mind and heart, a particular way of seeing the world; I gave them my science – the discipline of the writer to craft what the senses, the memory, observation deliver to the human heart, to be transformed and reformed into gifts that then may become the property of whoever chooses to accept them."
Laurence Fearnley laments the fact that it’s only twenty-four hours since she realised she was to appear on this particular panel. "And I assumed immediately the acronym had nothing to do with observers and administrators, that JAFA simply meant ‘Just Another F****** Aucklander’, at least that’s what it does back home."
"When it comes to our reception as artists and writers," she continues, "I don’t think we need to be treated as VIP’s, but I certainly think we need to be treated more equally. New Zealand artists find themselves with two weeks in which to gather material - very large bodies or work – but with no ability to develop the work over a period of time. I think it’s wrong. When I applied for the Antarctic Arts Fellowship, I had a very roughly structured idea of the project which – speaking from experience – was so broadly focussed that when I arrived I found myself at a loss."
"I came back home, seriously considering studying to become a geologist because I wanted so much to go back to Antarctica. I had the feeling that I didn’t have enough material for the novel; I felt the need to protect all that I’d experienced, replay it over and over in my head until I got it right".
"But I was fortunate. I got a second trip - even came to feel about Antarctica as a place where I’d like to live."
"In terms of change – I think I’m back to normal now [laughs], but I’d still like to do the geology."
Tim Bowden observes that "from an Australian perspective one is in no danger of being treated like a VIP, Laurence".
Terry Whitebeach admits she’d found it difficult to articulate her urge to visit Antartica, but it had always been there. "When I was younger, I used to go down to the wharfs with my children to where the Nella Dan was berthed. ‘See that ship?’ I’d say. ‘Mummy’s going on that ship to Antarctica one day.’ Well I didn’t go on the Nella Dan – unfortunately it sank, well no it didn’t sink, it ran aground off Macquarie Island and was eventually scuttled – but I managed to get there anyway."
"In Antarctica I felt I understood the origin of the religious impulse, the response to something overwhelmingly powerful and inexplicable. On the trip down I was hanging out the porthole, getting quieter and quieter, more and more inward as time went on."
Craig Cormick concurs. "Many who go to Antarctica are those with an Antarctic-shaped hole in their head or their heart. I’m intrigued by those who don’t have that perception, but who are changed anyway."
The next session is entitled ‘The Ulysses Factor’, in which writers investigate the ‘peopled’ Antarctica: the human relationships and communities of Antarctica, and ponder the types of personalities that hurl themselves against nature – again and again, and again… It features Steve Martin, Bill Manhire, Adrian Caesar, and Allen Mawer.
Steve Martin compares the way many view a visit to Antarctica as the experience of a lifetime, alongside that of the Russian experience. "Many Russians do it for a job. They’re poorly paid, blasé about it. Their experience is different from that of other nationalities, who build little communities within themselves, friendships, animosities, marriages … where the boundaries and descriptions of Antarctic communities are forever changing. Temporary, impermanent populations. Their personal and intimate nature is the reason people return to them, leaving what to some is a more complex society behind them."
Bill Manhire speaks of the Mount Erebus tragedy of 1979 when more than 250 people died as the result of an Air New Zealand flight crashing into Mount Erebus in the Antarctic. In 2004, Manhire was invited to write a poem marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragedy. It was read by Sir Edmund Hillary, who had been scheduled to take the flight but had pulled out due to prior commitments. "In the aftermath of the Mt Erebus accident, there were many and varied voices heard, but the two voices we didn’t hear were those of the mountain, and of the people who died," Manhire explained. "I attempted to give those voices a hearing in my poem ‘Erebus Voices’, which Sir Edmund Hillary read at the crash site on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragedy, in 2004."
Allen Mawer’s slant on Antarctic relationships takes in the fate of the animals taken to the continent. "They have names, they have characters – but we always knew that very few would come back." A historian, Mawer laments the lack of lower deck – as opposed to wardroom – records of early Antarctic expeditions. His tales reveal a keen sense of the ridiculous. "Let me read you of the attempts to claim the continent by throwing a flag on a pole onto terra firma - only to see it strike rocks and fall into the icy water, Antarctica’s first proclamation of sovereignty … floating out to sea."
In question time, the point is raised about the human presence in Antarctica – is it warranted? "Perhaps it’s the seduction of the possible," is the reply, "we’re there because we can be there."
Steve Martin agrees that he’s come across the notion of a sense of trespass in Antarctica, "The sense that perhaps we shouldn’t be there, but we’re going to be there anyway".
Antarctica "really put me in my place," Bill Manhire observes. "The place and the weather rule what is possible. I really understood that I was on an island, I could see the curve of the earth – absolutely."
"I think that’s where Scott’s difficulty lay," adds Adrian Caesar. "I think he was unable to accept the position that Antarctica – the weather, the terrain – was in charge. He came from a tradition that said an English naval sea captain could achieve anything. Nothing changed this."
Readings by Adrian Caesar, Steve Martin and Terry Whitebeach follow. Adrian Caesar’s poems explore the idea of Antarctica as metaphor. "For many people, the encounter with Antarctica gives them a heightened sense of meaning, but the icy terrain can also register as blankness, echoing back a blankness that can be terrifying … I suppose this is my meditation on the blank page of Antarctica."
Terry Whitebeach reads small excerpts for her radio play "Antarctic journey", and from her journal written in Antarctica. "And I’ll read a warm poem about sex," she adds. "But it’s not sex in Antarctica because as we all know it doesn’t happen there".
Steve Martin suggests that as the session has run out of time, he’ll settle for relating the tale of a marriage between two Russian crew, a couple serving on different ships who had only three days together before going their separate ways. The story ended with a chance meeting, a lover’s tryst, and a hasty retreat as one of the vessels got underway. "Had he managed to get off before the ship got underway? Yes, he’d taken care of himself; as I looked behind, there he was in his zodiac, following his wife on the Russian ship, gliding side to side in the waves, saying his goodbyes."
Next follows "A View to a Krill", a session in which writers discuss how the alternate modes of travel prepare and transform writers’ assumptions, expectations and perspectives during their approach to Antarctica. It features Laurence Fearnley, Bernadette Hince, Tim Bowden and Bernadette Hall.
"I notice," begins Laurence Fearnley, "that I’m again the only one without notes for this session."
"I’m a very excitable traveller. When I’m flying, I’m often at the check-in counter before the check-in staff have arrived. On the occasion of my first visit to Antarctica, I arranged a 3am wake up in order to get to Christchurch airport on time. [I didn’t know the plane had been cancelled]. I had to go through the whole process the following day … fortunately it went this time. While on the plane I realised people were wearing different coloured uniforms, depending on the level of cool one had attained. I was dressed in blue, yellow and green, or the uncool end of the spectrum. After five hours we arrived in Antarctica. I had no idea the plane had even landed until they opened up the doors to unload. And from this really noisy, really dark enclosure, I found myself facing the most beautiful sight I’ve ever experienced. Arriving in Antarctica was like being given the gift I’d always wanted, but it was kind of bittersweet – to arrive at the place where you’ve always wanted to be is a bit like being alive when being alive means that at the very same moment, you’re dying."
"We’d have no need for notes either if we could all speak as elequently as you, Laurence," observes Bernadette Hince.
Tim Bowden speaks on how from an Australian perspective, the sea voyage equalled the ritual of moving into another world … of the way that new arrivals think their year will be different from any other, of their observations of the first faint smudges of pack ice on the horizon. " ‘I must not photograph any more icebergs,’ I said to myself, many times, ‘and then … oh, but l-o-o-k!’ One had access to the bridge at all times, and first timers would flock there to drink in every aspect of this wonderful journey."
"We’ve talked about how the experience of Antarctica changes people, in my case it turned a cynical old journo towards poetry," Bowden adds, before reading the poem he wrote to his wife, while in Antarctica.
Bernadette Hall speaks of her journey to Antarctica by Hercules aircraft. "We’d been warned it was the journey from hell, warned it could be a boomerang flight. My preparation for Antarctica was to see it as a metaphor for possibly … a place of spiritual loneliness, depression, possibly purity. I found the experience far more physical than I’d ever imagined. There was virtually no time to read, we spent all of our time travelling."
"It took us two weeks to get to Antarctica on the Icebird in 1995," recalls Bernadette Hince. "Travel lifts away the burden of everyday life, a great freedom is conferred on you … we experienced two weeks of animated conversation on our way down, but on the morning of our arrival we stood on the bow of the ship, silently watching, experiencing a very special moment coming into a quiet place. It was raining that morning – it hadn’t rained in Casey for four years."
For Bill Manhire, the most difficult aspect of travelling to and from Antarctica was the sudden arrival back home in New Zealand by aeroplane. It was a difficult adjustment. "God this place is vile, dirty," he thought to himself, "I noticed some orange marigolds in a flowerbox at the airport … I just wanted to pull them out."
Bernadette Hince’s arrival home coincided with the Port Arthur massacre. "That was a great contrast - from my safe, closeted Antarctic lifestyle - to arrival back to the horrors of modern existence."
Tim Bowden’s arrival home was to the smell and smoke of bushfires in southern Tasmania. "I had the impression I was coming back to a much more complicated life."
Bernadette Hall’s belated reflection came during the 54 km drive home from Christchurch Airport. "I suddenly came to the realisation that for twenty minutes I had been concentrating purely on long sightedness – as you do in the icy white panorama of Antarctica - that I’d not short focused at all ... God knows if I ran any red lights or not. That was among the first impressions of my return."
"Out in the Cold" features Julia Jabour, Marcus Haward, Eric Philips and Bernadette Hince, in which writers debate who ‘owns’ Antarctica. Who are the outsiders there, and who is legitimate? How are the claims and interests of scientists, environmentalists, tourism operators, and writers and artists, etc. represented? Marcus Haward gives some background to the problem of overlapping claims to the area. ‘Japan was prohibited from making a claim as a result of its post World War II peace treaty,’ he explains, alluding to the tension that now exists between Japan and Australia over whaling operations off the Antarctic shelf. ‘The other way of looking at ownership is common heritage, where the role of artists is perhaps very important. The images and stories that non-scientific figures are able to share with the rest of the community may provide a way of understanding the complexity of the problems facing us in Antarctica. Are we in danger of over-exploiting our marine resources, for instance?’
‘I’m feeling a little like a Patagonian toothfish out of water sitting here amongst the current gathering,’ Eric Philips begins by way of introducing himself. ‘I’m not a scientist, neither do I have a detailed knowledge of the law. I’m an adventurer. And adventurers, it seems to me, have a lot at stake in Antarctica. Just this year, a Spanish expedition staged an incredible crossing of the continent powered solely by windpower - in sixty-three days, the fastest ever. Over 4,500 kilometres on their wind powered sled that may revolutionise polar transport … a fantastic story of endurance and of reliance upon sustainable energy that captured the world’s imagination.’
Philips is founder of Icetrek, specialising in expeditions to the polar regions - Antarctica, Greenland, Patagonia, Alaska, Iceland, Siberia and the Canadian High Arctic, he’s trekked them all. ‘Should there be so much opposition by governments to private expeditioners?’ he asks. ‘I’ll be interested to hear the responses of my fellow panellists!’
‘I believe adventure tourists can offer a very good perspective,’ comments Marcus Haward. ‘I think the level of impact of small tourist ventures is minimal when compared to some of the major engineering features of the bases and constructions being built. How do we address this? We need to put pressure on our governments – let’s not have fifty seismic research programs, for instance, all working on the same studies.’
‘I also see that of the 30,000 tourists that may visit Antarctica annually, 28,000 will return convinced of the need for action in Antarctica. I’d argue that the treaty system has to come to terms with the new Antarctica, not the old Antarctica.’
Craig Cormick, Bill Manhire and Bernadette Hince take part in"Writing the Unimaginable" in which writers consider how one writes about Antarctica. How do writers describe the place? Or is it "unwritable?" Bill Manhire likes the idea of the writer as bricoleur, comfortable with the unfamiliar – the scavenger sorting through villagers’ trash cans and rearranging their trash into other shapes and forms before offering these back for consideration and reappraisal. ‘It’s hard being a bricoleur scavenger in Antarctica - for the type of writer I am, Antarctica is a huge challenge. There’s not that huge messiness to work in and respond to, just the white blank space – an absence – talking back at you. Antarctica left me – both elated and calm at the same time.’
‘Bipolar?’ Cormick interjects, helpfully.
‘I had this experience of working with a glaciologist,’ Manhire continues ‘who was returning to New Zealand at about the same time as I was. I asked him, what will you do when you return home? "A couple of weeks of data reduction, then I’ll have a bloody good holiday," he replied. That was a good response, I thought. Whenever anyone asked what I intended doing on my return – holiday? write? - "data reduction", I’d tell them.’
‘It’s very difficult to find metaphors and images for Antarctica, the only ones you can come up with are usually completely banal. Like "icing". None of them fit … well they fit, but they don’t fit the quality of the images you’re perceiving.’
‘Can you write about Antarctica without having been there?’ asks Craig Cormick, rhetorically. ‘How many times did Shakespeare visit Denmark, do you think?’