Clouded Glass and Penguin Bones
You can feel how close you are to Antarctica. Though it’s ten days’ sail, several deserts of boilerplate sea and dome upon dome of empty sky, this is still the last point of land between it and you. You feel the gulf snap back like elastic. Tasmania, hunched with its head away, turning its shoulder in a futile attempt to deflect the white continent’s attention. It’s there, as unavoidable as a stranger at the other end of an empty stretch of beach, footprint by footprint reeling you in.
Tasmania flicks its green fingers into the salt, into the reefs and currents at its flank. Creeping from the south, round the headlands and slotted channels to the depth of Hobart’s harbour, it’s there, even with these allegations of summer littering the docks: water muttering of ice and cold.
You can taste it in the current, beyond the petrol and the oystershell. Calcified rock. Rust. Clouded glass. Penguin bones. Old whaleboats, desiccating on the shore. For all the snow, that air’s so dry the timber barely finds the energy to rot. Beyond the whaling stations, the stunning spread of emptiness. Water thickening on the surface like oil. Windborne grit shaking down fresh layers on the glaciers. The sound, when the pitch subsides, of absolutely nothing.
It’s down there, Tasmania turning its head inward like a sleeping bird. A land in denial. But the rocks of the harbour are dark, they know their kinship. Their spurs pointing southward, signalling admittance. It’s there, a stranger down the beach, no bigger than a match-head. That one spot demanding your eye in all the space around it. That string of un-sunk footprints between you, stretched to high tension, waiting to snap back.