University Of Tasmania
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Inscribing Culture on the Landscape

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 12:48 authored by Roslynn HaynesRoslynn Haynes
For the early settlers of Van Diemen’s Land the real horror of the landscape was its succession of absences. Not only were there so few people, but the settlers could find no history, no cultural context within which the land could be understood, no basis for interaction with it except in terms of hostility and brute conquest. The process of relating to the land imaginatively required the inscription of ‘stories’ to provide the place with unique cultural resonances. This paper considers five such attempts through literature, art and photography.

At first it was an ill-fitting, hand-me-down culture that was imposed on the land by means of comparisons, usually more ingenious than obvious, with the established cultural norms of Europe and Britain. In terms of art, the fashion for the Picturesque largely determined what settlers expected to see—and elicited their disappointment when they failed to find it.

In opposition to this imitative process was a fascination with difference for its own sake, and the way this threw old assumptions into question. This process began with examinations of the unique flora of Van Diemen’s Land, and spread gradually to the landforms.

Frontier stories offered the triumphalist celebration of cultural heroes and, in the process, vilified the land as the enemy that had to be overcome before the colonists could feel at home.

Tasmanian literature has been largely preoccupied with revisiting the past—a selective past that focuses on the treatment of the Palawa and the convict period and has perpetuated the malaise that haunted Tasmania. In these stories the land is co-villain, in league with an evil social structure to persecute the innocent and reinforce the communal infamy.

Finally, wilderness has been constructed as a unique and complete cultural tradition, providing an aesthetic, a morality, a religion, and a political ideology with new heroes and icons.


Publication title

Proceedings of Imaging Nature: Media, Environment and Tourism


L Lester and C Ellis




School of Humanities


University of Tasmania

Place of publication


Event title

Media, Environment and Tourism conference

Event Venue

Cradle Mountain

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

Copyright 2005 the Author

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture