Letter from Tasmania

Hitch-hiking to the Museum of Old and New Art.
  1. The first man to pick us up, as we hitchhiked out of Launceston on our way to Cradle Mountain and down to the capital city of Hobart, had his fingernails cut into rough polygons and a lot of tools in the back of his extended cab pickup. But right away he made it clear to me (an American) and my travel companion, Remi (a Sydney native living in New York), that he didn’t take kindly to insinuations that Tasmania is less culturally developed than the mainland. When I asked him what he thought distinguished Tasmanians from other Australians, he reckoned, with a smile, that “For one thing, the rest of Oz isn’t worth a shit.” He then turned to Remi, and added, politely, “No offense, mate.”

    From my two hours in the state—which had consisted of standing by the side of a road and eating some dry fast food chicken with a Styrofoam cup of brown gravy—I was having trouble discerning any distinction from the mainland whatsoever. The cuisine, customs, and accents seemed surprisingly similar. We’d heard it would be colder here, but the sun glowed like a white-hot coil. In Tasmania, as in the north, the roadsides are dotted with yellow signs depicting Pokemon-like creatures (cuddly wallabies, echidnas, and wombats blindly crossing the road; super-strong kangaroos overturning cars) and alarmist PSAs urging drivers to pull over every two hours to take a rest. People bemoan the latter as the work of “the nanny state,” which makes it illegal even to hang one’s arm out of the driver side window....

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