Ghost of the Thylacine in Launceston

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Exploring Henty

A bit over a week ago I visited Launceston to get my head around Henty House – the site, the site for our show “Landed“. Who was Henty? What’s he or she got to do with a brute of a building in Tassie? Who “lives” in Henty and why are they there? All these questions were answered by my various scopings out, browsings and visits. I spent time exploring Launceston too, and I am intrigued and fascinated by logos of the Tasmanian Tiger Thylacine everywhere – a badge of pride or regret, for an amazing hunted-to-extinction marsupial.

Henty House has four floors of tenants, mostly government departments, and the offices of the Greens and local MPs. The interior was once open plan but every level has been divided into separated offices, all lit by fluorescent strip lighting and apparently each floor has one master switch to illuminate the whole floor… meaning that individual offices can’t easily power on and off as they don’t know if others are still working on that floor when they leave. The air conditioning is tricky and many offices also have fans or heaters to cope with the temperature variables of the master system. Inhabitants can see the wonderful balconies but aren’t allowed to use them. Some people think the building looks like a boat.

Henty House was designed by an architect named Peter Partridge who was the lead architect of the recently award winning Magistrates Court House in Hobart. Partridge designed the building in 1982/83 which turns out historically to be an interesting period as it was the same time as people around Australia were protesting the planned construction of the Franklin Dam, which became a major election issue in 1983. There has been a bit of parallel recently with Gunns Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley. In 1983 people around Australia wrote “No Dam” on their ballot paper. In 2010 the Federal election will occur the week before LANDED… pity… I think it would have been so much fun to link the election to past history. Still, it will be present in people’s minds.

Henty House is named after the Henty family, in particular the Henty brothers who sailed from Launceston to settle Portland, Victoria. Their family had a long struggle to have their settlement recognised, and eventually it became one of the major centres of the new colony in Victoria. Launceston is actually one of the oldest Australian colonial towns.and the Henty family were among many pioneers who left Launceston to colonise other parts of Australia, including Melbourne.

The ghost of the Thylacine continues to haunt me and I see stripes everywhere… the lash of the whip, the shadows of the rigging and the stripes of its back as the hunted tiger retreats from human places. There are strange parallels between the images of the last thylacenes in captivity and the look on faces entering Henty House. Can we free the captives before they become extinct?