Tearing chunks off the Apple Isle does everyone a disservice
There’s a suburb of Launceston where, despite the odds, wonderful things happen.
Kids who turn up to school read books and write songs and play footy. Musicians donate their time to fundraisers aimed at raising money for sick children. A community garden offers families fresh produce for a gold coin donation. The median weekly income in this suburb is a little more than $730, less than half the national average. This community fights poverty. It fights the stigma attached to the suburb’s name. And for a while, it fought the cows.
The cows. They came in the dead of night, denting cars, trampling the school’s oval and eating the community garden empty - not once, but three times in as many weeks.
Their freedom came thanks to rogue trail bike riders who kept cutting the fences of a local farmer wholly fed up with fixing them.
"I’m devastated,’’ gardener Peter Richards told me in 2015.
‘‘Every time we get ahead we get kicked in the arse."
It was a dastardly turn of events in a community working hard to do good. And briefly, it earned Ravenswood a spot on national news bulletins.
Two things are sure to grab Australia’s attention when it comes to Tasmania: disaster and sensational triumph. The Ravenswood cows were not quite either; an aberration, but weird enough to earn the gardener a spot on Sunrise.
Usually the state is presented as whinging, dependent on the rest of the country and backwards. And the statistics are alarming: one-third of Tasmanians are on some sort of government benefit, half of Tasmanians are functionally illiterate, and the state’s residents are certainly older, sicker and poorer than anywhere else. It is important to acknowledge this and tell these stories. But there are other stories to be told too.
There’s MONA, yes, and that deserves celebration. There’s wonderful food and wine. There’s natural beauty. But no one will travel from interstate to see a community garden in Ravenswood - and initiatives and communities like this are what make Tasmania truly special.
To characterise Tasmanians as parochial morons too focused on their own communities, or as welfare-dependent without any ambition, is to do everyone a disservice. And at this point - when Tasmania is arguably at its least parochial, arms wide open to business and tourists - it’s plain wrong.
Tasmania is not helped by these outdated attitudes. It's not helped by the federal government shaving millions from its GST share - the state’s largest single source of revenue - or demanding Tasmania cough up $15 million a year for a historic housing debt.
It's not helped by a state government that funnels millions into initiatives like AFL teams that aren’t even Tasmanian. And it is certainly not helped by a general lack of warmth from other states and territories, in the good times and the persistent bad. Indeed, much to the mirth of mainlanders, occasionally the whole island is wiped from the map. But like our friends with the community garden, we persist.
And on that front: I checked in with the manager of the neighbourhood house and the cows have been removed from the unsecure paddock. In their place? Sheep. And the sheep are hungry too. But the neighbourhood house is going to install a cattle grid. Indeed, they’re going to plant more green spaces throughout the suburb. Optimism remains high.
This is a good news story. You just have to have the right attitude.