I have to admit that until last year I had never been to Maria Island (pronounced Mariah by the way). Unlike many Tasmanians my age I had not come here on a school camp, and childhood family trips from Launceston to the East Coast only ever extended as far as a Great Aunt’s shack an hour north at Bicheno. A dozen or so years ago my husband and I and our kids enjoyed our first ever camping trip just across the water at Raspin’s Beach, sheltered in a beautiful bay that framed a view of Maria, but in those days it was difficult to get here.
A couple of years ago, as a fresh graduate, I created a bit of a plan that would help me build a career as an artist. The five-year goal was to be granted a residency at the Cite International, Paris, which is available to UTAS graduates. If I am to get there though, I realize I need to build a resume and body of work, and to prove that I know what it takes to make the most of the opportunity. So, completing an Arts Tasmania AIR in Schools residency (tick, 2014) and a Dombrovskis Parks and Wildlife Residency were part of the plan too.
2015 brought two other projects that pointed me towards Maria Island.
First, I worked on a project on the Spring Bay Mill site (formerly the Triabunna Woodchip Mill) as part of Ten Days on the Island (a statewide, biannual visual and performing arts festival). This site, and the surrounding community, is in transition from industry to cultural/tourism, and I was one of 7 artists invited to respond to it at this incredibly interesting point of its history. As I researched and observed I was struck by the traces left behind of people who had been there but were not necessarily acknowledged as part of the bigger story of place – and this place plays a huge role in the story of Tasmania’s recent history.
Second, I became part of The Marathon Project, which is an ongoing project where a group of people from various backgrounds have been visiting, learning about, and responding to, a working farm and conservation property in the Northern Midlands. Here I was also struck by the traces left behind by humans, particularly those that elicited a response by Mother Nature. At Marathon (that is the name of the property) I also discovered a substance called Black Cracking Clay, which introduced me to ‘native’ clay dug directly from the ground.
At the point of writing my residency application I knew little about Maria Island, but there were two things that I did know that interested me. I had read that Maria Island was the site of Tasmania’s first pottery and I particularly wanted to know how, but also what, beyond bricks, was produced here in that very early stage in Australia’s European settler history. I was also aware that the island had been the site of a short-lived cement manufacturing enterprise, providing a parallel between this site and the Spring Bay Mill. Within sight of each other, each with now dormant monoliths on their shores bearing testament to bigger scars left upon the landscape, both of these sites hold traces of stories beyond those written of enterprising men and their machines.
So the pieces had fallen into place for me to be ready to apply to take that next step in my plan. I had an idea, the program assessors supported my plan and here I am.