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Maatsuyker, The Ultimate Writing Retreat

3 December, 2011

I won’t be blogging for awhile. Or rather, I will be blogging but you won’t be able to read my material for two months while I undertake a writing retreat on Maatsuyker, a remote island. I am going as an artist-in-residence, a program supported by Arts Tasmania and Tasmania National Parks & Wildlife.

As writers, we dream of having uninterrupted time to create. Maatsuyker Island is ideal in this respect, having few distractions or interruptions. As far as I know, it is ‘off’ in terms of Internet connections and TV. The island’s single radio phone is expensive and rarely used.

What else is missing? Maatsuyker has no shops or services. I have had to plan two months’ worth of food, house supplies, clothes, writing needs, recreation. The island has no traffic lights because there is no traffic except for one small truck. Oddly, even though it is 10 kilometres off the mid-south coast of Tasmania, visitors occasionally pop up, such as cray fishermen and kayakers.

On Monday, a helicopter will fly Marg (friend and botanical illustrator) and me, plus our gear, to the island. In early February, it will pick us up to return us to mainland Tasmania.

For the last week, we have been in Huonville, Tasmania, where the National Parks & Wildlife office is located. The days have been busy, buying last-minute goodies, checking food provisions (e.g., fresh fruit & veg, cryovacced meats, canned and dried goods, alcohol), and meeting people interested in the venture. Luckily, I’ve done enough bushwalking that I know what to pack for remote areas. I’ve had my safety briefings for flying in a helicopter and for keeping safe on the island. Maatsuyker presents a number of hazards for the unwary:  strong winds that can blow you over a cliff, lightning strikes, and an attack by one of the Great White Pointer sharks that hang around the seal colony.

We will enjoy having two houses, originally inhabited by the assistant lighthouse keepers. Two caretakers, starting the second half of their four-month stint, live in the senior lighthouse keeper’s original house, close to the lighthouse itself. They maintain the buildings, keep the vegetation in check, and take meteorological readings.

Alas, it is not a tropical island, abundant with warmth and fresh fruit. Maatsuyker is windy and cold, lying in the path of the Roaring Forties, ferocious winds that sweep in from Antarctica. Luckily, I’m going in summer, but have packed multiple pairs of thermals, fleece and down-filled clothing. And an electric blanket and a hot water bottle. Did I mention the house has NO heating?

I will also get very fit because the only level spot on the island is the helipad.

Many people imagine a deserted island as being serene, quiet, the only sound the gentle slap of waves on the beach. Not Maatsuyker. It is home to noisy, and smelly, seal colonies, plus thousands of muttonbirds who each evening squabble loudly about burrow rights. I’m taking earplugs and incense.

Why I’m going

My writing project concerns the need for solitude in modern times, the quiet places we make, or hope to make, in our lives. I will write about my experience in living on Maatsuyker, away from my normal life. I will also be considering others who have done something similar, and what they have to say about their experience. If you have a book, movie or person you recommend, in terms of this topic, please comment below.

Thoreau, in his famous 1854 book, Walden, wrote that his two years living in the woods was undertaken because he wanted to ‘front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach’. I intend to do the same. When I return, I will post bits of my diary to give a sense of the ups and downs of solitude and being away from it all.

Merry Christmas or whatever, and a happy new year!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    3 December, 2011 5:53 pm

    The prospect of your exploration of solitude has me in paroxysms of envy. Oh – except for the part about the cold…Good luck and I look forward to reading of your time there.


    • 4 December, 2011 8:05 am

      Thanks very much! Yes, the cold may well be a problem. Luckily, I’m taking a bottle of my plum pudding vodka for a little Christmas cheer & warmth. My biggest fear is not the possible accidents or the solitariness, but getting writer’s block and staring at a blank screen/page day after day. I’ve taken some writing prompts along to keep me going.



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