Timber getting and apples were once the foundation of many small towns throughout the Huon Valley, and Geeveston in the southern end of the region is no different. Once a regional centre of Tasmania's southern forests, with its seemingly endless supply of tall trees and craft timbers, the town has since changed its focus, with a degree of reinvention, but importantly has not lost its heritage.
Tourism has become vital to Geeveston over the last few decades. It is the gateway to the scenic Arve Valley, the majestic Hartz Mountains, while the old municipal chamber now functions as a visitor information and interpretive centre, displaying many artefacts from the timber getting boom times and supplying a valuable insight into the conditions confronted by early settlers.
On a good day the RV park, adjacent to the high street, is bustling with scores of lumbering camper vans setting up or decamping, four or five tourist buses will disgorge their keen, but often slow moving, cargo into the car park behind the austere brick building, while parking bays along the street frequently gleam with the polished chrome of a dozen or so Harley Davidsons and other well kept two wheeled beasts and their silvered riders. The local pie shop, at the top of the street, is often the eventual destination for most.
One of the great advantages of Geeveston is its size: barely more than a one street town, bounded by the Arve and Kermandie rivers on two sides and the road further south on another, it is mostly flat and can be walked in a matter of minutes.
Today a strong artisanal thread courses through the town, mainly along the eastern side of Church Street, from the oddly named The Bear Went Over The Mountain, bed and breakfast and tea room with its craft display, to the Arve Gallery at the foot of the road, even the local butcher, a rare find in these days of supermarket bullying, demonstrates an artisanal approach to bacon and other smallgoods, while a visit to the post office, at first site appears to be a step into an olde worlde craft shop. The newest venture is Handmade by Kelfae and Pondok Seni, a craft gallery and cafe, which the proprietor says she opened partly to sell her landscape photographs, but also to provide a home for artisans displaced from the recent closure of Southern Design Centre that was awkwardly situated in an old packing shed on the outskirts of town. The current display here features the work of three artisans: a metalworker, a fibre artist and illustrator and a woman of diverse craft skills shifting through ceramics, glass and recently felt shoes. The smallest establishment, the delightfully named Stone Pippin is dedicated the yarn art and is jam packed with colour, while the largest and most eclectic establishment is the descriptively named Makers on Church Street. Navigating through this labyrinthine building can be confusing, for it is at once antique shop, craft shop, second hand book shop, art gallery and more. Indeed it was an exhibition opening that, after passing so many times and promising myself a visit, finally enticed me into to this exciting and delightful space.
Shirley Amos is an Aboriginal artist, from New South Wales, since relocated to Tasmania. Her work is carefully executed and speaks of her dreaming and culture. She is an artist of diverse experience, from ocean fisherwoman, for pineapple trimmer, she has overcome many challenges and developed a strong artistic style, one that above all represents the diversity and complexity of Aboriginal culture. It is a style that draws upon an often overlooked range of Aboriginal art, her backgrounds often rendered with the complex dot patterns associated with the Central Australian Desert painting, a style that since its international success in the 1980s has tended to eclipse other Aboriginal artistic styles. Amos overlays her dotted canvasses with figurative imagery more common to her coastal NSW home and in some instances, such as Sacred Site and Food Gatherer, the stark silhouette styles and documentary drive of the 19th century Aboriginal artists Tommy McRae and William Barak. Elements of Arnhem land and Far North Queensland styles are also discernible in her palette and motifs, while the supernatural like figures of ancient rock art have inspired at least two works directly and seamlessly ghosts onto other canvases. Indeed she is at pains, not only through her work but also in an accompanying statement, to point out that Aboriginal culture and art is extremely diverse and should be recognised as such.
This small town, I have chosen for my home, is a town of many surprises. Its heritage runs deep and so too its creativity, as one would expect from a settlement carved out of the forest many years ago.