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Visions of the Tarkine (takanya)

6/9/2018 Tarkine (tarkanya) trip 1

Dismal Swamp, Marrowah, Julius River

Through showers of unexpected rain I headed north. My car loaded with an easel and paints, a sketchbook, surfboard, binoculars, water, an uncertain idea of exactly where I was headed, and a great sense of liberation. My target location the north western Tarkine.

After a quick stop in Launceston for some canvas and last pick groceries I pointed my car in the direction of the 1 that will merge into the A2 and bring me west and into the Tarkine. The rain seemed relentless that afternoon, falling from the sky in stratified sheets in a rhythmic cacophony. Hell, no one said time travel was easy…I’m blasting back to the past, to the super continent of Gondwanaland. My pensive smile would readjust every time a giant semi-truck flew by enveloping my car in tubular waves. The sunset was ominous that evening. It reminded me of Winslow Homer’s painting “Sleigh Ride” with deep purples washing into burnt umbers enclosing around a pinhole of sun just above the horizon. I rested my head in a car park by the name of Boat Harbor Beach, where I awoke the next morning to a cloudless sky and crystal clear seas.

After being rained out the day before I was eager to get painting. I gathered my gear and hiked along a rock out-cropping just i front of the car park, where vibrant orange lichen (Hymeneliaceae) pulsated my mind’s eye. The geology of Tasmania’s northwest coast possess some of the oldest rocks in the world, dating back 1.45- 1.33 billon years ago. Now these may not have been those particular formations, but it provided strong inspiration for my study of this intertidal boulder. I focused on trying to capture the relationship between the geology, hydrology, and biology of a particular lone rock settled amidst the emerald green water. When I paint in nature I search for pattern and rhythm, shadows vs light, form vs disorder, all of which are essential qualities to rendering a natural composition that reflects the mood or emotion of a particular location. Painting plein air is a wonderful way to start the day. With my first painting drying in the back, it was time for a coffee and to continue on the road. Next stop, the Tarkine.

I closely observed my surroundings as I meandered through vibrant green rolling hills, each one peppered with grazing cows and sheep. I become inspired by the cast shadows of the clouds hovering over the pastural fields and couldn’t help but think…Is this clear felled land? I pulled to the side of the road intrigued by an interesting composition and relaxed with my paints under the cobalt blue sky checkered with swimming cumulous clouds. Intermixed with the subdued pastural landscape two repetitious street signs impeded my eye. What was even more interesting was that they seemed to declare two contrasting statements. One assured that this IS the “Tarkine Drive” and the other to “Beware of Logging Trucks”. I finished my second painting for the day, my first in the Tarkine and I felt nowhere near the temporal Gondwanic rainforest I had anticipated.

I continued down the A2 and soon became immersed by the bush. Alas, tall Eucalypts surrounded my vehicle, the canopies bending and wavering activated by the crisp gusts of wind stoically secured by thick trucks planted in the ground. I’ve always pretended the sounds emitted by rubbing Eucalypts was their form of communication. Long high pitched screeches to deep monotone moans accompanied by fluttering leaves and dropping branches. Contrary to the pastoral fields, this land was wild, dense, dark, and absent of livestock. I pulled into Dismal Swamp Forest Reserve, the largest sinkhole in the southern hemisphere excited to experience a bush-walk and begin studying some local fauna and flora. After a quick bite and the rain beginning to lift, I grabbed my binoculars, sketchbook, pens, and turned up my senses for maximum intake. Paddymelons hopped about the swampy terrain as I sketched the local flora atop a boardwalk that was slick as ice from the wet conditions. I studied the bark texture of Stringybark, the leaf patterns and formations of Dogwood, Celery Top Pine, Black Wood, Native Laurel, Sassafras, and Myrtle. I felt the absence of human intervention. That is until the roar of a chainsaw obstructed the peace and silence. It was the caretakers clearing a branch that had fallen across the path. I thanked them and continued on to my next stop, Marrawah.

I arrived in Marrawah that afternoon. I passed a postal office, a church, and a pub as I winded my way down to Green Point where there’s a carpark I planned on camping for the night. I observed a couple frolicking Superb Fairy Wrens dancing around the brush as I stretched out, immersed in the rugged elements the north west is infamous for. The energy was continuous and the ocean was roaring. With a couple hours left of daylight I wandered down a dirt road to the south and set my easel above crashing waves bashing against stratified sea tables, each one resting atop the next with pinnacles pointing just above the horizon in a congruent 35 degree manor. The spray of the waves feathered my easel as I taunted them, studying their continuous bashing against the intertidal wall of yellow ochre stone. I was just out of their reach, but sure enough they had won and I had to retire my paints due to the timeless rise of the tide. It is this ephemeral natural rhythm I try to capture through my brushstrokes. Elated with joy, yet all alone, the rocks and sea of Marrawah were my company. Just before dark I quickly turned around to capture the setting sun over the horizon as the vigorous waves continued to roll through in organized sets and lulls. I rested my eyes and awoke early for a day of exploration around the Julius River.

After a bit of exploring down the coast I headed east from Couta rocks reentering the northern Tarkine in search for Julius River where I would be camping for the night. The rain started coming down as I winded my way deeper into the bush. The road felt like an electric razor had been laid through the forest, to each side vegetation so tall and think that light was emitted and only shadows could be seen.

While camping at Julius River I took two hikes, one that hugged the Julius Rivulet offering beautiful views and sounds of the peat-dyed water trickling down the cobblestone banks bending through thick undergrowth. Shadowed by the foliage of large Eucalypts and old growth Myrtle the undergrowth composed of ferns, bush orchids, and other plants I have yet to identify channeled a unique personality of its own. It felt like any moment a giant amphibious creature from the carboniferous period would cross the rivulet in search for its next meal of giant insects. The intervals of rain dictated a landscape barren of humans. The only clue to their existence the path that lay across the moist decomposing soil. I continued down a different path that navigated through an assortment of sinkholes. I sat down and made 6 gouache studies depicting decomposing myrtle tree stumps. These stumps harbored numerous species of fungi, moss, and lichens, displaying the essential role they play in the eco-system of the Tarkine’s undergrowth. I felt a mysterious sense of euphoria sitting out there alone, dripping wet under a canopy of echoing bird calls, while vibrant hues of green and orange vibrated the decomposing battalion of stumps. This environment was unlike anything I’d ever seen and the strong presence of its long-lasting history resonated strongly through the inspiration it gifted me. I cooked some food for dinner, read for a bit under the glow of my headlamp and slept in what seemed to be the richest blackness I have ever experienced. The wind and rain grew more intense and rocked my car to sleep.

"Organic Decay" (oil on canvas)

The rain continued into the next morning. Still in a state of awe I didn’t want to impose and overstay the recent relationship I had established. With the intensifying weather I decided to begin my trek home. As I continued down the C218 circling around the Tarkine Loop I reminisced on the unique sounds, colors, and forms that contributed to a sensory overload of organic inspiration.

But wait, sure enough, those warning signs “Beware of Logging Trucks” from before began to appear once again, usually posted at the entrance of a dirt road that declared no trespassing. Before I get lost in Tarkine bliss I must remember that there are threats being proposed here and that they play just as an important role in the power of my project as the natural beauty. Soon enough there was no more hiding. A new aesthetic of recently clear felled acreage encompassed the road. My initial thoughts prompted a WW1 battle ground, specifically that of trench warfare. Trees were discarded, half burnt, and sawed to pieces. The bright orange of the undergrowth fungi echoed in the freshly sawed tree stump amputees, each ringed by jagged bark teeth mimicking the saws they had fallen victim to. Once again the pouring rain only enhanced the ominous foreshadowing of a potential future of human manipulation and destruction.

"Cultivated Decay" (oil on canvas)

I experienced a necessary glimpse into the beauty and the beast of the Tarkine. I was introduced to the polars of a spectrum that my vision will strive to expand and interpret. I arrived home with with a new direction for my project inspired by the Tarkine’s natural beauty and the encroaching exploitation. These dualities stand face to face divided by a single road. Each has an entourage of support, one driven by money, the other to preserve an ancient ecosystem untarnished for millions of years. How easily a tree can be fallen by the cut of man, yet how difficult it is to compensate for the spoiling of our shortsighted habits.

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