John Glover’s Patterdale: a love story

In 1831 a prominent English landscape artist took the extraordinary step, aged 63, of leaving his native land to live in Tasmania. He celebrated his new home in some memorable canvases, and today that home is being lovingly restored.

Patterdale today (top) and as Glover depicted it in 1834 (original in Art Gallery of South Australia).

Patterdale today (top) and as Glover depicted it in 1834 (Collection: Art Gallery of South Australia).

From the colonial charm of Evandale, take the road south across the alluvial plains of the South Esk to Nile, then after another kilometre turn left at the Deddington Road.

Following the Nile River upstream, past Deddington and its handsome white chapel, you reach a fork in the road. Take the right-hand option, Uplands Road, and after a couple of kilometres you’ll come to clumps of European trees and glimpses of buildings among them.

Pull over, get out, breathe deeply and take in the views over Mills Plains and the Nile Valley to the north, and to the east across rolling hills to the ramparts of Ben Lomond. This is Patterdale, and you’re in Glover country.

John Glover is unique in our history. In 1830 he had decades behind him as a prominent English landscape painter, with French royal patronage, no less. But at the age of 63 he took a long, taxing sea voyage to the convict colony of Van Diemens Land to join his sons in a whole new life.

A few months in Hobart was all he needed to produce some memorable and now famous paintings of that young settlement and its spectacular setting, but John Glover grew up in country England and yearned for the life of a squire. He found it in a remote valley 40 km southeast of Launceston.

In his first years at Patterdale aboriginal people still moved through the landscape. He incorporated them into his painting, and was repelled by the actions of his neighbour, John Batman, who took government money to hunt them. Batman left the island in 1835 to help settle Port Philip.

I first learned about John Glover in the 1970s from John McPhee, then art curator for Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and a Glover specialist. Others have since joined McPhee in rating Glover the greatest of early colonial Australian artists.

Glover’s Tasmanian paintings and notebook drawings are the work of a master in his field. They show a remarkable ability at his advanced age to set aside old European habits and embrace the very different visual qualities of his new land.

Today, Glover paintings are national treasures and sell for millions. In 2003-04 the artist was celebrated in an Australian touring show, and the Glover Prize, a significant annual cash award for paintings depicting the island landscape, kicked off in 2004.

Last year, at the urging of my good spouse, I had my first experience of the annual exhibition in Evandale of shortlisted Glover Prize entrants, and was blown away by the variety, technical skills and sheer creative vision on display.

That occasion was memorable for another reason. My Harvest Home, Glover’s canvas of a hay cart backlit by a late-afternoon sun, had long been a favourite of mine from when I worked at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Now there was the prospect of visiting the place of its birth.

A pamphlet offered the rare chance to see inside Glover’s home as a special “Ten Days on the Island” event. Patterdale was well-known as the subject of another iconic Glover canvas, A View of the Artist’s House and Garden, but how many had actually visited the place and entered its rooms?

Unlike nearby Clarendon House, Patterdale, named after a village in England’s Lakes District where Glover loved to work, is not what you’d call a grand colonial home. It’s well off the beaten track, a side road off a side road, and not well signposted. But the visit surpassed all expectations.

Glover’s home is being restored by current owners Carol and Rodney Westmore, who live on the adjacent Nile Farm, a couple of kilometres downstream. As far as records and the passage of time allow, they aim to have the property as close as possible to its appearance when Glover lived there.

This is a seriously ambitious undertaking. Though still a functioning farmhouse when the Westmores bought it in 2004, Patterdale was cold and crumbling – a shadow of the building depicted by Glover. Last year the task looked daunting, but what a difference a year has made.

Patterdale’s handsome front façade today may be smarter than it was originally, given the limited availability of quality sandstone and stoneworking skills in early-colonial rural Tasmania. But the exterior is now far closer to the original than the much-altered building the Westmores inherited.

Modifications are being made in back rooms to make Patterdale a viable bed-and-breakfast venue, but key elements of the original fabric are still visible. The restoration has been recorded in photographs, now displayed in a reconstructed studio close to the main farmhouse.

We can’t say whether the new studio is an exact replica of Glover’s “Exhibition Room” because little trace of the original remains. But we know the size is right because Glover’s son made a note of the building’s dimensions, and the close resemblance to the 1834 painted image is striking.

Most of John Glover’s best colonial works were painted on Patterdale farm, a point well understood by its owners who have identified the vantage points where the artist sat to paint or sketch. Visitors will be able to walk in Glover’s footsteps and see the same landforms that informed his painting.

A publicly-accessible Patterdale will add a new dimension to our understanding of Glover and his unrivalled contribution to Australian art. Carol and Rodney Westmore are doing us proud.

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Do we really want the Greens to go away?

Public support for the Greens seems to be slipping, yet their message is more important than ever.

Cassy O'Connor and Rosalie Woodruff face a diminished presence in the Tasmanian parliament. PHOTO ABC News

Cassy O’Connor and Rosalie Woodruff face a diminished presence in the Tasmanian parliament. PHOTO ABC News

State polls in Tasmania and South Australia and a federal by-election in Melbourne this month are food for thought for the Greens – and for the rest of us.

On the face of it, the party is on the slide. In Tasmania its vote was well down and it lost a seat, its primary vote declined in South Australia, and it lost the Batman by-election which it had been favoured to win.

That would be evidence of a party on the way out, except that just four months ago the Greens scored a memorable win in a state by-election in Victoria, ousting Labor from a seat it had held for 90 years.

This is politics in the 21st century – volatile and unpredictable, with today’s darlings quickly becoming tomorrow’s pariahs. Richard Di Natale and Cassy O’Connor are well aware that being a party leader is a roller-coaster ride.

With minor personality-based parties seemingly on the nose, the two main parties, well-known for their disdain of minor players on the political stage, seem to be back in favour.

The Nationals, stolid country cousins of the Liberals, have endured on the conservative side of politics by remaining in lock-step with the larger party on all crucial votes. No such alliance has been possible between the Greens and Labor as each party fiercely defends its independence.

The Greens’ core constituency has always been teenagers and twenty-somethings focused heavily on matters environmental – mostly protection of natural values like waterways and forests; more recently on the broader issue of climate change.

But as this party of youth approaches its 40th birthday, like all progressive parties it faces the challenge of remaining an effective political force while keeping the ideas flowing and continuing to engage the young minds that will always be its lifeblood.

When the Greens started up in Tasmania in the early 1980s, the party attracted people who were through with the bigger parties and their love affair with power elites, notably the state-owned Hydro Electric Commission, bent on damming the lower Gordon River.

The Greens’ success in that memorable conflict turbo-charged them for the battle over native forest logging that dominated the state’s politics for over a quarter of a century, ending only with the 2012 forest agreement and the 2013 collapse of Gunns Limited.

Battling the status quo became the Greens’ trademark in partnerships with major parties on both sides of the political divide, all of which produced some significant and lasting reforms. But the alliances tended to be fraught and tenuous, never lasting more than one term.

The idea that a coalition with the Greens always ends in tears is now a central theme in Tasmanian politics and, since the 2010 Labor-Green pact supporting a Gillard government, in the federal sphere too.

Some governments seem less tumultuous than others, but in truth all politics is fraught because power and paranoia go hand in hand. The argument for majority government is no more than a self-serving device to keep independent thinkers out of parliament. Do we really want that?

Independent thinking is what Greens do best. Their enemies in the major parties, to conceal their own conformity, call them mindless ideologues, but the Greens bring a breath of fresh air into the public debate, contributing ideas and insights far above their numbers.

They led the defence of natural values in our wild places. They were first to advocate a “clean, green” agenda – since adopted by major parties wanting credit for tourism success. And they have led debate on a raft of social reforms, including legalising homosexual relationships.

It took a while for the Greens to hit their straps when climate change first entered the public debate. Voting down Kevin Rudd’s emissions reduction plan in 2010 was an early misstep, but later that year they played a key part in formulating our one and only national pricing scheme.

Wilful ignorance ended that scheme in 2014. It also led to the trashing of an outstanding Tasmanian climate strategy released by O’Connor as climate change minister in 2013. Its grossly inferior successor was never more than a climate change box for the government to tick before moving on.

Even today our political and bureaucratic leaders are missing the fundamental truth that climate change will increasingly influence our economies, our institutions, our governance and our whole existence as communities and nations, and if left unattended will overwhelm them all.

The Greens know this better than anyone. Take them out of our parliaments and you remove a vital cog in public understanding of where things are headed in this fast-moving century. We need their voice, and we abandon them at our cost.

Posted in Adaptation, Australian politics, carbon emissions and targets, changes to climate, climate politics, leadership, public opinion, Tasmanian politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Forests used and abused in the name of climate action

Governments claiming to be “meeting and beating” emissions targets are getting away with daylight robbery.

Land-clearing has been proceeding at a record pace in Queensland since restrictions were relaxed in 2013. PHOTO Kerry Trapnell/The Wilderness Society

Land-clearing has been proceeding at a record pace in Queensland since restrictions were relaxed in 2013. PHOTO Kerry Trapnell/The Wilderness Society

For decades, statistics around forests, forestry and land-clearing have been the blunt instrument of choice to support all sides of the climate debate in Australia.

In 1997 the Howard government successfully argued that the carbon emissions “saved” from a reduced rate of land-clearing during the 1990s should be counted when assessing Australia’s progress towards its Kyoto target.

The “Australia clause” in the Kyoto agreement relied on government land-clearing data and relatively limited scientific knowledge about the capacity of different natural and cultivated plant communities to take up carbon.

While the science has improved, land use remains a fuzzy area in carbon accounting. Most political claims about emissions employ land-use data. They must be treated with caution, if not suspicion.

Hailed at the time as a political and diplomatic triumph, the Australia clause has enabled successive national and state governments to conceal a continuing chronic failure to even address, let alone reduce, fossil fuel emissions.

Since abolishing Australia’s carbon price scheme – the only enacted measure so far that has demonstrably cut such emissions – the federal government has repeatedly employed land-use data to support its claim that it is on track to “meet and beat” its 2020 and 2030 targets.

Tasmanian emissions reductions are almost entirely dependent on native forests not being harvested. That is the basis of the Hodgman government’s claim that Tasmania leads the world in reducing emissions, and its recent election promise commit to zero net emissions by 2050.

The government’s “Climate Action 21” strategy doesn’t explain how this will be done unless the native forest logging sector remains moribund. Yet it has also promised to double income from forest production by 2036. It doesn’t seem to bother the government that the two cannot possibly co-exist.

A similar scenario is in play in Queensland, except that the end goal there is not to harvest wood but to clear land. And Queensland is pretty good at clearing land; that state alone accounts for more than half the nation’s total native forest clearance.

The implication behind the federal government’s argument at the 1997 Kyoto climate summit was that land clearing rates would continue to be suppressed. For a while it looked as if that might put a permanent brake on clearing natural landscapes in this country.

But for many Australians tree clearing is synonymous with life on the land. A large cohort of conservative politicians in Brisbane and Canberra, most or all of them disbelieving the science behind the Kyoto agreement, lobbied long and hard to have restrictions lifted.

They finally got their wish when a Liberal-National government watered down the rules early in 2013. In that year Queensland’s land-clearing rate was 261,000 hectares. By 2015-16, when the figure was 395,000 hectares, the state had seen over a million hectares cleared within four years.

A newly re-elected Labor government is now seeking parliamentary approval for new laws restricting clearing. Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch justified the action in terms of conserving natural values and helping Australia meet its climate commitments.

The proposed new laws are getting a predictable response from defenders of the status quo, who demand to know why “scrubby” forest should be protected when it could be replaced with “lush productive farm land”.

That reflects a general attitude among some farmers and their political representatives that clearing land is, by definition, improving it. Many have claimed that this extends to carbon storage – that replacing native bush with crops and pastures improves the land’s carbon-carrying capacity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Turnbull government’s Office of the Chief Scientist advises that dry natural forests provide better long-term storage than grasslands, and that per hectare, “forests are typically more than ten times as effective [at storing carbon] as grasslands”.

The lesson should be clear to governments and landowners alike. Removal of established native forest, whether for pasture or for crops (including trees), reduces the land’s capacity to hold carbon while also making it less able to retain moisture.

Economics is already starting to sort this out. As dry-land farmers are learning the downside of land-clearing, Tasmania’s plantation timber industry has worked out many ways to make money from wood fibre without intruding into native forests.

Any government intent on effective climate action, while working hard to cut fossil fuel emissions, would severely limit land clearing and would not even contemplate old-growth logging. There are huge credibility gaps here, and no sign they are about to be closed.

Posted in agriculture and farming, Australian politics, bureaucracy, carbon, carbon emissions and targets, carbon pricing scheme, climate politics, forests and forestry, fossil fuels, land use, Tasmanian politics, trees | Leave a comment