North-West Tasmania

December. Happy as a horse

shoulder-high in paddocks of grass,

come grasp the essence of this place.

Sort it out. You could do worse.

And don’t think you’ll simply traipse

the landscape, snacking on fine food,

there is no way you can escape

dialogue with the residents.

West of the Great Western Tiers,

“We’ve always done things that way, here”

masks a sensitivity

that can take strange forms: a too-high

voltage on an electric fence

(e.g.) shocks the cows. Can’t have that.

So pay close heed to what you’re told,

there is no room for idle chat.

They watch what you buy: avoid cheese

factories. They mustn’t ask

“Are you mainlanders?”, that easy

stigma by which they sort the world.

Wear disguise since you need to fit,

dress down, put on two or three shirts

one on another, hanging out;

no corduroys or chunky knits,

that’s what they sell to mainland folk

(“Mainlanders never get the joke”).

Once you plunge into the first

rippling, cultivated hills

rolling back from the ragged coast

note how a certain smugness fills

their fields with strange potato plants

—Dutch Creams, Bismarcks, Kennebecs—

hallucinatory pink poppies

(“Better than Afghanistan’s”)

and they can tell fields from paddocks

(There’s a difference? “It is this:

fields feed humans, paddocks feed cows.”)

Don’t be fooled by rows of crazy

flowers, extravagantly sown

between the paddocks and the road

—rock roses, real roses, daisies,

King Solomon’s fishing rod—

they celebrate subjugation.

While you yearn for bluffs and crags

History still lurks deep within

everything they say and do.

Once they massacred the blacks

by various means; now they set

about the wild landscape and

plainly haven’t finished yet.

They will drop old growth, then plant

more trees and cut them down too

in a chaos of stumps and limbs

waiting to be burnt before

another mad planting begins.

I should stop at this point, lest

you think I exaggerate. More

awaits you than I could list,

go and discover it. Good luck.

And while you dodge the timber trucks

laden with prey, here’s some advice:

if you should meet other cars

keep your hands locked on the wheel,

make eye contact, lift one knuckle.

At least they greet you as you pass.

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