Fair Game by Carmel Bird


After every visit to Tasmania, I get a little homesick.  I deal with this (in part) by reading as many books as I can with a Tasmanian connection.  ‘Fair Game’ by Carmel Bird is only 60 pages long.

Fair Game by Carmel Bird

‘If you don’t behave yourself they’ll send you to Tasmania.’ (Carrillo Mean)

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up a copy of ‘Fair Game’.  I thought it would be an autobiographical essay, focussed on Carmel Bird’s life growing up in Tasmania.  And it is, in part, but it’s so much more.

‘As well as my epigraph, I have for inspiration, an image of a flock of /Georgian women dressed as butterflies, sailing in a glittering cloud high above the ocean.  This picture, a coloured lithograph from 1832, is in the collection of the Australian National Library in Canberra.’

Ms Bird’s inspiration is a cartoon depicting the arrival in Hobart of a cargo of non-convict women in 1832.  The women arrived on the (perhaps aptly named) ‘Princess Royal’ and had been sent to try to address the scarcity of women in the settlement.

The cartoon is reproduced on the cover of the book.  Ms Bird has some connections to the cartoon. She was sent a copy of it by a friend in 1996.  When Ms Bird found that the lithograph had been purchased from the Dr Clifford Craig Collection by the National Library of Australia in 1975, she discovered that Dr Clifford Craig had lived near her family in Launceston.  I love these kinds of connections: a gift with meaning, from an original collected by someone who may have been known of by (if not known to) her family.  Dr Clifford Craig wrote a history of the Launceston General Hospital, and it’s a history I feel I want to read. The Launceston General Hospital has played a pretty important role in my family over the past eight decades. Ms Bird has encouraged me to digress, to use her essay as a starting point for my own ruminations and explorations.

So, while this essay starts with Alfred Ducote’s lithograph entitled ‘E-migration or a flight of fair game, 1832.’, and explores Ms Bird’s memories of growing up in Tasmania, almost every page invites the reader to explore further.  In my case, because I also grew up in Tasmania, it is the history I want to explore.  The Launceston General Hospital to start with and then Sir Richard Dry, for example, and his connection to Hagley, the women of the ‘Princess Royal’.

I’ve enjoyed reading Ms Bird’s essay: I acquired some new knowledge as well as some possibilities to explore.  I’ve learned enough, too, about Ms Bird for me to want to add her books to my reading list.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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