One way of reading an antipodean country like Australia is through the lens of its symmetrical opposites. For many, Australia has been compared to Nordic countries. One of Australia’s leading Nordicists, John Stanley Martin, unfortunately passed away this week. Here he talking about the commonality between Australia and Iceland.
John Stanley Martin, descendent of the Eureka rebels, went to Iceland to pursue a degree in Old Norse. He recalls a conversation with Icelandic novelist Sigurdur Nordal, who saw both nations as sharing the challenge of new beginnings:
As an Australian you understand Iceland better than the Europeans do, because we are Europe’s first colony. We are the first time they came. Every time there was a movement in Europe, there was always a group before—the Celts moving in, the Germanics moving in—and there would be an amalgam of the cultures… In Norway, from where they came, it was limited resources, someone gets more and someone gets less. Come to Iceland and it’s a free for all, grabbing land, so you don’t respect the environment in the same way any more.[i]
[i] John Stanley Martin, interview, 16 February 2001.
Jorgen Jorgenson was a Danish adventurer who travelled to Tasmania twice, first in the founding party of Hobart and then as a convict. Between visits, he had been bestowed with the title of the first King of Iceland. He wrote many books, including a study of Tasmanian aborigines. His life sustains a ongoing link between the northern and southern extremes, which has come to prominence again with his upcoming bicentenary.
This story is being taken up by Kim Peart. Here is Kim’s response to south in a Tasmanian context:
When I consider "south" and as one who grew up in southern Tasmania in the path of the roaring forties, I think of the winds that blow around Antarctica in a continual gale that drives the ocean waves and currents in a rhythm and a hum of bounding breakers that now grow ever stronger with global warming in a giant vortex of ever marching waves that rise up like mountains to swallow anything that dares swim too low into their gaping chasm or send them flying off into the upper atmosphere should the howling winds take hold and swirl them from the frothing foam at their peak to sail upon the gathered smoke of the Victorian bushfires, made fiercer like an atomic furnace in a slowly heating world, now floating high above the great frozen sea of ice that is south.
- Peart’s article in the Tasmanian Times.
- The exhibition Haven where Jorgenson’s life was turned to art