Writing and the Sea

The sea has captured human imagination for thousands of years. We are drawn to the water. Perhaps a reflection of our watery beginnings in the womb or even earlier as one-celled organisms floating in the world’s oceans at the beginning of time. This watery wonderment has been expressed and explored creatively through many artforms including, within the Western tradition, writing.

Themes synonymous with the sea such as the sub-conscious, exotic other, mysterious unknown, disaster, discovery, and adventure feature in the work of well-known authors such as Shakespeare, Melville, Swift, Shelley and Conrad. Writing has also been used to systematically and unemotively record human encounters with the marine environment through ship’s logs, light house keeper’s records, ferry captain’s diaries and weather observations. In these forms of record keeping writing is used as an instructional guide to combat an everchanging and sometimes life-threatening environment. Personal accounts through diaries, journals and letters share individual experiences that provide insight into human relationships with the marine environment.

Contemporarily writing about the sea remains popular and is a compulsory part of managing commercial activity and marine safety. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974 runs to nearly 1000 pages. Australian authors such as Tim Winton, Tasmania’s own Danielle Wood and Pete Hay find inspiration in and write from an island perspective expressly influenced by ocean surrounds. So why does ‘maritime’ capture the imagination and how has this intrigue with the sea been expressed in written form in relation to Tasmania?

This exhibition features written connections to the sea through the Museum’s collection from a Tasmanian perspective. Artefacts ask us to consider how and why the sea, and all things maritime continue to be interpreted in written form.

Exploring relationships between writing and the sea helps us understand the unique maritime aspects of our island state. This collection also ponders how Tasmanian maritime heritage has and continues to influence broader perceptions of how we see and understand ourselves within a world which is made up of 70% water.